The story of the triumphal entry appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before.
This day is celebrated by Christians world over as Palm Sunday. The Friday that follows is the ‘Good Friday‘ – the day Jesus was crucified and the Sunday, the Easter Sunday – marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Passion Week.
Jesus traveled to Jerusalem knowing that this journey would end in his sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all mankind. As Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, the people cut palm branches and waved them in the air, laid them out on the ground before Jesus. The palm branch represented goodness and victory and was symbolic of the final victory.
The crowds shouted, “Hosanna (save now) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV)
The date of the first observance of Palm Sunday is uncertain. A detailed description of a palm processional celebration was recorded as early as the 4th century in Jerusalem. The ceremony was not introduced into the West until much later in the 9th century.
Many churches, distribute palm leaves to the congregation on Palm Sunday to commemorate the Triumphal Entry. The worshipers take home the venerated palm leaf and display it near a cross or crucifix, or place it in their Bible until the next year’s season of Lent. Some churches collect baskets to gather the old palm leaves to be burned for Ash Wednesday.
Why did he ride on a donkey?
Mathew 21 says ‘1. …Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on.’
In those days in that land, horses were owed by the nobility and donkeys by the lower society – often animals of burden used by the potters, washer-men, load or water carriers, etc. No one owning a donkey would have had the courage to refuse or fight against the noble looking disciples. Irony of the narration in all the Gospels is that none speaks about returning the donkey to its owner.
Riding a donkey or a horse that has never been rode upon is a very difficult task. The animal did not have a saddle, hence the disciples removed their cloaks and spread it on the animal’s back to act as a saddle. Still it is a very difficult ride – Ask anyone who ever rode a bare-back horse!! When we were cadets at the National Defence Academy, during horse-riding classes, bare-back riding (without a saddle, but with a blanket,) was the most dreaded one.
Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of 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.”
It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a stallion, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ came not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people.
All the prophets before Jesus were military Generals and they all must have rode on a horse, dressed in complete nobility, carrying a sword. Here came Jesus, on lowly donkey, with neither any military ceremonial uniform nor a sword. He came with a smile on his face and heart pouring out with his Godly love.
Now compare Jesus triumphant entry with that of our Bishops – riding on a luxury sedan with a flag flying on their cars, dressed in all gold and finery!!!!!