Probably all of us know the basic storyline: At the beginning of the week when he would be crucified, Jesus enters Jerusalem mounted on a donkey and is greeted by a great crowd of people with palm branches in their hands to lay down on the road before him to carpet his path. They also spread their cloaks out on the road.
We also think of Palm Sunday as the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is that which we are commemorating today.
Each of the four gospels tell of the events a little differently than the others, depending upon what the author was trying to emphasize or explain, but if we weave together all four explanations, it seems the events surrounding the day went much in the following fashion:
On the day before the Triumphal Entry, Jesus came to Bethany. It was in Bethany where the two sisters of Mary and Martha lived, along with their brother Lazarus. Jesus had also visited them some days or weeks earlier. Four days before Jesus arrived in Bethany on that previous occasion, Lazarus had died, much to the grief of the two sisters. But when Jesus came, he ordered the tomb where the body of Lazarus was lying to be opened. He then called for Lazarus to come out.
To the amazement of all present, Lazarus actually did come out, still wrapped in the grave clothes that they had put on him before sealing him in the tomb. Naturally, word of this miracle spread rapidly. After all, Jesus had raised a man from the dead.
Jesus in Bethany
And now on the day before the triumphal entry, Jesus had returned to Bethany. People were anxious to see not only Jesus, but also Lazarus, the one who had died and had come back to life. This visit to Bethany before Palm Sunday was also the occasion when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with a very costly perfume. Whether or not Mary completely understood her actions, this anointing was in anticipation for Jesus’ crucifixion, which would take place in only a few days (John 12:1-11).
These are all events that took place leading up to the Triumphal Entry, when Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. The entire city was in high anticipation of his arrival.
Bethany is located across a small valley from Jerusalem, up near the Mount of Olives. The following day, Jesus and his disciples, along with many others who were following him, began descending into the valley. Jesus sent two of the disciples ahead into Jerusalem where they would find a donkey with a young colt. They were to untie these animals and bring them back to him in order that he may enter Jerusalem riding the colt (Matthew 21:2-3).
This was done to fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which proclaims: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, gentle and mounted on a donkey, even a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The meaning of the prophecy, of course, was to demonstrate the manner in which Jesus, as the Messiah, was proclaiming himself as King. In this era of the conquering of nations and kingdoms, a victorious king did not ride into a defeated city on a lowly donkey. Rather, with a great display of ostentation, he would enter the city that he had conquered mounted on a mighty war steed or in a war chariot.
But this was not how Jesus proclaimed himself on that day.
There will come a day, incidentally, when Jesus will be seen riding a mighty steed in order to take back his kingdom. We read of this in the book of Revelation. But that is a subject for a different time.
It is the riding of the colt on the occasion about 2000 years ago that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. When the two disciples returned to Jesus with the donkey and colt, some of the people laid their garments on the animals and Jesus rode the colt into the city of Jerusalem. As he did so, the crowd that had been accompanying him from Bethany was joined by more people from Jerusalem.
The people laid not only palm fronds down on the road before Jesus, but also their own cloaks. Since there was a multitude of people present, and we are told that most of the people removed their cloaks to lay them down before Jesus (Matthew 21:8), the road was transformed into a carpeted path to give him honored entrance into the city.
As the people were doing this, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
This word “Hosanna,” is one that we use even today. Perhaps we do not use it in our everyday speech, but many Christian songs are even based upon the theme of Hosanna. I believe I even remember some entire hymnals and song books with that title.
But what does the word mean? Why were the people shouting “Hosanna” on that day?
The word is actually a combination of two Hebrew words that, when placed together in this way, give the single word hosanna the meaning of “Save us, we implore you!” or “Save now”!
The people on that original day of palms were looking to Jesus to save them.
However, the salvation that they were looking for is not in the same regard as we usually think about it in our churches in these days. The salvation that the people of Jerusalem were looking for on that day was not from their sinful ways, but salvation from the Roman occupation and oppression.
That is why they were calling Jesus, “the son of David.” King David was in those days regarded as the greatest of all Israel’s historical kings, even as I believe he is still regarded today in Israel. As the people were shouting and referring to Jesus as the son of David, they saw in him one who had done many miraculous works. He had healed many people, even including (as they had been so recently reminded) raising a man from the dead! Certainly, they thought, this Jesus from Nazareth had the power to overthrow the Romans. And this triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem demonstrated that he also had the support even of the multitude.
The crowd was so caught up in the excitement of the moment, that the lesson of Jesus entering the city while riding on a colt of a donkey completely escaped them. Jesus was here to save them, yes, but not in the manner in which they were looking. He was not coming as a warrior who would lead a revolution against the Romans.
Stones that Praise Jesus
In the midst of all of this, Jesus had two reactions that I find interesting. The first is what he said to some Pharisees who were in the crowd, and who told Jesus to rebuke the people for their actions and what they were saying about Jesus,
Jesus told the Pharisees this: “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:41).
