What is the significance of Palm Sunday? This event gets but a dozen or so verses in scripture, less than many of our other favorite accounts of his life and ministry. If we celebrate Palm Sunday, then why not Feeding the Five Thousand Friday, or Jesus Walks on Water Wednesday? I think there are lessons to be learned not just from this specific event, but what the bible records happened before and after. Jesus’s triumphal entry on the back of a borrowed donkey was met with great fanfare and adoration from the people. But in the very next chapter, on the VERY NEXT DAY, he rebuked a fig tree that bore no fruit, he drove out those who were desecrating the temple, and His very authority was brought into question by the religious leaders of the day. Less than 24 hours after people were worshipping the comprehended fullness of his deity, they were challenging it. Does this strike you as odd? Hypocritical? Just plain sad? Personally, I’m struck by all of those feelings. But I think Jesus is drawing me deeper into this story. The lessons I gain from this are much broader than this 24-hour chain of events.
In ten days, on April 7, I will be 39. Ten short days. But who’s counting? ME, that’s who. Why? Because I love my birthday. Love it. Always have. I love getting gifts, I love having a day to feel appreciated and to eat whatever I want whenever I want, and to see those who I love most all in the same place. I don’t wince when the birthday song is sung. I don’t leave anyone’s texts on read. I do, however, get a bit self-conscious when I open my gifts in front of people. Mainly because my reactions can be a bit over-the-top excited. Did I mention I love gifts???
I think the thing I love most about my birthday is all the incredibly kind and moving things people say about me. My love language is words of affirmation and all the voicemails, texts, and video calls I receive from people really fill me up and provide a shot of love and warmth each year. And with this being my SECOND pandemic birthday, I need that connection now more than ever.
Now I assure you this isn’t just a shameless plug for more gifts and texts for my birthday. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
What strikes me most about this triumphal entry, is that it is the most overt moment that Jesus openly receives the praise and worship of the people. So often in scripture, He defers to his Father. And even in this act, the fact that He rode in on a donkey (or young colt as some accounts say) shows His incredible humility. A far cry from the “Prince Ali” sequence in Disney’s Aladdin, wouldn’t you agree?
I’m also captured by the collision between His humanity and His holiness here. We believe Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus as God knows no beginning and no end. Jesus as man had about 33 years on this earth, an incredibly finite amount of time by today’s standards. And his “ministry years” didn’t really begin until He was around 30. When you read the gospels, you are reading primarily about a few years in the life of Jesus. Isn’t that incredible? It boggles the mind. And it also makes me take a real hard look at how I spent those same years in MY life. Also, in the chapter just preceding this Palm Sunday moment, He predicted His death a third time. In fact, He didn’t just predict His death, but He laid out EXACTLY how it would happen:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again, he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Jesus did not have time to bask in the praise and worship and adoration of the people. He didn’t rest on His laurels. He didn’t ride through the countryside, going town-to-town on a Worship tour. He did RECEIVE the worship of the people, but then got right back to work. His time was limited. He knew it. His disciples knew it because they’d just heard it, although they were reticent to actually trust it. Jesus had a mission to carry out. He still had things to teach His friends and followers, then and now. He wasn’t anticipating this day where He finally gets the worship due Him from literally every single person He comes into contact with. He wasn’t looking for “presents” or “cake” or a big “celebration”. Jesus deserves our worship, but He doesn’t need it. Indeed, He said to the Pharisees who were trying to hush and shame the crowd, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” ~Luke 19:40.
That being said, when it comes to worship, we must give it. The fact that everything we are and everything we have is because of God’s kindness and His goodness and His love DEMANDS that we worship without ceasing. Our thankfulness to God should overflow. Our adoration of Jesus should be boundless. The events of Palm Sunday are huge for those of us who believe in Jesus, not just for that moment, but for the intense rollercoaster of a week it ushers in. But we recognize at this moment how worthy Jesus is. And that moment, and all moments like it, are worth celebrating.
Almost 25 years ago, a worship band named MercyMe wrote these words as a refrain to a song called “Ain’t No Rock”: Ain’t no rock, gonna cry in my place/as long as I’m alive I’ll glorify his holy name.
As I said before, Jesus doesn’t NEED our praise and worship, but he DESERVES it and he DESIRES it, not for some sort of “birthday high” like me, but because He wants to be in right relationship with us, His children. Palm Sunday is a reminder that Jesus willingly entered Jerusalem, knowing that this was the beginning of the end of His time here on earth and that He did this, all of this, for us. He is worthy, more than worthy. And today is as good a day as any to honor Jesus and His life that He lived for us.