Palm Sunday marks the first day of Holy Week for believers worldwide. Jesus began his journey to the cross with a triumphal parade through Jerusalem. As crowds joyfully mobbed Him, Jesus never lost focus on his priorities. Instead, he made provision for his disciples and invited them to participate with him in his final days on Earth by delegating jobs to them.
Earlier that day, He asked two disciples to secure transportation for Him.
"Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" (Mark 11:2-3 NIV)
He asked disciples to make dinner reservations for their group.
"Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." (Mark 14:13-15 NIV).
He wanted to have everyone together one last time before He would have to depart. So, even in His final days of ministry on Earth, Jesus sought to gather and include. He did not want anyone to miss His final teachings.
Those who laid down palm fronds and his dinner guests must have believed this was the beginning of the new Messiah’s rule. Finally, the Jewish people were ready to throw off the oppression of Roman rule. How quickly the tone would change from celebration to despair! The cheering crowd would become an angry mob.
Moments later, hard truths were spoken while breaking bread, and the subsequent few days’ events took a decidedly downhill turn. First, Jesus prayed blood-perspiring prayers alone in the garden. Next, his disciples failed to stay watchful and pray with Him. Then a close friend betrayed Him, and Jesus’ arrest caused even the most loyal followers to lose heart.
Psalm 116 was written by a psalmist, perhaps King David, recalling God’s mercy and grace. What if this psalm could be re-read from the perspective of Jesus on His way to his Good Friday Execution? On Palm Sunday, Jesus could see what lay before Him and exactly how costly it would be. And yet he made the journey anyway, and every stop along the way was intentional.
1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2 NIV
Jesus began his march to the cross motivated by love. Like the psalmist, he was in constant communication with God. Praying at every point along his journey, He was in an ongoing conversation with His Heavenly Father. One of the last things He did before he died was to cry out to God from the cross and beg for mercy for those who persecuted him.
At every step of Jesus’ journey to the cross, He cries out to God. If only I could pray every time, I find myself hurt, frustrated, or fearful?
3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. (Psalm 116:3 NIV)
Sitting upon the donkey on Palm Sunday, Jesus could see the long road of anguish and suffering rolling out before him. He knew it all. From the street lined with adoring fans and palm branches to the lonely and humiliating walk to the cross, Jesus never gave up. He chose not to be overcome. Instead, when his physical suffering was extreme, he turned his attention to the needs of others.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." (Luke 13:34 NIV)
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: "Lord, save me!" (Psalm 116: 4 NIV)
From the garden of Gethsemane, “He (Jesus) withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed…” (Luke 22:41 NIV)
5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. (Psalm 116:5 NIV)
Out of compassion, the Lord chose to allow His son to die so that I could live eternally. Jesus knew that God will always be both gracious and righteous. God’s grace made a way to meet the standard of righteousness through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross.
6 The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. (Psalm 116:6 NIV)
Who are the unwary?
The people throwing down palm branches on Palm Sunday would be the same people crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion. Suspended in agony on the cross, Jesus again cried out on their behalf.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34 NIV)
Even in torture and humiliation, Jesus continued to intervene for the people who stood around, unaware of the impact of what they were doing. Some of them were even taunting Him.
How often am I deeply hurt or frustrated by unwary people? Can I choose today to follow Jesus’ example and cry out to God and not complain?
7 Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. 8 For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, 9 that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 116: 7-19 NIV)
Jesus had no rest, plenty of reasons to cry, and would even stumble as he carried his cross to his crucifixion. And yet, He never lost sight of the goodness of God. As a result, Jesus was delivered from death when He rose again on Easter Sunday.
His death allows believers to walk in the land of the living before the Lord. Jesus gave us access to a relationship with our heavenly Father.
10 I trusted in the Lord when I said, "I am greatly afflicted"; (Psalm 116:10 NIV)
Jesus began a journey on Palm Sunday that would end in tremendous affliction, and He knew what He would face. He did so with grace and dignity as He trusted in the Lord.
How often do my doubts torture me on top of any afflictions I might suffer? Lord, help me to pour out those doubts to you. Help me trust you to give me strength for any temporary affliction I might suffer this side of Heaven.
11 in my alarm I said, "Everyone is a liar." (Psalm 116:11 NIV)
During Holy Week, Jesus dealt with false accusations and those who testified against Him during his two trials with religious leaders and the Roman authorities. However, even these lies could not prevent God’s will from being done.
12 What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:12-13 NIV)
When I spend time during Holy Week considering all that God has done for me as a lowly sinner, I realize I can never repay the debt I owe. Jesus drank from the cup of death for me so that I could drink from the cup of salvation forever. Help me cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving for all the Lord has done for me.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. (Psalm 116:14-15 NIV)
Jesus’ slow and methodical march to the cross had to be a public display. So, what began as a procession before all Jews and the Roman oppressors ended in a public crucifixion. All those witnesses allowed more people to see and know.
Jesus, the ultimate faithful servant, was precious in the sight of God and set the ultimate example of surrendered obedience.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:16-17 NIV)
Jesus knew the pain his mother would suffer because of how He would die. So, he provided for her by giving her care over to his disciple John at the foot of the cross. He remembered how His mother had served God as a young pregnant woman when an angel first told her about Jesus. She trusted God completely when nothing seemed to be working out. She would continue to trust God even in the face of almost unbearable grief as she watched her son die.
Jesus became the ultimate thank offering. His death paid for all of our sins once and for all.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the Lord—in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 116:18-19 NIV)
The path Jesus traveled on Palm Sunday and all the way to the cross was done in the presence of all of God’s people and in the middle of Jerusalem. Therefore, his death and resurrection needed to be witnessed by enough people to be provable in a court of law.
All Jesus did during Holy Week was to glorify God and bring about reconciliation for every believer. These final days of Jesus’ ministry here on Earth were marked with sorrow and suffering. These were the days in between the celebration of Palm Sunday and the joy of the Resurrection commemorated on Easter.
As a follower of Jesus, I live life every day on Earth between the promise of Palm Sunday and the hope of the Resurrection Sunday. I see sin and suffering all around me, and yet I can follow Jesus’ example of faithfulness in the midst of pain. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, I have a reconciled relationship with the Lord. I can pray and He hears me. The hope of the Resurrection points to the ultimate restoration. Someday, but not just yet, every eye will see and every knee will bow.
On Palm Sunday, we catch a glimpse of the coming King Jesus who will rule forever. Watch for Him with me this Holy Week.