The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” –John 12:12-19
The news about how Jesus had raised the really-really-super-dead Lazarus spread quickly, and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of this great miracle worker. It was getting hard for Jesus to travel around freely, because all the crowds wanted to see him, and all the Pharisees wanted to kill him. Jesus knew that his time was almost up—events were starting to be put into motion that would end with him on the cross—but before that happened, he had a really important statement to make. But this wouldn’t be a statement like a speech or a sermon. Jesus was going to do something, something that would speak much louder than words.
Jesus was on his way into Jerusalem, the capital city, and he knew that a huge crowd had gathered to see him. The crowds were sure that Jesus must be the long-awaited King, the King who would finally set them free and kick out all the bad guys and make everything good again. And in fact, Jesus was that King. But his plan was different from theirs. They wanted a king who would come riding in on a noble steed, dressed up in shiny armor, to do battle with the bad guys, to kick out those mean Romans. But Jesus had a much bigger, better plan: he had come to beat the worst enemy—sin and death and Satan—and to be the king of the whole world. But that was a victory that wouldn’t come with guns or soldiers or armies. This was a victory that could only come by Jesus laying down his life.
Jesus knew that, but the people didn’t. So, to show them exactly what kind of king he was, Jesus arranged a ride. He didn’t want to come riding in on a kingly horse, looking impressive, because people would get the wrong idea. Instead, Jesus picked the lowliest, humblest barnyard animal he could find: a donkey. Donkeys are slow. Donkeys are kind of silly-looking. And Jesus got on a donkey and started his march into Jerusalem.
Everyone was excited to see Jesus, but his mode of transportation probably raised a few eyebrows. You see, kings don’t ride donkeys; servants ride donkeys. Poor people ride donkeys. Everyone was shouting, “Here comes the king! Praise the king!” And yet Jesus didn’t look like a king, sitting there on that silly donkey. He looked… well, like a servant. Lowly. Humble.
Which was exactly the point. Jesus wanted to show them that he had come to be a humble king, the kind of king who helped others instead of being helped himself. The king of king who came to serve, not be served. The kind of king who came to give his life away to save his people.
And that’s exactly what he was about to do.