We are not told what the reaction of the Pharisees was to these words. Perhaps they were simply dumbfounded, but given their subsequent actions in the days to follow, I think that it is more likely that they were angered at Jesus’ words. They understood something about Jesus that most in the multitude did not.
The multitude was looking on Jesus at that time as a potential political hero — a military hero. But the Pharisees understood that Jesus was claiming that he was God and the Messiah spoken of by the prophets. They could have accepted someone who would simply lead a political movement, but they could not abide by someone who was there to upset their religious system; and this is what Jesus was doing.
Infants and Nursing Babes Who Praise Jesus
In fact, Jesus was soon to demonstrate this literally. On the day following, Jesus entered the temple and began to do some upsetting. The temple area had turned into little more than a market place where animals were sold for sacrificial purposes. Also, since the people who came to the temple were either expected or required to pay a temple tax, there were money exchangers who had set up their tables so that people who came only with Greek or Roman coinage could exchange it for the standard half-shekel that the tax required.
Jesus entered into this area, looked around for a moment, then began overturning these tables and driving the merchants out. He tipped over the seats of those selling doves and would not permit anyone to carry their goods through the temple.
After he had restored order, Jesus then began to teach the people. “Is it not written,” he asked them, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it into a robbers den!” (Mark 11:17)
Then the blind and the lame came to Jesus, asking to be healed, and he restored them—he healed them. When the chief priests and the scribes saw what had happened and also remembering the crowd when they were shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they began to become indignant.
The priests said to him, “Do you hear what these people are saying?”
Jesus responded to the religious leaders in this way: “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself?” (Matthew 21:16).
Praise to the Creator
The stones praising Jesus? Infants and nursing babes? What did Jesus mean by this?
Well, when speaking about the infants and nursing babes praising him, Jesus was quoting one of the Psalms, where it is written, O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, who has displayed your splendor above the heavens!”
It then follows, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength” (Psalm 8:1-2).
Concerning the stones, there is also a Psalm that clarifies what Jesus meant about the very creation praising him: “The heavens are telling of the Glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the works of his hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals his knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2 NAS).
Jesus is the creator of the universe. By whatever means, the universe and all that is in it will praise him. To us, as men and women, God has given something that he apparently has not given any other of his creation: a will that is free. We have the ability to make our own choices in regard to what God intends for us to do. That means, by our own disobedience, we have the ability to refuse this recognition of his Sovereign Lordship.
However, when Jesus spoke of infants and nursing babes, and even rocks declaring God’s greatness, he was saying that even though there will be the disobedience of a few ungrateful ones, this will not prevent God from being praised! The entire creation will praise him. He is Lord!
These words spoken to the Pharisees is the first thing that I find interesting about the response of Jesus to the events of the day.
Weeping over the City
The second thing of significance is found in Luke 19:41. When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, even as the multitude of people around him were singing his praises, Jesus looked up, and seeing the city, he wept over it.
To those who were close enough at the moment to actually see Jesus weeping, I am sure that they were a bit taken aback by this reaction. Why should Jesus be weeping now? This should have been one of his greatest moments. He was being adored and praised by a great multitude and hailed as a victor.
Even the religious leaders of the day were not able to prevent the crowd from this great display of worship of Jesus. The religious leaders had long been opposed to Jesus. They were also opposed to this adoration of Jesus, but they could do nothing about it. They were powerless in the face of such a multitude. The multitude, with boundless enthusiasm, was calling Jesus their savior. From all outward appearances, it should have been a moment of profound fulfillment for Jesus.
Instead, Jesus wept. Then he said these words concerning the city of Jerusalem: “If you had known in this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now, they have been hidden from your eyes.”
The people thought that the path to peace lay in expelling the Romans from their land. In their view, this was their land given to them by God. The fact that the Romans were occupying their land and ruling over them was an abomination to them.
But expelling the Romans, as the Jews wanted to do, was not the path to peace.
Jesus wept for two reasons. The first was that he foresaw all of the horrendous events that would eventually happen in the city. “For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you. And they will not leave in you one stone upon another” (Luke 19:43-44a NAS).
The most immediate fulfillment of this prophecy would take place in Jerusalem only a few decades after Jesus spoke these words. In AD 70, The Roman general Titus marched into the city and fulfilled the words of Jesus exactly.
But that was not all that Jesus said as he was weeping over Jerusalem. I stopped the quote above in mid-sentence. Jesus also gave the reason that the city would suffer such a fate. His closing remark was, “Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
As a Hen Would Gather her Brood Under Her Wings
The Savior had come, the Messiah had lived among the people. He had performed many miracles not so that he could demonstrate his power—that was not his purpose. He was not doing these things so that he could become popular and gain a large following. He performed all of those miracles simply because of the fact that he loved his people and wanted to care for their needs, just as a shepherd cares for the needs of his sheep.
