Palm Sunday: Jesus is the One!
Bible Background and Lesson Objectives
The story of Palm Sunday is found in slightly different versions in all four Gospels. Most of the Writing Team's Palm Sunday Lessons focus on Luke's account because it includes Jesus' key encounter with the complaints of the Pharisees and his response that God will make the stones cry out. Two of the lessons compare the four versions. One of the lessons has the kids reworking Matthew's version which includes the use of palms in the story. And the Drama lesson looks at Psalm 118, which describes the king processing through a crowd toward the Temple and was very likely on Jesus' mind as he rode into town that day.
There are some interesting differences between the four Gospels on this story:
Matthew 21:1-11 (includes the palms, doesn't include the stones)
Mark 11:1-10 (no mention of Zechariah's prophecy)
Luke 19:28-44 (includes Pharisee telling them to be quiet, and Jesus' reply that stones will shout, but doesn't mention palms and doesn't use the word "Hosanna.")
John 12:12-19 (mentions people greeting Jesus with palms before he gets on the donkey)
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!' 'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'" Luke 19: 39-40
"As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:41-42 (This is the memory verse for the computer workshop.)
- Be able to locate the story in their Bible and know that it is found in slightly different versions in all four Gospels.
- Know that Jesus came to Jerusalem along with thousands of others to celebrate the Jewish Passover, and that he knew it would lead to confrontation over his identity and mission.
- Know that the "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem begins the Holy Week in which he would be arrested, tried, and crucified for his claim to be the Messiah, The One sent by God to save his people.
- Understand that the shout, "Hosanna," (which means, "Save us!")—is what all people ask of God, but as the story tells us, Jesus had a different idea about what kind of "saving" the people needed. Jesus is God's answer to that prayer and plea.
- Understand Palm Sunday as an opportunity to decide whether you are part of his parade or not. Whether you step forward with cloaks, palms and shouts of Hosanna to claim Jesus as your saving king, or fade into the crowd, or walk away disappointed that Jesus isn't what you expected. As the Cooking Workshop puts it: "do you have a 'heart' of palm" or are you just waving at the parade.
What Palm Sunday is all about
On Palm Sunday, Jesus initiates the final confrontation with Jerusalem's authorities that will lead to his death. Up until this point, he had been operating in the countryside, and staying away from declarative statements or definitive acts that would definitely announce his kingship. Up until this Sunday, the miracles and the statements were all open to interpretation, and he occasionally asked people to keep quiet about it, because it was not time. But on THIS SUNDAY it is finally time. Jesus tells his disciples to go get a donkey so that he can ride it into Jerusalem—like Solomon did, and as Zechariah 9:9 prophesied the future king like David would do.
Jesus knows the symbolism would not be lost on his followers or the authorities.
I am the One. Here comes your King. Choose.
The four Gospel accounts not only draw on a historical action by Jesus, but connect it to two Old Testament passages which surely were on the hearts and minds of his followers, his detractors, and Jesus himself that day.
Zechariah 9:9 prophecies the coming of a king who is "just" and would bring salvation. But Zechariah also declares this king will be humble—and to prove it, he will come riding a donkey (instead of a chariot or warhorse). How is it, then, that the learned Priests completely dismissed Jesus' claim? Books have been written about that, but it is fair to say that they feared a Messiah not under their control, and one who seemingly was uninterested in supporting their position, the Temple, or have the power to throw the Romans out.
Psalm 118, taught in the Drama workshop, describes the One who must push past his enemies to enter God's courts with thanksgiving, trusting God with his life.
Jesus knows he is riding into a complex situation and troubled city. Perhaps this is why Luke recalls him weeping after the parade. In Luke, Jesus answers their shouts of Hosanna ("save us!"), by crying, "they don't know what makes for (real) peace." ...but he continues on his mission to forgive them, even if, as Jesus says, they don't really understand what peace is.
How dangerous was his mission at this point? Very dangerous. Indeed, that's what the Pharisees that day are warning him about, according to Luke (a detail Matthew and Mark do not share.)
There had been previous rebellions and riots which the Roman army had put down (and there would be more).
There were political factions seeking the upper hand, and zealots hoping to instigate a rebellion. Every Jew looked to the day when a new king would come and rescue them, and there had been failed "messiahs" before.
Along comes Jesus, --who obviously does not meet their criteria for the kind of king or Messiah who could lead a revolution, and is definitely not a Pharisee. So he must be silenced one way or another to keep what "peace" existed in Jerusalem. If only they knew what made for peace, Jesus says in Luke, (real "Hosanna," real saving).
Reflecting on the meaning of Palm Sunday for us today
Palm Sunday is a point of decision for Jesus, for the crowd, and for us.
Thousands of pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and still come to our churches today. Jesus had been there before, ...but never like this—never riding like a king.
Is he your king? —or not?
Are you willing to shout aloud that you need him to save you? (Hosanna" means "Save us now!")
Do you understand what kind of "saving" this Messiah is talking about?
Do you have a heart of palm, of thanksgiving and peace?
...or are you just there for the show?
It is easy to follow Jesus until he makes plain his claim to be The One, the Promised Messiah. Up until Palm Sunday, it was easy to think of him as just a wonderful teacher and healer. But will you follow this Messiah when you discover he's going to the cross instead of the throne? Peter himself had trouble with that, and Judas. It would take the miracle of the resurrection to change their minds otherwise.
We long for a powerful leader, and it would be so much easier to have a geographical Kingdom, rather than a "spiritual" one, ...or so we think. "If only they knew the things which make for peace," Jesus cries. If only WE knew. -and we can, if we listen.
Thank God we do know. Thank God Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
He's The One comes to rule a Kingdom of the Heart instead of soldiers. He's not about force, but forgiveness.
He's The One who wants to lead by example, not by threats and armies.
It's messy. It's time-consuming. It's about transformation. But that's Jesus.
God, save us—from our preconceived notions about you. Save us from our desire for easy answers, mere "shows" of support, and desire quick solutions. Help us to see the humble Messiah riding before us, and follow him where he leads—for he is The One who says, "Thy will be done" ...and then does it all the way from the parade to the cross.
Written by Rev. Neil MacQueen with contributions from Virginia Colvig
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