The triumphal entry


Sermon: Sunday, 31st October, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

What are you doing on Saturday 6th of May next year? That is, of course, going to be the coronation of King Charles III. The ceremony will take place at Westminster Abbey and will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The royal website states that: ‘The Coronation will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry.’ Will Charles ride to the Abbey in a golden carriage? No doubt a crown will be placed upon his head. Vows will be taken and prayers will be made. I think it is safe to say that everything which happens, almost every detail, will have a symbolic meaning or will have historical significance. The service will be discussed and dissected by some, and it might give clues as to what shape the monarchy will take in the coming decades.

What kind of king is Charles going to be and will it make any significant difference to our lives? In a constitutional monarchy such as we have, it might not make all that much difference, in that most of our nation’s power lies with the parliament. However, we hope and pray that Charles will act with integrity, have a living faith in Christ, and fulfil his duties with humility and kindness.

Here in Luke chapter 19, we have King Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey. The details of this highly orchestrated event, orchestrated by Jesus himself, are extremely significant for us all. They indicate the kind of king he is going to be. They tell us that Jesus will have an enormous impact on our lives, whether we want him to or not. You don’t have to watch the coronation next year. If you ignore King Charles it probably won’t change your life too much. However, how you respond to King Jesus is a matter of life and death, and will have an eternal impact on your life.

This part of Jesus’ life is called the ‘triumphal entry’ and is celebrated on Palm Sunday. Jesus is only a few miles outside of Jerusalem, having travelled most of the 18 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem. In verse 30, we see that Jesus sends two of his disciples on a mysterious errand. He wants them to go to the next village and tells them they will find a young donkey, a colt which no one has ever ridden. They are to take the animal for Jesus, and if questioned must answer, ‘The Lord needs it’, like a kind of password. The two disciples do as Jesus instructs and everything happens just as Jesus has said it would. Had Jesus arranged to collect this colt beforehand, or is this an example of his supernatural insight? We cannot be sure.

1. The entrance of the servant King

The important question to ask is ‘Why?’ Having walked on foot for mile after mile, why does he want a donkey now? It’s not that he’s tired and needing a rest. Actually, even if Jesus had been riding before, it was customary for pilgrims to make the last part of this journey on foot, so why is he breaking this custom? Jesus is doing it in order to fulfil Old Testament prophecy.

We read in Zechariah: ‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle-bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.’ (Zechariah 9:9-10)

By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus is making a statement. He is saying: ‘I am the long-promised Messiah-King and I am coming to you with humility to bring peace to the nations’. What a magnificent prophecy. Jesus is God’s appointed King, who will reign over the entire earth.

But what kind of King will he be, and what kind of Kingdom will he have? It won’t be a political kingdom. He’s not riding into Jerusalem on a war-horse in order to oust the Romans from Israel. His kingdom is ‘not of this world’. In fact, he will ride into the capital, knowing full well that he must suffer and die on the cross in order to bring about spiritual peace in his spiritual Kingdom. Think of the courage and love of Jesus here, as he rides knowingly into certain death, and death which would be excruciating and humiliating. He knows the authorities want him dead.

I think Jesus’ entrance on a donkey also echoes right back to Genesis chapter 49, when Jacob is blessing his children. He says to his son Judah, the tribe Jesus belonged to: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.’ (Genesis 49:10-11)

Again, here Jesus is this promised king whom the nations must obey. He will come on a donkey. And it’s likely the washing of garments in wine speaks of his blood shed for us on the cross, in order to wash us clean from our sins.

It’s not Palm Sunday today, so why should we celebrate this incident? Because Jesus is God’s true King. And because he’s exactly the kind of king that rebellious lawbreakers like us need! Imagine that Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a war-horse, meting out justice to everyone as they deserved. We would have no hope. But he did not come in judgment but in peace. ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ (John 3:17)

So many kings, presidents, prime ministers, emperors and other rules of history have used their power to exploit people. They have abused their authority. Luke wants us to know that Jesus is a different kind of King entirely. He comes not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

2. Two responses to the King

It’s striking that Luke describes a mixed response to King Jesus. ‘The whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’ (Luke 19:37) They hail Jesus as God’s King, who has come to bring peace. They know he is the one who opened the eyes of Bartimaeus and even raised Lazarus from the dead. There is massive excitement and enthusiasm in this crowd for Jesus. They’d been waiting for this moment for hundreds of years. What will Jesus do next? I think most of the crowd would not have understood the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom at this point, and probably had a political kingdom in mind. Nevertheless, they praise Jesus and believe him to be the true Messiah.

