Apostle Barbara Childress
The Son affirms the cross: the triumphal entry
At first glance Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem may seem to be anything but an affirmation of the cross. The crowds were certainly not affirming the death of Jesus on the cross - quite the contrary! Caught in a feverish excitement, they wanted Jesus to claim his throne. Jesus had evidently succeeded. What need was there now for the cross?
While the cross was the farthest thing from the minds of the enthusiastic throng, in the mind of Jesus it remained where it had always been - at the forefront of his thinking. The triumphal entry did not take him by surprise. It was not a cause for him to reconsider. Indeed, it was an integral part of his journey to the cross. It was not a detour down a side-street, but part of his direct route to the cross.
To understand and appreciate this we must first realize that this triumphal entry did not just 'happen' to Jesus. He was not the passive recipient of it. He was in charge of it. He is here the conductor who blends the many instruments of his orchestra into the symphony he wants to hear. What had Jesus done to create this event?
Well, first there was that journey to Jerusalem. There was none like it. It began with the disciples noticing something of a change in his demeanor. Luke mentions this. He puts it in these words: 'Now it came to pass, when the time had come for him to be received up, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem' (Luke 9:51). This steadfast determination was a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy: 'Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed' (Isaiah 50:7).
This journey to Jerusalem was different from those that had preceded it. It was Jesus' last journey there. It was not, as was the case with the other pilgrims, for the purpose of observing the Passover, but rather for the purpose of becoming the Passover Lamb by being sacrificed on the cross. This journey to Jerusalem had been carefully marked on heaven's calendar before the world began and when the time finally arrived Jesus, always resolute, became even more focused and intense.
This, of course could not have been detected by the multitudes. But Jesus' journey to Jerusalem was to feature some things they could not possibly miss. There were those ten lepers that he healed as 'He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee' (Luke 17:11). Then there was the healing of blind Bartimaeus and his companion as Jesus made his way out of Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). To crown it all, there was that grand moment when, just outside Jerusalem at Bethany, Jesus stood before the tomb of the dead Lazarus and cried, 'Lazarus, come forth!' (John 11:43). And Lazarus, 'bound hand and foot with grave clothes,' came out of the grave (John 11:44).
Thousands of pilgrims were themselves on the road to Jerusalem for the Passover as Jesus did these things. Many saw these wonders. And those who did not see them soon heard about them. Word spread like wildfire. And the more the pilgrims heard, the more excited they became. Surely, the Messiah was among them! All that remained was for him to claim his throne.
For his part Jesus retired from the public eye to Ephraim (John 11:54) and then, six days before the Passover, returned to Bethany to spend some time with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1). His presence there quickly became known and many made their way from Jerusalem to see both Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9).
The point we must not miss is that Jesus was not surprised by all this excitement. He created it by his acts of healing and by raising Lazarus from the dead. That euphoria and excitement had to be in place for him to keep his appointment with the cross.
Sunday morning arrived and Jesus, who had generated all this excitement, now took full advantage of it. He continued to be the orchestrator.
In regal fashion, he issued crisp commands to his disciples: 'Go and find a colt...Loose it...Bring it..' If anyone were to ask what they were doing, they were to respond: 'Because the Lord has need of him' (Luke 19:31). This, by the way, is the only time in the Gospels in which Jesus refers to himself as Lord.
The colt, on which no one had ever ridden, seems to have recognized its Creator and to have offered no resistance, and Jesus began to make his way to the city of Jerusalem. Having taken notice of these preparations, some assumed Jesus was about to 'make his move'. They ran to the city of Jerusalem to spread the news. A large throng made their way from the city towards Bethany. Meanwhile another large crowd accompanied him from Bethany. Somewhere between Bethany and Jerusalem the two throngs merged. A glorious, intoxicating euphoria reigned, as the people waved the branches they had chopped off the palm trees lining the road and shouted 'Hosanna' ('Save now!'). Jerusalem had never seen anything to match it.
We should note that Jesus willingly accepted the acclamation of this multitude. On previous occasions he had instructed people not to say that he was the Messiah. But here he offered no objection to the surging throng crying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!' (Luke 19:38). And when the Pharisees demanded that he rebuke the people, Jesus simply responded: 'I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out' (Luke 19:40).
What is going on in this scene? What does all this have to do with the cross of Christ? How can this be considered as a further affirmation of the cross by Jesus? The apostle John gives us the answer: 'The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!"' (John 12:19). This is a statement of sheer terror on the part of the Pharisees. Yes, they wanted to kill Jesus (John 11:53), but it is a certainty that they did not want to do it during the Passover while Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims. After the Passover, when things were back to normal, when it could be done quietly - that was the time to kill Jesus.
But the Pharisees' timetable was not God's. His Son must not only die on the cross; he must also die at exactly the right time. He had to die during the Passover as the Lamb of God represented by the original Passover under Moses. By creating the tremendous atmosphere of excitement and by carefully orchestrating his entrance into Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus Christ was doing nothing less than forcing the religious leaders to accept his and the Father's timetable. So, far from the triumphal entry's being at odds with Jesus' plan to go to the cross, it was a ringing affirmation of his intention to go there at precisely the time the Father had ordained.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.