The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

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Luke 19:28-40 (Palm Sunday)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called The Road to Jerusalem, and for four weeks now we have been following Jesus and his disciples on the road to Jerusalem. We’ve seen how Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and how his disciples followed him as he walked the long road to the cross. And it was on this day, what we call Palm Sunday, that he finally reached his goal. This is the week that Jesus actually entered the city of Jerusalem to suffer and die for our sins. But you would hardly know it from the amazing reception he received as he entered the city. (Read Luke 19:36-38 and pray.)


This event we are looking at today in Jesus’ life is often called the Triumphal Entry. We all know the scene well: Jesus entering Jerusalem accompanied by the waving of palm branches, the cheering of the crowds and great anticipation. If you were a visitor to Jerusalem on this day, if you were unfamiliar with Jesus’ life and teachings, you would probably be wondering what this was all about.

Well, let’s take a closer look at this passage and find out for ourselves. There are three things we see happening in our passage this morning. First, Jesus presents himself as Messiah. Secondly, the people proclaim Jesus as Messiah. And then finally, Jesus accepts their praise of him as Messiah.

I. Jesus presents himself as Messiah (28-34)

So first of all, Jesus presents himself as Messiah. The Messiah was the coming Deliverer that God had promised to the Jewish people many years before. The entire Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Messiah, and Messianic expectation ran high among the people of Jesus’ day. Jewish history was one long cycle of freedom and then captivity to other nations. The Jewish people were currently under Roman rule, and they longed to be free again. They believed that when Messiah came, he would deliver them from the Romans and set them free.

This was also a significant week in the Jewish calendar. This was Passover week when the Jewish people celebrated God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians under the leadership of Moses. Crowds of traveling pilgrims journeyed to the holy city of Jerusalem for this annual event. The religious fervor and zeal were off the charts.

Part of the Messianic hope was that God would send a prophet like Moses to deliver his people. And so, here comes Jesus – a prophet – widely known for his miracles and teaching, walking the road to Jerusalem along with his disciples and this growing crowd of fellow pilgrims.

There was already wide conjecture among the people that Jesus might be the Messiah. Jesus had already revealed that he was to his disciples. Now as he prepares to enter Jerusalem – at the beginning of this holy week – Jesus presents himself as Messiah to all the people of Jerusalem.

So how does Jesus do this? How does he present himself as Messiah? There are three ways Jesus presents himself as Messiah that we find in these opening verses.

   A. He approaches from the Mount of Olives (28-29)
      – Ezekiel 11:23, 43:1; Zechariah 14:4

The first is he approaches from the Mount of Olives. Look at verses 28-29: “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples ahead.” (Luke 19:29)

The phrase “after Jesus said this” refers back to the parable we looked at last week. But right now, I want us to focus on the Mount of Olives, because the Mount of Olives is more than just a geographical marker here. The Mount of Olives has Messianic implications.

When Ezekiel in the Old Testament prophesied to the Jewish exiles who were held captive in Babylon, he prophesied about the restoration of Israel to the land even as he beheld in a vision the glory of the Lord departing from the temple and then from Jerusalem. We read in Ezekiel 11:23: “The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.” (Ezekiel 11:23) This was the Mount of Olives. It marked the departure of God’s glory from Jerusalem. Later on in Ezekiel’s vision he sees the glory of the Lord returning to Jerusalem from the east (Ezekiel 43:1), implying that God’s glory would re-enter Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives even as it had left.

Zechariah was another Old Testament prophet. He prophesied to the group of exiles who returned to Jerusalem after the exile was over and encouraged them in the rebuilding of the temple. In the final chapter of his vision he prophesies about the Day of the Lord when the Lord will return to fight for his people. We read in Zechariah 14:4: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” (Zechariah 14:4)

Now we know today that this verse applies to Christ’s second coming, not his first, but the people expected that when Messiah came to deliver them, he would come from the Mount of Olives. And so, it is no accident that Jesus begins his entry into Jerusalem from the east at this very location. He is intentionally, deliberately presenting himself as Messiah.

   B. He sends for the tethered colt (30)
      – Genesis 49:10-11

Now a second way Jesus presents himself as Messiah is when he sends for the tethered colt. Look at verse 30: He sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” (Luke 19:30)

You might wonder, “What does a tethered colt have to do with the Messiah?” Well, one of the earliest prophesies about Messiah comes from Jacob in the book of Genesis in chapter 49. In chapter 49 Jacob is an old man and dying. He gathers his sons around him, and he prophesies about each one and their descendants. Of particular interest is his prophecy about Judah. Because King David came from the line of Judah, and later Old Testament prophecy made it clear that the Messiah would also come from Judah through the line of David.

