This coming Sunday, the Christian world commemorates Palm Sunday.
Long story short, the Bible (Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19) describes how Jesus, the week prior to His crucifixion and resurrection, came to Jerusalem in a unique way. He arranged for special events to happen. He orchestrated to ride in a donkey –understood by many as a symbol of ‘coming in peace’. Also, for the first time, He allowed and encouraged people’s praises to Him “Save us now, Blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord”. This was a in bright contrast to His typical modus operandi: “don’t tell anyone!”. This time he claimed that even if people stopped praising Him, “the stones would immediately cry out”.
Also, we read that as people shouted praises, they “took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him” -Hence we call it Palm Sunday… but,
Why in the world did they throw palm branched at his feet?
Scholars and historians give us this answer for the why palm branches were thrown at His feet. In summary, 150 years prior to Jesus, the Jews were conquered and oppressed by the Syrians. This occupation was marked by abuse, violence and slavery; they even publicly disrespected and desecrated the Jew’s most valued religious symbol: the temple.
Just when things were as bad as can be, a hero, a ‘braveheart-type’ arose from the Jews and he led a revolt that ultimately culminated in the defeat of the Syrians and the restoration and re-dedication of the Temple. This hero’s name was Judas Maccabeus, and he gave them the desires, happiness and success they longed for. Therefore, he was received by the crowds celebrating his victory by waving palm branches.
Now, fast-forward 150 years. The Jews are being once again under someone else’s control: Rome. Though not as bad as the Syrians, the Jews were still limited as to how much of their political and religious identity they could express –not to mention the forced tax burden by the Roman government. Along comes this guy Jesus who seems to have power from God, who seems to claim to be the Messiah, who reportedly has fed thousands at a time, the ever promised liberator of Israel who would come –once for all and as promised in the scriptures, to defeat Israel’s enemies and set them free as an independent powerful kingdom of which he would be the king forever. This guy Jesus appeared to be again one who would give them their desires, happiness and success they had longed for.
What’s their reaction? To receive him in the same way they had received their previous hero: waiving palm branches.
What does it mean for us today?
Although nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to ‘celebrate’ this one Sunday -with palm branches, I believe one possible lesson is given to us by Jesus himself. The Jews used palm branches to receive Jesus according to their own thinking of who The Messiah should be –A conqueror king, their new ‘braveheart’. Once their ideas crashed with reality, they went from “save king!” to “crucify him!”. When we read Luke’s report, we see Jesus seemingly disappointed (he wept over the city) and, apparently, He holds them accountable for not knowing what this time was all about: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace”. Then, after what appears to be a prophecy about Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 ad, He says: “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” .
May we remember this Palm Sunday that Jesus is not who we want Him to be according to our personal opinion, needs, desires or preconceptions. He is not primarily the one who will pay our bills or make things happen our way or give us success in all things.
May we remember this Palm Sunday that He wants us to know Him through His Word, to know who He is: our savior, our king, our father. That He did not come to serve us but to save us and send us out. He did not come to make us happy or successful but to make us holy and separated unto Him for good works -to save all who are lost.
May we recognize ‘the time of God’s coming’ to us.