Over the next 6 Sundays we are going to analyze and discuss the events of “Passion Week”. These messages will lead us to Easter, the historic day upon which Jesus rose from the dead. It is my prayer that these sermons will help us further understand and more deeply appreciate the sacrifice that Christ made for sinners at Calvary. I hope it will give us an even greater cause to celebrate His resurrection and burden to proclaim salvation to the lost.
The phrase “Passion Week” refers to the intense suffering that Jesus took upon Himself during the final few days of His life. He endured mockings, beatings, scourging, and ultimately crucifixion in order to redeem and rescue humanity from their sins. He undertook all of these horrible things voluntarily and willingly laid His life down for mankind.
We will use the gospel of Mark as the primary text for this series, and supplement it with additional information found in Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark was the first gospel to be written, and it served as the template for the other 2 synoptic gospels. While Mark is the shortest of the 4 gospel books, it provides the clearest and most specific timeline of what occurred during “Passion Week”.
Jesus likely arrived in Bethany on the Friday before Palm Sunday. He stayed at the home of His dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. During his previous visit to Bethany, only a few months earlier, Jesus had miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. Now early spring, Lazarus - who was alive and well - and his sisters joyfully greeted and welcomed Jesus and His disciples into their home.
That night Martha prepared a meal for their guests. While they ate, Mary approached Jesus and anointed His feet with costly perfume, wiping them with her hair. One of the apostles, Judas Iscariot, expressed dissatisfaction with Mary’s actions, but Jesus defended her and foreshadowed His upcoming burial. Meanwhile, the report that Jesus had returned to Bethany was spreading throughout the nearby area. Many Jews came out to see Him and Lazarus, and the chief priests determined to kill them both.
It is likely that everyone stayed home on Saturday to observe the Sabbath. It was probably a quiet and uneventful day. “Passion Week” would officially begin the next morning, on Sunday. Christians refer to this day as “Palm Sunday”.
I. PREPARATIONS ARE MADE
Late Sunday morning, or perhaps even early afternoon, Jesus and His disciples started walking toward the nearby city of Jerusalem. Bethany was only about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, an easy walk of around 25-30 minutes. The little town of Bethphage was nestled on the road in between them. Departing from Bethany, Jesus sent 2 of His disciples ahead of Him into Bethphage with a simple task. They were to find a young colt - the male foal of a donkey - upon which no one had ever ridden, to untie it, and bring it back to Jesus.
The disciples went into the village as instructed and found the donkey’s colt, just as Jesus had described (It is possible that there was both an adult donkey and a colt, but for the sake of this sermon we will focus only on the colt). Some local men, likely the owners, asked them why they were taking the animal. When the disciples explained that the Lord needed it, he granted them permission. The disciples immediately took the donkey colt back to Jesus.
All of this had been foretold hundreds of years earlier in the Old Testament (Zechariah 9:9). In his book, the prophet Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation; Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was about to fulfill a 500 year old prophecy. Unfortunately, the disciples did not understand the significance of what was happening until much later on.
II. THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
The disciples brought the young colt to Jesus. They laid their coats on its back for Jesus to sit on. The Lord sat upon the donkey and rode on toward Jerusalem, with all of His disciples and an ever-growing crowd walking along with Him. Many people spread their coats out on the road before Him while others waved palm branches that they’d cut from the fields. It was a grand procession, like those of ancient kings who would ride into town on royal steeds with great pomp and circumstance.
As Jesus continued on, many people began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” The word hosanna means “save us”, “deliver us”, or “rescue us”. The anticipation of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem was overflowing. The cheers of celebration heralding His arrival became so loud that some Pharisees in the crowd urged Jesus to silence His disciples. He answered that if they were to be quiet, the rocks themselves would cry out!
Bethphage rested on the slope of the Mount of Olives, about a mile from Jerusalem. From its elevated position, a person could see the sprawling city below. As Jesus approached Jerusalem, He looked out over the city and wept for its citizens. Despite their kind and gracious welcome, the Lord knew that in just a few days the people would turn on Him. He foresaw and spoke about the destruction of Jerusalem which would someday come against the people.
III. A BRIEF VISIT
The excitement continued as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Crowds lined the streets welcoming Him with shouts of tribute and praise. Many had heard of the recent resurrection of Lazarus and wanted to see this powerful healer for themselves. Some were stirred in their spirit and asked who He was. Others identified Him as Jesus, the great prophet from Nazareth. The Pharisees saw that the whole city seemed enamored with Christ, and they worried amongst themselves about what to do.
There were some Greeks in the crowd who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which were set to begin later that week. They were mostly likely proselytes, ethnic Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. Perhaps they had heard of Him, but most likely they’d never seen Jesus before. They asked one of the apostles, Philip, if he would introduce them to Jesus. Philip told Andrew, and the 2 apostles approached Jesus together with the Greeks’ request. Upon hearing it, Jesus spoke about His upcoming death and resurrection. It is uncertain whether or not the Lord ever actually met with these Gentiles.
Jesus and those with Him eventually made their way to the temple. By this time, it was likely late in the afternoon or perhaps early evening. Jesus walked around the temple complex and looked at everything, but after a brief stay He and the apostles left. The hour was getting late, so they returned to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home in Bethany where they were staying and settled in for the night.
Jesus’ remarkable entrance into Jerusalem that day is remembered by Christians as “The Triumphal Entry”. By His actions, Jesus declared Himself to the long awaited Messiah and King of the Jews. Unfortunately, most of the people mistook Him as an earthly king and deliverer who had come to liberate the nation of Israel from Roman oppression. They did not understand or grasp that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, but was rather a spiritual kingdom.
Earthly kings typically rode on gallant stallions, while Jesus rode on a lowly donkey.
Earthy kings wore royal robes, while Jesus was dressed humbly in common, everyday clothes.
Earthly kings conquered by force, but Jesus’ victory came through love, grace, and sacrifice.
Earthly kings desired riches and renown, but Jesus practiced lowliness and servanthood.
Earthly kings battled against other nations, but Jesus warred against sin and death.
Earthly kings sought increased territory, but Jesus sought the hearts and minds of people.
Earthly kings come and go, but Jesus - the King of kings - reigns forever.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The multitudes welcomed Him and cheered joyfully as He passed by. This morning may I ask you, have you ever personally invited Jesus into your heart? He is waiting patiently, and desperately longs to come in. If you will simply confess your sins - turn to Him in sincere faith - and ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your life, He will sweep in with the love and forgiveness that only He can provide. As He does so, all of Heaven will erupt with shouts of celebration and praise. Then you will know, more deeply than ever before, what a triumphal entry truly is.
Floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll, when Jesus came into my heart!