From Jericho by the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, to the summit of the Mt. of Olives east of Jerusalem, the journey is a long exhausting trek through a hot and dusty wilderness. You go from over 800 feet below sea level to nearly 3,000 feet above sea level in just over 12 miles! Talk about a hike! But when you reach the summit of the Mt. of Olives and look down on the city of Jerusalem it is a glorious, awe-inspiring view, well worth the walk. Even today when you can make the journey by car and emerge from a tunnel halfway down the mountain’s slope, you still have a majestic view of the city.
Add to this view the excitement of a 1st century Jewish pilgrim coming to Jerusalem from Galilee for a one of the major annual festivals. You are coming to the place where the living God had chosen to dwell, where regular daily sacrifices were offered to assure His people of their forgiveness, their relationship with Him and their hope for the future. They came to celebrate the stories of their past, meet with family and friends, and sing, pray, dance, and feast.
Add to that the anticipation of those who were following Jesus up the mountain from Jericho. It’s Passover. Passover is about freedom. They were following their king Jesus up the mountain to enter his royal city and proclaim freedom from oppression and the establishment of his kingdom. This is a very excited, exuberant crowd!
Jesus had come to bring freedom and establish his kingdom, but his method of doing these things was vastly different than anyone following him to Jerusalem must have imagined. Jesus was bringing God’s new Exodus, the greatest Passover of all Passovers so far. He had come to proclaim freedom from the bondage of sin and to establish his eternal kingdom through his death and resurrection satisfying the requirements of the covenant God had made with His Abraham around 2,000 years earlier.
So Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is appropriately a royal one. There’s a reason he chose to enter riding a donkey’s colt. He knew Zechariah 9:9, the prophecy that the Messiah would ride a young donkey.
The disciples go all in with the theme of a royal messianic celebration laying their cloaks along the road before Jesus. You don’t spread your cloak in the road for just anyone. You do this for royalty. This act was essentially saying that everything I have belongs to you.
You also don’t cut branches from trees to wave in the street just because it’s a good day. You do this because you are welcoming a king.
A triumphal celebration like this had happened 200 years earlier. Judas Maccabaeus had defeated the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, entered Jerusalem, and cleansed and rebuilt the Temple. The people celebrated waving ivy and palm branches and singing hymns of praise. This was the beginning of a royal Jewish dynasty that lasted a century (2 Maccabees 10:1-9).
In the eyes of the crowd, Jesus the king come to restore the Jewish kingdom, has come. So the crowd greets him with shouts of “Hosanna” which is a Hebrew word that mixes exuberant praise to God with the prayer that God will save his people immediately. This chant comes from Psalm 118:25-26 which is all about going up to Jerusalem and the Temple. It’s a song of victory, a hymn of praise glorifying God who has defeated His enemies and established His kingdom. Jesus will quote from this Psalm during this week when the Temple leaders challenge his authority.
In the middle of this chant the people insert the dangerous prayer, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10). This statement summarizes everything that is going on here. This is what we learned about in the shout of Bartimaeus to Jesus back in Jericho.
There are those along the way of the procession that grumble against this messianic celebration, fearing the reaction of their Roman rulers. Yet this is the very reason for the celebration. Jesus has come to bring God’s salvation, God’s great Exodus, through his action on the cross taking the place of the Passover lamb, fulfilling the covenantal requirement for our salvation once and for all. Had the crowds around Jesus known the events that would take place this week they would have been distressed, angry, and puzzled, and they will be soon.
David was king and chose Jerusalem as his capital city 1,000 years before Jesus triumphal entry. For nearly half of those years the Jews had been waiting and praying for a king like David to come and save them from oppression. Now Jesus has come, not to be enthroned like David or Judas Maccabaeus, but to be killed.
As we arrive with Jesus in Jerusalem today, why are we with him? Do we hope that he will fulfill our hopes and desires? Do we praise him only as long as he seems to be doing what we want? Or are we willing to not only lay down our cloaks before him, but to lay down our own lives, completely trusting him, allowing him to use the life he has redeemed in us however he desires?
Resources and Activities for Grownups and Kids during Holy Week
Keep it simple! Kids like to play. They like to imagine. These activities are suggested to make the events of Holy Week come alive. The goal is not the perfection of Pinterest.
- Read the Scriptures together. Talk about them. If your children ask questions & you don’t know the answer search for the answer together.
- Encourage children to act out the story. Supply some blankets, scarves, pieces of fabric for costumes.
- Use what you have to make little people: sticks, pipe cleaners, legos, clothespins, peg people.
- Use your palm branch and march around the house shouting “Hosanna”; If you don’t have a palm branch then cut one out of paper. (Christians in northern Europe have often used pussy willow branches since they did not have palms.)
- Read an Easter Book like The Crippled Lamb, or The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale. You can check them out at your local library or order digital or hard/paperback versions of them online.
- Do something kind for someone every day.