The Background To His Entrance.
Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” – John 12:12-13 NLT
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus. Like His birth, Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection, this is one of those moments in the life of Jesus that has been seared into our memory. It has taken on the quality of a Hallmark card, complete with the idyllic scene of Jesus sitting on the small colt of a donkey, surrounded by an adoring crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting His praises. We don’t doubt that it happened, but it has become so familiar a scene to many of us that we no longer look at it with any sense of credulity or wonder. When I read the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem I can’t help but ask, “What is really going on here?” Even as a young boy, I would wonder why these people were so excited about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, when none of them ever seemed to believe in Him before. Why were thousands of people suddenly hailing Him as the King of Israel and acknowledging Him as the Messiah, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord”?
As is always the case when reading Scripture, context is essential. But many of us have been raised on a steady diet of Bible stories lifted out of context and forced to stand on their own as isolated little vignettes, each carrying their own moral message or story line. But the Triumphal Entry did not happen in isolation. It was part of a series of events that were all working together to help set the stage for the final days of Jesus’ life on this planet.
To understand what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem that day, you have to back up to the first part of chapter 12 of the book of John. There you will discover that six days before Passover, Jesus had been in the village of Bethany. He was there to visit the home of Lazarus, the man He had miraculously raised from the dead not many days before. This event had caused quite a stir. Those who had come to mourn the death of Lazarus, and then witnessed him walking out of the tomb alive, couldn’t help but be impressed with this man called Jesus. News spread quickly. John tells us, “Many of the people who were there with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45 NLT). But when the religious leaders heard what had happened, there response was to begin to plot the death of Jesus. This was the last straw for them. Jesus was garnering far too much attention. He was creating too much of a distraction and causing too great a disturbance to their way of life to be ignored any longer. This all took place in the village of Bethany, located just about two miles east of Jerusalem. John also tells us that since it was almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, people from all over the country were arriving in town early in order to go through the required purification process for Passover. There would have been millions of people flocking into Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, looking for places to stay during the Passover celebration. Bethany, being so close to the city, would have been a likely stopping point for many of them. Because the fantastic news of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead had been spreading like wild fire, these visitors to Jerusalem were all looking for Jesus. John tells us, “They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to one another, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” (John 11:56 NLT). The Pharisees and leading priests had spies out looking for Jesus so they could arrest Him. But Jesus had left the region for a time and chapter 12 records His return just six days prior to Passover.
He had dinner with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. It was Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus, a sign of gratitude for what He had done for her brother Lazarus. While Jesus acknowledged that this was in preparation for His coming burial, there is no indication that Mary had this in mind when she did what she did. John tells us that when news of Jesus’ arrival got out, people “flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 NLT). The crowds gathered and the religious leaders plotted. Now they decided to kill Lazarus as well, probably in an attempt to eliminate the evidence to Jesus’ miracle. The fact was, Lazarus had become a celebrity and a walking witness to the Messianic claims of Jesus. He was living proof of Jesus’ power and was not afraid to talk about it. John tells us that it was the very next day, right after Jesus’ dinner at the home of Lazarus, that He instructed His disciples to find the colt and prepare for His entrance into Jerusalem. The key to understand what went on that day is found in verses 17-18 of John 12. “Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him – because they had heard about this miraculous sign” (John 12:17-18 NLT). It was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed Jesus’ a huge welcome that day. It was also His raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed that the religious leaders would determine to kill Him. This amazing, miraculous, awe-inspiring event, which should have been more than enough proof to support Jesus claims to be the Messiah, would set in motion His ultimate death. The people waving palm branches and shouting praises that day didn’t really believe in Jesus. They were enamored with His miracles. The religious leaders weren’t impressed with Jesus’ power, they simply wanted to eliminate His presence. Back in Luke 16, Jesus told the fictional story of the rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. I think Jesus chose that name for the beggar for a reason. At the end of that story, Jesus has the great patriarch of Israel, Abraham say, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NLT).
Now, not long after raising Lazarus from the dead, and just days after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus would be rejected, tried and crucified. His message and His miracles would be forgotten. His claim to be the Messiah would be ignored. Their own assertion that He was “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and their shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn to screams of “Crucify Him!” But the raising of Lazarus made possible His rousing welcome by the people and guaranteed the blood-thirsty response of the religious leaders. It was all necessary for God’s plan to be fulfilled and Jesus’ mission to be completed.
Father, it is incredible to read the details required for Your redemptive plan to work the way it did. So many things had to happen at just the right time and in just the right way for everything to line up the way it did. So many individuals had to be involved, many of them in ways they were totally oblivious to. Judas had to betray Jesus. Peter would have to deny Him. Lazarus would have to die. Mary would anoint Him. The people would wildly welcome Him. The disciples would desert Him. But it was all part of Your divine redemptive plan. What an amazing God You are! Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men