25 March, 2018
Go ahead and try to imagine this event. Please, try to paint a picture in your mind of what’s happening. Palm branches and donkeys, a crowd of people and Jesus…what is going on here?
To answer this question is very important, especially in the context of today being Palm Sunday and the Sunday before Easter. To know what’s going on here is to know the significance of this event. It’s not like a circus, and it’s not like a rock concert. It’s more than fanfare or a festival.
Just like John the Baptist and his ministry of repentance paved the way for Jesus and his ministry of salvation, Palm Sunday paved the way for Easter Sunday; and the introduction of Jesus in Jerusalem paved the way for his death and resurrection.
And so, the significance of this event is tied to Easter, which is arguably the most important event for our faith. Without Jesus’s death and resurrection, there is no atonement for our sins. In other words, without Jesus’s death and resurrection, we have no faith, because there is no Christianity.
So, as we look toward Easter Sunday next week, let’s look at the significance of today’s Palm Sunday. There are three points of significance.
- The Fulfillment of Prophecy
Simply put, Jesus needed to fulfill prophecy to prove that he was sent by God. The idea of prophecy has an inherent mystical element to it, but this is not to be mistaken to add some mystical aspect to Jesus. Jesus is not about mysticism. Jesus is about truth and reality.
In what was described in our passage—in the welcoming with palm branches, in the cries of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and in the appearance on the donkey—Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy that proved he was sent by God.
Consider the context of Jewish history, where God spoke through his prophets to declare the coming of his Chosen One. Over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, God spoke to the Israelites of the One Who Is To Come—the Messiah, the Savior.
Which brings us to our second point of significance.
- Here Is Our Savior
The cries that welcomed him, especially “Hosanna,” directly point to his messiahship. The term “Hosanna” had come to take on a variation in meaning during Jesus’s time, and was largely used as a shout of celebration. However, its earlier use was in crying or pleading for deliverance, and is more accurately translated to mean “Save!” So, here we see the Jewish people welcoming and celebrating Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem with cries of “Save us!”
So, here in our passage, it is neither one nor the other, but appropriately both. The people are celebrating the coming of their Messiah, long promised through prophecy throughout their history. Here they are, shouting to their Savior, “Hosanna! Save us!”
Of course, we all know that God had a greater vision for salvation—for the souls of all people, and not the nearsighted and worldly view of a political deliverance sought by the Jews.
And we all know that in Jesus, the world would finally come to know God’s redemptive plan for all people, highlighted by the words of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The crowd was right in asking Jesus to save them.
And not only was the crowd shouting, “Save us!” they were also shouting, “Blessed be the King of Israel!” This brings us to our third point of significance.
- Here Is Our King
Our text says that the crowd waved palm branches in welcoming Jesus. In historical texts, palms are mentioned in association with the coming of the messianic salvation. Furthermore, palm branches were symbolic of a victorious ruler. Even the cry “Hosanna!” in its variant forms was used to address the king with a need.
And as if all of these things don’t already associate Jesus with kingship, we hear the crowd’s cry, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Here is a formal declaration of their hope in Jesus as the prophesied ruler who would finally bring political freedom to the Jewish state.
Here is the Jewish people recognizing him as king, in, of all places, Jerusalem, the city of David, the city of the great King. Here is the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establishing lasting peace and security.
But there is one thing a little bit strange; one thing that the crowd failed to recognize at the time; one thing that should have alerted everyone that maybe, just maybe, Jesus had other ideas as the King of Israel.
Yes. What is Jesus doing on a donkey?! (picture)
Kings are supposed to ride on big white horses! (picture)
Even the Pope has the Pope-mobile! (picture)
Even Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a pony. (picture)
Instead, here we see Jesus, the King of Israel, riding on a donkey. (picture)
If we were to put this in modern context, it would be like Jesus strolling into town in a K-car. (picture)
Now, the more important question is, “Does this take away anything from Jesus?” And the answer is, “Absolutely not!” Because this is the accurate picture of our servant King, the one who washed his disciples’ feet, and the one who came NOT TO BE served but TO serve.
The one who chose to do the will of the Father and willingly died on the cross to save us. This is Jesus, who was crucified on that cross with a sign that read, “King of the Jews.”
Here is our King, who…
And here is our King, who…
The fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecy to prove that he was sent by God, the fact that Jesus is the Savior who takes away the sin of the world, and the fact that Jesus is the King who sits at the right hand of God perfectly sets the stage for Easter.
It is in this identity that we find Jesus to be the only one worthy to die on the cross for our sins and to overcome death and come back to life to prove his deity. Jesus is the only one worthy to take on the role of the Easter narrative.
Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy; Jesus is our Savior; Jesus is our King. Because of this, we look forward to celebrating Easter next week.