Amid the boisterous singing, palm branch waving, and hosanna shouting, Palm Sunday is actually really strange. Yesterday we took a look at Luke’s account of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on the original Palm Sunday, which you can read about in Luke 19:28-48, and we found four odd elements of this famous story: a king riding a donkey, facing jeers, crying, and not taking the throne but confronting his own people. What gives?
What gives was a missed opportunity. Let’s take a closer look.
Palm Sunday Oddity #1: He rides a donkey colt
Jesus in verse 30 instructs his disciples to get him a colt. We hear “colt” and think “horse”, but the particular word here is referring to the colt or foal of a donkey. Not a stallion. Not a war horse, tall and grand. But a colt of a donkey. A king on a donkey? Strange, huh?
Some see in Jesus’ choice of a donkey, a purposeful reenactment of the time when David made his son, Solomon, king over Israel, in 1st Kings 1, and in that story Solomon rode a mule. Jesus triumphal entry has many similarities to Solomon’s.
Some also see in this event the fulfillment of the prophecy from Zech. 9:9.
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.
The word there in Zech 9:9 is “Gentle.” Some translations use “humble.” Probably more likely humble. Jesus is showing that while he is king, he is humble. He is righteous.
Also, scholars report that in antiquity, kings would ride out to war on a horse, but would ride on a donkey in peacetime.
Finally, Jesus mentioned to the disciples that the donkey they would find was a colt that had never been ridden. And we see that righteousness in symbolism of a donkey that had never been ridden. Why a donkey that was never ridden? It could symbolize the purity of the Messiah.
It seems the crowd got it! The crowd praising him was, in verse 37, Luke tells us, was “the whole crowd of disciples”. Not just the 12. But a lot of people. The crowds following Jesus were still big at this point.
Palm Sunday Oddity #2: Pharisees confront Jesus
The second weird moment, is when the Pharisees, ever doubters, tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples! Can you imagine being in an amazing worship service, and someone negative stands up yelling “stop it!”? Why did the Pharisees have to be so grumpy? With a large crowd proclaiming him king, shouldn’t they join in? Was their smug disagreement a stain on Jesus’ big moment?
Jesus didn’t seem to mind. He responds to the Pharisees by saying that if he told the crowd to be quiet, the stones will cry out. Was he being symbolic? This is shaping up to be an atypical coronation.
Palm Sunday Oddity #3: Jesus weeps
The third weird moment is in verse 41 where Luke tells us Jesus wept. Right in the middle of the praise. What a scene. He had previously wept about his buddy Lazarus dying. He will soon weep before his own death. Those are both difficult situations, though. Here at his Triumphal entry, he was in of a crowd praising him! But he is still weeping. Why?
When a king is about to take the throne, we expect him to be happy, ecstatic, but Jesus is weeping. Seeing a grown man cry in any situation is something that rarely happens. I myself have not seen it much. But there is Jesus feeling something so deeply, he weeps. Not only does this show us that it is okay for grown men to cry, it tells us that Jesus is feeling something really deep here. What is he feeling? Why does he cry?
He goes on to tell us why in verse 42, when he looks at the city and weeps over it saying “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Jesus shares a powerful thought there. He’s telling us that there was a window of opportunity, and the city, the people, and certainly the religious leaders did not take advantage of it. It is as if God is saying to them “My beloved city, my people, you so desperately yearned for peace, for freedom from the Romans. I told you and I told you again and I told you again how to have that peace, and you didn’t listen.” What was this missed opportunity for peace?
It was Jesus, right there in front of them. And they should have known. All the miracles, all his teaching; the people with Jesus had seen it all, lived it all, and yet Jesus says that in the end they missed this amazing opportunity.
The king is entering the royal city, and the royal city is deceived. The royal city doesn’t know their king has come. It was a huge missed opportunity.
Do we do the same? We can look back over the course of our lives and see how God has been at work, but is it possible that today are we deceived? Is he right in front of our eyes, but we are blind, unable to see him? Are we missing out on a grand opportunity that God has placed before us?
One way I can miss out on an important opportunity is at home. I’ll admit that I have been wrestling with wasting time on my phone when I get home in the evening. My goal is to focus on my family. I’ve been challenged to remove all game apps from my phone. I haven’t done that. My kids wouldn’t be too thrilled if I did. But I have also been challenged to put the phone away until after 9pm. I haven’t done that either.
What about you? What is God telling you to do? Like Nike and Shia LeBouef tell us, “Just do it.”
Palm Sunday Oddity #4
Finally, the king enters the city and does one more thing that is quite strange. He doesn’t go to the palace, remove the Roman governor, start a battle, and kick the Romans out of the land, all things the Jews would have expected him to do.
No, instead he goes to the temple and kicks the unrighteous Jews out. If I’m in the crowd that day, I would be scratching my head thinking “Wait…what? Why isn’t he going to the palace? The Messiah is supposed to kick out the Romans. He’s not supposed to remove the Jews from the temple! What is going on here?”
But Jesus was not the military Messiah they expected.
But people that day missed out. They had blinders on. Neither the religious leaders nor the people in the crowd understood who he really was. It was right for them to praise him, no doubt, but they missed a grand opportunity.
Are you missing an opportunity? What will it look like for us to pull the blinders off our eyes? What will it look like for you to follow Jesus where you know he wants you to follow him?