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Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Palm Sunday

Holy Week

In the Church Calendar, today is Palm Sunday. It ushers us into Holy Week, where we remember the final week of Jesus’ life on earth before He was crucified.

If this sounds new to you, it works like this:

  • Palm Sunday (riding into Jerusalem as King)
  • Maundy Thursday (Passover, Last Supper, Foot Washing, Garden of Gethsemane, Betrayal, Arrest, “Trial”)
  • Good Friday (death sentence, flogging, crucifixion at noon, death of the Lord Jesus)
  • Holy Saturday (Jesus in the tomb)
  • Easter Sunday (Resurrection from the dead)

During Holy week, many churches (usually “high” churches, those with a more formal, liturgical, historical framework) hold services on each of these days.

“Maundy” means “Mandate, or command.” When the Lord Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he then commanded them to do the same to one another. Maundy Thursday services usually serve Communion/Eucharist, and sometimes do feet washings.

Good Friday services are often held at noon, the time that Jesus’ crucifixion commenced. They usually offer a short homily, often including the last sayings of Christ on the cross. Contemplative, sad songs are usually sung, and vestments on the altar are either black, or stripped bare. Sometimes an opportunity for private reflection is offered at the 7 stations of the cross.

Palm Sunday

On this Sunday, we remember the day Jesus arrived into Jerusalem as the long-awaited King. On other occasions, He had entered Jerusalem “on the down-low”, as it were, declining to make His real identity known. But today would be different.

Jesus was playing it smart, with tactical precision.

He knew that He would die for the people. He knew the religious leaders wanted him dead, driven by God’s enemy, Satan.

But God, so much smarter than His enemy, out-maneuvered him. The devil thought he had won, when Jesus died. Not even close. That devil played right into God’s plan of redemption.

The Lord’s timing was perfect: His death would occur during the Passover. He, the Son of God, would become to those who are His, the perfect Lamb of God who would redeem them for all time.

Finally, with the Feast of the Passover approaching, Jesus knew that it was time. Time to make His move.

Three of the four gospels provide the happenings of that day. Let’s read the account from Luke:

After Jesus had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

As He approached Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, He sent out two of His disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’

So those who were sent went out and found it just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked, “Why are you untying the colt?”

“The Lord needs it,” they answered. Then they led the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over it, and put Jesus on it.

As He rode along, the people spread their cloaks on the road. And as He approached the descent from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God joyfully in a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!”

“I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”

Luke 19:28-40

Party

Can you imagine the party atmosphere? These people were finally seeing this miracle-working wise Teacher fulfilling an ancient prophecy–could Jesus be the Messiah? Look! He’s even riding on a donkey, like Solomon did when he entered Jerusalem as the the newly anointed king!

The crowd finally got to let lose, and loudly praise God for all the miracles they had seen. The text above says “praise God JOYFULLY in a LOUD voice”! That day was quite the party, for sure.

(Join in the procession; see Hosanna In the Highest!)

In Matthew’s account, he mentions the crowds. First he shows us the jubilant mood in those accompanying Jesus. Then, he offers this reaction from the Jerusalem folks:

A massive crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed were shouting:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:8-11

The Crowds

There were many people represented in Jerusalem on the Passover. It was one of three “mandatory” feasts that Israelites attended. The place was crowded, with folks from the countrysides all about.

The texts make it clear that many whose lives had been impacted (including fellow Galileans) were making their way into Jerusalem with the Lord. Would this group find themselves yelling “Crucify! Crucify!” a mere 5 days later? Does that matter?

Well, it does to me. I don’t like the practice of assigning a sense of guilt for something you haven’t done.

Guilting

You may have heard Palm Sunday sermons, or perhaps radio preachers, offering their appraisal of the fickle crowds, who on Sunday are welcoming their king, and on Friday morning are shouting, “Crucify! Crucify!”

“What a vacillating, capricious bunch! Just goes to show you the unfaithful human heart, doesn’t it?” I’ve heard preachers bemoan. They go on…

“Which one are you? Who would you have been, there in ancient Palestine? Would you have been shouting “Hosanna!” on Sunday, then yelling out to have him killed on Friday? Hmmm????”

