Jesus Enters Jerusalem as King (Palm Sunday)
The most significant week for Christians is the week of Easter, often called Holy Week. I thought it would be neat to look at this week from the perspective of Mark. Next year maybe I’ll choose another Gospel author to follow along with. I’ve always liked Mark, though. He’s short and to the point. Yet, he includes interestingly specific details that the other authors do not.
Palm Sunday has always fascinated me. The whole passion narrative is thick with irony. The passion narrative in Matthew contains perhaps the most examples of the ironies of the last days of Jesus’ life, but Mark has them, too.
Here’s what happened on Sunday of Holy Week as found in Mark.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
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!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
It starts off in an interesting way. As they get to the Mount of Olives, a set hills just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus tells two of his disciples to go get a donkey colt in the town just ahead of them. He knows that it’s there. He knows what the disciples should say to anyone who asks about what they are doing.
Jesus shows he knows everything that is about to happen. Nothing is a surprise to him. The fact that he knows a colt was tied to a doorway was not just a good guess. It had been prophesied and he knew that it was there.
I wonder what the conversation looked like between the disciples on the way there.
“Uh…so let me get this straight. We are going to get into town, assuming there is a colt that hasn’t been ridden and we’re just going to…take it?”
“Yeah…I guess so.”
“Let’s just hope no one is around. I really don’t want to have to tell them that we are taking it and we’ll return it later. What if they say no?”
“Hey man…Jesus knows what he’s doing. There’s a reason he’s telling us to do this.”
Sure enough, when the disciples got to the nearby village there was a colt tied to a doorpost. As they untied it people ask them what they are doing. Another conversation I would love to see…
“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Uh, don’t worry. We’re not stealing it. The Lord needs it and will bring it back shortly.”
“Um…ok? But it has never been ridden before.”
“Perfect! We’ll bring him back in a bit.”
Then they bring it back to Jesus and throw their cloaks over the back of the colt and Jesus sits down and begins riding into Jerusalem. The people around recognized Jesus and began throwing down their cloaks on the road and went out to the fields and brought back branches and spread them around (hence Palm Sunday).
They celebrated Jesus as King. They shouted “Hosanna!” That is a shout of celebration, a “hurray!” so to speak. It can mean “Save, please!” too. They celebrated as the people of Israel once celebrated David, the greatest and most famous of all the Jewish kings of the past. They celebrated Jesus as their savior – but not a savior from death and sin, but of politics and religion. But they were praising and celebrating a Jesus they had hoped for and wanted, not the Jesus they needed. The people celebrated and were basically worshipping Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem. But by the end of the week some of these same people would be screaming for him to be crucified.
Jesus knew that. He knew that the praises that sprang from the lips of these people were accurate and true, but void of their true meaning. Herein lies the irony of Palm Sunday. The praises the people say are indeed true. He is there to save them. He has ushered in the coming kingdom of David. It was right for them to say these things, but they didn’t understand what they were saying.
What must have that been like for Jesus? To hear people say things that were true, but to have the people not know what they were saying or singing or praising. Perhaps it’s similar to many Sundays around the world. We sing songs filled with meaning and theological truths and oftentimes have no understanding of what we are singing. Our words are empty. We may even understand what we are singing, and allow the words to have meaning in that moment — but by the end of the week we are cursing Jesus and slapping him in the face by our own actions, thoughts, words, and behaviors.
But Jesus sat there and accepted their praises. I’m sure the disciples loved being with him then. Proud to be with someone so respected, so worthy of praise. He was loved. They probably felt so special, very important. But by the end of the week, they too would desert Jesus and even deny knowing him.
And thus begins Holy Week.