April 4, 2023

The Triumphal Entry

On February 8, 2023, phone notifications started ringing everywhere at Asbury University in Kentucky. People uploaded videos and pictures of the students’ singing and praying on Social media like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Invitation emails and notes were sent out to all the students and staff - ‘There’s worship happening in Hughes. You’re welcome to join.” It was a revival sparked by students after a regular chapel service.

It was attended by approximately 15,000 people each day. By its end, the revival brought 50,000–70,000 visitors to Wilmore, representing more than 200 academic institutions and multiple countries. On February 15, hashtag "asburyrevival" had over 24 million views on TikTok, which most of you don’t even know how to access, and the views increased to 63 million by February 18. The revival was additionally significant because of its spread on social media, particularly among Generation Z (age about 11-26), the most irreligious generation, so called.

I watched the YouTube live services and some recorded videos of the testimonies of the students and visitors. It was an unexplainable phenomenon. However, I don’t think that all those 63 million people who watched the TikTok were Christians or became Christians. I don’t think that all those in-person visitors to Asbury were followers of Christ. Probably some people were just curious about what was happening there while some passionate believers hoped to experience the same power and the presence of the Holy Spirit the students experienced. Also, some people might have hated what was going on in their quiet town.

Just like how it must have been in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Not everyone was eagerly waving the palm branches to welcome Jesus on the donkey. In the crowd, there must have been some people who had no idea what was going on. And some disapproved and hated the reactions of the crowd.

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week. The Holy Week is the week before Easter and the last week of Lent, consisting of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The event in today’s text is found in all four gospel books of the New Testament (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19) and described as “The Triumphal Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem”. The event took place on the day we, Christians, call Palm Sunday. As described in all the four Gospels, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was welcomed by the crowds who shouted praises and waved palm branches. That is why we also sang ‘Hosanna’ and waved palm branches.

Why Palm branches? In those days, palm branches symbolized victory. They were often found on coins and important buildings. For example, in the Old Testament, King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and the doors of his temple in Jerusalem.(1 Kings 6:29)
V 1 today’s text says that as Jesus and His disciples approached Bethphage and Bethany, He called two disciples and gave them an instruction, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

His instruction sounded a bit risky because they might get caught as thieves. But the disciples already knew that Jesus sometimes asked them to do some bizarre or odd things. So they obeyed His command and off they went ahead to the village.

Just as Jesus told them, they found a donkey with her colt tied there. Matthew didn’t mention but Mark and Luke said that while they were untying them, the owners of the colt asked them, “Excuse me? Who are you? Why are you untying my colt?” The disciples must have replied a little awkwardly but clearly as Jesus told them, “The Lord needs it.” Surprisingly, the owners just let the disciples take their colt.

The owners without resistance let the disciples take the colt which nobody had ridden before according to Luke's gospel. A colt or a donkey was a means of transportation in ancient times. So it’s like a car to us. A car that nobody has driven before. It’s like lending your brand new car to a couple of strangers who claim that “The Lord needs it.”

The disciples brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, v8 says, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

My question for today is who were all these people? Were they all shouting and waving palm branches to welcome Jesus? Why were they there?

As we think about this event that took place 2000 years ago in Jerusalem a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion, we can imagine that they were not all one group of people with the same motive to be there. There were different groups among this very large crowd. So who were they? Let’s find out.

The first group we can find was a group of observers or bystanders. They were not mentioned in any of the Gospel stories but we can imagine that they were there. They gathered just to watch and observe. If they were asked, “Why are all the people cheering and waving the palm leaves?” Their answer would be “I don’t know.” “Who is that Man riding into town on a donkey?” “I don’t know.” They were just watching. They had no interest in the event. They had no answer for any questions. Their answer would be “I don’t care,” “I have no idea.”
Even today we find them everywhere. They don’t care about Christianity. They don’t know why church members meet for Sunday services. They don’t know Jesus. They don’t care about Jesus. Their answer to any question is “I don’t know”.

