Palm Sunday: Above and Beyond

Palm Sunday: Above and Beyond

Today, we are beginning a mini-series set just for Holy Week called “Come Alive.” Over the next week, we will journey through the events of Holy Week and the idea of what it means to come alive to God’s story of redemption. In other words, to open our eyes to God’s bigger picture, His deeper purpose for all of creation. The question we’ll be asking is, “Because of this redemption story, how should we “come alive”?”

Because let’s be honest, about two thousand years ago, God’s plan of redemption altered the world forever, transforming lives then and every day since. The power of sin and death was broken through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death was literally defeated. True life, spiritual life, God’s life triumphed over everything. Jesus demonstrated this awesome power of the resurrection just so we can discover what it means to come alive. Let’s take a look at a preview of this series.

Our Holy Week journey will include coming alive to Jesus’ life, His sacrifice, and His power. Today, on Palm Sunday, we look for Jesus and celebrate how in human form, He brings the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

On Good Friday, we’ll remember the way that Jesus suffered. But we will not look down in fear or defeat. Instead, we’ll hold our heads high as we focus on the cross and discover that the sacrifice Jesus made shows us He understands and wants us to be free.

On Easter Sunday, we’ll celebrate the power of the resurrection so we can discover what it means to truly “come alive” to His power so that our lives are changed. You can experience God’s story in your story. You can know that He understands. You can truly come alive because the moment that changed the world, continues to change our lives.

Today being Palm Sunday, we’re going to start by coming alive to Jesus’ life, which was above and beyond human understanding. I’m so glad you are here on this Palm Sunday because this is where we begin to experience the life-giving truth of Holy Week, of God’s power to transform each one of us. The life Jesus offers to you and to me is reason to celebrate! And it’s reason to respond to God’s open arms and invitation to draw near to Him.

The events of Palm Sunday, often referred to as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, are recorded in all four of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That’s a sure sign that this was very important day! It marked what we think of as the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross. But really, that journey began long before Palm Sunday! That journey began before He started His public ministry. It began even before He arrived here on Earth in that Bethlehem manger. Jesus’ purpose was part of a much bigger plan established before even the creation of the world. Jesus’ purpose went far above and beyond what the people there that original Palm Sunday knew.

Jesus’ journey wasn’t just about the immediate circumstances—it was about so much more. It would literally impact eternity from that moment on. His journey was not just about the earthly events in those dusty streets in Jerusalem that day—the true significance was in the spiritual realm. And while today marked a triumphal entry, Jesus’ journey was not about human approval or cooperation—it was one of obedience to the Father and fulfillment of His plan for redeeming the world.

As we look at the events that happened on that day in Jerusalem, I have three simple symbols to help us remember the meaning behind Palm Sunday.

These are all pretty common items, but they remind us of the uncommon journey of Jesus. They represent the ways He went above and beyond our understanding or abilities in order that we might come alive to His life.

Donkey

Take a look at this animal.

What do you think of when you see a donkey? Stubborn? That’s what they are known for. And when we think of Jesus making a triumphant entry into the Jewish holy city, it’s a logical question to ask: “Why a donkey?” It’s probably not what you or I would have chosen.

So at first glance, it might seem like Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was just a practical matter—He was tired of walking, and there just happened to be a donkey available nearby. Not a horse. Not a camel. They were all taken at the rent-a-beast. Just a donkey was available.

But here’s a piece of the story that often gets missed. The meaning of Jesus riding on the donkey went well above and beyond the immediate or the practical need. Even this detail—and this lowly animal—was part of God’s bigger plan.

You see, way back in Zechariah 9:9, in the Old Testament, there was a prophecy that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. Matthew quoted Zechariah when he wrote about Palm Sunday:

Matthew 21:1–7 (NLT)
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Beth-pha-gee on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

Jesus specifically wanted a donkey. What might seem to us like a small detail, or a practical solution to being tired of walking around all the time or sore feet from lousy sandals, was actually a specific fulfillment to a promise that was thousands of years old.

Take another look at this donkey. You have to admit, it’s kind of cute. But I wouldn’t go so far as calling it majestic or royal. The top Roman soldiers of Jesus’ day rode on fancy, majestic horses. Now those were a show of power and position. Those said power, strength, authority. The donkey? Not so much.

But while the donkey can represent the humility of Jesus, the ironic twist of the story is that by riding on this donkey, Jesus was also proclaiming that He was the Messiah, the King! He was owning that title. The dedicated Jews gathering in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover feast would have known this Old Testament prophecy.

So this simple act demonstrated a connection to the past by fulfilling the prophecy. And it also pointed to the future of Jesus as king—not an earthly king as some imagined, not just someone who would resolve the problem of that day, but as the true King who would reign forever in God’s story of redemption. The Messiah, whom the Jews had been waiting for throughout the centuries was here, riding on a donkey.

Palm Branch

Imagine you’ve loaded the family into the car. The kids cheer loudly because you are driving toward the ice cream store and they know it, and they can almost taste the sweet goodness. But surprise! You drive right past the ice cream store, all the way to the airport, and board a plane for Paris! The kids should be ecstatic, right? They are on a trip of a lifetime. But instead they are crushed. They were so looking forward to ice cream and you ruined it. It just wasn’t what they expected. It didn’t fit their idea of what should happen.

Okay, most of us don’t have a surprise trip to Europe in our back pocket. But this gives us a glimpse into what happened to Jesus’ followers on Palm Sunday. They were cheering with excitement. They thought their king had arrived! They could almost taste the victory as Jesus rode into town. Matthew continues….

