I've always wondered why that title in my Bible calls this story the "triumphal entry." Those titles printed on the page were not originally part of text of the gospel, but they seem meaningful. Someone thought it made sense with the passage!
Maybe it is because the crowds saw it as a triumph. That would make sense. There was a group of people made up of those who were affected by Jesus: those that used to be sick, those that used to be lame, and those that used to be guilt-ridden. All of them probably hoping that the One who restored them would restore the honor to the nation they loved, too.
They Longed For A Good King And In Meeting Jesus They Knew They Had Found One.
The crowd celebrated because, for them, this entrance is a real turning point. The promises of scripture and the longings of their hearts for things to change- really change- were on the verge of happening! A real, uncontainable joy was unashamedly erupting from underneath years of desperate hoping and anxiously waiting...one in which if they did try to hold it back would cause the rocks to break their long silence and praise their Creator.
Sooner And Not "Later" They Would See the Promised King On The Throne
I would imagine I would also be in that crowd expecting that my greatest hopes were about to be fulfilled, but, knowing what will happen later that week, my mind turns to what Jesus was thinking. Did he feel triumphant? Was this a moment in which he could smile deeply and fully enjoy the party or was there always the haunting thought that this praise would soon die and give way to either a silent watchfulness or a defiant chorus of curses towards him?
What Really Stands Out Is That He Doesn't Tell Them To Sit Down
Jesus does not tell them to settle down and be realistic. This is the part that really surprises me. He doesn't stop them to correct them, but lets them celebrate! No, more than that, he encourages them to celebrate. He knows their expectations of him and knows he won't be the king they want, but at the same time joins the jubilee.
The Romans watch the scene and scoff because they would do it better- with more glamor and bravado- and most would all but forget the scene before going to bed that night.
The jealous Jewish leaders watch with contempt as this pretender makes a fool of himself as some pseudo-messiah, like others had done. Soon enough, this crowd would know the truth and would see the wages Jesus earns for his blasphemy.
I picture Jesus with a wry smile as he rides in on this borrowed donkey without any hint of asking the emboldened crowd to stop. Somehow he knows this is a foretaste of what will happen later rather than sooner. This is a warm up party before the ultimate entry when he rides in on a war horse and he triumphs over all of the systems that press people, the powers behind those systems, and the sin that fuels it all. (see Revelation 19:11-16)
The Real Glory They Longed For Would Soon Be Revealed
But also, in the quietness of his soul, he knows that between him and the triumph where all things are made right stands a cross. This cross is the throne that will display his glory and will ever define what it means to be a triumphant king.
The accomplishment in that moment is not that he would be carried in celebration by a stubborn donkey, but that Jesus would willingly carry the sins of the world with no fanfare.
They celebrated good king that day, but it wasn't until later that they could see just how good he really is. It wasn't a political coup that would show his triumph, but his passionate sacrifice.