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The idea of Jesus “going up” to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is much more interesting than it might at first appear. First, it could be taken literally, physical climbing. The city of Jerusalem rests at approximately 2,500 feet above sea level on a high mountain ridge. Nazareth, Jesus’ birth city is between 1,000 and 1,500 feet lower, to the north. There are fifteen Psalms (120-134) labeled “song of ascent.” Scholars believe that these psalms were sung by worshippers walking up the road to Jerusalem for the three great pilgrimage festivals each year, Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. Most of the people did not understand what kind of king Jesus would be. They expected their Messiah to be a great political and military leader who would free them from the tyranny of Roman rule. Their expectations would be reinforced because Jesus would enter the city riding on a donkey as the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed.

(Zechariah 9:9-10) 1 – “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

It was springtime in Jerusalem, a Sunday in about the year 30 A.D. Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims who had come for the annual Passover celebration. By now, Jesus had spent many months traveling through the towns and villages of Palestine. He preached about the kingdom of God and healed the sick wherever He went. Now it was time for Him to claim His title as the Messiah, the Savior that God had promised to the Jewish people. As Jesus ascended into the city, the people acknowledge His kingship by quoting Psalm 118:25-26, another prophecy of Christ.

(Psalm 118:25-26) – “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.”

The word hosanna comes from a Hebrew word meaning “save now” or “save us, we pray.” Thus, in Matthew and Mark, we hear the people saying the Hebrew version, “Hosanna in the highest.” On Palm Sunday, most are amazed that Jesus could be a king on Sunday and then crucified just a few days later, on Friday. It is worth spending a moment to understand exactly how this happened. It happens even today in government, politics, and society.

Right off, the reference to the Messianic psalm drew resentment from the religious leaders that were present. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’” (Luke 19:39). However, Jesus saw no need to rebuke those who hold God’s Truth. Jesus simply replied, “’I tell you,’ He replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’” (Luke 19:40). This would begin the plans to have Jesus crucified. But there is more to this. What was it about the first impressions of the people on Palm Sunday that they would abandon days later? Here are three possible things to consider:

  1. The people had the wrong set of expectations. While heavily influenced by the Old Testament prophets, the people wanted something that Jesus was not there to do. Much of this can be described as focused on selfish and earthly motives. Judea was being ruled by a Roman procurator who managed its political, military, and fiscal affairs. Its governmental structure was reorganized into five administrative districts. The intent of the reorganization was to destabilize the nation and make certain that any resistance to Roman rule would be impossible. Roman rule controlled life and death for all Israelites. There was a heavy burden of taxes and no representation at all. Tax collectors were not only corrupt but so were the Pharisees. The heavy hand of oppression snuffed out all freedom. The Israelites loved the idea of a Messiah who could cure disease and bring people back to life. But what they wanted, even more, was a king to crush the grip of the Roman Empire and make Israel great again. Their expectations were for a warrior, not a savior. It makes one wonder if anyone really listened to Jesus’ messages in the prior three years of His ministry.
  2. The people’s hearts were blinded by hatred. If you think that hatred is not destructive, think again. It interferes with common sense and decision-making. If you look at much of Jesus’ ministry, it was directed at removing the internal hatred caused by injustice and sin. The problem, however, comes when internal hatred is harnessed by others and moved into external actions. Just ask Barabbas how that works. Love Jesus, hate Barabbas one day, love Barabbas hate Jesus the next. All it took were a few corrupt Pharisees and a complicit Roman government to turn the hatred against Barabbas into the hatred for Jesus. This story is just as appropriate for us today. The cure, stop making decisions based on hatred!
  3. The people would listen to the wrong people. When Jesus did not respond the way they expected, they turned on Him. Many do not remember that Jesus drove out the money changers from the Temple on Monday of Passion Week, just three days before the Passover and four days before his crucifixion. What was at the heart of our Savior’s strategy? Stop the corruption of God’s Truth. The Temple had been converted into a money machine. Risks to the leader’s profits drove them to misrepresent God’s Truth to the people. While that may not be surprising, what is shocking is that seemingly Godly people gave up on what they had witnessed for years from Jesus and, instead, believed the corrupt Pharisees. They did all of this without social media too! (see Lostpine’s Study: Why The Anger)

The kingdom of God has never been about this world. It is a spiritual kingdom that must grow in the hearts of people who put their faith and trust in Jesus. The kingdom of God is not about moving from side to side depending on the issues. It is about learning and following God’s Truth one hundred percent of the time. There should be no doubt that the world is out promoting its self-interests. Think this is wrong? Why would a child in elementary school be forced to wear a face mask that doctors say will arrest their development? Yet, looking at a sporting event, a governmental show and tell like the State of the Nation address, masks are found to be not necessary. Fairness, common sense, hardly! Palm Sunday is meant to be a wake-up call. Everyone has choices to make as they follow Jesus up the assent. Is Jesus the Son of God? Do we form our opinions based on God’s Truth? Will we weep for Jesus on Friday as He bore our sins upon His Cross? Will we jump for joy on Sunday when His tomb is discovered empty?

Contemplations

  • What reflections do you have on Palm Sunday?
    • Ideas to Explore: Time with family? Traditions of receiving a cross made of palm branches. The end of Lent coming soon. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. What makes Palm Sunday special for you?
  • What examples have you experienced where someone came in as a king only to be “crucified” by the people?
    • Ideas to Explore: Political leaders, sports stars, famous people fell out of grace.
  • Why do you think people did not see that Jesus was not the warrior king?
    • Ideas to Explore: What about His message was difficult to understand? Why is the power of this world so strong, even over the thought of an eternal world?
  • Why do people put up with corruption from their leaders?
    • Ideas to Explore: They don’t care. They don’t see it. They want to be just as wealthy and don’t care about how the wealth is obtained.

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translation
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