Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the time when we celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Many churches hand out palm branches. But what exactly is Palm Sunday? It’s meaning is rich and deep and so exquisite! Let’s talk about… WHAT IS PALM SUNDAY…
To understand Palm Sunday we need to go back in time and location to Jerusalem in the early part of the first century and set the stage.
Jerusalem is a bustling, center-of-the-world land. Filled with people from the nation of Israel and many other nations too! Especially from Rome! Why Rome? Rome had conquered much of the world at that time and Israel was one of its conquests.
Let’s go back to just before the time of the Passover Feasts… a trio of God-ordained Feast days for the Jews. Somewhere between Mid March and early Apil on our calendar.
Three feasts, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruits were very special to the Jews.
These were mandatory feast days with very few exceptions. So almost all of the Jews living in Palestine at that time were tightly gathered in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple and to take part in a nationwide convocation. You can read about these feast days in Leviticus 23.
During this time, and especially this particular year, the city and surrounding area were also teaming with Roman soldiers keeping the “Pax Romana” or peace Roman style. There had been uprisings by the Jews and unrest. Many Jews wanted liberation from Rome!
Now let’s turn our attention to Jesus. During the time we are talking about, He is a rabbi (teacher of the law), a miracle maker, a rebel, a rockstar! One thing Jesus was not was obscure!
His ministry had become renowned. Some loved Him, some hated Him, more probably followed Him to see the signs and wonders He performed as He spoke of the kingdom of God with great authority. An authority that was blasphemous to the Jewish leadership.
One thing that was always in Jesus’ wake was controversy.
Controversy quickly turned into direct conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leadership. It had been building like steam in a pressure cooker. The Jewish leadership could not keep Jesus in line!
The tipping point of this conflict came when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. This had happened days before the Passover feasts!
Jesus was powerful, too powerful and his massive following a threat to the stability of Jewish leadership and Roman occupation!
Jesus spoke with an authority like never heard before. He called God HIS father. In essence, Jesus was proclaiming Himself the long awaited King of the Jews, the Messiah or in the Greek language, Christ! So frightened of losing power and control over Israel, the religious Jewish leadership was openly seeking to put Jesus to death.
Although the Jews had been looking for this King sent by God to put things right they were not looking for a king like Jesus. They did not believe He was the leader the Jews had been anticipating for centuries!
But, He was and is!
Now, let’s look at Palm Sunday…
Jesus, like all good Jews, had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feasts with his disciples. When the people of Jerusalem heard that Jesus was entering the city they came out to the Mount of Olives (just outside the city) to meet Him. Remember, by this time He was of rockstar status. Everyone in Jerusalem and all the surrounding areas knew of His miraculous works.
These crowds of people started casting their cloaks down to make a road for Jesus, an ancient expression of honor and submission.
They also cut branches from palm trees and some spread before him too. Many of the crowd were carrying and waving palm branches, a symbol of victory. National victory over the oppressive Roman empire. Most in the crowd saw Jesus as the leader to set up the earthy self-rule of Israel overthrowing the Roman Empire.
They were greeting Jesus as a triumphant king, coming into the capital city to overtake it. They thought Jesus would be THE ONE to lead a military uprising against the Roman occupiers and usher in a government that would set all things straight. Their cries of Hosannah… “save us” or “God saves” were evidence of this.
Finally, the long awaited Messiah was coming home! The hero of all heroes was coming home to Israel. They had waited so long! Their Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and their prophets had been prophesying Him for centuries.
He would make all things right again for the Jews who had been captured and overrun and abused by conquering nation after nation for centuries!
The fulfillment of prophecy and Scripture about the Messiah was taking place before their very eyes! Prophesy and Scripture that all Jews knew full well!
Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Savior of the world was coming down the Mount of Olives through the throngs of ecstatic Jews riding on a donkey. The foul of a donkey.
The imagery is rich and so important!
In ancient times if a king would come into a land, overtaken by his country, riding on a white horse he came as a conquering king! He would be ready to set up HIS style of government and meter out HIS type of judgment HIS way!
The Jews were expecting their Messiah to be a riding-on-a-white-horse-kind-of-king! Full of power and fury!
However, if a king rode into a land he had overtaken riding on a donkey it was a symbol that he had come as a peaceable king. A king of kindness and grace and peace.
You see, this was Jesus’ kingly entrance into the capital city of Jerusalem. Jesus was coming in as THE King of peace!
The peace He offered was not between the Jews and the Roman empire. It was much, much greater! It was the peace between God and man!
If only the nation Israel had understood as a whole. They had the Torah (first 5 books of the bible), the Prophets, the covenant, the Temple, the promises and more.
A handful of Jews knew and believed! But the nation as a whole did not! Remember this! I’ll circle back to this in a minute.
Jesus would die only a few days later. Nailed to the cross in the most degrading and torturous way. The sins of the whole world would be put on His sinless body. Your sins and my sins. He would die in our place and pay the debt for sin we could never pay! Then He would be raised from the dead three days later showing He was and IS the victorious King. The King over sin and death. Conqueror of our sins and eternal separation from God! And because of this here’s what Romans 5:1 says about all those who accept Jesus’ gift of salvation…
Therefore, having been justified (made not guilty of our sins because Jesus died for them in our place) by faith (believing that Jesus is your Savior and submitting your life to Him) we have peace with God!
Jesus’ first trip to planet earth was one of setting things right between God and man. Not man and man! He came to this world with a gospel of peace and forgiveness and repentance and love straight from His Father! And this gospel was and is for EVERYONE!
Jesus is coming back! Know this like you know your own face in the mirror!!!! HE IS COMING BACK! But the next time Jesus comes back to planet earth he will be riding on a white horse!
And I saw heaven opened: and behold, a white horse and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. Revelation 19:11
Are you waiting for him? Do you anticipate the Hero of the world’s second coming. When He comes again it will be to set up His kingdom on earth.
Now, let’s touch on what I asked you to remember. The nation Israel as a whole did not recognize their King on Palm Sunday. Even though they could have known the very day the first Palm Sunday happened because the book of Daniel told them.
It was on that first Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a big symbolic way to show the nation Israel HE was the king they were waiting for. But they did not recognize Him! They did not want the kind of kingship he offered.
If they would have believed, the Kingdom of God would have been ushered in! It is always disbelief that robs us of God’s forgiveness and blessings!
Many of us will receive palm branches today in church. A symbol of Jesus first coming as the KING OF PEACE and the salvation He offers us. A victory indeed!
Do you, will you, receive Him as your KING?
So let’s not forget to look ahead! Our King is coming! He is coming ( and one day soon) on a white horse to set all things in order! Let’s wave our palm branches before the KING… the Overcomer… the Victor…Our Redeemer!
And as the ancient throngs of early believers would say…
MARANATHA which means “THE LORD IS COMING”. Come quickly Lord Jesus!
A scripture to meditate on this week…
“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” John 12:13