Today we celebrate what we Christians called Palm Sunday. To understand better this celebration let us set the stage of this event described in the Gospel: Jews from all over the world were gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Jews had done this since Salomon built the temple, almost a thousand years before Jesus. The ancient city of Jerusalem during the annual Passover festival looked a lot like Manhattan at the time of New Year’s Eve. The town was swelled with visitors from all over the world. Every possible room in every inn was rented. Stores had filled their shelves to capacity. The visitors were easily identifiable by their clothing, their manners, and their languages; by the extra bags hanging off their shoulders, by the way, they walked up and down the streets, looking and pointing.
Merchants sold their goods on street corners and in public squares. The atmosphere was festive; everyone came to Jerusalem to celebrate. Coming to Jerusalem was emotional for those who came for the first time. Expectation filled the air. Anything could happen this time of the year in Jerusalem, including uprisings against Rome. That is why the Roman army was always patrolling the streets of Jerusalem this time of the year.
This day in particular was also special for another reason. By the gospel of John, we know it was the tenth of the month of Nissan. How do we know this? John12:1 says, “Six days before Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived…” and then in verse 12 says, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem…” The next day, this verse places Palm Sunday, Jesus entering Jerusalem five days before Passover. Now, why was this a special day? Listen to Exodus 12:2-3 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month,-five days before Passover- each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” Then verse 6 continues, “Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.” At twilight between the fourteenth and fifteenth of Nissan, they celebrated Passover. However, on the tenth day of the month, every man was going to take, to choose the lamb for the sacrifice five days later.
Therefore, if Jesus came five days before Passover, He came into Jerusalem on the tenth of Nissan. Jesus came the day when every man was “taking -choosing- the lamb for his family”, the Passover Lamb to be sacrificed and eaten by his family. Therefore, Jesus entering Jerusalem was God’s way of saying, this is my lamb, the one that I have chosen for the sacrifice of Israel. That day God was confirming what John the Baptist say before: “This is the lamb of God,”
As the Lamb of God, Jesus came to Jerusalem to die; to be sacrificed for God’s family, for His people. However, as happened in Jesus’ ministry, once before, He was misunderstood; once again, men wanted to use Jesus’ preaching of His kingdom as a tool to build their own kingdoms and to fulfill their own plans. When they saw Jesus coming to Jerusalem, they saw their military leader, no God’s Passover Lamb. And we still do that. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus as our king not as our Passover Lamb.
Jews wanted to proclaim Jesus King to destroy the Romans so that they could rule over them; they wanted to take revenge; they were tired of being servants, they wanted to be masters; they were tired of obeying, they wanted to give orders. All their plans, all their desires, all their thoughts, misled them to see Jesus as whom he was, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the prince of peace, not a military leader.
That day in Jerusalem, they were prevented from being able to see that Jesus came into Jerusalem -and the world- not to destroy the enemies of Israel, but to destroy the sin that kept Israel and the world as enemies of God and themselves. They were prevented from understanding that Jesus came to Jerusalem -and the world- not to take away the lives of other fellow men, -even when they call them enemies- but to lay down his own life so that others could live.
All these misunderstandings made of the triumphal entering into Jerusalem another event Satan tried to use to detour Jesus from his purpose. Do you remember when Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus told his disciples that he needed to die, and Peter took him alone and told him, “Don’t say that this won’t happen to you”, and Jesus told Peter, Satan get behind me? So, now in Jerusalem, Jesus once again is before “another Peter.” This time the crowd is telling Jesus, “You are not the Passover Lamb; you are not here to die; you are here to be our King; you will not spill your blood. Together with you, we will spill the blood of our enemies and as He did with Peter, Jesus told the crowd, get behind me Satan. The way Jesus told the crowd “Get behind me Satan” was by not entering Jerusalem riding a horse, but a donkey. By doing this, Jesus was implying he was not a military leader ready to conquer the city. When Jesus decided to ride a donkey, he fulfilled Zechariah’s prophesy, of which Matthew only quoted the first part: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. However, Zachariah continues saying, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; his dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.” Matthew did not include this part of Zachariah’s prophecy, maybe to emphasize the misunderstanding of the people.
As the Lamb of God, Jesus came to Jerusalem to be sacrificed and his blood is for us a symbol, a sign of his redemption, as the blood of the Passover lamb was for Israel in Egypt. 1st John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
As the Passover lamb’s blood in Egypt preserved the life of the firstborn, our lives are also preserved by Jesus’ blood. According to Romans 6:23, our disobedience, our sin brought upon our death, “For the wages of sin is death, but because of the death and blood of the Lamb of God, we have the gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 8:34 says, “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” As the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, we were slaves of our sin; as the death of the Passover Lamb marks the beginning of Israel’s freedom; the death of Jesus on the cross also marks the beginning of our liberation. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
The most significant celebration in Palm Sunday is not the entering of our king into Jerusalem, but the presentation of God’s Lamb. The hosannas, the garments and the olive branches spread on the road are excellent means of praise and worship, but what Jesus expects from us is to lay down before Him our lives, our plans and who we are; with our hosannas, He also hopes to hear, thank you, Jesus, for your death on the cross. Thank you, Jesus, for being the Lamb of God.