Palm Sunday is a day when we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, which began what we know as “The Passion Week” or “Holy Week.” At the end of that week he would be betrayed, falsely accused, and crucified. It was a week that began in celebration and ended in suffering. With the exception of Jesus himself, I think it’s safe to say that no one else present on Palm Sunday saw that week ending like it did.
The entrance into Jerusalem was ripe with paradox. Jesus was given the welcome of a would-be king, likely (in the minds of those celebrating his entrance) a conquering king ready for conquest. They cry out “Hosanna,” a Hebrew term meaning “save, I pray!” or “God save us!” They lay down palm branches before him, symbolizing victory and honor, a hero’s welcome for the soon-to-be-crowned king. But they failed to see the beast he rode upon. Riding in on a donkey wasn’t exactly a symbol of nationalistic conquest. It was a sign of humility. Centuries earlier the Hebrew prophet Zechariah foretold this event:
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.
Jesus brought salvation with him into Jerusalem that day. But it wasn’t going to unfold how the crowds expected it. He wasn’t inaugurating a military conquest that would free them from their enemies in the flesh (Rome), that foreign adversary who was oppressing them from the outside. He was inaugurating a spiritual conquest that would free them from their enemy of the flesh, that familiar adversary who was oppressing them from within. Jesus entered Jerusalem ready for a battle, a cause he would give his life for, he came to defeat sin.
We look back on Palm Sunday and the scene is very clear when viewed through the lens of Good Friday (the day Jesus would die) and Easter Sunday (the day Jesus would rise from the dead). The beginning of the week makes sense because we have the end of the week to interpret it for us.
The crowds surrounding Jesus that day, shouting “God, save us!” and rolling out the red-carpet for the would-be king reveal themselves to be blind as they shout “Crucify him!” just a few days later. Their hearts were hard and though they had eyes they failed to see, having ears they failed to hear. By the grace of God we don’t have to live there. Our vantage point gives us the opportunity to see who Jesus was and is with clarity. The truth of God’s word gives us a testimony that lifts the fog from our vision. But we must look through his word to realize who Jesus is. If we attempt to separate him from it, we will be in danger of making the same mistake they did in the days following Palm Sunday.
He came to conquer the enemy who oppresses us and holds us captive. That is not an enemy who comes at us from the outside (discomfort, unhappiness, work, other people, our surroundings), but one who comes from within. The enemy he came to defeat is sin. Included in that conquest are Satan and his forces, and the result of sin: death itself. Thank God for Jesus.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.