Opening Prayer: Almighty and Everlasting God, you who sent your Son in our likeness, to become King of the World, to inherit the nations of the earth, grant us your Spirit now, your kingly Spirit, your Spirit of wisdom and discernment which is able to judge the difficult things of life. Give us this royal and kingly Spirit now, that we might be instructed and filled with all knowledge and wisdom that we may be equipped to rule in our homes and communities as sons and daughters of the King. For we prayer in the mighty name of King Jesus, and Amen!
Today is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the first day of Holy Week. While Lent is the season that looks forward to and prepares for the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is also fitting to consider our own lives our weakness and our need for continual repentance. In this final week, we turn our full attention to last days of Jesus before His death and resurrection. Our lessons today point to the fact that what we are celebrating in this week is not the defeat of Jesus but rather the triumph of Jesus. While we remember that it was for our sins that Jesus died and that he did truly suffer for us, we must remember too that he went willingly for the joy that was set before him. What was this joy that Jesus foresaw? It was the joy of enthronement, the joy of kingship (Is. 45:22-23, Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus came to save the world, in order that the world might swear allegiance to Him.
The Mount of Olives
This is the not the first time in Scripture that a king has come down the Mount of Olives, been greeted by crowds proclaiming his kingship, and entered the city of Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 15ff records the flight of David after Absalom’s rebellion, and David’s subsequent return following the battle. While we know that David left the city barefoot and weeping (15:30), the circumstantial evidence points to the fact that David rode a donkey back into the city (2 Sam. 16:2). Jesus is not unaware of this story and historical significance. Entering Jerusalem like David after his rejection, underlines Jesus’ own rejection. Sure there are plenty of people greeting him, wishing him well, but there are probably just as many fair-weather friends as there are loyal subjects. The chief priests and Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus (Jn. 11:53, 12:10). And we know (and the disciples should know) that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die. The whole scene is full of irony: the people are proclaiming Jesus their king and we know all along that he’s going to be killed in a few days. Riding down Mount of Olives on a donkey is thus a symbol of a rejected King, of treason. Jesus is in effect saying, “I am David whom you have rejected.” And in the parallel accounts we know that at least some of the people recognized Jesus as the “son of David” (e.g. Mt. 21:9).
Why do the people begin cutting down leafy branches and in particular “palm branches” (Jn. 12:13)? This is not a random ritual; it was originally instituted by Yahweh for the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths (Lev. 23:40). This seven day feast was an annual mandatory camping trip for all of Israel to remind them of their sojourn in the wilderness before they were given permanent homes (Lev. 23:43). The Feast took place at the end of the harvest of bread and wine (Dt. 16:13-15). The people were specifically required to “rejoice before Yahweh your God for seven days” (Lev. 23:40). Nehemiah picks this same feast back up when the city of Jerusalem is being rebuilt (Neh. 8:13ff). We are told there that Israel had not celebrated this feast for some 900 years (8:17). It is also explained that that the branches were cut down for the purpose of making the booths in which they were to live for the week (8:15). Again, the feast is kept with “great gladness” (8:17). The Feast of Booths was a reminder of when they had no permanent home or land, and it is celebrated at the end of the harvest of the produce of their permanent land. Every time they reaped the produce of the land, God reminded them of when they had no land. Thus the Feast of Booths is a celebration of the Promised Land, of permanent blessings, of harvest, of home and peace and completion, of dwelling in the land securely. But why would the people begin this pseudo-Feast of Booths right before Passover (Jn. 12:1)?
Booths and Resurrection
The clue seems to be in the commentary in John following this event. John tells us that these crowds accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem are doing so because of the fact that He had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Many of them were witness of the fact that Jesus had raised Lazarus up, and John says that they “continued to bear him witness” (12:17). They were going out to meet him because he had performed a resurrection. The key seems to be found in Amos 9. There Yahweh promises the utter annihilation of Israel. He will hunt them in every way and in every place until they are completely destroyed (9:1-4ff). But in 9:11 the writer suddenly declares that “in that day” Yahweh will raise up the “booth of David.” Where did these people come from? Who are these people? This is Israel raised from the dead. That is the only explanation. If Israel is utterly destroyed and killed, the only explanation is resurrection. And now if Lazarus has been raised, then this David, this son of David is Yahweh come to rebuild the Booth of David. And if he’s building a “booth” he needs leafy branches and palm branches for the job. The irony of course is that for Israel to be raised, Israel must die. Lazarus was a foreshadowing of things to come, but Jesus himself is Israel. And therefore Jesus will be the one the Father utterly destroys, and in so doing, the booth of David will be rebuilt, and Israel will be planted in the land forever, to continually enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Conclusion & Application
We are celebrating this same reality today. This is the God that we serve. We serve King Jesus who has come in our place, to secure our place. He is the son of David who has been betrayed. He has been driven from the city, and he was even killed. But this could never have been the end of the story because the Word of God cannot be broken. Our King has come to give himself for us that he might be given the Name that is above every name that at his name every knee should bow and every tongue swear allegiance to the glory of God the Father. We are called to faithful allegiance.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Almighty and merciful Lord, give us loyal hearts as we celebrate your triumph in Jerusalem. And give us courage to face whatever cross you give us believing with full assurance that you will not leave us in the grave but raise us up and plant us in the land.