Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the day on which the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city riding on a donkey. They waved palm branches and laid their coats on the ground beneath His feet. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out. They believed He was the promised Messiah.
But not everyone believed or was happy about Jesus’ arrival.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:39-40 (NIV).
Palm Sunday is celebratory, but it doesn’t take long for the sentiment of the Pharisees to take hold among a larger group of people. In a mere five days the crowd will call for Jesus’ crucifixion following his joke of a trial before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pontius Pilate. The majority of the people will turn against Him, one of His closest twelve disciples will betray Him, and the other eleven disciples will desert and disown Him.
But coming back to our Palm Sunday celebration, one has to wonder why the people were so excited about Jesus’ arrival to the city. I believe it was in large part because they had heard many things about Him that fulfilled the prophecies of the promised Messiah, only a few of which included that:
- He was born in Bethlehem:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV).
- He was born of a virgin:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (NIV).
- He had healed many, giving hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind:
“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” Isaiah 29:18 (NIV).
- He entered the city riding on a donkey:
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NIV).
There was no Facebook, Twitter, or even Internet blogs during Biblical times, but news still spread about this man who could calm the storm, feed the hungry, and heal the sick and lame. The crowds that He drew all throughout His earthly ministry clearly indicate that news spread quite well if it was news worth hearing.
News had spread of this amazing prophet who was able to best even the Pharisees and Sadducees in a religious debate, who spent time with riff-raff and sinners, and who claimed to be able even to forgive sins without an animal sacrifice. He offered the common people freedom from servitude and burden of living under the thumb of the religious rulers of the day.
We celebrate Palm Sunday today because He makes the same offer even today. He offers freedom from the burden of legalism and forgiveness of our sins. And the truly amazing thing is that even if, in the midst of the confusion and agony of Holy Week to come, we desert or deny Him, He will redeem us.