Theology in 3D

The A-Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Part 3)

Greg Stiekes | March 24, 2018
New Testament

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was not, as we traditionally call it, a “triumphal” entry, but more of a “non-triumphal” entry, an a-triumphal entry. For Jesus does not enter in the grand style of his royal contemporaries. Rather, as the evangelists, especially Matthew, emphasize, Jesus takes calculated steps to connect his entry to Zechariah’s prophecy of the messianic king coming on a lowly beast. For Jesus is not coming to reign in this entry, he is coming to suffer and to die.

There is a final reason that Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem is a-triumphant, however. And it has less to do with the particulars of the entry into Jerusalem and more to do with who it is who is actually entering the city, the holy character of the one who is riding that lowly animal.

1. JESUS ENTERS AS AN OBEDIENT SERVANT.

In Isaiah 52:13–53:12, God says, “Behold my Servant,” and then describes the coming of one who would remain an enigma to most, not esteemed but despised, rejected. As Paul put it, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). Jesus is not coming for himself. He is coming to serve the Father and to serve those whom he came to save. In John’s Gospel Jesus continually insists, “I came not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (e.g., John 6:38).

Just prior to his entry into Jerusalem, in fact, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). This declaration is in the context of a conversation that appears to be ongoing among the disciples, an argument about who is going to take the highest governmental seats in the kingdom over which Jesus would reign. The disciples are anticipating Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem as well. But although Jesus has told them plainly that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer and die it’s as if they just don’t get it. They still think he is going to assume a throne and they’re going to reign with him as his royal court. James and John’s mom even puts pressure on the Lord to let her sons sit on his right hand and his left as he rules (Matt 20:20–21). So Jesus must draw a distinction between their calling as his disciples, his followers, and what they have come to learn from watching worldly dignitaries:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave (Matt 20:25b–27a).

I don’t know that we really understand what slaving looks like. When you were a slave in the ancient world, your time was not your own. Your mind, your devotion, your energy, your time, even your spouse and children in many instances all belonged to the person who owned you. You had no rights. You belonged to someone else. That is what Paul means when he begins some of his letters with the simple words, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Paul’s life was given completely given over to doing the will of Christ. Is that the way we think about our service to Christ? Or instead do we maintain as much autonomy over our time and energy as possible? Are we not really slaves of Christ, but those who merely dole out our attention and service for him as we will?

That is not how Jesus calls us to live as his servants. He asks us to follow him by submitting to him, by obeying him, just as he himself has submitted to the will of the Father. This striking aspect of Jesus’s character is one of the reasons his entry is a-triumphal.

Humility means obedience.

2. JESUS ENTERS AS A WILLING SACRIFICE.

He is entering Jerusalem ultimately to lay down his life. The hands which healed the blind that day would soon be nailed to a cross. Becoming a willing sacrifice follows from being an obedient servant. Even as Jesus told his disciples, “You must deny yourself,” he also said, “You must take up your cross” (Matt 16:24). To take up the cross refers to the cruel practice of the Romans. They would compel those victims who were being crucified to carry the cross beam upon which they would be nailed to their place of execution. To take up the cross, therefore, is to live your life as if you are moving everyday closer to dying a martyr’s death. For that, in essence, is how Jesus lived his own life.

Jesus, then, calls his disciples to become “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1). This calling does not guarantee that his disciples will die as he did, but it does mean that they have to be willing to die for him. Rather than planning our lives around our own interests and pleasures, taking paths of least resistance, Jesus calls us to follow him willingly no matter where the path leads, even if it means suffering for his sake.

Humility means sacrifice.

3. JESUS ENTERS AS A TRUSTING SON.

I wonder if we consider this aspect of Jesus’s entry. We see Jesus entering in his own strength, resolute to do the Father’s will. But the picture we see of Jesus in the gospels is not merely the resolute, determined Son but also the trusting Son. Jesus went forward in his ministry all the way to the cross because of the promise of the Father’s love and the promise of the Father to raise him him from the dead.

On the cross, Jesus uttered the words from Psalm 31:5, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This psalm is one of trust in God’s care, which later reads,

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand (Ps 31:14–15a).

We see Jesus in constant prayer and communion with the Father. We see him dependent upon the Father. In John 10, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. But we forget that in his humanity, Jesus is trusting in the Father as his own Shepherd.

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young (Isa 40:11).

As Jesus enters Jerusalem and asserts his identity in the temple, forcing the religious elites into the action against him that results in his crucifixion, as he obediently follows the Father, even unto the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus is resting in the Father’s care. He is a trusting Son. Likewise, we will always struggle with obeying the Lord and sacrificing for the Lord until we learn to trust the Lord as his children.

Humility means child-like trust.

So Jesus enters Jerusalem, and the small crowds celebrate his coming. But Jesus knows he is going to his death. His is a humble entry, an a-triumphal entry, marked by those virtues which we who are called to follow him must imitate.


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