“On the Christian calendar, Lent (from Latin, meaning “fortieth”) is the forty days beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday. Sundays themselves are not counted in these forty days, as they are generally set aside as days of renewal. The number forty carries great biblical significance based on: the forty days of rain Noah and his family endured in the flood, the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness, the forty days Jesus spent on the earth after his resurrection, and so much more.
Forty days has been used by God to represent a period of trial, testing, and preparation. Likewise, Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.”
I have always loved this time of the year. Many denominations refer to these 40 days before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrections as Lent. It is a journey to the Cross that gives me (all of us) a time to reflect on our beliefs, our redemption, and our personal relationship with God. And now as our journey progresses we recognize and celebrate the time Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey with citizens laying palm fronds on the ground for the donkey to walk on.
We are now beginning the Passion Week with Palm Sunday. These forty days are coming to a close as the Journey of our Lord is moving to the cross. And Palm Sunday begins the end of the beginning.
“Lent is a journey to the cross: meditating on our sin and weakness, looking to Jesus as our perfect example and substitute, and being heightened in our worship of his victory over Satan, sin, and death. On the cross, Jesus took our place to appease God’s righteous anger toward our sin and rebellion. He was separated from God so that we could experience union with God. He was crushed by God so that we could be adopted by God. He was raised with God so that we too might be raised with God. The drama of how this unfolded is the story of Lent. The journey of Lent is to immerse ourselves in this grand story so that it might increase our appreciation of Easter and love for Jesus. May we mourn the darkness in our hearts and rejoice in the light of God who came into the world to save us!” – Journey to the Cross: A 40 day Devotional, by Kendal Haug and Will Walker
These forty days are coming to a close as the Journey of our Lord is moving to the cross. And Palm Sunday begins the end of the beginning.
Traditionally Palm Sunday begins the countdown to our Lord’s crucifixion. We can read about it in all four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We begin our walk in John as we begin Holy Week. John’s story of the beginning of Holy Week.
John 12:12-16 (NIV) 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 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.
Let’s start with why we call today Palm Sunday. There is obviously a special reason – at least back then – that palms were used to honor royalty. We are not exactly sure what that tradition is or where it came from. But if we think of how we cheer at games and watching our heroes parade down 5th Avenue as people drop confetti from the windows, it kind of makes sense. I learned that several hundred years ago, palm branches became Israel’s national symbol. It is kind of the way the bald eagle became the symbol for the USA, and how each country’s flag is symbolic to the citizens of that country, or how the Anthems are so powerful to each of us in our country.
“In the Book of Maccabeh in chapter 10:7 they waved as the temple was rededicated in 164BC ‘Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place.’ And they were waved in exultation after Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem in 141 bc: Then [the Syrians] cried to Simon to make peace with them, and he did so. But he expelled them from there and cleansed the citadel from its pollutions. On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel (1 Macc 13:50-51).”
So waving palm branches was and still is not only patriotic but also to honor our KING – Jesus Christ. Jesus Is the King, of course. The question that immediately arises is this: So, the citizens and travelers must have thought that Jesus was a national figure and their future King. At the end of verse thirteen they shouted “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.” So there you go – that verse tells us the answer. They believed that Jesus was the king of Israel. “Hosanna!” literally means, “Save now, I pray,” and was the way of praising a mighty one – like a King. And if you think about it and study you will see that the word “Hosanna!” in Jewish tradition is “A form of Jewish acclamation and was sung by the Temple choir every day during the Passover. And this tradition “pronounces a blessing upon an Israeli king who comes to do the work of the Lord with the Lord’s own authority.
“Very clearly, the crowd believed Jesus to be their king, the king of Israel. And as their king made his way into Jerusalem, they were exhilarated and excited about what that meant. You see, for king of the Jews to be coming into Jerusalem meant more than, “Hey, a celebrity’s here. Let’s go out and see the contestants from ‘American Idol!’” Their excitement is not to be confused with being star-struck. These Israelites were excited because they believed that their liberation was at hand. For Israel’s king to be coming to Jerusalem meant something spectacular was about to happen. And this belief was strengthened by Jesus’ choice of transportation. Notice vv 14-15: Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, “FEAR NOT, DAUGHTER OF ZION; BEHOLD, YOUR KING IS COMING, SEATED ON A DONKEY’S COLT.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem was not accidental. It was on purpose.”
All of this shows us that Jesus purposely chose a young donkey to sit on to focus on the scripture –
Zechariah 9:9-10 –
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
And that’s why the Israelites went out to meet him with palms and shouts of “Hosanna.” And that’s why we call today Palm Sunday…
May each of us as we worship this Palm Sunday share in our hearts with all those celebrating Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem so long ago as we also shout “HOSANNA in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
May God bless each of you as you journey to the cross in your hearts and in your minds this coming week. Walk with Jesus; know you are so very special to Him who took this walk for you!