I’m not entirely sure that “personalizing” the last events of Jesus’ life in a way that plugs you into the story is altogether helpful. Nor, perhaps, optimal.

We don’t want to be so absorbed with our possible response that we miss the main event!

Jesus, the Christ, came into the world to save sinners like you, and sinners like me (1 Timothy 1:15).

Rather than assigning a sense of guilt in terms of how we might have acted, let’s talk about our real conviction of real sin.

We don’t need to fabricate a sense of our “badness” so that we might feel “good and sorry”—sorry enough, and guilty enough, to truly, internalize this sacrifice of God.

The Holy Spirit is in the business of convicting us of real sin; sins of commission and omission, these sins which we daily commit. Real sins.

He reveals the actual condition of our hearts, if we ask Him to. We don’t need to fabricate a little guilt in order for us to ascertain our need for this salvation.

Two Groups

There were at least two crowds that weekend: the one coming with Jesus, waving Palm branches, spreading their coats, and exuberantly yelling. The fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy was right here, right now! The Messiah has come! Celebrate! Hosanna in the Highest! Save us, our King!

They came with Jesus. They consisted of native bands of Christ-followers from the Galilee region in the north of the country. This is where Jesus spent most of His time, and where He taught, preached, healed, and delivered.

He came to the southern city Jerusalem from time to time, but He was not nearly as well known in that region.

The other crowd were folks who apparently were not even participating in this procession. Led by the skeptical Pharisees, (who demanded to know: what is this all about?) these folks didn’t even know who this was.

They had to ask. This group, perhaps, might have been more influenced by the religious leaders, and might have been the group that the Pharisees would incite on Friday to cry for blood.

The Triumphal Entry

Zechariah was one of two Old Testament post-exilic prophets who encouraged the band of Jewish re-settlers to rebuild the temple of God. Here is a Messianic prophecy, spoken about Christ about 500 years before the events of this particular weekend.

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O Daughter of Jerusalem!

See, your King comes to you,

righteous and victorious,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the horse from Jerusalem,

and the bow of war will be broken.

Then He will proclaim peace to the nations.

His dominion will extend from sea to sea,

and from the Euphrates

to the ends of the earth.

Zechariah 9:9-10

The Israelites of this time would have known about this prophecy; they were eagerly awaiting this very thing. Most certainly they would have recognized this arrival of their King, riding on a colt.

As he rode in, Jesus was accepting this role as their expected Messiah and King. The people cried out “Hosanna!” which means, “God saves”, or more exactly, “Lord, please save us!”

Imagine what may have been going through the mind of our Lord. Mounted on this donkey, palms cut down, creating this gorgeous processional upon which to ride, He heard their cries; cries for salvation.

“Save us, Lord! Lord, Save! Please Lord, rescue us!” And they meant, of course, to be saved from the oppression under Rome.

They had no idea that their King had come for this very purpose: salvation. He came to save them, to redeem them, to restore them unto the bosom of God, His Father.

Palm Sunday, Today

One day the King will return. He will not be riding on a donkey. He will return in awesome, fearful power to judge the world. At His next coming, all knees will bow, and all will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). But we don’t need to wait…we can bow the knee, today!

His return will be the end of this world as we know it. He will restore creation to the glorious state it enjoyed before sin entered the world.

The world desperately needs Christ’s return. Only in His saving power can evil at last be defeated, justice be meted out, and peace on earth restored. On that day, all things will be put to rights.

And so today, we once again find ourselves crying out to Him.

“Hosanna! Lord, save! Rescue us! Save us, Lord!” cry the people of God, for this world. How we need His return. But until that day, we have Him — in our midst, even now, through His Spirit.

Until His bodily return, we live in His abundant grace; the grace of our Lord Jesus.

And that’s how the book ends. The Bible. With the Lord Jesus promising to come, and with cries of our yearning, our longing for that day:

He who testifies to these things says,

‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’

Amen, come Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Revelation 22:20-21