All the four evangelists take notice of this passage of Christ’s riding in triumph into Jerusalem, five days before his death. The passover was on the fourteenth day of the month, and this was the tenth; on which day the law appointed that the paschal lamb should be taken up (Exod. 12:3), and set apart for that service; on that day therefore Christ our Passover, who was to be sacrificed for us, was publicly showed. So that this was the prelude to his passion. He had lodged at Bethany, a village not far from Jerusalem, for some time; at a supper there the night before Mary had anointed his feet, John 12:3. But, as usual with ambassadors, he deferred his public entry till some time after his arrival. Our Lord Jesus travelled much, and his custom was to travel on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, some scores of miles, which was both humbling and toilsome; many a dirty weary step he had when he went about doing good. How ill does it become Christians to be inordinately solicitous about their own ease and state, when their Master had so little of either! Yet once in his life he rode in triumph; and it was now when he went into Jerusalem, to suffer and die, as if that were the pleasure and preferment he courted; and then he thought himself begin to look great.
Now here we have,
I. The provision that was made for this solemnity; and it was very poor and ordinary, and such as bespoke his kingdom to be not of this world. Here were no heralds at arms provided, no trumpet sounded before him, no chariots of state, no liveries; such things as these were not agreeable to his present state of humiliation, but will be far outdone at his second coming, to which his magnificent appearance is reserved, when the last trumpet shall sound, the glorious angels shall be his heralds and attendants, and the clouds his chariots. But in this public appearance,
1. The preparation was sudden and offhand. For his glory in the other world, and ours with him, preparation was made before the foundation of the world, for that was the glory his heart was upon; his glory in this world he was dead to, and therefore, though he had it in prospect, did not forecast for it, but took what came next. They were come to Bethphage, which was the suburb of Jerusalem, and was accounted (say the Jewish doctors) in all things, as Jerusalem, a long scattering street that lay toward the mount of Olives; when he entered upon that, he sent two of his disciples, some think Peter and John, to fetch him an ass, for he had none ready for him.
2. It was very mean. He sent only for an ass and her colt, Matt. 21:2. Asses were much used in that country for travel; horses were kept only by great men, and for war. Christ could have summoned a cherub to carry him (Ps. 18:10); but though by his name Jah, which speaks him God, he rides upon the heavens, yet now by his name Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, in his state of humiliation, he rides upon an ass. Yet some think that he had herein an eye to the custom in Israel for the judges to ride upon white asses (Jdg. 5:10), and their sons on ass-colts, Jdg. 12:14. And Christ would thus enter, not as a Conqueror, but as the Judge of Israel, who for judgment came into this world.
3. It was not his own, but borrowed. Though he had not a house of his own, yet, one would think, like some wayfaring men that live upon their friends, he might have had an ass of his own, to carry him about; but for our sakes he became in all respects poor, 1 Cor. 8:9. It is commonly said, “They that live on borrowing, live on sorrowing;” in this therefore, as in other things, Christ was a man of sorrows—that he had nothing of this world’s goods but what was given him or lent him.
The disciples who were sent to borrow this ass are directed to say, The Lord has need of him. Those that are in need, must not be ashamed to own their need, nor say, as the unjust steward, To beg I am ashamed, Luke 16:3. On the other hand, none ought to impose upon the kindness of their friends, by going to beg or borrow when they have not need. In the borrowing of this ass,
(1.) We have an instance of Christ’s knowledge. Though the thing was altogether contingent, yet Christ could tell his disciples where they should find an ass tied, and a colt with her. His omniscience extends itself to the meanest of his creatures; asses and their colts, and their being bound or loosed. Doth God take care for oxen? (1 Cor. 9:9) No doubt he doth, and would not see Balaam’s ass abused. He knows all the creatures, so as to make them serve his own purpose.
