Spring is the season of expectations.
In MLB baseball, every team starts out in first place, believing that this is their year. In the NFL, teams prepare for the draft, hoping they get the right player to help put them into the Super Bowl.
Around the house, people begin their spring cleaning to declutter the storage room or clean out the garage. Others plant flowers and resolve to rid their lawn of crabgrass, moss, or dandelions.
Palm Sunday is a day that is all about expectations. The king is coming and he is going to make changes. We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a day of celebration. We have children waving palm branches. We sing songs of praise. But after the confetti settles, what are we left with? Is the king on his throne? Do we all live happily ever after?
The reality is that Palm Sunday is a declaration of war, not a day of celebration. The king throws down the gauntlet and pushes for a confrontation. Palm Sunday is a day when expectations clash head on.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ presents his claim to be the Messiah. He introduces his credentials. He orchestrates events that fulfill the Scriptures. He calls attention to himself and challenges the religious establishment. This was the only time in his ministry when Jesus actually planned and promoted a public demonstration. Up to this event, he had cautioned people not to tell who he was. He had deliberately avoided public scenes.
Now, Jesus throws down the gauntlet. He publicly presents his credentials. The responses he receives range from praise and adoration to statements of personal expectations to outright resistance and disrespect.
Three events immediately precede Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and help explain what occurs. (1) For the third time, Jesus predicts his imminent death (Matthew 20:17-19). (2) In a discussion on rank and privilege, Jesus explains that greatness is based on service (Matthew 20:20-28). (3) In a nation of spiritually blind people, Jesus gives sight and salvation to the blind (Matthew 20:29-34).
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is one of the few events of his life recorded in all four gospels. By weaving them together, one can gain a composite view of the chronology of the events that took place on that day.
Jesus makes preparations for his entrance into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-3, 6, 7a; Mark 11:1-7a; Luke 19:28-35a; John 12:2, 12). As Jesus departs from Bethany, he sends two of his disciples into a small village, Bethphage. He gives them detailed instructions in order to enable them to fetch a donkey on which he plans to ride into Jerusalem. The disciples carry out Christ’s command.
Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem (Matthew 21:4, 5, 7; Mark 11:7b; Luke 19:35b; John 12:14, 15). The disciples throw their garments on both of the animals, and when it becomes clear that Jesus wishes to ride upon the colt, they assist him in mounting it. Jesus starts riding toward Jerusalem. Jesus is deliberately staging the manner of his entrance into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophetic expectations of Zechariah 9:9.
People accompanying Jesus from Bethany spread their outer garments on the path, while others cut branches from the trees to help pave the way (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36). Between the garments and the branches, they are giving Jesus the “red carpet treatment.”
Pilgrims already in Jerusalem who had heard about the raising of Lazarus join in the celebration (John 12:1, 12, 13a, 18). The crowds in Jerusalem pour out of the city to join with those on the road to welcome the Messiah.
As the two groups meet, the enthusiasm mounts (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; Luke 19:37, 38; John 12:13b). As the crowd moved along, they shouted words of praise, celebrating the arrival of Israel’s Savior, the Messiah-King. Hosanna is literally a plea to “save now.”
The excitement reaches a climax as those who had seen the resurrection of Lazarus bear testimony (John 12:7).
Beside themselves with envy, the Pharisees appeal to Jesus to stop the celebration (Luke 19:39, 40).
As Jesus sees the city of Jerusalem, he weeps (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus knows that the praise will soon turn to scorn and the voices crying, “Hosanna!” will soon be shouting, “Crucify him!”
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the entire city is stirred (Matthew 21:10, 11; Mark 11:11, 12). Everyone is asking, “Who is this?”
On Palm Sunday, the question is asked, “Who is Jesus?” (Matthew 21:10). Some think he is the Messiah (Matthew 21:9). Others believe he is just a prophet (Matthew 21:11). What the people missed is that Jesus had already presented his credentials.
- Jesus is the suffering servant who will die for his people.
- He has power over sickness and death.
- Jesus is omniscient, knowing all.
- He is Lord of all. He fulfills prophecy.
- He is the king who brings peace.
- He accepts worship.
- He is compassionate.
Palm Sunday declares boldly that Jesus is the Sovereign King who brings Salvation.