Imagine what it must have been like as those companions of Jesus approached Bethpage and then Bethany. As Jesus sent two of them ahead to inquire about a colt. As they rounded the top of the Mount of Olives and looked down upon Jerusalem before them. As the crowds began to swell around the colt upon which Jesus was riding. Just a few minutes more and their long journey would be over. After setting their sights in that direction so many long months before, they had finally arrived in Jerusalem. I have to imagine that during those moments hundreds of questions swirled in their minds...“What will happen when we get inside? Is Jesus really the ONE? Will He finally establish the Kingdom we’ve been waiting for? What will happen now that we’ve finally reached Jerusalem?”
The people who had followed Jesus since His ministry began entered Jerusalem thinking they were in the presence of a king. And as you look at the evidence presented in Luke’s gospel, it’s hard to fault them for thinking such a thing. After all, Jesus himself seemed to play right into their expectations. To begin with, there is the business concerning this colt. Interestingly, all three synoptic authors are careful not to exclude this seemingly small bit of information. What is the significance of the animal being a colt? Why do both Luke and Mark mention that this colt had never been ridden?
These details seem to many modern readers of the text as filler—inconsequential details of the narrative. But, according to Jewish thought of the first century, these details were anything but inconsequential. Ever since the days of Zechariah, the people of Israel were waiting anxiously for just such an entry into their great city. Beginning in Zechariah 9:9, the prophet says:
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle 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…"
Zechariah was foretelling of a time in Jerusalem’s future when a great King would arrive. This King would end all bloodshed. This King would set things right. This King would bring peace. So, I have to imagine that when Jesus commissioned his two disciples to acquire this colt, some heads turned. And by the time they had descended from the Mount of Olives and entered the city, the crowds had become convinced. Certainly, some of them had suspected that this man might be the Messiah before they approached Jerusalem. But on those other occasions, Jesus always found some way to create questions in their minds. The way He repeatedly silenced those whom He healed, His routine of immediately dismissing any conversation of regality or monarchy. But when Jesus sent His disciples to acquire the colt, the people in this crowd finally allowed their secret thoughts to spill out. What had at one time been only fleeting hopes...What—up until a few moments before—had only been whispers among Jesus’ closest companions, finally became the loud shouts of the Jerusalem pilgrims…
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Luke calls attention to this event in a unique way among the synoptic authors. This cry of the crowds echoes a well-known psalm of the Jewish people with one notable exception.The other synoptic authors recount this event with an exact quotation from Psalm 118, but Luke calls our attention to the messianic expectations of the crowd. The Psalm, as well as Mark and Matthew, read…
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you…”
But Luke wants his readers to understand what was truly taking place as Jesus entered Jerusalem. The Person entering this time was no ordinary pilgrim. This One was riding on a colt. This one was the King! And what’s more, Jesus is not only King, but He is also the “One who comes." If you’ll remember earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist sends an urgent message to Jesus. In Luke 7:18-23, there is a discussion between Jesus and some disciples of John the Baptist. John is about to executed, but he wants to know the true identity of Jesus. The question comes to Jesus…
“Are you the One who was to come?”
But in this question, John was only echoing the words of the prophet Malachi. At the time when Malachi lived, messianic expectation was thick in the air. Messiahs were turning up under every rock. But each turned up to be an imposter. But this prophet foretold of a time in the not so distant future when things would be different. In Malachi 3:1, we read…
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty.”
John’s question has some context now. “Jesus are you the One?” “The One who is to come?” These crowds believe the time has finally arrived.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord…”
And it came as no surprise to the crowd that day that Jesus led His colt directly to the temple—just as Malachi said He would. This brings up an important point. Not only did these people believe Jesus to be the King they had waited for, but Jesus repeatedly conforms to their image of King! Jesus knew what riding on a colt signified, yet He still rode the animal into town. Jesus knew what these people expected when they called Him the “King who was to come,” yet, He did not silence them. Jesus knew full well that by going directly to the temple riding on His colt, these people would believe the long-awaited Redeemer of Malachi’s words had finally arrived.You see, these people expected a King. And through His actions, Jesus was willingly assuming the title. So different from every other time before when Jesus ignored their questions; When Jesus told them to be quiet. Now, Jesus’ time had come, and He fully embraced His place as King.
But as it turned out, though Jesus was certainly willing to claim the throne, His regime looked nothing like they expected. The similarities between their vision of kingdom and Jesus’ actions on this day ended when Jesus entered the Temple. Yes, Jesus was King, but He was a King unlike any they had ever witnessed. This King did not rage against His enemies on the battlefield. This King instead healed the wounded ear of His enemy in the garden. This King would not hold great banquets in rooms filled with nobility. This King would host a common supper in an upper room. This King would not be waited upon by servants and slaves. This King would stoop down on His hands and knees, pick up a towel, and wash the feet of His subjects.
Sometimes the crowds cannot adjust to misguided expectations.
Amidst celebration, the people of Israel wanted to make Jesus King as He entered Jerusalem. But just a few days later, they killed Him on the cross. When Jesus looked like a king, they were ready to leave everything and follow Him. However, when His robes came off and the soldiers picked up the whips, they scattered like estranged servants.
Church, I need to ask you a very important question this morning: Is there any role for the lifestyle of a homeless Messiah in a world that still flocks to the images of kings, acceptance, and grand churches?
Sometimes I read these stories of Jesus and I question: where would the King be today? Would He be where so many of His subjects seem to find themselves? Lobbying the regal courts of our world to pass new laws which would set Christianity upon its throne. On the construction sites of multi-million-dollar facilities built to house the royal courts of Jesus Christ. Abandoning the less desirable tracts of land among the common folk for more prestigious locations—those befitting the royal race. No, I believe Jesus would set up His royal tents in other places today. Church, where would Jesus have us set our tents?
I think it is interesting that this travel narrative of Jesus ends the same way it began. If you remember, way back in Luke 9 when Jesus “set His eyes resolutely toward Jerusalem,” He sent two of His disciples ahead to prepare for His arrival in Samaria. On that occasion, the people failed to recognize Jesus and instead denied Him access to their village. And here, after many more months of teaching, healing, and sacrifice, we see history repeat itself.
Jesus, once again, sends two disciples ahead to prepare for His arrival. They acquire the colt. They lead Him into this city. And once again, the people fail to recognize the time of Jesus’ arrival. Once again, Jesus is not allowed the access He desires. This time not to a village, but to their hearts. Oh, how I pray that God will not allow us to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us. Let us recognize the time of Jesus’ arrival among us because indeed He has arrived. And He has called His subjects not to a royal palace, but instead to the foot of the cross! The question for us is: Will we meet Him there?