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us as we meditate upon the triumphal entry; the scene in Bethany where the joy began; the scene on Olivet where the multitude rejoiced and Jesus wept, and the scene in the temple where the Lord came to his own. 1. THE PROPHECY AND THE FULFILLMENT.
It is remarkable that we find a prophecy of the entrance of a peaceful Messiah in the latter part of the prophecy of Zechariah. Written in a troublous time after the return from exile, this portion of the Old Testament prophecy fairly revels in the blood of the heathen. It is the bloodiest and most warlike of all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. In the midst of predictions of warfare and bloodshed both before and after, it breaks forth into a declaration that to the land that long had seen no monarch save foreign conquerors there would be a king. Into this time of strife he was to come, the bringer of peace. Into the midst of warfare he was to ride, not upon a horse, the mount of a warrior, but upon the beast that uncomplainingly bears the peaceful burden of the Orient.
It was inevitable that this prophecy should have come to the minds of the evangelists. It occurred to Christ himself and was suggested to the disciples by his action. While he never had gone out of his way to bring about ex post facto fulfillments of prophecy, this prediction was so in accord with his spirit, it so exactly suited his temper, that at the cost of some delay he undertook its literal fulfillment.
This was an hour of triumph for Jesus. It was the end of long self-repression. He had concealed himself and his mission. He had been a mystery to his brethren: they could not understand why he should wish to be known, and yet keep himself in secret. He was still a mystery to his disciples: they had followed him and
were following him at the cost of all that they held dear in life: yet he seemed to them deliberately to choose those methods which would prevent the consummation of his hopes and theirs. He was a mystery to his beneficiaries: when he had wrought a miracle, their natural impulse was to publish it; their grateful enthusiasm refused to obey his injunction that they should tell no man. And all this was a trial, to Jesus. He longed for liberty: He did not enjoy secrecy.
“In secret have I said nothing," was his testimony of himself, and he desired that his whole life work might be open before men. Now the time had come when the joy of the people at his appearance might be uncontrolled. His disciples in a wild intoxication of religious fervor were at liberty to cry at the top of their voices, “Blessed is he that com.eth in the name of Jehovah!” Jesus himself must have caught something of their exhilaration. After months of trial and repression and hiding, here was opportunity to proclaim to the world his real mission. He whom the prophet had foretold had come.
This is one of the few events that so impressed the disciples that all four of the evangelists record it. They could not forget it. On that day Jesus proclaimed himself a king, and they saw the glory of his triumphal entry to the holy city. The thrill of that holy ecstasy returned to them whenever they remembered it. On that day they were jubilant. The pent up tide of three years' suppressed enthusiasm broke free when Jesus announced himself as king, and was accepted by a great concourse of people.
It was a peaceful entry, but it was a challenge. It was a public proclamation to his enemies that Jesus was king. It was a visible declaration that he was Messiah. The question which the Pharisees had asked him, “How long wilt thou cause us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” was now answered. Here was their answer, and in terms of their own prophetic hope. Yesterday they might have said that they did not accept him because he would not define his mission; to-day they were compelled to choose. He came to them as crises come,
“Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the sheep upon the right:
'Twixt that morning and that night.” Jesus was forcing the issue; and he knew the consequence. 2. THE CHRIST, TRIUMPHANT BUT IN TEARS.
Yet Jesus well knew that this outburst of popular enthusiasm did not represent the heart of the nation. Below him as he approached the city to proclaim himself the heir to the throne of David, the priests and Pharisees were even then plotting against his life. In the midst of the joy of the company that, coming out to see him at Bethany, met on the road the escort which attended his progress, each company adding its own joy to the enthusiasm of the others, Jesus paused where the turn in the road brought to view the city of gold and snow, with its sun-crowned temple and its walls that frown to one below but give a smile of welcome when viewed from Olivet. And there he wept. He had wept silent tears at the grave of Lazarus; here he sobbed out his lament. All the sorrows of the dark Friday that followed did not cause his lips to part with a sigh, or his eyes to moisten with a tear; but here in his triumph he wept. For to Jesus, this entry into the city was his presentation of himself for crucifixion. In the palms that gave their branches to be waved before him, Jesus saw the coming cross; in the cries of Hosanna, he heard a sound which was to echo a few days later in the words, “Crucify him!”
It is little wonder to us that Christ wept over the city. Beautiful as a dream of heaven it lay below him in the sunlight of that Syrian April. An early Spring it was, for fig trees already were in leaf and some of them with fruit. The drought had not yet dried up the watercourses, which glittered below like ribbons of silver. The light lay in rich tints of green on palm and olive and fresh young grass.
But down among the olives was Gethsemane, and yonder beyond the temple was Pilate's judgment hall. Aye, and underneath the green crest of the hill to the north of the city, stood out a rocky hill with hollow, cavernous rocks that gave the shuddering, sepulchral name to Golgotha. 3. THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY TO THE TEMPLE.
What a pathetic trumph it was! Humble was the beast on which he rode, and it was not his own. The banners waved in his honor were neither silk nor cloth of gold, but only extemporized flags torn from the trees. No carpet was spread for him, save the garments of his followers, courteous in their rude kindness as England's most flattering courtier to Queen Elizabeth. It was less than earth has for its royal conquerors, but it was their best.
Yet it was a triumph. He went to the city, and there encountered the scorn of the scribes, the hatred of the money changers, the apathy of the people and the fickleness of those who had followed him. Not long did the cries of Hosanna continue. Day after day during that week he continued to enter the city, but without escort. Before night the voices of his followers were hushed. The last to sing his praises were the children in the temple. The children hailed him on
that day as king. His kingdom gives childhood a new meaning, and opens before it new possibilities. There is but one child in the Iliad. There is little mention of children in the classics. Jesus gave to the children liberty to sing his praises.
The day had its shadow, but it was a glorious day. The evangelists remembered it with a glow of enthusiasm. It seemed to mean that sooner or later the temple must own its Lord, and the people recognize and hail their King. And we have no reason to believe that it did not somewhat cheer the sad heart of Jesus. Not all these people were fickle. Few of them, we may hope, were of those who cried out “Crucify him!” A few of those who hailed him King may have joined the shouts of the rabble; but we may believe that not many of the Galilæan multitude who waved the palms before him joined the city mob that drove him to his death. And even in the city were firm friends whom the swift changes of the week, however, they dismayed them, did not shake from their allegiance. In some hearts the triumph of the King was undimmed by disloyalty; Jesus still was King. And as for the enemies of Jesus, this popular demonstration brought them temporary consternation. “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing?" they asked with mutual reproach, one of another, “Behold the world is gone after him!”
The enemies of the cross of Christ have prevailed nothing against him. The whole world is going out toward him. Our civilization calls itself by his name. Our schools and colleges bear the stamp of his influence. Our greatest works of art are his: our most exalted strains of music are sung in his honor. Wickedness abounds, and often in high places. Christianity seems but an infant Hercules whose cradle is surrounded by serpents. Yet will it walk over the strangled bodies of them all to unexampled deeds of prowess.