[John 12:12-19] The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
He Rides On in Majesty
Failure or victory? Here the crowds, the disciples, and Christ’s opponents all see victory. He rides on in triumph. He rides on in majesty.
He rides on as king. He rides in on a donkey - similar to a mule, like king David’s mule which Solomon rode when the throne was given to him by his father [1 Kings 1:33]. It is a royal ride.
Jesus rides in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Zechariah - “Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation… humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt.” [Zechariah 9:9ff]
Jesus rides in, greeted with the waving of palm branches. This is the scene of a conquering, deliverer-king. Great deliverers in Judah’s past took back Jerusalem and the Temple and their citadel from terrible enemies, and they celebrated their deliverance with the waving of palm branches [1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:6-7]. Now Jesus is their deliverer-king.
This is a scene of victory. But what is the victory? And what do the crowds and disciples and opponents actually think they are seeing? What do they think the victory is?
We cannot read their minds. But the text does tell us that the disciples did not understand any of this. The crowds are shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” - a phrase which means, “Save us! Saves us!” and has with it a joyful faith, believing that indeed He is saving them. But what salvation do they believe He’s winning for them?
His opponents see that practically the whole world is following after Him at this point. An exaggeration, driven by their discouragement. He’s riding victorious. Riding in majesty. Whatever that victory means, what does it mean for them?
Much of the crowd gathered because they had heard that this Jesus raised a man, Lazarus, from the dead after four days in the tomb. So, do they understand that the victory is a victory over death? Or are they looking for the spectacle of a fantastic miracle? Who knows.
Nevertheless - understood or not understood - they know victory when they see it - and they know majesty when they see it. But, maybe - in fact - they don’t. They see majesty and victory on Palm Sunday. But they don’t recognize that same majesty and the means of that victory on Good Friday.
On Good Friday, many from this crowd shouting “Hosanna!” today may be there shouting “Crucify Him!” in that crowd outside Pontius Pilate’s door. We don’t know. But we do know that they are not gathered around the cross saying, “Save us!” “Thank you for saving us!” They didn’t recognize the victory being won there.
The disciples who did not understand the palms on Palm Sunday - most of them were not even present for the nails on Good Friday. They fled - the Shepherd was struck and the sheep scattered [Matthew 26:31]. (Though one disciple, John, did stand at His feet.)
Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees and chief priests, saw that Jesus was winning during His triumphal entry on the colt. But then they foolishly believe they are winning on Good Friday as the Lord hangs upon the cross. They are so certain that the cross is His failure that they mock Him, haughtily - “Come down and save yourself, if you’re really who you say you are.”
Majesty exists in this world, and it has a certain look to it. So does victory. But the Majesty of our Deliverer-King, the Son of God, God made flesh, the Creator and King of the universe, is seen upon the cross.
“Ride on, ride on, in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin O’er captive death and conquered sin.” [TLH 162]
Palm Sunday is our entrance into that truly holy week. We ride on to the cross to see where the truest majesty and victory of God are found. Christ, bloodied on the cross, is majestic. Christ, breathing His last for you, is victorious.
“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep” [John 10:11]. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:28].
Christ, the Lord, the Son of God - His majesty is found in setting majesty aside to be humiliated for those who hate Him. His victory is that He died so that His enemies may live and become His friends.
For this true majesty and victory, God the Father does highly exalt Him. But the road to His resurrection and ascension is through that cross. And it’s not a cross for Him. It’s a cross He suffered for undeserving, unworthy sinners [Romans 5:6-8] whom He so desires to gather to Himself.
For your salvation and life, He rode on to victory. Thanks be to God!
You are now His. He is Christ - and you are a Christian. He has the true glory, majesty, and victory of the cross. And He shares the same true victories with you. Whoever will be His disciple will take up their cross and follow Him. [Matthew 16:24]
Brothers and sisters, do you recognize victory where it most truly is? Do you recognize the work of God’s majesty in life where it is most at work? Or do you see only as the world sees?
The true victories are in those experiences that pierce like nails. The true victories are found in those moments when your heart is pierced because of another’s pain. When you are driven to the true weight and agony and sacrifice of prayer, intercession - an effective sacrifice for those for whom you call out.
Victory is found in healing. Which means the true victory began with the diagnosis that moved you to Christ’s feet. Victory is found when a loved one turns back to Christ. Therefore, the majesty and victory were all the more at work in the battle of prayer and the encouraging words spoken that led to such a turning.
Heaven rejoices when you, heaven’s children, repent of some wrong. Therefore the victory begins with the spear-pierced conscience - cut to the heart - the pain of convicted sin.
The victory is in the cross! It alone leads to the Easter joy. So, Christians, ride on in majesty - following behind your humble Deliverer-King - to and through the crosses you undoubtably do and will face. Ride on confident in His majesty. Amen.