But there is another group (verse 39) who want Jesus to rebuke his disciples and silence them, instead of receiving the praise. How wonderful to see that Jesus will not silence those who praise him. He is their rightful King and is indeed about to bring about peace between God and humanity in a most marvellous way. He is the servant-king. He receives all of the praise because it is a fitting response. Not to praise, worship and follow Jesus is such an injustice that if it stops then the very stones will cry out in his favour. The stones are more spiritually alive than the religious leaders are. Some of the Pharisees are jealous of all the attention which Jesus had been receiving. They seem to care more about their own positions and popularity than about the truth of Jesus’ identity and mission. Perhaps some of them are worried that the crowd will upset the Roman authorities.

If there are two responses to King Jesus, surely this passage must speak directly to each one of us and ask us, what is your response to this King? He is the rightful King. But the question is, have you submitted to his rule over your heart?

You might think: ‘I don’t need a king to rule over me. I can live any way I want, as long as I don’t hurt anyone.’ But that’s not true. This is God’s world and not ours. And God has appointed Jesus as our rightful Ruler. Not to submit to him is an extremely serious matter, resulting in eternal punishment and separation from God.

Besides, Jesus is exactly the kind of king that we need. Who else can deal with our guilt and wrongdoing- all those times we have let God down, and let others down too? Who else can pay for the moral debts we owe to God? Who else can bring peace and purpose into our lives? Who else can sort out those broken elements of our lives, which have been twisted for so long, so that we hardly even aware of them?

Deep down, there is something within us all that wants to be the boss of our own lives. Perhaps you think, if I follow Jesus and submit to his rule, becoming his servant, then we are losing our freedom and getting bogged down in a life which we don’t even want. Please don’t think this way as nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is not an exploitative king who places unnecessary burdens on us. He is a humble and all-wise King who brings true freedom to humanity. He brings peace and eternal life.

I need a King with the authority to forgive my sin and I need a King with the gentleness to treat me not as my sins deserve, but with grace and mercy. Jesus is such a King. That’s why we can join the crowd shouting in our hearts today: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’

What’s your response to Jesus? If, like some of the Pharisees, you wish people would just keep quiet about him then you are in a dangerous place. You cannot have a neutral response to Jesus. Either we trust in him as our Saviour and King, or we reject him as King and act as if we don’t need a Saviour.

The psalmist puts it starkly: ‘Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Jesus is the true King who came in peace, but when he comes again, he will come as Judge, and those who rejected him in their lives will be rejected by him.’ (Psalm 2:12)

As Jesus rides along, the crowd (verse 36) spread their cloaks on the road, rather like unrolling a red carpet. This reminds us of Jehu becoming king of Israel: ‘They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’ (2 Kings 9:13) Perhaps giving their cloaks is a sign of their willingness of giving Jesus everything they have. In any case, in a few days Jesus will give everything he has for his people.

What a statement Jesus is making here. Think of his timing, riding into Jerusalem at the time of Passover. It is as if he’s saying, ‘I am the true Passover Lamb, who will die in the place of my people’. What a humble yet regal entrance!

Donald Macleod: ‘The reason for becoming a Christian is surely Jesus himself. Whatever we feel or don’t feel, need or don’t need, he is Lord, and that’s why we bow the knee. Suppose we are managing just fine, leading ordinary decent lives, holding down good jobs, going with a steady partner and guilty of no particular evil habits, we should still be Christians. Why? Because he’s there! Because he’s God! Because it’s true! We worship – we fall at his feet – not because of what we feel but quite simply because of who and what he is.’

Friends, Jesus is the King, who offers you peace. Will you submit to him? Will you trust him? Will you follow him?