If you’re interested, you can listen to my Palm Sunday sermon HERE.
Although I like to make a big deal of Easter, I haven’t always preached a special sermon on Palm Sunday. To be honest, I don’t really understand the events of Palm Sunday. Beyond that I have a hard time finding a contemporary application of Palm Sunday. Sure, it’s an interesting event, but do I really need to preach on it every year just because it appears on the calendar?
Here are my questions, with a little commentary.
1. Why did Jesus want a parade?
Couldn’t have Jesus just walked through the gates in the midst of the other pilgrims without drawing attention to himself? He could still have gone to the temple the next day and taught and throne over tables. None of his subsequent actions seem contingent upon this grand entrance.
Remember that Jesus initiated this parade by instructing his disciples to go and get a donkey. He must have had a purpose in making a public entrance, but I don’t understand what it was.
I preached on Sunday that his choice of riding a donkey was a humble choice. Wouldn’t he demonstrate greater humility by cancelling the parade and just walking through the gates?
If I’m grasping at straws, perhaps his grand entrance was a PR stunt to let the people of Jerusalem know he was there and invite them to hear him speak at the temple the next day. According to Luke 19:39 Jesus at least caught the attention of some Pharisees. Perhaps they did the rest of the marketing for him!
2. Was Jesus Intentionally Fulfilling Prophecy?
Many of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled were beyond his control. For example, he had no say in where the Messiah would be born, or which tribe he was from.
“Your king has won a victory,
and he is coming to you.
He is humble
and rides on a donkey;
he comes on the colt
of a donkey.”
The Jews apparently recognised this as a Messianic passage. So in choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus intentionally fulfills this prophecy. After all, if he’s the Messiah, then at some point he needs to ride a donkey.
Although Matthew and John both quote Zechariah 9 as an explanation of Jesus’ actions, here’s my question. If Jesus chose to ride a donkey to demonstrate that he was the Messiah it doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.
- He could more easily have communicated this message by simply saying, “Hey everyone, look at me. I’m the Messiah!”
- While all four Gospels tell the story of Jesus riding the donkey, only 2 of them connect it to the Zechariah prophecy.
- Apparently, even at the time, no one really understood the significance of Jesus riding the donkey. After quoting Zechariah, John immediately reflects, “At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand. But after he had been given his glory, they remembered all this.” (John 12:16 (CEV)
If Jesus was just checking off a list of prophecies that he could control, do you think it’s legitimate? It seems a bit manipulative and insincere to me.
3. Was Jesus Surprised?
I am fascinated by the question of what Jesus was thinking as he rode that donkey through the cheering crowds. Matthews account of Jesus’ grand entrance is found in chapter 21. In chapter 20 Jesus predicts, We are now on our way to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses. They will sentence him to death…
He knew his fate.
Was Jesus able to join in the joy and celebration along with the crowd? Was Jesus an island of misery in surrounded by a sea of exuberance? Did Jesus resent the crowd’s shallowness? Was Jesus hoping that the people would accept him and crown him king?
Again, if he knew the praise lacked sincerity, why throw the parade?
I just don’t get it.
I also don’t get why this series of events is important enough to get its own day on the calendar.
4. What are We Celebrating?
When the church celebrates Palm Sunday, what exactly are we celebrating? Are we excited that people misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingdom? Do we want to highlight the rejection of Jesus as Messiah? If so, why the joyfulness and palm branches? Are we thrilled by the transition in Jesus’ ministry as he finally enters Jerusalem? (Although John’s Gospel tells us he’s been there twice previously.)
In Luke 20:40 Jesus tells the Pharisees that “If [the people] keep quiet, these stones will start shouting.” Clearly he believes that their well-intentioned, but misguided praise is deserved, appropriate and unstoppable. This seems to contrast other passages of Scripture where God cares about right motives when it comes to worship. So are we celebrating a loosening of worship forms and functions?
Perhaps we celebrate Palm Sunday because now that we understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom, we can give him the praise that he deserved in this event but we can give it to him with greater understanding. Hopefully, we also give him our worship from a heart of sincerity and faithfulness. In this way we kind of rectify and redeem the worship of the original Palm Sunday.
5. From a Pre-millenial perspective…
From a premillenial perspective this event seems to make a little more sense. By this interpretation it’s important that the Jews get an opportunity to reject an earthly kingdom. The thinking goes like this:
- God’s initial desire was for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah and crown him king.
- Jesus legitimately wanted to establish an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as his throne.
- All the Messianic prophecies were intended to be fulfilled in this earthly kingdom.
- On palm Sunday the Jews reached the brink of crowning Jesus king, but ultimately backed away.
- Their rejection of Jesus led to Plan B, a spiritual kingdom made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice.
- Although Jesus knew they were going to kill him, it was important that he give them the opportunity to crown him.
- Thus the Palm Sunday Parade was not a charade, but a hope-filled opportunity for Israel to embrace her Messiah.
While I don’t agree with this understanding of Scripture. And while I have a problem with the cross being “Plan B”. At least this approach provides an understanding of Palm Sunday in which Jesus acts with genuine motives.
So help me out. What encouragement do you draw from Palm Sunday?