In Ancient Israel, Passover was one of the major annual feasts that was celebrated. Droves of Israelites would travel to the holy city of Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple and share in a meal commemorating God’s deliverance of the Israelite slaves from bondage in Egypt. Passover is about a gracious God rescuing his people from bondage. So, here at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he begins a new week of celebrating God’s grace to his people. From this week forward the people of God would no longer celebrate the local deliverance of a small tribe from the grip of slavery to a single nation. Rather, God’s people all over the world will forever celebrate the global deliverance from eternal bondage for all who trust in Jesus – a group that spans generations and locations.
The beginning of the new Holy Week is commonly known as Palm Sunday. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem he was greeted with cheering crowds and the red-carpet treatment in the form palm fronds. Being keenly aware of the significance of the Passover tradition, Jesus rides into Jerusalem five days prior to the official Passover celebration meal. His intentions are clear. Instituted at the original Passover, Israelites were to set aside a perfect, spotless, firstborn male lamb five days prior to killing the lamb to ensure their being “passed over” and spared by God (Ex. 12:3). On Friday of this week Jesus was going to face death so that those who follow Jesus would have their sins “passed over” as well. Jesus was the "lamb" being set aside to be sacrificed for his people.
As Jesus rides into Jerusalem he is mounted on a donkey, which Matthew and John’s gospels tell us was to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” This is an easy verse to either gloss over completely or put an inordinate amount of focus on one part of it. Modern day we rightly recognize that Jesus is our King. It is also right to recognize that Jesus is specifically highlighting the fact that he is a king by intentionally drawing an allusion to Zechariah’s prophecy. What is just as important to recognize, however, is what kind of king Jesus demonstrates he is. Would he be a conquering king slaying his tens of thousands like David? Would he begin an uprising by arming Jerusalem with weapons to overthrow the Roman Empire? No; Jesus' mission was far greater than a militaristic upheaval of a tyrannical empire.
Zechariah's prophecy demonstrates the king coming to Israel as “humble.” This is in contrast to the typical king who would ride into town triumphantly on a warhorse or a chariot after having conquered his enemies in battle (Zechariah 9:10). A triumphant king was likely what the people of Israel expected. They wanted a warrior to motivate them with a Braveheart-like battle cry and overthrow the oppressive Roman government. They wanted Jesus to be like T'Challa, re-emerging in his hi-tech suit to rally the Dora Milaje and overthrow Killmonger! (Go see Black Panther). What the people of Jerusalem hadn’t factored in is that God had already raised up a leader to triumph over an oppressive nation. The Exodus and the original Passover were all about God defeating a political superpower through the leadership of his prophet Moses. Biblical revelation progresses like the Parable of the Mustard Seed; it begins small but grows into something much, much larger. Therefore, the Passover and Exodus story was a foreshadowing of something much greater than a victory over a nation to come: God's ultimate victory over sin.
The point of Jesus’ triumphal entry is to demonstrate just that. He is a king full of humility – the kind of humility that would drive a perfectly innocent man to die on behalf of his people to earn them eternal deliverance. He doesn't ride into Jerusalem ready to kill; he rides in ready to be killed. His goal is to take on the punishment and death that his people deserve all so that the justice of God might be satisfied in crushing sin and he can then extend forgiveness to all who trust in Jesus. That is who Jesus is for us - a humble king who was willing to die so that we wouldn't have to. So as we cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” along with our fellow Christians worldwide, let’s remember that our Son of David, our King, was humble enough to endure the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. No greater king has ever, or will ever exist.