So here’s Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:10-11) For the Jewish person in Jesus’ day, steeped in the Old Testament as they were, this tethered colt here in Luke’s gospel would evoke associations with this prophecy in Genesis and provide yet another reason to see Jesus as the Messiah.

The fact that the donkey had never been ridden is also significant. Animals that were meant for sacred or royal use were not used for ordinary tasks. They were set apart for their greater purpose. This young donkey that had never been ridden had been set apart by God for the sacred and royal task of carrying the Messiah into the holy city on this first Palm Sunday.

And so, that’s the second way Jesus presents himself as Messiah in these verses. He sends for the tethered colt.

   C. He calls himself “Lord” (31-34)
      – Psalm 110:1; Luke 20:41-44

And then the third way Jesus presents himself as Messiah is when he calls himself “Lord.” Look at verses 31-34 now. He told his disciples whom he sent on ahead: “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” (Luke 19:31-34)

Now this word “Lord” had several meanings in Jesus’ day. It could refer to God, or to a master, or even just to the owner of something. In fact, when Jesus first instructs his disciples to say, “The Lord needs it,” he could have meant something as simple as saying, “His owner needs it.” But Luke is careful to point out that the donkey’s actual owners are the ones who ask the disciples why they are untying the colt. And so, the word “Lord” then takes on a deeper meaning, when they reply to the owners, “The Lord needs it.”

The name “Lord” was a title that was used for the coming Messiah. For example, Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm. It begins with these words: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” (Psalm 110:1) After Jesus enters Jerusalem, Jesus will use this very psalm to engage the Pharisees concerning the title of “Lord” as it applies to the Messiah. (Luke 20:41-44)

So, how does Jesus present himself as Messiah at the Triumphal Entry? 1) He approaches from the Mount of Olives. 2) He sends for the tethered colt. 3) He calls himself “Lord.”

II. The people proclaim Jesus as Messiah (35-38)

Now, Jesus not only presents himself as Messiah at the Triumphal Entry. The people also proclaim Jesus as Messiah. We see this in a number of ways.

   A. They place him on the donkey (35)
      – 1 Kings 1:38-40; Zechariah 9:9

First of all, they place him on the donkey. Look at verse 35: “They brought the donkey to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.” (Luke 19:35) So, you might wonder, why is this detail so important? Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, by placing Jesus on the donkey for his entry into the city, the people were proclaiming him as king. Now not everyone who rides a donkey into town would be considered a king. But placing someone on a donkey, and then following that person into town in a triumphal procession, this was an unmistakable sign of kingship.

For example, in the Old Testament when Solomon becomes king, we find a very similar scene. We read in 1 Kings that they “put Solomon on King David’s mule and escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him, playing flutes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.” (1 Kings 1:38-40) Solomon’s procession in the Old Testament is almost a preview of Jesus’ procession here in the New.

Secondly, it is significant that Jesus rides into the city on a donkey rather than a horse. The horse was a military animal, and when the king rode into the city on a horse, it signaled military victory. The donkey was used for civil ceremonies and peaceful occasions. By choosing a donkey rather than a horse, Jesus showed that he was coming in peace. This should have been a sign to the crowd and the disciples that he was not entering Jerusalem to overthrow the Roman government at this time.

And then thirdly, the donkey figures prominently in another one of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. We read this in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

And so, the donkey here is highly significant. By placing him on the donkey and then processing before him into the city of Jerusalem, the people clearly proclaim Jesus as Messiah and king.

   B. They spread their cloaks before him (36)
      – 2 Kings 9:13

Another way the people proclaim Jesus as Messiah is when they spread their cloaks before him. We read in verse 36: “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.” (Luke 19:36) It is interesting, Luke does not mention the waving of palm branches, just the spreading of the cloaks. In fact, Luke is the only gospel that does not mention the branches. So here we are on Palm Sunday, and we are reading the only gospel that doesn’t even mention the palm branches!

Now the palm branches are significant. Palm branches were used in celebrations. They were also used as symbols of military victory, which shows that the people still thought that Jesus was coming to deliver them from Rome.

But the spreading of the cloaks is also significant. The spreading of the cloaks was a sign of respect for the king. For example, in the Old Testament when Elisha the prophet anointed Jehu as king, we read that the people “hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13)

Spreading your cloaks under the feet of the king was a sign of submission. It indicated your willingness to bow before the king, your willingness to yield the right of your possessions to him and his rule. And so, this is a second way that the crowds proclaim Jesus as Messiah and king. They spread their cloaks before him.

