Ironically, the week that ended with the betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus began with a triumph – the “triumphal entry” of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem at which time he was praised by the crowds who hailed him as the Son of David, the promised Christ (Matthew 21:9). The “city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35) welcomed the arrival of her Lord with shouts of Hosanna and a “red carpet” of cloaks and palm branches (Matthew 21:7-9; John 12:13). Cries of acclamation filled the ears of Jesus then; one week later he heard the angry shouts of “Crucify him!”
In the sermon I preached from Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm Sunday, I pointed out that the reason why Jesus’ triumphal entry was followed by his rejection and crucifixion was because the people of Israel didn’t understand what sort of King Jesus was, and what kind of kingdom he came to establish. They wanted a king who would mount a throne of glory in Jerusalem, defeat all their enemies, and rule over a victorious Jewish nation. But Jesus came instead to mount an inglorious throne – the cross – and to establish his rule over a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness and eternal life.
The whole tenor of Jesus’ coming into our world was one of humility and lowliness. The mere fact that Christ, the eternal and eternally glorious Son of God, became man was an act of unfathomable condescension. And not only that, but he was born “in a low condition,” “made under the law,” suffered “the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross,” was “buried” and continued “under the power of death for a time.” All this constitutes what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls the “humiliation” of Christ.
The “humiliation of Christ” would have been an absurd and unthinkable expression for the people of Israel. But had they listened to their own prophet Zechariah, they may have realized that their notion of a Christ of earthly glory was misplaced. Zechariah said that the coming king would be “humble” and “mounted on a donkey” (Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9). Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, a lowly donkey, was consistent with entirety of his ministry. He came in lowliness and humility, culminating in his self-sacrifice on the cross, in order to purchase for us an eternal redemption from sin and death.
This coming Lord’s Day is Easter Sunday, and we’ll celebrate the risen and exalted Christ. But before that, we must remember that Jesus was glorified only after his rejection, suffering, and death. Our hope as Christians is found in the risen Savior who first laid down his life for us, that we too might be raised up from death to life.
At the evening service I spoke on Lord’s Day 19 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Soli Deo Gloria!