Sunday, April 01, 2007

Holy Week Begins - Palm Sunday

This week I want to blog about the events that happen each day of Holy Week. Now, lest you think I'm an incredible Bible Scholar and have this information parked in my mind already, I will immediately admit to the fact that I have a beautiful chart of the events in my Bible (Thompson Chain Reference - NIV). I suppose I could let you believe that I spent hours going through all of the scripture passages and built my own calendar of events, but honestly, I really hate reinventing the wheel.

Today is Palm Sunday. Our worship service this morning was glorious! It was a day filled with joy. All of the children processed through the sanctuary with their palm branches lifted high as we sang. The sermon which was based on Psalm 134, was awesome and we ended the service by offering our tithes to God. I left feeling refreshed and filled with joy.

Several years ago, I had the palm branches for worship in the trunk of my car. I went to the grocery store and as the young man helped me unload my groceries, he saw them and asked what they were. I tried explaining and realized that this young man (15-16 years old) had absolutely no idea what Palm Sunday was. How could anyone live in the United States - Omaha! and have no idea. That was a bit startling for me.

The triumphal entry is described in each of the Gospels: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-44 and John 12:12-19.

As I read these passages, I find a couple of cool things. Jesus sat on a young colt / donkey that had never been ridden before. I've not been around a lot of horses in my life, but I'm pretty certain that an unbroken colt wouldn't be the easiest thing to ride. This was the animal of choice for our Lord, though! And it allowed Him to ride on it's back into Jerusalem amidst throngs of people gathering for Passover and milling through the streets. Can you imagine the craziness this poor donkey had to face? As soon as people recognized Jesus, they began laying the cloaks in front of Him to honor Him and they were shouting. I'm sure they were trying to touch Him. The poor animal was only comforted by the touch from the Master.

He rode a donkey in to fulfill the prophecy spoken of in Zechariah 9:9. This passage is only quoted in Matthew and John. The other passage that is fulfillment of prophecy is taken from Psalm 118:26. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Covering the path of someone of highest honor was a common custom at the time of Jesus. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell us that the people cut branches for the covering and used their cloaks. The Gospel of John specifically tells us that these branches were palm fronds.

Palm branches were a symbol of victory and triumph. Leviticus 23:40 says "On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days." This is the Feast of the Tabernacles.

In Revelation 7:9, John sees a Great Multitude - no one could count the number of these people. They were standing before the throne and in front of the lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

Now, while the people saw this as a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, remember what Jesus was riding. A donkey ... not a white horse. A white horse was quite symbolic for military leaders in the Roman Empire who had won a battle. They would ride a pure white horse into Rome in celebration. Had Jesus done that, He would have been making a pronouncement that He was unwilling to make at this time. The donkey was a symbol of peace ... the horse was a symbol of war.

We will see Jesus riding a white horse, but not until Revelation 19:11 when He comes to do battle with the kings of the earth and sends the beast and the false prophet into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Then we will see the triumphant entry of a king who has gone into battle.

Quite a few more events happen in the background of each of the gospels during these passages. Luke 19:40 is one of my favorite verses, but I don't always put it into context of what is happening. The crowd was joyfully praising God for all the miracles they had seen as they walked along the path with Jesus to the Mount of Olives. The Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to stop the noise. His response? "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." If we refuse to praise God? Even the stones will sing out His praises.

John continues the conversation of the Pharisees in John 19:19: "So the Pharisees said to one another, 'See this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'" They are starting to get worried! And this worry will escalate throughout the week. We'll watch them grow more and more uneasy at the power that Jesus seems to wield.

Mark finishes the day for us. He also lets us know what is next on the agenda.

Mark 11:11: "Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve."

Why did He go to Bethany? I assume that He went to stay with His friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem. The Twelve went with Him. I can't imagine that He wanted to part with His close friends at this point. When you are facing certain death, all that is left is to be sure that those whom you love understand how deep that love is.

Today I say, with the crowd, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!"

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