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The triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem is the prelude to His crucifixion, and so it is odd that it has come to be called the triumphal entry. But it actually reveals a good understanding of what was actually happening there. The right hand of the Lord does valiantly (Ps. 118:16), but it turns out to have been the left hand. That it was a left-handed triumph did not keep it from being a triumph. No one thinks that the Greeks lost the Trojan War because the Trojans hauled what they thought to be a trophy of their victory inside the city walls.
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death. But God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses” (Psalm 68:17-21).
Summary of the Text
The Bible is filled with many descriptions of triumph. Many of them are of the straight up the middle kind, as here. But when God overcame the rulers of that age, who did not know what He was doing (1 Cor. 2:8), the language of these right-handed triumphs is applied straight across. The psalmist pleads with God to arise and scatter His enemies (v. 1), which the Lord then proceeds to do. The Lord is among myriads of angels, in the holy place (v. 17). He then ascended on high, prefiguring the ascension of the Lord Jesus into Heaven (v. 18; Eph. 4:8). The Ascension looks like a triumph ought to look, but it was prefigured (accurately) by a march of death in faith. God is the God of our salvation, and He daily loads us with benefits (v. 19). The God of our salvation holds all the issues of death in His hand (v. 20). God shall win a complete victory, wounding the head of his enemies (v. 21).
A Most Unusual Triumph
Christ entered the conquered city in triumph before He had conquered it. Usually you have the battle and after that the victory parade. Jesus, the model of all faith, reversed the order. He held a triumphant procession before the battle. This had all been laid out in Scripture beforehand, and Scripture cannot be broken. Jesus knew that, because He saw Scripture rightly. And it did not matter how explicitly He spoke of this plan, spiritual blindness— attached as it is to the wisdom of the world—cannot comprehend it, and cannot overcome it (Jn. 1:5).
But we can understand how it is that they could not understand. Not only did Jesus conduct the victory parade before the victory, but His victory, when He came to it, was accomplished by dying, and not by killing. He crushed the serpent’s head by allowing Himself to be bruised by a crushing blow (Is. 53:5). And so being crushed was actually the crushing blow.
But the lack of spiritual understanding was not because the words were unclear.
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21)
When God Speaks in Code
As Christ entered into His victory, so should we. We are Christians, imitators of Him. What then is your triumphal entry? Have you been demoted, insulted, wronged, or badly handled? Has the Lord of all affliction assigned a portion of that peculiar blessing to you? Do you chafe because Lot pushed ahead of you and chose the choice portion, right next to Sodom? Are you mystified because after Samuel anointed you the next king, all the promotion memos resulted in you hiding from Saul in the wilderness? Why does God persist in thinking that down is the way up?
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
This is how God speaks in code; this is how He hides the purloined letter. He says what we would rather not hear, and does so bluntly, overtly, plainly, and with all clarity. If we receive it in faith, the promise is apportioned to us in accordance with our faith. If we say, sorry, we “can’t do that, not after what they did to” us, then the first thing we ought to do is consider the possibility that what they are saying is not false. The promise does not belong to those who reject the terms of it. When we take up our cross to follow Jesus, as He required of us, the process includes exulting in a great victory by faith beforehand.
The Righteous Shall Enter
But Christ is righteous, and we are not. Of course He knows how to do this kind of thing. But how can we approach the “gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter” (Ps. 118:20)? “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in” (Is. 26:2). How do we enter those gates? Because Christ defeated the devil in this “upside down” fashion, it is possible for sinners to respond to His invitation. Left to our own devices, we would have entered the wrong gate, taken the wrong entry ramp. We would have done the obvious thing. He made it possible for us not to.
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt 7:13).
In order to do this right, we have to stop thinking like scholars, and start thinking more like little kids.
“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).