(2.) We have an instance of his power over the spirits of men. The hearts of the meanest subjects, as well as of kings, are in the hand of the Lord. Christ asserts his right to use the ass, in bidding them bring it to him; the fulness of the earth is the Lord Christ’s; but he foresees some hindrance which disciples might meet with in this service; they must not take them clam et secreto—privily, but in the sight of the owner, much less vi et armis—with force and arms, but with the consent of the owner, which he undertakes they shall have; If any man say aught to you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of him. Note, What Christ sets us to do, he will bear us out in the doing of, and furnish us with answers tot he objections we may be assaulted with, and make them prevalent; as here, Straightway he will send them. Christ, in commanding the ass into his service, showed that he is Lord of hosts; and, in inclining the owner to send him without further security, showed that he is the God of the spirits of all flesh, and can bow men’s hearts.
(3.) We have an example of justice and honesty, in not using the ass, though for so small a piece of service as riding the length of a street or two, without the owner’s consent. As some read the latter clause, it gives us a further rule of justice; “You shall say the Lord hath need of them, and he” (that is, the Lord) “will presently send them back, and take care that they be safely delivered to the owner, as soon as he has done with them.” Note, What we borrow we must restore in due time and in good order; for the wicked borrows and pays not again. Care must be taken of borrowed goods, that they be not damaged. Alas, Master, for it was borrowed!
II. The prediction that was fulfilled in this, Matt. 21:4, 5. Our Lord Jesus, in all that he did and suffered, had very much his eye upon this, That the scriptures might be fulfilled. As the prophets looked forward to him (to him they all bare witness), so he looked upon them, that all things which were written of the Messiah, might be punctually accomplished in him. This particularly which was written of him, Zech. 9:9; where it ushers in a large prediction of the kingdom of the Messiah, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh, must be accomplished. Now observe here,
1. How the coming of Christ is foretold; Tell ye the daughter of Sion, the church, the holy mountain, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee. Note, (1.) Jesus Christ is the church’s King, one of our brethren like unto us, according to the law of the kingdom, Deut. 17:15. He is appointed King over the church, Ps. 2:6. He is accepted King by the church; the daughter of Sion swears allegiance to him, Hos. 1:11. (2.) Christ, the King of his church, came to his church, even in this lower world; he comes to thee, to rule thee, to rule in thee, to rule for thee; he is Head over all things to the church. He came to Sion (Rom. 11:26), that out of Sion the law might go forth; for the church and its interests were all in all with the Redeemer. (3.) Notice was given to the church beforehand of the coming of her King; Tell the daughter of Sion. Note, Christ will have his coming looked for, and waited for, and his subjects big with expectation of it; Tell the daughters of Sion, that they may go forth, and behold King Solomon, Song 3:11. Notices of Christ’s coming are usually ushered in with a Behold! A note commanding both attention and admiration; Behold thy King cometh; behold, and wonder at him, behold, and welcome him. Here is a royal progress truly admirable. Pilate, like Caiaphas, said he knew not what, in that great word (John 19:14), Behold your King.
2. How his coming is described. When a king comes, something great and magnificent is expected, especially when he comes to take possession of his kingdom. The King, the Lord of hosts, was seen upon a throne, high and lifted up (Isa. 6:1); but there is nothing of that here; Behold, he cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass. When Christ would appear in his glory, it is in his meekness, not in his majesty.
(1.) His temper is very mild. He comes not in wrath to take vengeance, but in mercy to work salvation. He is meek to suffer the greatest injuries and indignities for Sion’s cause, meek to bear with the follies and unkindness of Sion’s own children. He is easy of access, easy to be entreated. He is meek not only as a Teacher, but as a Ruler; he rules by love. His government is mild and gentle, and his laws not written in the blood of his subjects, but in his own. His yoke is easy.