And he did it also to fulfill prophecies that had spoken of the Messiah. Prophecies such as are found in Isaiah 35: 3-6:
Strengthen the limp hands and steady the feeble knees!
Say to those with anxious hearts: “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance. With divine retribution He will come to save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then the lame will leap like a deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy (BSB).
This promised One, of whom Isaiah had written, had visited the people. The people should have recognized who he was. He came to live with them for a time, to walk among them and teach them, and to heal their sicknesses and infirmities.
Most often in the gospels, when Jesus did some miraculous work, it was not called a miracle. Rather, these works were called signs. The miracles that Jesus did were meant not only to heal, but even more importantly, they were as signs meant to demonstrate and indicate that Jesus was the promised and expected Messiah.
Jesus said, “If I do the works of my Father, even if you do not believe in me, at least believe the works. It is through these works that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38).
The people may have appreciated the works of healing and of the supplies of food, but they did not see the connection between these miracles and the coming of the Messiah. They did not recognize that the Father was in Jesus, and Jesus was in the Father. It was because of this blindness of the people that Jesus wept.
This was not the last time that Jesus would lament for the city. It was later in the week, before he was arrested, that Jesus again grieved for the city when he said:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling! Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:37-39 NAS)
On Palm Sunday, the people recognized Jesus as the “Son of David,” but it seems that they did not pay full attention to the quote from the Psalms, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:23). They would not have peace until they recognize that Jesus had also come “In the name of the Lord.”
The Present-Day Visitation
Say what we might about the multitude missing the real importance of the event on the first Palm Sunday, it is sad to say that we seldom are any better. We also are guilty of shouting “Hosanna,” “Save Us Now,” without truly defining what we want salvation from.
The Jews wanted salvation from the Romans. They wanted salvation from physical ailments, and were glad when they were relieved of their blindness and lameness. What they actually wanted was simply someone who could save them from the daily difficulties of life that they experienced.
That is often exactly the same sort of savior that we look for. We want someone to relieve us from the present difficulties in life and someone who will give us security. We want to live our daily lives free from worry, but we want no more than that. We still want to retain the liberty to pursue our own desires and goals.
We want someone to heal our diseases and to remove anything and anyone that is oppressing us. But that is about as far as we want it to go. We then want this savior to leave us alone in other areas of our lives so that we can go about pursuing our own games in life.
But that is not the kind of salvation that Jesus is offering. In fact, that is not even true salvation. It is true that it might remove or heal a short-term problem, but it still leaves the underlying condition intact. We often are looking for a band-aid over our present worries, when what Jesus wants to give us is a complete cure.
The condition that we find ourselves in is sin. We might have heard this, and even know it to be true, but we often do not understand what sin is. We often think sin is little more than a list of bad things that we do. But sin is more than that.
Jesus could take away the results of all those bad things and make our lives trouble-free, but our condition would remain unchanged. The condition that caused us to do those bad things would still remain. It would not be long before we begin to do all those things again, or other sinful things.
I think of sin simply as rebellion. The situation is this: We all were created by a Creator God who loves us and has asked us to love him.
I said that right—he has asked us to love him. As our Creator and the one who has given us life, he is rightfully sovereign over us and deserves our respect and our obedience. In our natural state, we have rebelled against this arrangement. We do not want God to be over us. We do not want anyone over us.
As I mentioned earlier, God has endowed us with a free will to be able to do what we want. We can love him if we want to, or we can reject him. He could have created us so that we would never do anything wrong. This of course would have made everything a whole lot easier, but it would have made a loving relationship impossible. There is something about the nature of love that involves the will; it involves choice.
Contrary to what many people think, what God is really seeking is not someone who will simply obey what he says. Obedience certainly is part of it, but we misinterpret God’s intent in this. Our relationship with God is not merely built on obedience, but on love. God is seeking those who will love him. The obedience factor comes in only because we realize that, as the one who created us in the first place, God understands what will make us truly happy—ultimately happy.
Satan has deceived us into thinking that rebelling against this design is the path to happiness. He has dangled before our eyes his dirty bag of tricks that offer a quick euphoria, but that will lead eventually to death. It is from this deception that we truly need salvation, and this is the salvation that Jesus offers us.
In order for any one of us to come to an understanding of this, we each need to come to a point that with our expressions of “Hosanna,” we welcome Jesus into every single aspect of our lives. It is not important if these be outward shouts of Hosanna, or they be inward convictions of determination. The important thing is that they must not be mere expressions of a hope that Jesus will save us from some mere present trouble or current affliction. This type of salvation will not actually result in a lasting peace.
Rather, our shouts of Hosanna must be for the fact that we have come to know the way of true peace in our lives. Jesus Christ is the sovereign King of all creation, and he wants to become your sovereign Lord who will lead you to peace.
But he will not come riding into your life on a mighty steed to force you to do so. Rather, he arrives into your life on a lowly donkey and with a gentle offer of peace.
It is you who must make the next move to allow him to do so.