In 2021, Palm Sunday is March 28.

This is the second and final Sunday in the brief season of Passiontide, just before Easter.

The readings for Year B as well as related posts on Palm Sunday and Lazarus Saturday can be found below:

Readings for Palm Sunday — Year B

There are three choices of Gospel readings for this day. I have chosen the second one from the Liturgy of the Palms (emphases in bold mine):

John 12:12-16

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.

12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”

12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

12:15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place before He asked His Father to glorify Him, last week’s reading: John 12:20-33.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In order to add more context, these are the intervening verses between this week’s and last week’s readings — John 12:17-19:

17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Before going into the triumphal entry of Jesus, let us look at what happened after He raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead. He shared dinner with the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha (John 12:2-8):

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Now on to today’s reading.

Millions of people were in and around Jerusalem for Passover, which would culminate later in the week.

Hundreds of people knew about Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. He had been in his tomb for four days. This was the last major miracle in our Lord’s ministry. The last miracle was His healing of the centurion’s ear hours before His death.

Once those people learned that Jesus was going to Jerusalem from Bethany, they wanted to greet Him (verse 12).

John MacArthur says that Jesus allowed this to happen. In fact, MacArthur posits that He created this situation:

So understand this: Jesus creates a demonstration He creates all of this.  He sets this up.  He sets it up by healing Lazarus, raising him from the dead.  He comes to Bethany, the point of that miracle, days or maybe a few weeks earlier.  He lingers there.  He remains there to draw the crowd to see Him, to see Lazarus, to strengthen the testimony of that miracle power He deliberately sets Himself in a situation to draw the largest possible crowd of people, and a crowd comes on Sunday to Bethany and overruns that little village.  Then another crowd packs the city of Jerusalem

We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people in that city and this Passover season.  He wants to generate the enthusiasm of the masses.  He wants not only to be received for who He is, the King, even if it’s only a fickle reception But He also wants to exacerbate the fury of the leaders of Israel so that they will against their own plan wind up crucifying Him on the very day that God has ordained at the Passover He forces the Sanhedrin to change their plans with respect to His execution to harmonize with the purpose of God

The crowd brought palm branches, crying out ‘Hosanna!’ and hailed Him as King of Israel (verse 13).

Two crowds assembled to see Jesus: the huge numbers from Bethany (verse 17) and another enormous gathering from Jerusalem (verse 18).

John tells us that Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it (verse 14). John leaves out the detail here that the synoptic Gospels explore in more depth. MacArthur says:

As He begins His journey, He asks two of His disciples to do something.  He sends them to a nearby hamlet, and He says, “Go to this place, and you will find a post, and you will find a donkey and a donkey’s colt tied to the post.  I want you to bring those animals to Me.  Bring the donkey and bring the donkey’s colt.”  Now, when the disciples reached the village, they found the right home.  They saw exactly what Jesus said they would see; these two animals tied to a post.  They start to untie the animals to take the animals with them, and the owner comes out and says, “What are you doing?  Why are you taking these animals?”  You remember their answer?  Very cryptic, brief answer.  They said, “The Lord needs them.  The Lord needs them.” 

That should indicate to you that whoever was the owner of that house and those animals knew the Lord.  They don’t have to describe who they’re talking about.  “The Lord needs them.”  Plenty of reason to think that this may well have been a follower of Jesus who was eager to provide for Him whatever He asked for.  The disciples then, once they’d secured the animals, took off their outer cloaks, which they would be wearing in the morning up in the mountains where they were They threw the outer garments over the colt and over the mother of the colt and brought them to Jesus.

You remember the story.  Jesus chose the colt to ride and not the mother Why the two?  Jesus wanted to come into the city in humility He didn’t even ride the older more mature animal.  He rode the weaker, younger animal The mature animal was brought along to lead the young colt because the colt will always follow his mother This is the way Jesus could demonstrably express the humility that was going to come His way during that week.  As He approached the city and the crowd began to gather around Him, people spread their garments in front of Him, like throwing down the red carpet They spread their clothes in the path so that the little animal could walk along their garments, and then they would pick them up.

Palm branches were used in the ancient world by both Jew and Gentile in celebrations and as a means of bestowing honour upon someone important.

Matthew Henry explains:

The palm-tree has ever been an emblem of victory and triumph[;] Cicero calls one that had won many prizes plurimarum palmarum homo–a man of many palms. Christ was now by his death to conquer principalities and powers, and therefore it was fit that he should have the victor’s palm borne before him though he was but girding on the harness, yet he could boast as though he had put it off. But this was not all the carrying of palm-branches was part of the ceremony of the feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40; Nehemiah 8:15), and their using this expression of joy in the welcome given to our Lord Jesus intimates that all the feasts pointed at his gospel, had their accomplishment in it, and particularly that of the feast of tabernacles, Zechariah 14:16.

