“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
– Zechariah 9:9
“It is a picture of great sadness, merging into gladness; or ineffable sorrow, preparing the way for unutterable and final joy.”
– G. Campell Morgan, The Triumphal Entry from The Westminster Pulpit, Volume 5, 87.
On this day, churches across the world celebrate; children come down the isles waving palm branches, we sing triumphant songs, and our hearts remember the day our Savior rode into that holy city. And yet this day is a sobering one. It is a sobering one because, as G. Campbell Morgan reminds us, this triumphal entry was not an entry into worldly victory; it was not an entry into worldly honor and glory. No. This entry was an entry into sorrow and sadness; it was an entry into suffering. This certainly does not negate the joy and gladness which emanate from its truth, but the triumphal entry should remind us not simply of joy and gladness, but it should also remind us of the way unto that joy and gladness.
In preparation for His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus tells his disciples to find a colt and a donkey for Him, and Matthew helps us along by saying, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden,”‘” (Matthew 21:5). In other words, Jesus commandeered Zechariah’s prophecy and interpreted its fuller meaning for us. Zechariah 9:9 commands God’s people to “rejoice” and “shout aloud”. Why? Because “your king is coming to you.” Christ proclaims Himself as Israel’s King and Messiah by riding into Jerusalem in this manner. We are to rejoice and to sing aloud, because Christ has come unto His people. But there is more. Our King Jesus, according to Zechariah, is “righteous” and “having salvation.” He comes bearing righteousness and giving salvation. These are certainly reasons for His people to rejoice and shout aloud! The Messiah comes to bring salvation! But, like the crowd gathered around Him that day, we can easily mistake the way to that salvation. We can rejoice and sing with great joy without remembering that the way unto that great joy is a hard way, a sorrowful way, a suffering way.
It has been shown, time after time, that the crowd which gathered around Him expected Christ to bring salvation by demolishing the rule of the Romans. They expected a Messiah who would conquer by military force and insurrection. Certainly Christ would conquer by force, but He would conquer by a force wholly alien to the force expected of Him by those in the crowd. His way of salvation was a way of sadness and sorrow, a way of suffering. Because we know Scripture’s story, we know why Christ was entering into Jerusalem. It wasn’t to deal justice to Caesar by sword and conquest. It wasn’t to raise up an army of Jews to retake Palestine and to set up an earthly kingdom. No. He came to Jerusalem for a greater and grander purpose; He came into Jerusalem to die.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel,” (Genesis 3:15).
“‘The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 12:13).
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him,” (Colossians 2:13-15).
“he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption,” (Hebrews 9:12).
Bruises, blood, piercing, crushing, wounding, and a cross characterize the victory that Jesus gained. He came into Jerusalem that day to conquer. He came that day to fulfill what was promised to Adam and Eve, what was foreshadowed in the Passover, and what was prophesied about in Isaiah. He came to do battle with all evil and all rebellion and to save his people from the destruction of sin and the stench of death. But He came to secure that wonderful victory through intense suffering. He came to give overwhelming joy through horrible sorrow. He came to gain everlasting glory through momentary shame.
As we prepare for Easter, let us remember not only the joy and gladness which come from our Savior, but let us also remember the way unto that never-ending joy and gladness. The way of Christ is a way of hardship and trial. He came that day to gain victory for His people, to secure the way unto eternal redemption and life. And, because He has secured this way by His death and resurrection, we also, as we follow in His wake, will come into that same glory and life. We learn an important lesson from this triumphal entry: As we are conformed into the image of Christ, let us not be taken aback by the hardships we face here, for we know that, as He entered into sorrow and sadness when He came into Jerusalem but found everlasting joy and gladness at His resurrection, we too will find the same when we enter into glory. Palm Sunday is about an entry into sorrow, and we would do well not to forget it. But it is also, after that sorrow and sadness, an entry into heavenly glory, heavenly victory, and heavenly joy.