Every year at Palm Sunday, many sermons are preached that turn the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into a rebuke of the fickle nature of man, celebrating Jesus one week, calling for His crucifixion the next. The problem with this procedure is twofold: first, it teaches the wrong lesson, and second, because it teaches the wrong lesson, it prevents us from seeing the right one.
A close reading of the gospel accounts indicates that while there may have been some measure of overlap, the two stories (Triumphal Entry and Crucifixion) refer to two different crowds of people. Luke’s account of the triumphal entry in chapter 19 specifies that it was a crowd of Jesus’ disciples from Galilee accompanying Him on His journey to the feast in Jerusalem who rejoiced in His kingly ride. They were met by complaining Pharisees when they entered Jerusalem, but the rejoicing crowd was made up of disciples from surrounding regions (note how in the next few verses Jesus weeps because Jerusalem didn’t welcome Him.)
The crowd at the Crucifixion, Mark tells us in chapter 15, was primarily led by the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem who had consistently opposed Jesus throughout His ministry. Making the triumphal entry a rebuke of wavering allegiance and fickle faith, therefore, involves mixing up the crowds. It may be true that mankind can be very fickle, and blown about by every wind of doctrine, but that isn’t the lesson that Palm Sunday teaches.
Not only does such a reading of the events of Palm Sunday teach the wrong lesson, but it prevents us from learning the right lesson. Instead of seeing the triumphal entry as a warning against faithlessness, we should rejoice in it as a wonderful example of faithfulness: the followers of Jesus give us a wonderful example of how to welcome our king. The disciples of Christ understood exactly what Jesus was doing when He rode into the king’s city on the king’s mount. They quoted Psalm 118, understanding that Jesus was the fulfillment of what many believe to be David’s words upon returning to the city after one of his many kingly troubles had taken him away. The king has come to the royal city! This is how we should receive Him: with praise and celebration. Don’t wait for the rocks to be the welcoming committee.