Summary: Have a song of praise on your lips for Jesus. Be ready to go out of your way to honour him. In your life, find the equivalent of coats that you can humbly lay on the road before him. In your life, find the equivalent of branches that you can wave in the air to praise him!
Every year again there’s a day on our calendars called Palm Sunday. It always falls on the last Sunday before the Easter weekend, when the church remembers Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But unlike for those other important days, we may not really understand what Palm Sunday is all about. Sure, we know it’s about those crowds waving palm branches. It’s joyous songs and “Hosannas” while Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.
It’s a nice Bible story that we can easily picture in our minds, but why put it on the calendar every year?
After all, wasn’t the enthusiasm kind of misplaced? As you’ve probably heard someone explain before, it was many of the same people shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, who were yelling “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. Pretty fickle! So isn’t there a deep irony in the whole event, that the Palm Sunday crowds misunderstood who Jesus really was, and what He came to do? Is that what we commemorate today: a misunderstanding?
As we open our Bibles to the Gospel of Mark and consider this story, we see that Palm Sunday is a day that looks forward to the cross. It’s a day for getting a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory. On Palm Sunday there’s a call to bow before Christ as King and Saviour, to lift our voices, and praise Him for his greatness! I preach God’s Word from Mark 11:1-11,
On Palm Sunday Jesus the King is received with rejoicing:
1) it’s a small beginning
2) with much more to come
1) it’s a small beginning: When we pick up the story in chapter 11, Mark wants to make sure that we don’t miss what’s going on. For in verse 1 he tells us exactly where Jesus is, “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany…” Jesus is just outside the big city, the place where He’s been headed for months—He’s been talking about this for a long time, that this is where He’ll suffer and die! Now He’s here.
Jesus is spending time in a couple towns that are close to the capital. Bethany and Bethphage are small villages, but right now they’re full of people. Some of these crowds are probably the usual group of Jesus’ followers, those who trailed behind him as He went teaching and healing. But many others are Jewish pilgrims. They’ve come from all around Palestine, and even from other countries, because now was the time of Passover. They found lodging in these villages before heading into Jerusalem for the feast.
Somehow the crowds hear that Jesus is close by. Likely a good many of them have never actually seen this well-known man—they’d heard reports of his signs and wonders, caught snippets of his teaching, but this was their chance to see him in person. And the next day, there’s a rumour going around. This happens with crowds, that a little excitement quickly grows into something much bigger than anyone planned. And this is the report that starts to spread: “Jesus is on his way!” Even if people don’t really understand what that means, it’s easy to go with the flow, and get infected by the euphoria: “Did you hear the latest? Jesus is headed into Jerusalem!”
Why was that a big deal? A few are probably convinced that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the one promised by God. Others are sure that He’s at least a great prophet. Still others can’t get over those signs and wonders that He’s been doing: healing the sick, feeding the masses, raising the dead. Put all these people together during the greatest festival of the year, have Jesus ride on a donkey into the capital city, and the results are not surprising. Soon the entire crowd is declaring Jesus as King: “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David” (v 10).
That short road from Bethany and Bethphage to Jerusalem is quickly filled with excited people. Maybe like when the Queen cruises through town in her motorcade. Or when a sports team comes home with the champion’s trophy—there will be enthusiastic crowds lining the streets and cheering. They all want to catch a glimpse.
When the Queen arrives, people will wave their flags. When the champions ride in, people throw confetti and streamers. But when Jesus heads up that road, He is greeted with the waving of what Mark calls, “leafy branches” (v 8). From the gospel of John we know that these are palm branches. Some people had climbed the nearby palm trees, and scattered big leaves among the crowd. Why palm branches? There were lots of them growing around Jerusalem. The fronds of a palm are also a good size, nice for waving in the air and making a scene—kind of like waving a flag or a banner at a football game.