The Christian celebration of Palm Sunday


There are a number of key events of the life of Jesus that are remembered regularly in the church and celebrated as special occasions. While Jesus’ birth at Christmas, his death on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter are prominent, there are other key celebrations that hold no less significance. The celebration of Palm Sunday, traditionally celebrated on the Sunday preceding the Easter celebration, remembers Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a king. All through his ministry years, Jesus knew that his ultimate purpose was to give his life for the sin of all humankind in Jerusalem. In recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Christians recall a number of important facts about Jesus, about why he came, and about life. Why do Christians celebrate Palm Sunday and what is the significance of this celebration?

The Apostle Matthew recorded this event in some detail. The initial focus of the narrative surrounds the goal of acquiring an animal upon which Jesus could ride as he entered the city. While Jesus generally walked wherever he went, he had a specific purpose in choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey.

“saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me’” (Matthew 21:2).

A donkey and her colt were ready for Jesus’ use

This small detail assures the Christian that God has every detail of life in his control and that the believer can trust that as he or she carries out God’s purposes, that God will provide what is necessary. Jesus knew that he was doing the Father’s will and therefore the donkey was prepared for his use.

“This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”’” (Matthew 21:4, 5).

The promised Messiah

Matthew understood that Jesus was the promised Messiah who was to come and so he wrote of Jesus choosing to act in fulfillment of the prophecy of the Messianic king entering Jerusalem humbly riding on a donkey. In celebrating Palm Sunday, the Christian declares that Jesus is the one that God promised would come to free his people from their bondage to sin and who would reign as king over them for eternity. While early in his ministry Jesus often shied away from outward declarations of his identity as the Messiah, as he entered Jerusalem he triumphantly declared that he was the promised one and in doing so he invited worship from those who had entrusted their lives to him. In fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, Jesus demonstrated that God knows the future as simply as the past and the present. The Christian remembers that God has a purpose for all history and that in putting his or her faith in Christ, the believer has the confidence that God will fulfill every promise that he has given both now and for eternity. As Jesus entered, the people worshiped in a unique manner which gave Palm Sunday its name.

“Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:8).

Celebrating Palm Sunday

Part of the worship of the people was to prepare the way for the entry of their king; the Messiah Jesus. Some put their cloaks on the road, but others chose a different method of smoothing the way for Jesus’ entry. They cut branches off of trees and laid them on the road before Jesus. These branches are what the Christian of today recalls as he or she celebrates Palm Sunday. Often church members receive a small palm branch which they wave as part of the church service.

The celebration of Palm Sunday is truly one of the worship of Jesus Christ as both the Messiah and king or Lord of all creation. The Christian is declaring that in worshiping Jesus, he or she is affirming that he is Lord of all. The celebration is one of joy that the long-promised Messiah has finally come. The believer is affirming that though God’s promises may seem long in coming, that they are eventually fulfilled. The appearance of the long-awaited king, entering Jerusalem in fulfillment of the prophetic utterances, is a testimony that God will fulfill his Word and that the Christian, though the wait may be long, can act in full confidence that God will fulfill every one of his promises. The scene of the triumphal entry was one of riotous joy.

“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

The crowds were overcome with joy as Jesus entered. They declared that he was the one in the line of David whom God had promised would come to rule over God’s people for eternity. As God had promised David that one would reign on his throne forever, this promise was now coming true in the person of Jesus. Jesus was coming in the name of the Lord; he was doing the will of the Father and fulfilling God’s promises. This great celebration is an affirmation that the greatest joy that a person can have is to live out the will of God in his or her life. The Christian who celebrates Palm Sunday is declaring that God is the perfect creator and that his ways are the best good. The good life is one that is committed to following God’s ways and to fulfilling his purposes. Jesus is the great example of one who perfectly carried out the will of the Father and thus the Palm Sunday celebration lifts up Jesus as the perfect example of how life should be lived. While Palm Sunday is a church celebration, its truths are not limited to those who have already put their faith in Jesus for salvation.

“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowed said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee’”      (Matthew 21:10, 11).

Jesus came as the great sacrifice for the sin of all humankind. Thus, all that he did was to draw people to understand who he was and why he had come. His triumphal entry caused a great stir in the city and caused many to ask who he was. The celebration of Palm Sunday is designed to cause that outside to wonder who Jesus is and why his followers are overcome with such joy. This great outward declaration of excitement and worship on Palm Sunday has the purpose of causing that outside to stop and question what or who has caused such a stir. This provides an opportunity for the believer to declare who Jesus is and why he or she is experiencing such joy. The celebration of Palm Sunday is ultimately intended to be a declaration of joy and worship by the people of God that acts as a sign to the outside world that Jesus truly is the Lord and that draws them in to join in worship to Jesus as the triumphal king who reigns over all creation.

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