The Sign of the Palms

"The Entry of Our Lord Christ into Jerusalem" by Giotto di Bondone
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“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (John 12:12–13).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Everybody loves a parade. Indeed, parades are wonderful events! They are usually occasions for celebration. You’ve probably attended a parade celebrating a holiday, such as Independence Day or Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps you plan to attend an Easter parade next weekend. We even hold parades that celebrate people, such as the one honoring a hometown soldier who returns from serving in combat or to welcome home the local team who has just won a state championship. There’s a festive mood in the air. A feeling of pride. Expectation.
That’s the kind of atmosphere it must have been on the first Palm Sunday. There was a great crowd, John tells us. They were all coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Many of them had heard that Jesus had raised His friend Lazarus from the dead just a few days before in Bethany. So they gathered along the two-mile stretch of road that leads from there into Jerusalem in order to greet Him.
It is important for us to remember that Jesus initiated and directed everything that happened that day and in the days to come. Jesus assured His disciples that they would find a donkey and her colt and they would be permitted to take the animals for the Lord. Luke emphasizes that the disciples found everything in Bethphage “just as He had told them.” In his account, Matthew underscores that Jesus’ plans were just as the prophets had long ago proclaimed. And so, as Zechariah had foretold over 500 years earlier, Jesus the Messiah came into Jerusalem as a king, seated on a donkey’s colt.
The crowds knew what Jesus’ arrival in such a fashion meant: He is the King of Israel, the Messiah. No wonder they were excited! As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him shouting. Among their shouts were the words from one of the greatest messianic psalms: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna” is a prayer that literally means “Save now!” God’s people had waited many years for the Son of David, the Blessed One from the Lord, to come and to reestablish the kingdom of their father David. They were more than ready for Him to save now!
Palm branches were used in victory celebrations in those days. Why palm branches, I’m not sure. But that was the custom. People would wave them in celebration. Not the long, skinny fronds that you have today, but palm branches, like those from the trees. It was a joyous exciting occasion. For the crowd that welcomed Jesus thought He was the Messiah. They thought He would be the next king of Israel. The palms were a sign. A sign of celebration. A sign of victory. A sign of joy. What a day it must have been!
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is seen by some as a near-success that fell just short. One day Jesus was welcomed into the city by adoring crowds; less than a week later He was mocked by the jeering crowds as He hung on a cross. We might think that if only the same crowds had not turned against Him, perhaps the tragedy of the cross could have been avoided.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to Jerusalem for one purpose only—to die. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, He had only one thing on His mind: He had come to confront death. Look death square in the eye. Though He is the Lord of life, Christ would not hide; but instead, He would take our death upon Himself, thereby placing a death sentence on death itself. All other man-made religions are pale fabrications of the truth of Christ’s love.
In raising Lazarus, our Lord’s words had penetrated the tomb and time, raising one who had died and been buried four days earlier. But that, while marvelous, would not be enough. In order to bring us into His life, our Lord would have to trade places with us. Even as He took upon flesh, and then lived each stage of our life without sin, here outside of Jerusalem He would take upon Himself our death, the death which is ours as the wage for the sin we have committed, the good that we have not done. Yes, our Lord will call us out of the tomb on the Last Day, and He will do so by the power not simply of His might and His Word, but He will do so by the power of His death.
The triumphal entry was in no way a failed attempt at glory for Christ; rather, it was a very successful step toward suffering. For it forced Jesus’ enemies to move up their timetable and plot His death. In only five days after the excitement of Palm Sunday, Jesus would be crucified and buried.
Yes, Jesus entered the city as King, but not the kind of king most of the people wanted. The prophet Zechariah had related God’s true purpose: the King came humbly, riding on a donkey, not a mighty warhorse. He came not to conquer earthly enemies for Israel, but to establish eternal, spiritual peace for all nations. This peace would be achieved only by the King’s ultimate humiliation.
The “triumphal entry” must always be viewed in the light of—or, rather, the darkness of—Good Friday. Just five days after Palm Sunday, Jesus would hang on the cross. Darkness would cover the land from noon until 3:00 p.m. and Jesus would be rejected by everyone, including the crowds who shouted “Hosanna.” Jesus’ disciples would scatter. Judas would betray Him. Peter would deny Him. And even the heavenly Father would be forced to forsake His Son, turning His back, withdrawing all His protection, so that Jesus suffered the torments of hell for a world of sinners.
Think once more about the palms of Palm Sunday—the cheers and adulation that accompanied Jesus. Now, think about some other palms later that week—namely, the palms of Jesus’ hands, as He was nailed to the cross. Suffering for the sins of the world. Scratch that! Suffering for your sins, and for my sins. With nails driven through His hands and His feet.
Jesus had used those hands to reach out and touch people during His ministry. More than once Jesus picked up little children to bless them. Again and again in the Gospels we see Him touching people who had leprosy, touching the eyes of people who could not see, touching the ears of people who could not hear, touching the diseased bodies of people who were sick; on one occasion, touching the corpse of a little girl who had died. Jesus’ touch brought blessings to the children, healing to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even life to the dead. But those very same hands that had touched so many people in such loving, caring ways were nailed to the cross.
When He rose from the dead three days later, Jesus was raised with a glorious resurrection body. But He still had the marks of the nails on those hands. In fact, when He appeared to the disciples after Easter, He bid them “Peace,” He invited them to look at His hands and to touch them so they would know for sure that it was really He—not a ghost or a vision, but real live flesh and blood.
If the sign of Palm Sunday palms is the sign of celebration and joy, the sign of Jesus’ palms is the sign of His love. His love for you.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says to His people, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). And “I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
Think of those nail prints on Jesus’ palms, as your name engraved. Proof that He will never forget you. Proof of His work of salvation for you. So that you will someday be in this beautiful picture of heaven that John paints for us in the book of Revelation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10).
By God’s grace, may you always remember the sign of the palms. The palms of Palm Sunday that joyfully welcomed the arrival of the King who brings salvation even now. The palms of Good Friday that were fastened to the cross as He gave Himself into death as payment for your sins. The palms of Easter Sunday when Jesus offered His disciples proof of His victory over sin, death, and the devil with His resurrection. And the palms you’ll be waving in the eternal celebration around the throne of God in heaven. For each of these signs point you to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. In Him, you have salvation and eternal life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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