This is one of those well-worn stories that we’ve heard every year until we think we have it down. Stay with me here.
The people have heard that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, and it quickly becomes a large celebration party. The people have for centuries been expecting a political king. Jesus has been bucking this trend since the beginning. Isn’t he just pouring gas on the fire by entering Jerusalem this way? Isn’t he creating a problem of expectations by entering Jerusalem as a messianic king?
There is a sensible picture behind Jesus’ dramatic action. This is, of course, going to be the week of his crucifixion and resurrection, and if there’s ever a time to proclaim that he truly is the messiah and “call the question,” so to speak, this is it. There is a prophecy in Zechariah 9.9 that the Messiah will do exactly this, so he makes it deliberate and obvious.
The city was swollen with people. Jesus procures a donkey, which was a sign of a kingship of peace. He started his journey at the Mt. of Olives, where the prophecy foretold that the Messiah would come. There was an instant flurry of activity, as people grabbed palm branches to lay before the “king.” They thought Jesus was coming as a political king, to raise an army and defeat Rome. But also, his was NOT going to be a kingdom of blood. Oh, wait a minute—yes it was. And he wasn’t going to raise an army. Oh wait a minute—yes he was. Hm.
They sing Ps. 118—a psalm of the Messiah. Their political activist had come, so they thought. They praise him with words usually reserved only for Caesar: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” The Pharisees are offended, because in their minds Jesus doesn’t fit the requirements for messiah, and he hasn’t fulfilled the prophecies as they understand them.
The pressure mounting: The question at hand is “What do you believe?” The people are wild with excitement, and the Pharisees are just as wild with envy. So, the question is: Is Jesus the Messiah sent from God, or is he just another impostor?