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 news had spread quickly through Jerusalem.
“He’s here! Jesus, the miracle worker, is in town for the Passover. And He’s staying with that man Lazarus, the one He brought back to life. Hurry, let’s go and see them.”
When the celebrities were spotted in Bethany, the crowd surged around Jesus like a posse of paparazzi. Men, women, and children waved palm branches long symbolic of victory and cried out from the Psalms (118), “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” People spread their cloaks and branches from the stately date palms upon the road from Bethphage through the Kidron Valley to the Golden Gates of the temple complex. The cry “Save, we pray!” echoed through the valley as the people begged Jesus to rescue them, to be their conquering king.
They 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. They wanted an immediate, earthly rescue. Jesus’ disciples asked for places of honor in His coming kingdom. And anxious Jewish and political leaders made plans to squash any uprising as it appeared that all the world was going after this miracle worker.
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. 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. He declared eternal victory over the schemes of men, and today we wave the branches of victory.
The Significance of Palm Branches
- The Judean date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) provides a major fruit crop in Israel. These majestic trees stretch upward more than 75 feet with 16-foot, pale green fronds. The trees can produce enormous bunches of dates with a pleasant honey aftertaste.
- In Leviticus 23:40, God instructed the Israelites to take palm branches, along with the boughs of leafy trees and brook willows to construct their temporary dwellings to celebrate the seven-day Feast of Booths. The command to erect these vine-covered booths was revisited in Nehemiah 8:15. Jesus grew up in this tradition, and in John 7, He and His disciples traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths.
- During the desert wandering, God’s people waved the branches in worship before the Lord (Leviticus 12:40). Palm branches were also used for many years in the Roman games as athletes celebrated their victories.
- Solomon directed that palm trees be carved into the walls and doors of the temple (I Kings 6).
- John wrote in Revelation 7:9-10 that one day a great multitude from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages, will stand before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They will cry aloud, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Come and See Jesus
Chelsey Duncan reads John 12 for us today. She and her husband Sean have been married for 2 1/2 years. She is originally from Roseburg and has lived in Eugene and attended UFC since 2014. She works at an architecture firm doing residential and interior design. She enjoys lifting weights, reading books, and looking at pictures of puppies on Instagram.
Celebrating Palm Sunday
Joanna Sheppard is today’s vocalist for All Glory, Laud, and Honor, a traditional Palm Sunday hymn. Joanna is a native Oregonian and is proud to call the unique community of Eugene “home.” She met her talented SoCal husband in Bible college and together they have three kids. Joanna loves classic literature, inductive Bible study, worship, craft projects, and spending time with friends and family.
UFC Women’s audio editor
For many months here at UFC Women, we’ve had a quiet but powerful contributor to the blog, an audio editor who has listened to and edited hours of Scripture and podcast recordings from dozens of women as we have journeyed through various books of the Bible and study subjects. He has been a cheerleader for us and a provided a beautiful project for us to post on the blog, including this week’s hymn project, which he both recorded and edited. Today it’s a joy to introduce you to Matt Gley. He grew up in Springfield with his mom and two brothers. During his senior year at Thurston High School, he came to faith in Jesus through the UFC youth group. He then attended the University of Oregon, where he majored in economics and minored in math and music. Matt now works at UFC, where he leads worship and teaches in the middle school group. He enjoys playing music with his band, whitewater kayaking with his friends, and being pretentious about locally roasted, fair-trade, light roast coffee.