Palm Branches and the Conquering Hero
What really happened on the day that Christians call Palm Sunday? We have first hand accounts of what happened, but what were the people thinking? Who did they think Jesus was? I think our picture of this day might be a little different than what really happened. Here is how Mark records the event:
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”
They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
I grew up hearing a lot of sermons about Palm Sunday but I wonder if we truly understand that day. They were worshipping Jesus but who did they think Jesus was? Picture it from this perspective. The Jews are under the oppression and rule of the Roman Empire. There are stories of a conquering Messiah who will save them and restore Jerusalem. Then comes this man Jesus who is saying he is the son of God and is doing all sorts of miracles. A few days earlier he even raises Lazarus from the dead. The Jews have found their conquering hero. Here is the man who is going to lead a military rebellion and rescue them from the Romans. Even some of his closest followers see him as this hero.
Now we are at the point where Jesus enters Jerusalem. Thousands are flooding Jerusalem for the Passover. Word gets out about what Jesus did with Lazarus and expectant crowds follow him from Bethany. Word spreads quickly that Jesus is entering Jerusalem and the message spreads like wildfire. People under oppression find hope. They wave palm branches and spread their coats in front of Jesus. They yell, “Hosanna” which in Hebrew means “save us.” They are yearning for freedom from the grip of the Roman Empire. Jesus is their conquering hero.
I wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind as he was riding into Jerusalem. As a kid I pictured him like a politician in a parade, smiling and waving to the crowd. Now that I look at it in this context, I see him as having a deep sadness in his heart. I have to think that as he looked up at Jerusalem he was thinking about all the pain and agony that would come in the next week. If he was coming from Bethany he could have even went right by the Garden of Gethsemane on his way in.
Later on in the week, his disciples and those who wanted a hero to rescue them from the Romans would have their hopes dashed. Jesus died on a cross at the hands of the Romans and all hopes of rescue were gone. In the midst of that gloom and dashed hopes, Jesus was defeating something far greater than the Romans. The chains of death and sin that held creation and humanity back were being smashed. The conquering hero was returning!