By Jaime Sherman
The Christian church around the world celebrates Palm Sunday today, marking the day nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus mounted a donkey’s colt and rode into Jerusalem, where Passover pilgrims declared Him to be the next king of Israel.
The mood on that spring day was festive as the people spread their cloaks upon the road from Bethphage through the Kidron Valley to the Golden Gates of the temple complex. As they surged around Jesus, men, women, and children waved palm branches and cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The word Hosanna means, “Oh, save now!” or “Please save!”
The people expected much of this 33-year-old man from Nazareth, the man who had healed the sick, made the lame to walk, cast out demons, and taught as one with authority, but their expectations were in stark contrast to those of Jesus and to the reality of the days ahead. The common man desired political revolt against Roman oppression. Jesus’ disciples asked for places of honor in His coming kingdom. And anxious Jewish and political leaders made plans to squash any uprising.
Knowing that His death was just days away, Jesus could have set His course north from Jericho instead of heading southwest to Bethany and onward to Jerusalem, but He didn’t. He willingly began the agonizing journey to the spot where He — the Passover lamb — was to be sacrificed.
Arriving with His disciples in Bethany six days before the feast, Jesus sent two of the men ahead to Bethphage to find a donkey and its colt, which He would mount for the ride to Jerusalem. He knew He must fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus then entered Jerusalem on the very day the Passover lambs were chosen for sacrifice in the temple. Instead of meeting the expectations of the people who lauded him as a national deliverer, Jesus expected to be the sacrificial lamb to spiritually reconcile sinful man to the Father. In His humanity, He must have wrestled with staying the course, one fraught with pain and suffering, and yet in His deity, the love for His people, and the obedience to His Father kept Him focused on the hill of crucifixion.
He was focused when He allowed Mary to anoint Him for burial, as He washed His disciples’ feet, as He shared the unleavened bread and wine of the Passover with His people, as He gave the morsel of dipped bread to the one who would sell His life for 30 pieces of silver, and as He prayed to His Father in the early morning hours preceding His arrest.
Jesus made a choice to walk toward the cross, not away. He wouldn’t satisfy the desires of the masses, but He would obey the Father. He wouldn’t topple Rome as a temporary solution for man’s physical plight, but He would offer life eternal. He wouldn’t continue a pattern of sacrifices to make man right with God. No, He would become the sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of a righteous God.
As we reflect on what has become known as Palm Sunday, we join the throngs of history in shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” for we know that Jesus met God’s expectations, not those of the people, and went to the cross to save us.