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Triumphal entry: What did it mean?

By REV. DANNY GODDARD - For The Courier-Times

The scene in Jerusalem was recorded by all four Gospels – passions were fiery hot! Jewish leaders were out to kill Jesus of Nazareth! And yet, He rides into the city on a donkey, the center of attention!

Jesus was truly the Prince of Peace. He didn’t ride into town on the back of a war horse carrying a sword and wearing a crown like everyone had expected of the Messiah. Instead, it was a colt “on which no one has sat.” (Mark 11:2)

This was the only public demonstration Jesus had allowed because He was merely fulfilling prophecy. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

This Prince of Peace was also the King of Israel. He rode the animal of a king. (1 Kings 1:33) We call this demonstration “the Triumphal Entry,” but what did it mean?

First of all, what did it mean to the Romans? Though a Roman viewpoint is not recorded in the Scriptures, we can imagine they kept a close watch on everything.

During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon for Jewish nationalists to try to arouse the people. Some Roman soldiers smiled at the “Triumphal Entry” for it was not even close to their own “Roman triumph” celebrations. When a Roman general returned after killing 5,000 men in battle, he was welcomed home with a most elaborate parade, exhibiting trophies of war and even the prisoners he had captured. The hero rode in a golden chariot while priests burned incense and people shouted praises. The procession ended at an arena, where the captives fought wild beasts. Compared to a “Roman triumph,” this Triumphal Entry was less exciting.

What did this parade mean to the people of Israel? Remember, it was Passover time in Jerusalem. The streets were crowded. A quarter million lambs would be slain in the city, a minimum of 10 people to every lamb. That’s two-and-a-half million faces! Every adult-male Jew within 20 miles had to be there. Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic moment! Pilgrims welcomed Jesus by spreading garments in His path and waving palm branches to symbolize peace and victory. Matthew adds shouts of “hosannah” or “save now!” Jesus was being proclaimed as King.

What did all this mean for the Jewish leaders? They were the ones who were out to kill Jesus and He knew it! Yet, six days prior to Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany. Why? To spend time with friends at a dinner party. (John 14:1-3) The Pharisees were sure that Jesus had won the day. They had been anticipating some kind of general revolt during the Passover. Perhaps Jesus would perform some great miracle to capture the minds and hearts of the restless people. They just didn’t get it.

What they didn’t realize was that Jesus was “forcing their hand.” Jerusalem’s governing body, the Sanhedrin, would have to act during the feast! Jesus, the Lamb of God, would give His own life as the Passover lambs were slain. So in the presence of a huge crowd, Jesus a rode a donkey into the city. There were palm branches, strewn garments, and shouts of praise, all proclaiming Jesus as King! But while they were doing all this, Jesus wept (Luke 19:44), for He saw what lay ahead – war, suffering, destruction, and a scattered people.

The Triumphal Entry –For the Romans, nothing really is recorded. For Israel, Jesus was King! For the Jewish leaders, He had to be stopped! But the important question for today is, what does it mean for you and me? How are we affected when we realize He was on His way to pay the price for our salvation?

If anyone was ever under stress and strain, it was Jesus. On Sunday, the Triumphal Entry. On Monday, the cleansing of the temple. On Tuesday, controversies with Jewish leaders. On Wednesday, apparently a day of rest. On Thursday, preparation for the Passover. On Friday, trial and crucifixion. On Saturday, Jesus rests in a tomb. And on Sunday – Jesus is raised from the dead! With whatever you’re facing today, remember, Easter’s coming!

The Rev. Danny Goddard is senior pastor at New Castle First Church of the Nazarene. He is a regular contributor to Faith Perspective.