We find these people in our family and circle of friends as well. They might even be present in the life of the church. They are around us but they may not even know why they are here. They may come to church but they are just observing and watching.

They may hear songs but don’t care about the meaning of the lyrics and have no idea why we are even singing. They may hear scriptures read and sermons preached but they have never understood the meaning of the Cross or the Gospel. They come because it seems nice or it’s been a family tradition.

If you are in this group of spectators, observers, or bystanders, I pray that the Spirit of God may open your heart right now to experience the amazing grace of Jesus Christ and the true worship in Jesus’ name.

Now let’s turn to the second group of people at this event in Jerusalem. They knew about Jesus and what He had done but they hated Jesus. This second group was obviously in the crowd that day as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Pharisees were there. The teachers of the Law were there.

Pharisees were a group of religious leaders whose job was making sure the Jewish people followed the Jewish law, especially all the regulations shaped by their religious tradition. They made sure everyone did what they were supposed to do. They were a very powerful group but they didn’t like Jesus at all. They didn’t like what Jesus taught. They didn’t like the way Jesus taught and performed miracles. They especially hated the fact that the people loved and followed Him.

Today there are many people in our society who fall into this group. They hate God. They hate church. They are angry at God. They think that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites who are self-righteous and discriminating. If anyone among us thinks that way, then it’s because we Christians have not shined the light of Jesus or loved our neighbours as ourselves.

However, remember this. No one, no human being, is perfect. We are all sinners. Do not look at people but look at Jesus who willingly gave His life to save us from sin; who was condemned, beaten, struck, and crucified on the cross to give you a new life; who loves you even to death.

If you are in this second group, I pray that the Spirit of God may lead your heart to Christ. Receive Jesus’ invitation and His unconditional love.

Now let us look at the last group. They were disciples singing Hosanna. They were Jesus’ followers walking in the same path with Jesus. They were the ones welcoming Jesus and following him. As Jesus entered into the city, they shouted the following 3 phrases according to John 12.
* “Hosanna!” means “Save” in which they were asking Jesus to save them.
* “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” means all Jesus’ teachings, His miracles, and His life was God’s initiative.
* “Blessed is the King of Israel!” means Jesus came to fulfil the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.

When they were shouting Hosanna, they truly welcomed Jesus. They might have not fully understood the meaning of Jesus’ entry and God’s plan for Jesus in the coming days. We know from the Bible that they later learned and grasped that Jesus of Nazareth died for their sins on the cross and was beaten for them. They later realized that Jesus suffered for them and took on their sins and offered God’s forgiveness for all humanity by dying for them.
I pray right now that you belong to this group of disciples. I pray that every time we meet to worship God, we gather because we understand and believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. We gather here weekly because we want every member to be in an active authentic relationship with God reaching out to bring others to Him.

Why are we here today? Because we want to give our best worship to God. We want to pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference in our family and community. We desire that all our family and friends be saved and sing Hosanna with us.
Soon Good Friday will arrive and many people will shout “Crucify him!”. Jesus will die on the cross but that will not be the end. The resurrection morning is coming too. Jesus will be raised from the dead providing hope to all his followers.

At Asbury in Wilmore, tens of thousands of people lined up to enter the chapel. Millions of people watched the videos. Some people genuinely and excitedly joined the worship service and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, amazing grace of Jesus, and the indescribable love of God. Some people took pictures of the crowd in curiosity or selfies to show off. Some people might have stayed in the library or dorm, nothing to do with the revival. Some people hated why everyone was talking about the event.

Brothers and sisters, my question for you today is, which group are you in? As we are praising ‘Hosanna’, as we are waving the palm leaves, where are you standing today? God is inviting you to be His disciples. No matter where you are today, God is calling your name. As we begin the Holy Week, my sincere prayer for all of us is that we may rededicate our lives to God and meditate on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, and walk with Him.