   C. They shout his praises (37-38)
      – Psalm 118:24-26; Luke 2:14

And then thirdly, they proclaim Jesus as Messiah by shouting his praises. Look at verses 37-38 now: “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:37-38)

And so, the people lift up their voices in celebration and praise. The first phrase they shout comes from the Psalms. Psalm 118 says: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” (Psalm 118:24-26) The word “hosanna” literally means, “Lord save us!” which we find in this psalm. And just like the psalm the people cry out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The second phrase is similar to the song that the angels sang at Christ’s birth. Look at these two verses next to each other:

  • The angels’ song at Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
  • The people’s declaration at his entry into Jerusalem: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)

The main difference here is the change in phrasing from “peace on earth” to “peace in heaven.” And I wonder, did the people even realize the significance of what they were saying here? Probably not. But God in his sovereignty knew that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would result in his dying on the cross for sin. And Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross would bring peace in heaven between God and man for all who would put their faith in Christ. The praises of the people are the third way that the people proclaim Jesus as Messiah as he enters Jerusalem.

III. Jesus accepts their praise of him as Messiah (39-40)

And so, Jesus presents himself as Messiah at his triumphal entry. The people proclaim him as Messiah. And then finally, Jesus accepts their praise of him as Messiah.

   A. The Pharisees object to the people’s praise of Jesus (39)

Now, not everyone was happy about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Look at verse 39: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’” (Luke 19:39)

You see, the Pharisees knew what was happening. They got it. They saw Jesus coming into the city from the east. They saw him riding on the donkey as the people waved their palm branches and laid their cloaks on the road before him. They heard the people praising God and proclaiming Jesus as king just as he passed by the Mount of Olives. They understood the implications of all these things. Jesus was presenting himself as Messiah, and the people were proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. And so, they tell Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples. Tell them to stop!”

   B. Jesus affirms the people’s praise (40)

And you know what? Any good teacher who was not the Messiah would have rebuked the disciples, right then and there. They would have told them to stop. But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? And do you know why he doesn’t do it? Because he is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

In fact, instead of rebuking them, Jesus actually affirms the people’s praise instead. Look at verse 40: “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

I love that phrase. It is wonderfully ambiguous, and yet at the same time such a clear affirmation that Jesus accepted the people’s praise of him as Messiah. So, what does Jesus mean when he says that the stones will cry out?

1) It is impossible for the disciples to keep quiet: One interpretation here is that Jesus is saying it is just as impossible for the disciples to keep quiet as it would be for the stones to cry out. It’s impossible for the stones to cry out, and it’s impossible for the disciples to be quiet. The Messiah is here. How can they not rejoice?

2) The stones will cry out in praise: A second interpretation is that Jesus is worthy of praise, and if we don’t give it to him, God will find some other way, even if it means making the stones cry out his praises instead. I like that one.

3) The stones will cry out in judgment: And then, there’s a third interpretation that sees the stones crying out, not in praise, but rather in judgment of those who do evil. In this interpretation the stones would be crying out in condemnation of those who withhold their praises or perhaps in condemnation of the Pharisees who seek to silence those who are praising Jesus. (See Habakkuk 2:11-12 for an Old Testament example of stones crying out in judgment.)

I like the second of these interpretations best, that if the disciples keep quiet, the stones will cry out the praises of Jesus instead. But whichever Jesus meant, it is clear that he affirms the peoples’ praises over the Pharisees’ objections.

CONCLUSION: And so, at the Triumphal Entry Jesus presents himself as Messiah. The people proclaim him as Messiah. And Jesus accepts their praise. That’s what the Triumphal Entry meant to those who were there that day.

So, what does Jesus’ triumphal entry mean to us today? Let me leave you with three words of application.

1) Believe that Jesus is the Messiah. What the people proclaimed about Jesus on that first Palm Sunday, I also proclaim to you today. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Christ. He is the Savior. He came in fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. He came not to deliver the people of Israel from the power of Rome. He came to deliver all people everywhere from the power of sin. Acts 16:31 says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) That’s our first application this morning. Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah sent from God.

2) Serve him as King. As Messiah, Jesus is not only Savior, but Lord. He is the king of the universe who entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) The people spread their cloaks beneath Jesus’ feet as a sign of their submission. Will you bow your knee to Christ? Will you submit to him as Lord and serve him as your king?

Remember, when Jesus comes back from heaven, this time he won’t be riding a donkey in peace. No, he will be riding a white horse of victory as he comes in battle to defeat his enemies. He will strike down the nations with the sharp sword that comes out of his mouth. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:11-18) Don’t wait until it’s too late. Submit to him now, and serve him as King.

And then finally, 3) Proclaim his praises. Jesus is the eternal Son of God who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11) Jesus is worthy of all praise. And let’s face it. If we don’t praise him, the very rocks will cry out!

How do we respond to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry today? 1) Believe that Jesus is the Messiah. 2) Serve him as King. 3) Proclaim his praises.

© Ray Fowler

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