When Jesus walks into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday it was a day that he had been focused for some time. Ten chapters earlier, Luke records these words.
“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)
From that point forward, Jesus has been focused on this day. So, ten chapters later, when the day has finally arrived, it’s a very important moment.
The triumphal entry story in Luke is different from those in Matthew and Mark. Gone are the palm branches and Hosannas. Luke makes no mention of the coming descendant of David, and even seems to insinuate that the multitude around Jesus is not full of random Passover pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem, but a group of his own disciples. Yet, while Luke’s details may differ from the other gospel writers, the point of the text is very clear: the King has arrived. Jesus has been focused on this moment for some time, so before he dies, he wants to make his identity perfectly clear. He is not just a carpenter from Galilee, or an untrained rabbi with a group of followers. This is the King, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who has come to make the world right, not through power and might, but through sacrifice and resurrection.
Luke’s episode actually begins with a parable. Luke says that Jesus “told them a parable because he was near to Jerusalem and because they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (Luke 19:11) Jesus has been teaching, healing, and hinting at this day, so it’s no surprise that as they near Jerusalem the disciples are excited about what is about to take place. So Jesus tells them a parable concerning a nobleman who has gone off to a far country to be named king. And in this parable there are two groups. Those individuals who are serving the nobleman, and will be rewarded for their service, and those who are opposed to the nobleman’s kingship. While the parable is not a direct correlation to Jesus, the point is clear; Jesus is coming to be made king and it’s time to pick a side.
“And when Jesus had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (Luke 19:28)
The time has finally come. Jesus has been king for ages, but now is the time to let the world know. Thus, he can’t just walk into Jerusalem with the other pilgrims. He needs to ride in as the King who brings peace. Often, the conquering king who returns from battle victorious will ride into the capital seated on horseback to display his power and might. Jesus, however, is a different sort of King. Jesus’s rule is established through sacrifice and submission. Jesus, instead, takes a page from Zachariah 9 and rides in as King not on the back of a valiant steed, but on the back of a donkey. It is the humble King who is bringing salvation. It is the sacrificial King who will make the world right. It may seem foolish for Jesus to ride in this way, but God often takes the wisdom of this world and upends it with the foolishness of God, thus Jesus rides in on a donkey.
The disciples, however, know the truth. They don’t laugh at their new King, they honor him. They lay their cloaks down on the ground to provide the “red carpet treatment.” And they rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This draws a rebuke from the Pharisees, but Jesus is not concerned, because it’s time to declare to the world Jesus’s true identity.
Declaring Jesus as king sets the stage for the events of holy week. The cleansing of the Temple, the confrontations with the religious leaders, the events in the upper room, and ultimately, death on the cross. If Jesus is just an untrained rabbi, than these events are a waste of a good life. If Jesus is just a regular king, than these events are a tragedy of what could have been, but was lost. However, because Jesus is a different sort of king, the events that follow are justification. God will save. Victory is won. Because the King has arrived and will upend the powers of evil through love and sacrifice. The King will prove that evil has no authority, because love and sacrifice are more world changing than power and might.
The King has arrived. Some will work in service to the King, and some will oppose. But either way, the King has arrived. It’s time to praise. It’s time to follow. It’s time to join the Kingdom.