Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Roots of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is significant in many ways. It occurred just days before the Jewish feast of Passover. For three and a half years Jesus had been sharing the good news that to believe in Him meant to have eternal life. He’d demonstrated His lordship over creation by healing, and He had demonstrated the inadequacy of the Jewish religious system to bring salvation—that it could only come through Him. For the most part, He had been very careful not to reveal His identity as Messiah. Now it was time to reveal it, and to single-handedly save mankind by going to the cross. But it had to be done exactly in the right way.
Jesus had to die on Passover in order to fulfill the prophecy that He was the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world. Mathematically it worked perfectly with Daniel’s 70-week prophecy (Daniel 9:23-27) that Messiah the Prince should enter into Jerusalem, and then be “cut off” after 69 weeks.
But Jesus was not going to just walk into Jerusalem and die. He needed to be put to death in a specific way (on a wooden pole in order to be cursed), at a specific time (Passover), and at a specific place (outside the “camp” of Jerusalem). Think about the complexity of problem. He needed to be recognized and proclaimed as the Messiah, but also work out the situation so that he’d be put to death—all without sin. What He does is to get a group of people to call attention to Him in such a way that another group of people will be motivated to kill Him.
Jesus set in motion the final chess moves toward the cross starts with an illness. In John Chapter 11 Jesus learns that his friend Lazarus is sick. He waits until the man dies to go to where he lived. He said: “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” That glory was really the cross. By this time, Jesus was known throughout Israel and was already dividing people into two camps.
Jesus went to Bethany (about two miles from Jerusalem) and raised Lazarus from the dead. Understandably this caused a great stir. For some, it moved them to belief, for others it moved them toward evil.
John 11:45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? 48 If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.” 49 One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God. 53 So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.
This is just what Jesus needed: two groups: one opposed, one supportive. So now He can come to Jerusalem. It’s just before the Passover, which was the festival celebrating God delivering the Jews from Egypt and sparing them from death by slaughtering a perfect lamb. In Egypt, the children of Israel applied the blood on the two doorposts, and to the top of the door—where it would naturally drip down onto the threshold. This was a picture of where Jesus would end up bleeding while nailed to the cross: from His hands, head, and feet.
But to get to this point, Jesus has to be rejected as the Messiah, as the king—and be condemned to death. He sets this up by having a large group of people proclaim Him to be king—giving the religious leaders a good excuse to let out what was in their heart—to reject Him and kill Him—because in the end, only God can be king, not men or a religious system.
So that’s where we come to Palm Sunday. There are four specific things about Palm Sunday that I want to explore—because they further this plan of Jesus’ to be crucified in Jerusalem on Passover.
Spreading Garments on the Road (Luke 19:36)
This comes from when Elijah the Prophet anointed Jehu king over Israel:
2Kings 9:13 Each man quickly took his garment and put it under Jehu on the bare steps. They blew the ram’s horn and proclaimed, “Jehu is king!”
The placing of their cloaks on the stairs was so that the king would not touch his feet to the dusty ground and in a sign of submission—the king is literally walking on top of them symbolically. It became a recognized way of honoring a king. So as Jesus approached Jerusalem, the people who believed, based on the Lazarus incident, proclaimed Jesus as their new king—to replace both the Sanhedrin and Rome.
Palm branches – John 12:13
Palms were an ancient Hebrew symbol of victory. God commanded they be used in the yearly feast of Tabernacles:
Lev 23:40 On the first day you are to take the product of majestic trees—palm fronds, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
Palm branches were waved in 142 BC, when Simon Maccabees liberated Jerusalem from the Greeks. Romans used them as they celebrated military victories and welcomed royalty.
The palm branches here signify the coming of the king for his enthronement, but also for sacrifice. We get this from Psalm 118, known as one of the Hallel Psalms. These were psalms sung by the Jews as they approached Jerusalem for the Passover. It is very prophetic.