(2.) As an evidence of this, his appearance is very mean, sitting upon an ass, as creature made not for state, but service, not for battles, but for burthens; slow in its motions, but sure, and safe, and constant. The foretelling of this so long before, and the care taken that it should be exactly fulfilled, intimate it to have a peculiar significancy, for the encouragement of poor souls to apply themselves to Christ. Sion’s King comes riding, not on a prancing horse, which the timorous petitioner dares not come near, or a running horse, which the slow-footed petitioner cannot keep pace with, but on a quiet ass, that the poorest of his subjects may not be discouraged in their access to him. Mention is made in the prophecy of a colt, the foal of an ass; and therefore Christ sent for the colt with the ass, that the scripture might be fulfilled.
III. The procession itself, which was answerable to the preparation, both being destitute of worldly pomp, and yet both accompanied with a spiritual power.
Observe, 1. His equipage; The disciples did as Jesus commanded them (Matt. 21:6); they went to fetch the ass and the colt, not doubting but to find them, and to find the owner willing to lend them. Note, Christ’s commands must not be disputed, but obeyed; and those that sincerely obey them, shall not be balked or baffled in it; They brought the ass and the colt. The meanness and contemptibleness of the beast Christ rode on, might have been made up with the richness of the trappings; but those were, like all the rest, such as came next to hand; they had not so much as a saddle for the ass, but the disciples threw some of their clothes upon it, and that must serve for want of better accommodations. Note, We ought not to be nice or curious, or to affect exactness, in outward conveniences. A holy indifference or neglect well becomes us in these things: it will evidence that our heart is not upon them, and that we have learned the apostle’s rule (Rom. 12:16; margin), to be content with mean things. Any thing will serve travellers; and there is a beauty in some sort of carelessness, a noble negligence; yet the disciples furnished him with the best they had, and did not object the spoiling of their clothes when the Lord had need of them. Note, We must not think the clothes on our backs too dear to part with for the service of Christ, for the clothing of his poor destitute and afflicted members. I was naked, and you clothed me, Matt. 25:36. Christ stripped himself for us.
2. His retinue; there was nothing in this stately or magnificent. Sion’s King comes to Sion, and the daughter of Sion was told of his coming long before; yet he is not attended by the gentlemen of the country, nor met by the magistrates of the city in their formalities as one might have expected; he should have had the keys of the city presented to him, and should have been conducted with all possible convenience to the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David; but here is nothing of all this; yet he has his attendants, a very great multitude; they were only the common people, the mob (the rabble we should have been apt to call them), that graced the solemnity of Christ’s triumph, and none but such. The chief priests and the elders afterward herded themselves with the multitude that abused him upon the cross; but we find none of them here joining with the multitude that did him honour. Ye see here your calling, brethren, not many mighty, or noble, attend on Christ, but the foolish things of this world and base things, which are despised, 1 Cor. 1:26, 28. Note, Christ is honoured by the multitude, more than by the magnificence, of his followers; for he values men by their souls, not by their preferments, names, or titles of honour.
Now, concerning this great multitude, we are here told,
(1.) What they did; according to the best of their capacity, they studied to do honour to Christ. [1.] They spread their garments in the way, that he might ride upon them. When Jehu was proclaimed king, the captains put their garments under him, in token of their subjection to him. Note, Those that take Christ for their King must lay their all under his feet; the clothes, in token of the heart; for when Christ comes, though not when any one else comes, it must be said to the soul, Bow down, that he may go over. Some think that these garments were spread, not upon the ground, but on the hedges or walls, to adorn the roads; as, to beautify a cavalcade, the balconies are hung with tapestry. This was but a poor piece of state, yet Christ accepted their good-will; and we are hereby taught to contrive how to make Christ welcome, Christ and his grace, Christ and his gospel, into our hearts and houses. How shall we express our respects to Christ? What honour and what dignity shall be done to him? [2.] Others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way, as they used to do at the feast of tabernacles, in token of liberty, victory, and joy; for the mystery of that feast is particularly spoken of as belonging to gospel times, Zech. 14:16.