Matthew 21:8–11 (NIV)
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The crowd cut palm branches, waved the branches which was a traditional symbol of victory. This is where we get the name Palm Sunday. The people spread their cloaks on the road for their new king like a red carpet showing His majesty. They shouted “Hosanna” which means save us. “Save us Son of David!” They could almost taste the sweet goodness of freedom. Finally—finally!—their Messiah, their rescuer had come. Finally, He was going to kick some Roman tail and overthrow their oppressors and set up the perfect kingdom for the Jews. Right?

Um, no. The crowd would soon discover that this king wasn’t what they expected. He wasn’t here to set up an earthly, political kingdom. Instead, He went above and beyond what the people imagined. He was a spiritual king, not an earthly one. And His victory—the ultimate victory over sin and death—would be more than freedom from their current oppression. It would be the victory that restored all of creation and made a way for every person to have a right relationship with God. In other words, He would defeat the oppression of their souls.

Now, there obviously were many people who approved of Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem. They were the ones cheering. Yet there were those who did not approve of Jesus, including the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus’ popularity. But none of them understood the magnitude of what Jesus was preparing to do. Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it. And John tells us so in….

John 12:16 (NIV)
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

What about you? What about us? What do we expect from Jesus this Easter? Because every Easter we should be expecting something. And are you prepared for His power and victory in your life to go above and beyond your expectations?

Rocks

Palm Sunday is really a snapshot that represents all of Jesus’ life: His love, His sacrifice, and  His commitment to a greater story, to God’s ultimate work. When He rode into Jerusalem, He didn’t arrive in order to raise more support or gain more approval. This was not a campaign rally where He was trying to make sure enough people liked Him to get elected. That wasn’t His goal. He knew what was coming. He knew in the coming days He would die on a cross.

Only days later, the same crowd that was shouting “Hosanna” (save us) would shout “Crucify Him” (kill him). And yet it didn’t change Jesus’ purpose or His actions. Jesus’ purpose was not dependent on human approval or praise. Jesus made this clear as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 19:37–40 (NIV)
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

So our last symbol is a rock. Now many of us have seen painted rocks, and I know many of you have owned a pet rock, but I’ve never heard stones actually cry out. That seems impossible.

But that was just His point—the importance of the day wasn’t about who sang praises and who kept quiet. It was about all of creation, which was in need of redemption; all of creation, which was held under the curse of sin and death. It was about all of creation, which would praise God, its own Creator, at work in such a significant way to lift the curse and make a way of restoration so that creation could experience all the ultimate good God originally intended.

Jesus’ purpose was not to be liked by a majority of people. It was to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His own life—so that everyone, all of creation, could worship God in freedom and in a new truth. Whether the people approved or disapproved, recognized or had no idea what was going on, Jesus’ purpose never changed. It was above and beyond earthly understanding.

Today, we have the privilege of hindsight. We see what the disciples did not. We know the end of the story. And so as we watch the events of Holy Week begin to unfold, right from the beginning we can come alive to Jesus’ life, which was dedicated to God’s ways—ways that are above and beyond our own. They were when Jesus entered Jerusalem that Palm Sunday and they still are today.

The words of Isaiah were appropriate then, and they are appropriate now:

Isaiah 55:8–9 (NLT)
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

There is no doubt that God is above and beyond us in every way. Yet, from above and beyond, God sent His son Jesus, to earth in a way we never would have imagined or planned or even chose. Jesus came to us in humility. He lived among us. He sacrificed everything because of obedience. Perhaps the most well-known verse of all tells us why:

John 3:16 (NIV) 
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus’ life purpose was to bring God’s love and life to the world. His love bridged the gap and provided a way for us to be in the holy presence of the God of the universe, to know Him and relate with Him. As Paul wrote, 

Ephesians 3:12 (NIV)
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If you are here today wondering what this journey of Holy Week means for you, don’t miss God’s invitation. He loves each and every one of us and invites us on the journey not just through Holy Week, but into relationship with Him. Because what was once impossible, because we were separated from God by sin and death, is now possible when we come alive to the life of Jesus. Because of what Jesus did, we can respond as the writer of Hebrews directed:

Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I don’t know about you, but I believe we are in a time of need all the time. Sometimes we need saved from our own doings, sometimes from other’s doings, but all the time from the sin of this world and death that comes with it.

Today, come alive to Jesus’ life. Choose Jesus to be a part of your life every day. Whether you have never invited Him into your life or you have been a Christian for many years, choose Jesus every day. If we allow Him to be a part of lives every day, not just on holidays or when we are flat on our faces, only then will we experience the true freedom and the full life God has for us.

Just as Jesus entered that busy city thousands of years ago and entered into the final stages of His work on earth, let’s invite Him to enter our hearts and lives completely. Let’s shout praises of “Hosanna” for the Messiah King that He is, but also let’s join Him in humility and obedience. With our eyes open and our hearts full of gratitude, let’s join Him in God’s ultimate work of restoration. No we can’t do what Jesus did, but we can share the healing of what He has done and the true life with everyone around us.

And as we continue our journey through Holy Week, next let’s prepare to come alive to Jesus’ sacrifice through His death on Good Friday, and then prepare to celebrate the power of the resurrection so we can discover what it means to truly come alive on Easter Sunday.

Let’s pray.

Father God, Thank you for sending Jesus just for us. Thank you that you had this plan to save us from the very beginning. Never have you planned to be separated from us. Thank you that you go above and beyond to save us. We want you to be a part of our lives every day. Please come into our hearts, maybe for the first time, maybe for the 100th time. And please forgive us for when we have chosen to separate ourselves from you. Help us to put our focus on you every day, to see you, to know you and to obey your will, for there is no way our own wills are anywhere close to the beautiful plans you have for us. And Father, thank you that we know the end of your story, and therefore can move now to be closer to you. In the power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray these things, Amen.