Psa. 118:19 Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous will enter through it. (Jesus comes through the Eastern Gate)
21 I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation. (Jesus literally became our salvation)
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone. (as the religious leaders rejected Jesus)
23 This came from the LORD;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
LORD, please grant us success! (This is where “save now” or “Hosanna” comes from)
26 He who comes in the name
of the LORD is blessed.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God and has given us light.
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords
to the horns of the altar. (This signifies Jesus’ sacrifice)
28 You are my God, and I will give You thanks.
You are my God; I will exalt You.
29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.
In this case, Jesus, the sacrifice, would be tied to a wooden cross and the blood of the sacrifice would be poured out on that cross, not on the bronze altar.
So the palm branches signified a king being welcomed, but a king who would perform a sacrifice.
Riding on a donkey – John 12:14
This has two origins:
- A sign that Jesus was the Son of David.
1Kings 1:32 “King David then said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada for me.” So they came into the king’s presence. 33 The king said to them, “Take my servants with you, have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and take him down to Gihon. 34 There, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet are to anoint him as king over Israel. You are to blow the ram’s horn and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You are to come up after him, and he is to come in and sit on my throne. He is the one who is to become king in my place; he is the one I have commanded to be ruler over Israel and Judah.”
Do you see the parallels with Jesus riding on a donkey to be crowned as king? Only the crown He would wear was made of thorns, and the throne He would occupy was a wooden cross.
- A sign of a king coming to sacrifice.
Zech. 9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
Look, your King is coming to you;
He is righteous and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the horse from Jerusalem.
The bow of war will be removed,
and He will proclaim peace to the nations. (a kingdom of peace)
His dominion will extend from sea to sea,
from the Euphrates River
to the ends of the earth. (a universal kingdom)
11 As for you,
because of the blood of your covenant, (bought by a blood covenant)
I will release your prisoners
from the waterless cistern. (can mean “pit” as in Shoel – so people are brought out of death into life)
So Jesus is shown as the true son of David and rightfully one who could sit on David’s throne and fulfill God’s prophecy to David that his heir would have an eternal kingdom. Riding on a donkey was a sign that He came in peace. Had he rode in on a horse it would have been a sign of war.
He is coming to usher in a kingdom of peace that is universal by rescuing people from the pit of death.
Now comes the interesting part. Not only did Jesus have to declare His kingship and mission – to be sacrificed on a cross to rescue us from death and bring peace to God – but He had to motivate another group to reject that kingship and perform that sacrifice by killing Him. In the end, God would have to judge that rejection—and so we come to the crying stones.
The Stones Crying Out (Luke 19:40)
We often think that if the crowd stopped praising, the stones will pick up the Hallel, but in all likelihood Jesus is saying that the stones (probably of the Temple – see Luke 19:44) will cry out in judgment if Jesus is rejected.
Habakkuk. 2:9 Woe to him who dishonestly makes
wealth for his house
to place his nest on high,
to escape from the reach of disaster!
10 You have planned shame for your house
by wiping out many peoples
and sinning against your own self.
11 For the stones will cry out from the wall,
and the rafters will answer them
from the woodwork.
Jesus accused the religious leaders of His day as thieves, who stole from the people and in the meantime kept them away from Yahweh (we’ll see this play out in the verses immediately following the Palm Sunday account - Luke 19:45-46). The Jews (personified by Jerusalem) will reject Him, and thus bring judgment on themselves. This judgment will be shown by the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as every stone would be removed.
- Jesus came to take His throne (on the cross)
- He came to be lifted up as the sacrifice
- He was lauded as victor, and king who would usher in peace through a blood covenant
- He was rejected by Israel’s leadership, which would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and of Judaism as it was practiced.
- That rejection led to crucifixion on a cross, which included rejection by God (a rejection we should have experienced) where He bled on the doorposts and lintels in order to save us from that rejection by God and to protect us from death.
So as we celebrate Palm Sunday, let us too declare Jesus to be a coming King, a King who became a sacrifice, a King who comes in peace, a King who comes to rescue us—to “save us”. Let us sing “Hosanna in the highest”!