Palm Sunday: Journeying with Jesus Towards the Cross

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion; see, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”  At first His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that these things had been done to Him.”   John 12:12-16

When Jesus showed up to Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey with palms spread out at His feet, He knew what was awaiting Him. The crowd is shouting “Hosanna” in the Hebrew language, meaning “save, we pray” or “save now,” but they really did not understand how God had planned to save them. The crowds on Palm Sunday recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who would bring salvation to Israel, but they were up for a surprise. In their shouting of “Hosanna,” the crowd acknowledges Jesus as the One who comes with the power to deliver them, but their main focus was to be saved from political oppression. Riding on a donkey should have given it away that He was not entering Jerusalem to fight the Romans and overthrow the government; otherwise, He would have come riding on a stallion with a sword in hand. Riding on a lowly donkey was a symbol of the King coming in peace. They did not comprehend that they did not only need to be saved from their Roman oppressors but from God Himself (Heb. 10:31). They thought they were safe as God’s chosen people and as Abraham’s physical descendants, they were in God’s good books and recipients of the promised blessings. However, many would come to learn that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” and true lineage and belonging to God’s people is not solely determined by physical ancestry but by faith and obedience to God (Rom. 9:7). As Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:16, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus became the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed.

The Lamb of God 

When the crowds yelled “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”, they were quoting directly from Psalm 118:26, a psalm frequently recited during Jewish festivals, including Passover. A verse of celebration, praise, and acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and salvation. The Passover festival is from when the Lord initially instructed Moses and Joshua in Egypt to instruct the Israelites to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, approximately 1,200 to 1,300 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the sinless and ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God. The Israelites received this instruction from God:

“ take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs … On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:7; 12-13).

This act ensured that God’s judgment and death would pass over His people so they could escape Egypt and worship Him in the wilderness (Exodus 7:16). This was a foreshadowing of Jesus rescuing people from slavery to sin in the kingdom of darkness by dying on the cross, with His blood bringing us forgiveness and lifting the wrath of God so eternal death would pass over us. Instead, through faith in Christ we receive mercy and are able to worship and love our God for all of eternity (Colossians 1:13).

The Last Mile for the Son of Man

Palm Sunday appeared to be a massive celebration party thrown for Jesus, but in reality, it marked His “last mile” or the “final walk.” This would be like the final walk of a condemned man from death row to the execution chamber. Despite Jesus explaining to His disciples, as recorded in Matthew 20:17-19; John 12:23-33, and the other two Gospels, about His impending arrest and death as He entered Jerusalem, they still didn’t fully comprehend it. Jesus, as the Son of God and Son of Man, understood the purpose of His incarnation. He knew that His time had come to surrender Himself to the will of the Father, to be falsely accused and unjustly executed by wicked men in order to bring redemption to a fallen humanity.

It’s important to note that whenever Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, He isn’t simply commenting on His humanity. The term “Son of Man” is mentioned in the book of Daniel 7:13-14:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came One like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

When Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man” in the Gospels, He is using it as the Messianic title pointing back to Daniel’s prophecy, which the Jews who knew their Old Testament would have recognized. Jesus uses the term to emphasize His divine authority, His role as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and His mission to bring salvation and establish God’s kingdom. This is also what the chief priests, the elders, and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious council) used to condemn Jesus. And not many days after Palm Sunday, they would arrest Jesus and question Him during His trial before the high priest Caiaphas. They were seeking testimony against Jesus to justify condemning Him to death, and His testimony of His identity as the Son of Man helped their case against Him, as found in Matthew 26:63-66:

“The high priest said to Him, “’I charge you under oath by the living God;  tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so, “Jesus replied “but I say to all of you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “’He is worthy of death”’ they answered.

In this passage, Jesus affirms His identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Son of Man. This affirmation leads to accusations of blasphemy from the high priest and the Sanhedrin, ultimately resulting in their decision to condemn Him to death. Jesus, as God the Son, took on human flesh to offer His life for a humanity already condemned by sin. Jesus Himself declared, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). He emphasizes that belief in Him leads to eternal life, while rejection results in remaining under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Jesus came not to condemn the world, for it was already in a state of condemnation. Instead, He came to offer salvation and reconciliation to all who would repent and believe in Him.

Suffering and Triumphant Servant 

By taking our place on death row, Jesus demonstrated God’s love and mercy. Through His sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus provides redemption for all who believe in Him as the Son of David, the King of Israel, and the King of the Universe. He fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:4-6:

“Surely, He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The people expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a conquering king, overthrowing the Roman Empire and establishing God’s earthly kingdom. However, that wasn’t God’s plan. He first incarnated as a vulnerable baby boy, born in a stable, to later be incarcerated and killed by His own creation. In fulfilling the role of the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus took away the sin of the world, as proclaimed by John the Baptist (John 1:29). Despite knowing His impending death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the certainty that death and the grave could not hold Him down. His triumphant resurrection on the third day was inevitable, overcoming sin and death. Furthermore, Jesus anticipated His future return as a conquering king riding on a white horse, as mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16 and Matthew 24:30-31.

Jesus Christ’s first advent demonstrated humility and servanthood, as He suffered on the cross to defeat sin and death with His sinless life. Yet, it is certain that He will return in power and glory to judge the nations and establish His eternal kingdom. Have you placed your faith in Him, who is called the Son of God and Son of Man? Is He your King and Savior? Are you prepared for His magnificent and glorious return?