Yesterday, Cal shared a message on Palm Sunday. You can hear the message here, for April 13, 2019. Today I’d like to mention a few brief details about Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday commemorates what is often called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. In the beginning of Matthew 21, Jesus is recorded instructing his disciples to find a colt (young donkey) who had never been ridden. He then rode the colt and donkey into the city. As he approached, some threw their cloaks down while others cut palm branches, thus making a makeshift path for Jesus. Today, I’d like to talk about three things: why this makeshift path, why people shouted “Hosanna to the son of David”, and why we celebrate Palm Sunday. These points are significant to understanding Jesus’ mission and the reason we observe Palm Sunday.
Why the Makeshift Path
As I mentioned in the intro above, the people threw cloaks and palm leaves on the ground to make a makeshift path for Jesus. In the ancient world, this symbolism would have been evident. They weren’t just making a path for Jesus to ride in on. They were making a declaration of Jesus as King. In the ancient world (I have read) when a ruler entered a city he did it one of two ways. 1. He entered on a steed and a symbol of conquest in war. The city he entered had been defeated and he was declaring himself the conqueror of the city. 2. He entered on a colt/donkey as a symbol of peace. The ruler would ride in on a colt/donkey to symbolize not the power of the sword, but the tranquility of the olive branch. He was their ruler, but it was not in a violent context.
So when Jesus rode in on the donkey and colt, he was enacting the second symbol–coming in peace. The people recognized him as a coming ruler and used what they had on hand to prepare a royal path for him to enter–comprised of their cloaks and leafy palm branches.
Why People Shouted Hosanna
Their constructed path was accompanied with shouts of “Hosanna to the son of David.” The son of David reference meant they were proclaiming him the legitimate king of the Jews as opposed to the Hasmonean ruler, Herod. In addition, the term “Hosanna” in Hebrew means “Save.” So they are making a declaration that the son of David will save them. For them, it was likely a salvation from Rome and Herod. Calling Jesus “Son of David” made the link to the royal lineage of David’s family. Jesus’ decision to ride into Jerusalem on the donkey and colt was an intentional move to publicly declare his intentions as the rightful king of Israel (Remember, during the Sinai covenant, God was their king–far surpassing David’s kingship. Jesus coming and riding on the colt was declaring (beyond the understanding of the people) that God is Israel’s true king. Jesus, as God made that declaration on the colt. Additionally, he was descended from David, so he was also the legitimate political king from David’s line–Alas, Israel would have her true king.
The people were focused on the Davidic descent, declaring Jesus as son of David to be the rightful king. Along with that declaration they were shouting words of “Salvation.” They were looking for deliverance, and Jesus would offer that. But in reality, Jesus’ salvation has a far wider reach than the political climate of 1st century Judaism. He didn’t come to overthrow Rome and Herod. Jesus came to overthrow sin and the stranglehold Satan had on humanity. Jesus’ rulership started in Jerusalem with the Jews and expanded to all of creation, involving Gentiles as well as the natural and supernatural world. Jesus came to save “Hosanna” in ways far greater than the people’s cognitive understanding. Yet their declarations are absolutely true.
Why Celebrate Palm Sunday
Matthew 21 sets the stage for Jesus’ passion narrative. (note: “Passion” is in reference to its Latin Root: Passio which means “suffering.”). Jesus’ passion was not an emotionally driven compulsion to to the will of the Father, his passion is his suffering at the hands of religious leaders and Rome. So where does Palm Sunday fit into this?
Palm Sunday is held to be the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on his last week before the crucifixion. It marks what we now call “Holy Week.” The following is abbreviated from Wikipedia.
- Palm Sunday: Triumphal Entry (see above)
- Holy Monday: Jesus is anointed at Bethany (John 12:12–19)/or cursing of fig tree & cleansing the temple
- Holy Tuesday: Jesus predicts his own death (12:20–36 and John 13:21–38)
- Spy Wednesday: Judas conspires with the high priest to betray Jesus
- Tenebrae: Darkness–a service on Wed. night or pre-dawn Thursday morning where candles are gradually extinguished as psalms are read
- Maundy Thursday: Jesus performs the Last Supper (includes Peter’s denial)
- Good Friday: Jesus’ flogging and crucifixion
- Black Saturday: Observes the time between Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection
- Easter Vigil: Prayers in the evening of Black Saturday
- Easter Sunday: Day of celebration and commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
We at TGP don’t normally observe all the traditional strictures of holy week. However, it is good to understand the purpose of what is observed during this week for non-liturgical congregations.
I hope you are preparing your hearts and spirits to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection this coming Easter Sunday. Let’s gather together with expectant hearts to see what the Lord has in store for TGP this Easter season and how that will help us experience God’s