Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Today is Palm Sunday and believers observe it as the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted with welcome and praise.
This triumphal entry is recorded in all four gospels. John is the one that tells us it happened about five days before Passover. As I studied it again, I saw it unfold like events in a play. I found these main characters and recognized the roles played by them.
First character: Jesus, of course, the hero.
Jesus instructs his disciples to go into the village, where they will find “a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” (Matt. 21:2) They were to bring them to him. Mark and Luke refer to only one animal. I am not going to discuss whether there was one or two. What is significant is that according to rabbinic teachings, and contrary to popular belief, the donkey is not a lowly animal. The “mounting of a donkey” is symbolic and reserved for those with preeminence—Abraham rode on one and the King Messiah will ride on one, the sages taught.
Matthew 21:4-5 quotes that Jesus was fulfilling what was said in Zechariah 9:9:
“Your King is coming to you;
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The phrase that comes before this, “Tell the daughter of Zion,” quoted from Isaiah 62, tells even more. Verse 11 says:
“Say to the daughter of Zion
Surely, your salvation is coming.”
The Hebrew word for salvation is Yeshua, Hebrew for Jesus. This passage in Isaiah talks about the salvation of Zion and what God will be doing. The verse before this even has this directive: “Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people.” The quote could be read: Say to the daughter of Zion, surely, your Jesus is coming!
Did Jesus, knowing the scriptures, set this up so that he can be seen as the Messiah? Rather than asking that question, I see his act of getting the colt as his first move to doing what he came to this world to do. In John 12:23, Jesus said: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” The time was right; Jesus knew what he had to do, as part of the will of his Father. It is all part of the Passover story coming to fulfillment in him.
Second character: His disciples.
They played an important role. They helped him get the donkey, laid their clothes on the colt and set him on it. John said: “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done these things to him.” (John 12:16)
I learnt something from this. As disciples, we sometimes just have to do things that are told to us by Jesus. We don’t have to understand, we just have to be obedient. And we have to follow him and be close to him.
Third character: The crowd.
There are different faces in the crowd.
Those who welcomed him. These were those who spread their clothes, and cut branches from the trees to spread on the road. Many had been following him in his ministry. They were the ones who called out to Jesus to save them, calling him the Son of David (Matt 21:9), thereby claiming him to be the Messiah, and praising God for all the mighty works they had seen. (Luke 19:37.)
Those who did not know him. “Who is this?” was their question, according to Matt. 21:10.
Those who were against him—the Pharisees. They called out to Jesus to rebuke his disciples for rejoicing and welcoming him with cries of Hosanna. (Luke 19:39.) They refused to see who he was.
And the last group, mentioned in John 12:20 was the Greeks among those who “came up to worship at the feast.” They approached Philip and asked to see Jesus. They represented the Gentiles, the non-Jews.
What part did this scene play in the fulfillment of the Passover story? What were the people doing here?
They had just identified Jesus as the Messiah. The sight of Jesus coming on the donkey gave them hope that he was the long-awaited Messiah. Their cry of “Hoshia na”, is quoted from the messianic Psalm 118. The Son of David refers directly to the Messiah. However, to them, the messiah was a human figure coming to save them, from the Roman rulers. Little did they know then.
But as we see the whole picture—Jesus being the Passover lamb, and seeing how his death and resurrection, coincide perfectly with the Passover sacrifices, and the Feast of Firstfruits, respectively—then this triumphal entry signified something else.
At the time that he entered, the people were also going up to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover activities. This ‘palm Sunday’ (a term coined by Christians; John specified palm branches; Matthew and Mark records it as leafy branches) was also the day the people were to select their lambs for sacrifice. The thought of buying their lamb must have been foremost in their minds.
By heralding the entry of Jesus and praising him, they were selecting him and picking him to be their lamb of choice. They might not have realized it; but it falls in the grand Passover redemption plan. It seems to me that all these key characters in the play had to be present to be represented.
It is also interesting to me, that soon after the triumphal entry, Jesus went to the temple and drove out all who were making it a den of thieves. “Jesus cleanses the temple” is a headline most bibles have for this section. Tradition has it that all Jewish homes are thoroughly cleaned off leaven, just before Passover. How appropriate then is it that Jesus did what he did for the temple.
Indeed, what I find amazing is how detailed God is in his plan and execution of his salvation. Reflecting on the death and resurrection of our Lord during this Passover season, I am amazed by the power and sovereignty of God.
Which of the characters do you identify with in this scene—the one who does not know who he is; the one who is seeking him; the one who refuse to see him as who he is; or the one who knows him, acknowledges him, and obeys him?
Take time this day to reflect and select your Lamb of God again, calling on his name, and laying your clothes down for him.
Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!