With Palm Sunday nearly upon us I decided to put my Bible reading plan on hold until after Easter in order to read the parts of the gospels that talk about Holy Week. I began today in Matthew 21 reading about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This passage of Scripture is always poignant to me because I believe it portrays the human condition extremely well. It displays to us the depth of our depravity and how all-encompassing our spiritual death is.
Matthew 21 begins telling us that Jesus is about to arrive at Jerusalem and has stopped in the town of Bethpage and the Mount of Olives which is about a day’s journey from the holy city. There Jesus tells a couple of His disciples to go ahead to the village and retrieve a donkey and its colt and bring them back to Him. Jesus has a specific prophecy He intends to fulfill by using these beasts. There was a prophecy made about the coming King of Zion, which is God’s kingdom, that he would come to the city in humility, not in glory or fanfare.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
When Jesus finally enters Jerusalem riding on the colt it is unclear whether the people who saw Him would have recalled this prophecy, but from the words they use to extol Jesus I have to think that they were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy. They use the phrase that we all know, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The people of Jerusalem recognize that this man is Jesus of Nazareth and that He is the Son of David. God had given them the eyes to see this about Jesus. Many people before this moment had not seen Jesus for who He was. Only a few people outside of the disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God. Son of David was a title given by Jewish prophecy to the messiah who would come and restore Israel to peace and usher in a glorious age of prosperity and worship to God. It took special revelation by the Holy Spirit to see this about Jesus as we know from Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:17 when he confesses Jesus as the Christ and Jesus tells him that God had revealed this to him.
When the crowd recognized who Jesus was they began to spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him and they declared His identity as the Messiah. But the most interesting part of this passage is the interjection ‘hosanna’ to declare His praise. The word ‘hosanna’ is interesting because of its meaning in Greek. The word means literally ‘to be propitious’. Propitious means to be favorably disposed or a good omen. The inhabitants of Jerusalem knew that Jesus’ coming to them was a good sign and it meant that wonderful things were to happen. In Hebrew ‘hosanna’ is a verb translated as ‘to be saved or delivered; liberated; or victorious.’ The people recognized all these positive things about Jesus that they knew from the various prophecies about the messiah.
It seems, at least for now, that the Jews know who Jesus is and what they think He is coming to do. But of course they were under the impression that the Messiah would come to free them from their Roman occupiers, hence the liberation and victory language used by the word ‘hosanna’. It seems nobody is ever truly aware of Jesus’ actual mission until after He’s been crucified and risen. The people, nonetheless, are exuberant with expectation and I imagine it would have been an absolute craze within the city once news of Jesus’ arrival spread.
The part I think is worthy of focus is the fact that just five days later these same people are standing in Pontius Pilate’s courtyard screaming “Crucify him!” How did this dramatic reversal happen? How did the entire city turn on Him in a matter of days? I believe it was because once they got to see Jesus and how He wasn’t living up to their expectation as the butt-kicker of Rome they began to resent Jesus. Their spiritual blindness had hidden Jesus’ true purpose from them. They could only see their selfish nationalistic image of their Messiah who would come to serve their own interests as a nation rather than die for their sins. God’s plan is always much more glorious and important than our own. We are limited in our vision and knowledge but God sees and knows all. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, to send His Son to be the ransom for sinners.
That these people who shouted Jesus’ praise at the gate then demanded Him to be crucified reflects something found in all people. We are radically depraved in our understanding of God. The spiritual death that was brought upon the human race because of Adam’s sin is all-encompassing. We think of ourselves before others and we certainly put ourselves before God. We are darkened in our understanding and cannot see the things of God. Sin prevents us from seeing, knowing, and worshiping God. We are spiritually dead as Paul says in Ephesians 2. The irony of the situation in Jerusalem is that in their spiritual deadness they missed the point of Jesus’ death, but only His death is what can give them new life to see who Jesus really is.
In this Easter season I hope you would study the Scriptures and ask yourself the questions raised by it. Questions like “Who do you say that I am?” and “What does Jesus’ death mean for me today?” Are you living unaware of Jesus’ death on the cross? Are you unaware that His death secured the forgiveness of your sins so that if you believe in Him you will be called a child of God? Perhaps you need to be freshly amazed at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? Pray like the disciples did to increase your faith that you would have eyes to see and ears to hear so that you may receive life. If you need to have your vision renewed camp out in Scripture and make the words your diet. May the Holy Spirit cause you to shout “Hosanna!” and be freshly amazed by the cross and what it accomplished.