Summary: The Palm Branch and the Scourge - what do they teach us about ourselves? About Christ?
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. What exactly is Holy Week? Holy Week is that special week in the church year that leads up to Easter. During that week we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the day that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. We also remember Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The most important thing Jesus ever did to rescue our world happened this week – that’s what makes this week holy week.
Holy Week is a week of symbols. I brought some symbols along today to show you – there are lots of symbols you could point to during Holy Week. First there is the palm branch. Back in the first century, the palm branch was a symbol of victory. When a king won a battle, he would return to his city, and all the people would greet him, waving palm branches, to celebrate the victorious king. The Bible tells us that the people of Jerusalem waved palm branches when Jesus rode into the city. Did they know that Jesus was their king? That Jesus would soon be winning a victory over Satan? That Jesus would die for their sins, and then rise victoriously from the dead? Little did they know, as they waved their palm branches, that they were celebrating the victory that the King of Kings would win for them at the cross.
Another symbol of the passion is this basin. On the night Jesus was betrayed, before he instituted the Lord’s Supper, we are told that Jesus got a basin of water, and washed the disciples’ feet. He was trying to teach the disciples something about humility and service. The wash basin is a symbol of an attitude of humility and service that God wants all of us to have.
Money is a symbol of the passion. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver – money was his downfall. And to this very day, people betray Jesus for money. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Money is a symbol of betrayal and sin during holy week.
The scourge is a symbol – it was commonly used to whip people as a punishment for a crime. Jesus was brutally whipped before he was crucified. What do you think the scourge represents? We’ll learn more about that later.
The crown of thorns is one of the most well-known symbols of the passion. The Bible describes how the soldiers made a crown of thorns for Jesus, and then very violently pushed it into his head before he was crucified. They were making fun of his claim to be the King of the Jews. Little did they know that Jesus really was a king, that he really did deserve to wear a crown, but not that kind of crown. The crown of thorns symbolizes Jesus’ kingship, and the world’s mockery.
A spike is another symbol of the passion. During crucifixion, it was common to drive spikes into the hands and feet of people as a way of fastening them to the cross. The spikes symbolize the suffering that Jesus endured to take away the world’s sin.
And finally there are the strips of linen. When Jesus was born, he was wrapped in strips of linen and placed in a manger. When Jesus died, he was wrapped in strips of linen and placed into a tomb. The strips of linen remind us of Jesus’ death.
There are many other symbols of the passion that we haven’t mentioned – the most important symbol, obviously, is the cross. On Good Friday, we will be focusing on the cross, what happened there, and what it means to us today.
This morning, I would like to focus on two opposite symbols, two opposite moments in the life of Christ. The symbol of the palm branch, and the symbol of the scourge. As we focus on these two opposite symbols this morning, we will learn much about ourselves, what we are like inside. We will learn much about Christ – who he is, and how far he was willing to go to take our sins away. These two opposite symbols will teach us one main message, and that message will become clear to you as we look into our text.
In Matthew, we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, to fulfill the prophecy from the book of Zechariah – our Old Testament lesson for today. Hundreds of years earlier, God told the people that their king would come to them riding on a donkey, and that’s exactly what Jesus does here. A very large crowd came and welcomed Christ. They spread their cloaks on the ground, palm branches. Many people waved palm branches.