In Matthew 21:1-11 we read of what we often refer to as the "triumphal entry",it took place on the Sunday prior to his crucifixion, therefore we have the traditional observance of "Palm Sunday". In the historical context Jesus was entering Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover time, and the city would be overflowing with people from all over the empire. The time was sacred to the people for it was a reliving through liturgy of their freedom from oppression yet at the same time given their current condition it was a time that yearned for Yahweh to act again in similar way. They longed for the "messiah", one who would rise up and overthrow their enemies and establish the messianic kingdom. Even though the people were in their own land they were not sovereign in it, from the time of Nehemiah when they came home from Babylon they felt as "slaves in the land you gave our forefathers".
Jesus is now entering the city and the description of the Gospel writers is one that you cannot miss the "messianic", "kingly" overtones. The entire scene described by all four writers is saturated with prophetic pronouncements of what the "Messiah" would look like, come to do, and what his "kingdom" would look like. The scene is is fulfillment of Zechariah's vision in Zechariah chapter 9. Zechariah says for Zion to shout and rejoice because her "King" is coming to her. This figure is described as "righteous" and "having salvation". He goes on to say that he is "gentle" and riding on a "colt", the "foal" of a donkey. At this same time as Jesus enters the city this way, the Roman Governor over Judea is entering Jerusalem from his headquarters in Caesarea riding in a chariot and escorted by Roman soldiers. The two kingdoms are going to clash, yet in a most unexpected way the kingdom of this "Galilean peasant" is going to emerge victorious not only over Rome but over all the kingdoms of the earth. Zechariah says further "He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth". Jesus is "Prince of Peace" as Isaiah calls him, what he came to do was create a kingdom not to overthrow Rome, but to include them, as well as all other nations of the world and to "guide our feet in the path of peace".
He was entering the city to free prisoners, "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit". He is come to set us free from the self destruction of sin, he would shed his blood in our place, he would defeat by his own death and resurrection the true enemy of humanity.
As Jesus enters the city set on doing these things and the cross growing ever nearer, the people in jubilant praise singing "Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" they spread their own cloaks in the road and went ahead of him. Amid this fervor, Jesus sees the city in the distance and "wept over it" (Luke 19:41-44). "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes", then he predicts the fate of the nation, which happened less than 40 years later, and because "you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you".
Jesus still extends his peace, yet often we go through life not accepting what will really bring us that peace. I find myself that my expectation of the Messiah becomes as wide of the mark as theirs ever was sometimes. God has come to us, we see him in Jesus, this is what he looks like, gentle and riding on a colt, headed for a cross to show us his love.