Liturgy of the Palms

Palm Sunday | April 5, 2020

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 • Matthew 21:1-11

21 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

This coming Sunday is the day that we know as Palm Sunday. This event is recorded by all four of the gospel writers. It gets its name from John’s gospel. John is the only writer to specifically mention palm branches. The other gospel writers, like Matthew mention the coats being laid on the road. Some of the gospel writers mention branches being cut from trees, but not specifically palm branches.

Over the past few weeks, we have been tracking through John. This Sunday, Pam and I will be looking at John’s account of the so called “Triumphal Entry.” I put it in quotes because John tells us this entry is more like Jesus riding on to his death. The Pharisees were on the hunt. They were looking to kill Jesus – not only Jesus but Lazarus, whom Jesus recently raised from the dead. The Pharisees saw Jesus as dangerous to their cause. They knew if there was too much disruption, the Romans would move to restore peace. The Romans were quite tolerant of the Jews religious beliefs as long as it didn’t cause a disturbance – and Jesus was causing quite a disturbance in the status quo. To borrow a phrase from Star Wars, Jesus was causing a disturbance in the force. The Pharisees didn’t like it.

Matthew, however, gives us none of these details. He tells us how Jesus and his disciples acquired the colt (the young donkey) and gives us a cut and dried description of the events that happened. The people are looking for a king…someone who will save them from the Romans. The shouts, the palm, the laying of coats on the road were all signs that the people believed that Jesus may be the king they were looking for. We can see that in their statements:

Praise God (Hosanna) for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God (Hosanna) in the highest heaven!

Matthew 21:9b

Here the New Living Translation doesn’t quite capture the desperation of the people the phrase it uses is “Praise God!” In the footnotes for verse 9, we see the Greek word used here is “Hosanna!” We often think of it as a cry of praise, but it is more of a cry of desperation. Hosanna means “save now!” While we often think the people were praising the Lord, which they were – they were also crying out for help.

I haven’t written much about the COVID-19 crisis on here. We are in the midst of some peculiar times. Much of the country is under stay-at-home orders, meaning that we can only go out for the essentials. I think many believers could be crying out today “Hosanna!” God please save us and save us now. Actually, it would probably be a good idea for us to cry out to God for salvation during this time. As we enter Holy Week, it would be good to remember that Jesus indeed came to save us.

I found a curious verse at the end of this text. After seeing the uproar, some were asking, “Who is this?” Actually all of Jerusalem was in an uproar…much like when the wisemen came to seek Jesus as a little boy. They asked, “Where is the one born the King of the Jews?”

Some in the crowd respond to “who is this?” by saying, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” This is Jesus the Savior – the One who can save us from our sins. He can do this because He is the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. His sacrifice on the cross made a way for salvation for all of humankind.

In many ways, Jesus coming into Jerusalem was the fulfillment of the cry for God to come and save us. As the week continues, we will explore this idea more. Let’s join together in this journey through Holy Week.

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