Lent • Palm Sunday

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Matthew 21:7-9

Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was a turning point in history, prayed for and anticipated by generations of faithful Jews.

About 500 years earlier, the southern Kingdom of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon and began reconstructing the city of Jerusalem. They believed God would soon send a king – the Anointed One – to the new Jerusalem and he would rule on God’s behalf with justice and righteousness.

Zecharaiah had a vision of his arrival:

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.

Zechariah 9:9

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, it was a clear announcement that he thought he was the awaited Anointed One, the promised king. And the people thought so too.

In antiquity, when a king returned home after a great victory, the king’s court would travel outside the city walls to welcome him. They’d form a procession and sing and dance him through the city’s gates and up to his throne.

A “very large crowd” in Jerusalem went out to greet Jesus and celebrated him through the gates (John 12:13). Once inside Jerusalem’s walls, many more spread their cloaks and branches on the road before him. All around him – in front and in back – they shouted songs of praise (Songs of hallel are Psalms 113-118):

Lord, save us! (Hosanna)
    Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:25-29

Sometime before Jesus entered Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate entered it on the other side. His welcome isn’t recorded in the Bible, but we know from Roman historians that when the governor entered a city it was quite a spectacle that citizens were “encouraged” to attend.

Pilate entered on a white warhorse, not a donkey. He paraded through the city gates surrounded by elite infantrymen and horsemen clothed in armor and wielding axes and spears, not the impoverished masses removing their coats and waving branches.

Pilate came in the name of Rome. His grand arrival was orchestrated to demonstrate the Empire’s power, to instill fear in the crowd, and keep the peace throughout the festival.

Jesus arrived in the name of the LORD. He entered as the humble, promised King of a new Jerusalem, to give peace without a sword to the whole world.


• Is any portion of my allegiance pledged to a king and kingdom other than Jesus and the kingdom of God?

Our Prayer

LORD, you have heard our cries and sent the Messiah at last!

We celebrate his victory. We give thanks for the salvation he brings. And we confess that we look to rival kings for peace and we work to establish rival kingdoms on earth.

Today, we renew our allegiance to Christ alone. Jesus is Lord! Not Caesar. Be king of us, in us, and through us.