Yesterday, we saw why Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week on a donkey. Today, we find out why people waved palms during His triumphal entry into the city.
Commentary below comes from the Revd P G Mathew, a Reformed (Calvinist) pastor from Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. His sermon on this subject is called ‘The Cross and Libertinism’, which is well worth reading in its entirety. Emphases mine below.
Jesus knew that this journey from Galilee to Jerusalem for Passover was the beginning of the last week of His earthly life.
He told his disciples about this in Mark 10:32-34:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles,who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Imagine Jesus’s disciples hearing those words. What could have been going through their minds? Incredulity? Fear? Preoccupation with what might happen to them? Questioning how Jesus could rise from the dead? Wondering if they might be able to prevent His death?
However, the crowd greeting Jesus was unaware of what would happen in a few days’ time. Indeed, they were joyful and delighted to see Him — for the reasons we saw yesterday.
Before we go into the palms, just a closing word from Mr Mathew on the donkey:
The donkey Jesus borrowed can be considered a holy donkey because it was dedicated solely to the purpose of carrying the Messiah into Jerusalem. This donkey had not been ridden before. This was a sacred situation, a sacred use, so Jesus borrowed a holy donkey, possibly from the village of Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives, to fulfill Zechariah’s Messianic prophecy.
Now to the palms:
In honor of the royal Messiah’s arrival in Jerusalem, the people threw their outer garments on the donkey for Christ to sit on, and also on the road. They also cut branches from the trees and threw them on the road.
In those days people used palm branches to celebrate victories. The pilgrims carried palm branches, probably from Jericho, because palms are not grown in Bethany or Bethphage, as they went out to meet Jesus, as John tells us in John 12:13. We see them also being used by the redeemed of the Lord in heaven as they celebrate Christ’s great victory over sin and death:
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 in front of 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’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
So the palm-carrying people who followed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were pointing to the later palm-waving multitude of saints whom the victorious Messiah, through his death and resurrection, would deliver from their slavery to sin and death.
Mr Mathew also discusses why the people cried out with certain greetings:
These pilgrims, including children, cried out to the one riding on the holy donkey, “Hosanna!” This Hebrew word for “Save us!” is from Psalm 118:25: “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.” Whether they understood it or not, when the crowd cried “Hosanna,” they were, in fact, acknowledging that the One riding on the donkey is the Savior, and there is no other.
They also addressed him as “Son of David.” What profound understanding these people had, that God would one day send the Son of David to inaugurate the everlasting kingdom of God! It was like the time when Jesus came from Galilee to Jericho, and blind Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!” Jesus alone is able to save, deliver, and help us. “Hosanna, Son of David!”
Then the crowd cried, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They were declaring, “Blessed is the Messiah who is now coming into our city.” Then they said, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” These people had hoped for and looked forward to the eschatological arrival of the kingdom of God; finally, it was here. The King had come to usher in his kingdom of peace, joy, hope, righteousness, justice, purity, and victory.
They also proclaimed, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not only is this One the Savior, to whom we cry, “Hosanna,” but he is Christ the Lord, the eternal King, the Son of David, the One who will not be destroyed by death nor succeeded by another. And, finally, they said, “Blessed is the King of Israel,” a designation we find only in chapter 12 of John’s gospel.
By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus, then, was deliberately identifying himself with the prophesied Messiah, the hope of Israel. He is the promised, eternal King and Savior of Israel and the world.
So, the people along the road to Jerusalem realised in an atavistic — instinctive — way who Jesus was. I often wonder if these spontaneous cries were a sign of God’s sovereignty working through them on one level, to help proclaim Him to us today and to the generations to come.
Because by the end of the week, these people were nowhere to be found. The mob cried out for Jesus to be crucified — not only that but scourged beforehand with the most cruelly vile of instruments: a multi-thonged whip with sharp pieces of metal and stone attached to the ends, designed to slice through skin on the first contact. People condemn Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, yet it is probably the most realistic portrayal of exactly what He endured — for our sakes. It is a very difficult film to watch, which is why older adolescents and adults of sound mind should make a point of seeing it.
I have never really heard a good sermon during Holy Week. Nothing that touches on the horrible and humiliating suffering of Jesus on Good Friday. The sacrifice the Son of God made for us is beyond human comprehension in both its physical and soteriological dimensions. This is why people reject Christ. They say they don’t believe in God, yet Christ is the true sticking point. If it were a matter of not believing in God, they would also be attacking the religion of Judaism itself, but they don’t. (This is different from the demonic and mindless persecution of Jewish people for their achievements.) Whenever the Bible is attacked, it is always the ‘Christian Bible’ — even when the Old Testament is quoted — and aimed at the followers of Christ.
Therefore, I posit that people who reject Christ do so out of a sense of helpless shame. They cannot understand why He died so horribly — for us. He did not do so for a secular cause — His country, His family or His property. No, He did it to redeem us. That a good and humble man (let’s view it from their perspective) who came in peace among us should not only have His skin ripped to shreds, but also suffer the most blasphemous taunts, carry His own cross, be nailed to it and die on it is — for the ‘modern, rational’ mind — just too much to take in.
And, there are plenty of clergy today who are of the same mind. How many of them in the depths of their hearts and minds actually deny Christ? At the weekend I read where an Anglican vicar in England hosted an Islamic open house in his parish hall — on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week in the Church calendar. What was he thinking? What does this man believe? In a one world religion?
Then, as Mr Mathew says in his sermon, there are the libertines who say we can sin all we want, salvation is no problem:
But such a gospel is a delusion. It is a gospel of libertinism, of antinomianism, of Gnosticism, and of sheer lust. Perhaps one source of this type of thinking is the Jesus movement of the Sixties. There were people who were taking drugs and getting revelation and fornicating. Their motto was, “Make love, not war.” When they also embraced Jesus, they did not say goodbye to fornication and dope; they merely added Jesus to their lifestyle. Such people are in the evangelical and charismatic churches of today. They oppose the preaching of the true gospel but, oh, they love to sing choruses. They hate the propositional revelation of God’s word. They love Jesus as Savior, but want nothing to do with him as King …
We will never preach Jesus and dope, Jesus and fornication, Jesus and adultery, Jesus and materialism, Jesus and greed, or Jesus and lie. This church refuses to compromise the true gospel. We will believe in, live for, and die for the biblical gospel, as our fathers of old have done. We will boldly proclaim that we are not saved to sin; we are saved to serve our King in the righteousness and holiness of truth. God saved us from our sins so that, as holy people of God, we might enjoy fellowship with God, who is most holy …
Some people want the Christian God to be both light and darkness. Again, remember how many Western youth adopted Eastern ideas during the Sixties? Some who became Jesus people never adjusted their idea of God. So their “God” is still the Eastern god, who is both light and darkness, right and wrong. But John says that is not the God he is talking about. He declares with the authority given him by God: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Then he gives us the practical outworking of this truth: “If we claim to have fellowship with him, and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” …
If we truly understand the cross, we will become lawful. We are not saved to sin more; we are saved to sin no more. Therefore, may God help us to be bold, intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable in the gospel. May we never trade it for a cup of soup that will damn us and exclude us from heaven … And if you have believed the false gospel, may you be delivered, so that you will also call out, “Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the Lord.” May you own Christ as Savior and King, and surrender himself completely to his beneficent, blessed, sovereign rule.
Let us pray for wisdom, discernment and steadfastness in the way of Christ, not only during Holy Week but throughout the year.