(2.) What they said; They that went before, and they that followed, were in the same tune; both those that gave notice of his coming, and those that attended him with their applauses, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, Matt. 21:9. When they carried branches about at the feast of tabernacles, they were wont to cry Hosanna, and from thence to call their bundles of branches their hosannas. Hosanna signifies, Save now, we beseech thee; referring to Ps. 118:25, 26, where the Messiah is prophesied of as the Head-stone of the corner, though the builders refused him; and all his loyal subjects are brought in triumphing with him, and attending him with hearty good wishes to the prosperity of all his enterprises. Hosanna to the Son of David is, “This we do in honour of the Son of David.”
The hosannas with which Christ was attended bespeak two things:
[1.] Their welcoming his kingdom. Hosanna bespeaks the same with, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. It was foretold concerning this Son of David, that all nations shall call him blessed (Ps. 72:17); these here began, and all true believers in all ages concur in it, and call him blessed; it is the genuine language of faith. Note, First, Jesus Christ comes in the name of the Lord; he is sanctified, and sent into the world, as Mediator; him hath God the Father sealed. Secondly, The coming of Christ in the name of the Lord, is worthy of all acceptation; and we all ought to say, Blessed is he that cometh; to praise him, and be pleased in him. Let his coming in the name of the Lord be mentioned with strong affections, to our comfort, and joyful acclamations, to his glory. Well may we say, Blessed is he; for it is in him that we are blessed. Well may we follow him with our blessings, who meets us with his.
[2.] Their wishing well to his kingdom; intimated in their Hosanna; earnestly desiring that prosperity and success may attend it, and that it may be a victorious kingdom; “Send now prosperity to that kingdom.” If they understood it of a temporal kingdom, and had their hearts carried out thus toward that, it was their mistake, which a little time would rectify; however, their good-will was accepted. Note, It is our duty earnestly to desire and pray for the prosperity and success of Christ’s kingdom in the world. Thus prayer must be made for him continually (Ps. 72:15), that all happiness may attend his interest in the world, and that, though he may ride on an ass, yet in his majesty he may ride prosperously, because of that meekness, Ps. 45:4. This we mean when we pray, Thy kingdom come. They add, Hosanna in the highest: Let prosperity in the highest degree attend him, let him have a name above every name, a throne above every throne; or, Let us praise him in the best manner for his church ascend to heaven, to the highest heavens, and fetch in peace and salvation from thence. See Ps. 20:6. The Lord saveth his Anointed, and will hear from his high, his holy heaven.
3. We have here his entertainment in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:10); When he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved; every one took notice of him, some were moved with wonder at the novelty of the thing, others with laughter at the meanness of it; some perhaps were moved with joy, who waited for the Consolation of Israel; others, of the Pharisaical class, were moved with envy and indignation. So various are the motions in the minds of men upon the approach of Christ’s kingdom!
Upon this commotion we are further told,
(1.) What the citizens said; Who is this? [1.] They were, it seems, ignorant concerning Christ. Though he was the Glory of his people Israel, yet Israel knew him not; though he had distinguished himself by the many miracles he wrought among them, yet the daughters of Jerusalem knew him not from another beloved, Song 5:9. The Holy One unknown in the holy city! In places where the clearest light shines, and the greatest profession of religion is made, there is more ignorance than we are. [2.] Yet they were inquisitive concerning him. Who is this that is thus cried, and comes with so much observation? Who is this King of glory, that demands admission into our hearts? Ps. 24:8; Isa. 63:1.
(2.) How the multitude answered them; This is Jesus, Matt. 21:11. The multitude were better acquainted with Christ than the great ones. Vox populi—The voice of the people, is sometimes Vox Dei—the voice of God. Now, in the account they give of him, [1.] They were right in calling him the Prophet, that great Prophet. Hitherto he had been known as a Prophet, teaching and working miracles; now they attend him as a King; Christ’s priestly office was, of all the three, last discovered. [2.] Yet they missed it, in saying he was of Nazareth; and it helped to confirm some in their prejudices against him. Note, Some that are willing to honour Christ, and bear their testimony to him, yet labour under mistakes concerning him, which would be rectified if they would take pains to inform themselves.