The ride to Jerusalem on a donkey was a deliberate fulfilment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, a passage which the Jewish teachers interpreted as referring to the Messiah. The prophecy is of Jerusalem's king coming to the city in peace; if the king came as a conqueror he would have ridden a war horse. When the carpenter's son from Nazareth rode a donkey into town, no-one but the Romans would mistake the symbolism: he was claiming to be the King, the Messiah. His disciples realized this and rejoiced; the Jewish leaders realized this and complained.
Both the Jewish leaders and the disciples anticipated that the Messiah would lead the nation to Freedom. They were under the yoke of the Romans, and bitterly resented it; their thoughts went back to the good old days when Judas Maccabaeus was around, a freedom fighter who successfully freed the nation from their colonial masters, in those days the successors to Alexander the Great. That was the sort of Messiah they were looking for, if any - though certain Jewish leaders in the ruling council were happy enough with their position not to want any change to the status quo.
The disciples, who had seen the miracles Jesus did, were sufficiently impressed to believe he had the power to do anything: he whom wind and waves obeyed could surely deal with a Roman army. Jesus' teaching about love also impressed them - surely one who taught such things would bring in a reign of peace and prosperity. The Pharisees were not impressed with Jesus. His claims were too much for any mortal to make; he took to himself the kind of authority which was due to God alone. He broke their traditions, claimed authority over what took place on the Sabbath, and accused them of hypocrisy. Such a man must not be allowed political power. His disciples must be stopped from seeing him as the Messiah.
With hindsight and faith, we can see the mistakes both disciples and Pharisees were making. Jesus was neither the Messiah one set hoped for, nor the Messiah the other set feared. His way was the way of the cross. We are called to follow him, not the Messiah of our dreams or nightmares.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
Does Jesus disappoint or fulfil peoples' hopes or fears today? How does that affect the way we talk about him?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Ask each member to tell the group (briefly) of a memorable welcome - maybe when they received a welcome, or gave a welcome, or saw it happening.
Begin with listening to or singing a song celebrating Jesus as King.
Then use palm crosses to help focus on Jesus. (If none are available, ask members to draw a simple picture of a palm tree or palm leaf, and to draw on it the shape of a cross.) Ask the members first to focus on the palm leaf/drawing, and to think of how palms were used in Jesus' triumphal procession. Imagine the crowds welcoming the coming King. Imagine all their expectations and hopes. After enough time, ask the group to focus on the cross shape. Remind them that Jesus was entering Jerusalem to die a terrible death - so that we can enter the kingdom of God. Remind them that he did not cease to be the King. Read Philippians 2:6-11.