Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week which is the most significant week for Christians. This is the week that leads up to the death and resurrection of Jesus which changed all of humankind, our history, and who we were.
In Luke 19, verses 28-44, it says:
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
This is a fantastic passage of scripture. Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem, and He sends two of His disciples to do something that would have been confusing. In verse 30, Jesus says to the disciples,
“Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
The disciples would have wondered what he meant by this because there is no record of Jesus ever riding an animal. Jesus usually walked everywhere so it must have appeared odd to them that He should send them to get a colt. Clearly, Jesus has a purpose and He even tells them the exact words to say.
When someone rode on an animal into a city, it was a public declaration that you were a king. In the book of Zachariah 9:9 says:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
In times of war, conquering kings and generals would ride in on chariots that were being pulled by stallions. They were making a statement, ‘we are the dominant power.’ But when kings visited you, they would come riding on a colt which symbolized ‘I am the king, but I am coming in peace, and we are living in a time of peace.’
When Jesus rode on a colt, He was letting everybody know ‘I am a king.’ Jesus was making a public declaration saying, ‘I am proclaiming peace.’
Jesus rode in at the beginning of the eighth day of the eight-day Passover festival. The Passover was when the Jews remembered how God delivered the people of Israel and Jews from all over the world would come to the temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus was also coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was there with his army to make sure that they quelled any uprising against Rome. He would have come in with all his military might and colors and the pomp and ceremony of the Romans as they arrived anywhere. Antipas, the king of Galilee, was there and even though he was subject to the Romans, he would have come in with all his pageantry and stayed in the palace. Then here was Jesus coming on His colt to proclaim peace.
We see three powers that have arrived in Jerusalem. There is military power. There is worldly power and then, in Jesus, there is divine power. The crowds would have seen all of this. As Jesus rides on a colt, He makes this declaration, ‘I am the promised king.’
How would the people of Jerusalem have interpreted this? Many of them missed it. Many of them didn’t fully understand it. Some of them would have been amused by the fact that here is Jesus, the carpenter’s boy, declaring himself king. Some might have thought, even as some theologians say, Jesus was a lunatic. Some would have been angry. Some, knowing Jewish law, would have thought it was blasphemy that Jesus was coming in like this. Some would have welcomed Him with joy that He was a man saying I am king, and they wouldn’t have interpreted it in any spiritual sense. They would have interpreted here comes this man who is going to lead us out of Roman occupation. The people of Israel were prepared to follow someone if they were prepared to rise and lead them. There would have been those who had encountered Jesus in his three years of ministry. There would have been those who had been raised from the dead. There would have been those who had been possessed by demons that had been cast out. There would have been those who had been cured of illness and sicknesses. There would have been those who would have known His forgiveness and restoration. There would have been those who knew of His love, kindness and touch. There would have been those who knew Jesus differently.
When visiting kings and important people came to town, they would roll out the red carpet. Their version of the red carpet was taking off and laying down their cloaks. The cloak was important in their world. A cloak was something that they wrapped themselves up in winter. A cloak was something they put all their belongings in and carried around. Everyone had a cloak so to lay down their cloak was to be in submission to the king.
As Jesus rode through, the people waved palms and laid them down. Waving palms went back to times when visiting and conquering Kings had come through history. All this imagery and things happening had meaning that everyone would have known, and the crowds would get whipped up and excited as they begin to hail this king, Jesus.
We know the story that in just a few days many of them will turn their back on Jesus. I reflect on my own walk with God and there are days when I have been very positive, encouraging, and enthusiastic for God. Yet I know me because sometimes even in the space of one day, not a few days, I can be so for God and then so quickly I do things that are against what God is asking of me.
Jesus rides towards the gate that day seeing the crowd amongst the festival feeling and those who knew who He was or had heard about Him, would have realized this was Jesus.
Jesus looked out on the waiting audience that day and He must have seen the mixture of people that were there. He would have seen those who loved Him. He would have seen the Pharisees that were against Him. He would have seen those who didn’t understand Him. He would have seen those who He had healed and He would have seen the Romans. Jesus realized in listening to everybody’s ‘Hosannas’ that some voices within a few days would be drowned out by the voices that said, ‘Crucify Him, Crucify Him.’
Suddenly, Jesus stops. You can imagine people saying, what’s the hold up? What is the problem? The people closest to Jesus would have seen Him shaking and probably wondered what was happening. They would have said, ‘Jesus is not laughing over Jerusalem. He is weeping.’
As He looked at the city of Jerusalem, Jesus could see the Citadel of the temple and all the masses of humanity that were crowding there and He knew that many had never heard His message. He had told them, but they hadn’t heard. Jesus weeps because He spent three years with them and they have listened to Him, but somehow, they didn’t hear it.
When Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, He is looking into the eyes of history and saying, ‘If only you had believed,’ but they didn’t see. They had ears, but they didn’t hear. They had hearts but they didn’t feel and so Jesus is so devastated that they had missed their chance.
In Matthew 5, verse 43-44, it says this,
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
What Jesus had come to declare to them was an upside-down world. He came to show them a more excellent way of love, a way of turning the other cheek rather than the brutality of the world that they were in. Rather than hearing what Jesus was saying, they thought, “How could we give in to this Roman occupying force?” Surely, God didn’t expect us to approach them with love. Surely, we weren’t meant to go the extra mile with them. Surely, we weren’t meant to turn the other cheek with them. The nation of Israel missed its opportunity and so Jesus weeps right there. When he weeps, Jesus says this,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
Jesus is here today, and He is weeping and He is going and you missed it. The son of God, the Messiah came, and you missed it.
Just like in the city of Jerusalem, we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus on this Palm Sunday, the beginning of holy week, but will we miss it?
Will we miss the love of God this week?
Will we miss what God has done?
I wonder what He finds when He looks at your face. Just like when He looked out into that crowd of people when He was sitting on that colt and looking out at the faces of people.
I wonder what He sees when He sees us. Does He see people concerned about their own affairs, their work, their taxes, their job security, their health, or their lack of it? Does He see people who are so busy about doing the things that are important to them? Does He see us being concerned about His ways in this week? Does He see people who recognize Him for Him, or do they see Him as something religious or separate to their experience?
When Jesus turns this week and looks into our lives, what does He see? I wonder will He weep because we missed it. I wonder if He will weep because we didn’t see it, or because we didn’t allow our hearts to be touched or allow our hearts to be open. Will He have joy in His heart? Will He be able to see that we responded to the best of our ability today? Will He embrace us with outstretched arms? Will He call us on? Will He say those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
What we will be this week is still to be determined or decided. I want to encourage you this week as we go through Holy Week to do three things:
- Recognize that Jesus is coming to you. He seeks to forgive you. He seeks you to know His love. He seeks you to know His care. He seeks that you would know that your eternity and the rest of your life will be different with Him.
- When Jesus comes to you, He seeks to forgive your sin, your weakness, your frailty, and more than that, He seeks to give you strength.
- We need to declare our dependence on God, our need for God and give God access to our life.
Holy week is about us. Not just saying yes in the enthusiasm of the moment but saying yes in the context of our everyday life going forward. Holy week can change us, transform us and we can encounter the presence of God.
What would happen if by Easter Sunday you were able to say, ‘God was with me this week? I prayed. I was diligent. I gave God access to my life.’
Jeremiah 29:13 says,
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,
How many of us will find the Lord this week in our prayer, in our heart and in our circumstances?
Palm Sunday is about Jesus coming and seeing the reality of a group of people, some who acknowledged Him and celebrated His coming as we read, and some who rejected and did not see.
Who will you be this week?