The crowd’s cry of ‘Hosanna’ was also significant, as Henry tells us:

That they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God (Revelation 7:10) so did these here, they shouted before him, as is usual in popular welcomes, Hosanna, blessed is the king of Israel, that comes in the name of the Lord and hosanna signifies salvation. It is quoted from Psalm 118:25,26. See how well acquainted these common people were with the scripture, and how pertinently they apply it to the Messiah. High thoughts of Christ will be best expressed in scripture-words. Now in their acclamations, [1.] They acknowledge our Lord Jesus to be the king of Israel, that comes in the name of the Lord. Though he went now in poverty and disgrace, yet, contrary to the notions their scribes had given them of the Messiah, they own him to be a king, which bespeaks both his dignity and honour, which we must adore and his dominion and power, to which we must submit. They own him to be, First, A rightful king, coming in the name of the Lord (Psalm 2:6), sent of God, not only as a prophet, but as a king. Secondly, The promised and long-expected king, Messiah the prince, for he is king of Israel. According to the light they had, they proclaimed him king of Israel in the streets of Jerusalem and, they themselves being Israelites, hereby they avouched him for their king. [2.] They heartily wish well to his kingdom, which is the meaning of hosanna let the king of Israel prosper, as when Solomon was crowned they cried, God save king Solomon, 1 Kings 1:39. In crying hosanna they prayed for three things:–First, That his kingdom might come, in the light and knowledge of it, and in the power and efficacy of it. God speed the gospel plough. Secondly, That it might conquer, and be victorious over all opposition, Revelation 6:2. Thirdly, That it might continue. Hosanna is, Let the king live for ever though his kingdom may be disturbed, let it never be destroyed, Psalm 72:17. [3.] They bid him welcome into Jerusalem: “Welcome is he that cometh we are heartily glad to see him come in thou blessed of the Lord and well may we attend with our blessings him who meets us with his.” This welcome is like that (Psalm 24:7-9), Lift up your heads, O ye gates. Thus we must every one of us bid Christ welcome into our hearts, that is, we must praise him, and be well pleased in him. As we should be highly pleased with the being and attributes of God, and his relation to us, so we should be with the person and offices of the Lord Jesus, and his meditation between us and God. Faith saith, Blessed is he that cometh.

Returning to the young donkey, our Lord’s use of it was a fulfilment of Scripture (verse 15), Zechariah 9:9:

The Coming King of Zion

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

John admits that he and the other Apostles did not understand the full significance of these events until much later (verse 16). They must have spent a lot of time recalling various prophecies from the Old Testament and all of what Christ had told them of Himself. They knew He was the Son of God but there was so much proof.

MacArthur explains why this was so:

Verse 16, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”

They didn’t get it when it was happening.  I just have to say it this way: they were ignorant actors in the drama, but don’t be surprised.  They had been ignorant for a long time They didn’t get most things.  They did not understand most things They did not certainly understand why He was talking about dying They even tried to rebuke Him for that in the words of Peter.  They didn’t understand why He was humbling Himself and washing their feet He said, “I have to do this.  I have to do this.  This is part of my humiliation.”  When He said, “I’m going away,” they panicked and Philip says, “Where are you going to go?  We don’t know where you’re going.  We don’t know how to get there.” 

Even in chapter 1 of Acts, they were still lingering in the dark about the kingdom “Are you going to bring the kingdom now?  Is it coming now?”  It was all very confusing to them until He was glorified Why?  Then it all began to make sense.  Why?  Because previous to His glorification, what had He done?  He had gone back to the Old Testament and taught them the Old Testament, all the things in the Old Testament about Himself Remember, on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24?  And then in the Upper Room in the night of His resurrection, He explained Old Testament prophecies that He had fulfilled in His death and resurrection, and it began to make sense Then in Acts 2, right after His glorification, right after He ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit comes and with the Old Testament course that He gave them after His resurrection, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit Then they remembered that these things were written of Him  

I’ve been telling you over the last number of months that when you now open the book of Acts after chapter 1 begins, they start to make sense out of the Old Testament.  Then when the Spirit comes, it really explodes.  John is looking back as he writes this, and he’s saying of himself and the rest, we didn’t understand what was going on We didn’t understand it.  In other words, we were caught up with the crowd We were caught up with the enthusiasm We were caught up with the messianic fever We never did understand until we looked back after His glorification and begun to make sense of what He had said. 

All the way along, all week long, they’re going to be confused Thursday night in the Upper Room, they’re very confused, very confused.  So even His own beloved followers show perplexity. 

What about the crowd who hailed Jesus then turned against Him less than a week later?

The crowd?  Well, they’re described in verse 17 and 18.  They’re there as we read earlier.  They’re curious.  They’re fascinated.  Why are they there?  Are they there because they’re interested in Jesus’ theology?  No.  They heard that He had performed this sign They’re attracted by the supernatural, false followers, thrill seekers, who by Friday choose Barabbas, a well-known criminal to be released; Jesus to be held prisoner, and then screamed for Him to be crucified.  Fickle crowd.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of well-wishers made the Pharisees angry:

If the crowd is fickle, the Pharisees are angry, verse 19.  So the Pharisees said to one another, you see that you are not doing any good.  What you’re trying to stop is not working.  You’re not having any effect.  “The world has gone after Him.”  That’s such an important statement

MacArthur concludes:

That shows you the massive impact of Jesus on a superficial level to people who were only looking for supernatural experiences and events The same people screamed for His crucifixion a few days later.  It’s really a testimony to the far-reaching reality of superficial faith.

If this happened today, one could well imagine the Twitter trends every day of Holy Week, complete with videos.

Readings for Holy Week continue with John’s Gospel. More to come on Monday.