“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Jn 12:12-15)
Palm Sunday refers to the Sunday before Easter. On Palm Sunday, Christians commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
As you may know, the most important celebration in Christianity is next Sunday—Easter. Easter is the most glorious and joyful day for Christians. On that day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and eternal life in him.
But, we must also remember what Jesus did before that day. Jesus did a lot of things while living on earth, but the most important events happened during the last week of his life. We call this week ‘Holy Week.’ During Holy Week, Christians recall the events leading up to Jesus’ death by crucifixion and His resurrection. That’s what we’re going to do today.
A week before Passover, Jesus went into Jerusalem on a young donkey. This was to fulfill the prophecy about the Messiah in Zechariah 9:9, which says,
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zch 9:9)
At that time, Jerusalem was crowded with people from all different regions who had come to celebrate Passover. Soon, the news that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem spread. And, this is how they welcomed him.
“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (Jn 12:12-13)
A large crowd welcomed Him fervently. They spread their cloaks and branches on the road and waved palm branches in the air. All the people there shouted joyfully,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mt 21:9)
Here, the palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, and peace. Hosanna means “save us.” And, the Son of David is an expression used to refer to the Messiah.
So, from these symbols and expressions we know why they welcomed Jesus enthusiastically. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament who would save them and bring them triumph and peace.
When I read this passage when I was young, I thought this scene was beautiful. Just imagine how humbly Jesus entered the city and how fervently the crowds welcomed him, shouting and waving countless palm branches. It must have been a magnificent sight.
But now, this scene actually makes me sad because no one there truly understood the meaning or purpose behind Jesus entering Jerusalem.
What they expected Jesus to do was not to save their souls from their sins, but to save them from Roman oppression. They wanted Jesus to restore the physical nation of Israel with heavenly wisdom and miraculous power. Those were the expectations they had about Jesus and that was why they welcomed him.
In other words, they didn’t welcome Jesus himself, but the things they thought he would achieve and bring to them.
So, when they realized that Jesus was not doing what they expected, most of the crowds turned their backs on him and even shouted, “crucify him!” The very crowd who had welcomed Jesus shouting “Hosanna! Save me!” now mocked him and shouted, “Crucify Him!”
That’s the saddest part of this story. Jesus was abandoned and killed by all the people who had welcomed, loved, and followed him.
Even though the Bible doesn’t say how Jesus felt when he saw the large crowd welcoming him, I would guess that he was likely lonely.
What the crowd did to welcome Jesus was right. What they shouted was right. Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Son of David, who would save people and bring victory and peace. But, they didn’t really know the meaning of Jesus being the Messiah or the salvation, victory and peace he would bring them.
Jesus didn’t come to restore the physical nation of Israel, but to build the kingdom of God. He didn’t come to save the Israelites from Roman oppression, but to save everyone on earth from their slavery to sin and death.
He didn’t come to give the Israelites victory over Rome, but to give everyone on earth triumph over Satan and free us from the fear of death. The peace Jesus brings us doesn’t belong to this world because it’s found only in our restored relationship with God through Jesus.
Jesus, The Lamb of God
And, to fulfill these, to save us from sin, to restore our relationship with God, to free us from the fear of death by giving us victory over death, Jesus had to die.
That was his purpose—to die. No one lives to die and no one’s purpose is to die, but Jesus lived to die and it was the very reason he came into the world in human form.
And, that was the reason Jesus entered Jerusalem, even though none of the people who welcomed him knew it.
We see this through what he did on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. On Thursday evening, Jesus had the last supper with his disciples. Jesus already knew that this meal would be the last He would eat with His disciples.
So, during the meal, Jesus got up, took off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, and began to wash His disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel. By doing so, Jesus loved them to the end and showed them how to love and serve one another.
And, while eating the Passover feast with his disciples, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).
After that, Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20)
As you may know, this bread and wine represent Jesus’ body and blood. The bread itself shows the way he would be killed and symbolizes its result.
Just as the bread was lifted up, broken and given to His disciples, Jesus’ body was hung high on the cross, nailed, and speared, shedding His blood. And, as a result, his body and his life are given to everyone on earth who believes in his name.
After the last supper, Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. There, Jesus was caught by soldiers and all his disciples deserted him and fled.
And, on Friday, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Before the crucifixion, soldiers flogged Jesus, spat on him, tormented and mocked Him, and pierced him with a crown of thorns. Then Jesus carried his own cross to Calvary. There, Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. The crowd also sneered at Him.
Then, Jesus was nailed to the cross. There, he experienced being abandoned not only by people, but also by God. For Jesus cried out loud, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).
Jesus had never been apart from God, but he experienced deep separation from him because he bore our sins in his body and God condemned sin in his flesh. God poured out his wrath against our sins in his body, and Jesus was crucified on our behalf.
And, at the very moment when Jesus breathed his last breath and died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, meaning Jesus made a way for us to enter the Most Holy Place and have true peace with God through his blood and death.
Jesus, Our Passover Lamb
What’s also important to remember is that the day Jesus was crucified was the day of preparation of the Passover.
As we’ve talked about before, Jews consider Passover to be the most important festival because it is directly related to the most important event in the history of Israel—the Exodus. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he sent ten plagues, and the last one was the death of every firstborn son.
But, death passed over the houses of Israel whose door frames were covered with the blood of lambs. So, when celebrating the Passover, many Passover lambs were killed on Friday evening. And, Jesus was also crucified on Friday.
On the day of preparation of the Passover, Jesus was handed over to be crucified, and as the Passover lambs were killed, Jesus was killed and shed his precious blood.
And, just as the salvation of Israel from Egypt started with the sacrifice of Passover lambs, salvation of all people on earth from sin and death started with the heavenly sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb who took away the sin of the world. Now if we’re in Christ, we can overcome sin and death.
Today is Palm Sunday when we celebrate Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. We’re to know and remember the reason Jesus came into the world and into Jerusalem, and what he did and what he gave during Holy Week.
Then, we’ll be able to truly celebrate this day. In fact, the Bible talks about two instances in which people welcome Jesus and wave palm branches. One is in the gospels, and the other is in Revelation.
Let’s read Revelation 7:9-10 together.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rv 7:9-10)
This is what God allowed John to see in advance. He saw a great multitude from every nation standing before the Lamb and worshiping him, holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out to the Lamb, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rv 7:9-10)
This scene looks similar to how people welcomed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. In both cases, a lot of people worshiped Jesus, shouting about salvation, and waving palm branches, a symbol of triumph and victory.
But, in Revelation, the people worshiping Jesus are not only Jews, but people from every nation. The Jews in the gospels waved palm branches without knowing what kind of victory and peace Jesus would really bring, but on the last day, we’ll worship Jesus for his wonderful salvation he achieved through his sacrifice.
This day hasn’t come yet. But, it will come. John didn’t see things that would likely occur one day. He saw what would certainly happen because the one who gave him this vision was God.
And, as Christians, we’re to prepare for that day. With the hope that we will see Jesus face to face and worship him before his throne, we should continue to remember who he truly is and what amazing gifts he has given us—triumph over sin and death, peace with God, and eternal life.
Even now, many people like Jesus and say that they believe in him. But, I don’t think many people really know him. It seems that what they expect from Jesus is different from what he really wants to give us. If we’re like that, I’m afraid that we welcome him and worship him in vain, just as Jews did.
So, today, and during this week, I want us to think more deeply about who Jesus is and the reason he came to the world so that we can experience true victory and peace through his wonderful ministry on the cross and give our true love and glory to him.