I have never really grasped the significance of Palm Sunday. I vaguely remember some paper palm branches in Sunday School as a kid, and even a few real ones during a church service. At least, I was pretty sure they were real.
But a story about a bunch of people who were excited to see Jesus? That doesn’t seem so unusual. Weren’t there 5,000 people at some of His sermons? There has to be more to Palm Sunday than that.
Palm Sunday (the first one)
It must have felt like their centuries-long thirst for deliverance was over. The people of God had waited and waited and waited for relief from foreign oppressors, and things were — finally — looking promising.
Now they had a miracle worker who could feed thousands of people with one boy’s lunch. He could stop storms and heal lepers, and rumors circulated that he had even raised one of his friends from the dead.
Surely the Romans couldn’t stop a man like this.
Here He was, entering their holy city, the seat of power for their long-ago kings. This must be it. The time had finally arrived. “Hosanna!” they shouted, lining the street with their own clothes and those palm branches (real ones). “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
The Jewish leaders had tried to silence the radical, but He had countered their every argument and bested them at every turn. As they watched the crowds praising Jesus of Nazareth as King, the leaders turned to each other in defeat. “You see that you are gaining nothing,” they said. “Look, the world has gone after him.”
Palm Sunday was more than just excited commoners hailing a local celebrity. The Jewish people were welcoming Jesus as their prophesied King — their Messiah.
It appears humans have a long history of pinning hopes on political outcomes. If only we could get so-and-so in office or pass such-and-such legislation. If only the case would come before the right judge.
Or maybe we set our sights on culture and the world of media and entertainment. If we could only finance more family-friendly TV shows. Or if some celebrity could lend their voice to our cause — think how much we could accomplish then!
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We claim Jeremiah 29:11 and wait for circumstances to shift in favor of our ambitions.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” Jesus said. We watch the news reports from Myanmar or Syria and read the headlines about shootings and other horrible injustices — and we wonder where this peace is hiding.
But our motives are good, right? We want to make the world a better place. We want to help those who are suffering and speak up for justice. So, we put our plans in motion and wait for God to bless our efforts. And why wouldn’t He? Doesn’t He see how brilliant our ideas are?
Five days after that climactic Jerusalem entrance, the King hung nailed to a wooden beam. No more palm branches. Crowds had shouted His royalty days earlier; now people were screaming for His blood. The temple curtain tore, the earth shook, the sky darkened, and the King of the Jews took His last breath.
Why didn’t Jesus take the throne in Jerusalem? Why didn’t He free Israel from their enemies, granting their political dreams and immediately ending so many injustices?
Quite simply, He had a better plan.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus had told His disciples hours before His arrest. Now the Life was dead. The disciples locked themselves behind a closed door. What else could they do?
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the time between Jesus’ last breath and His resurrection, but I think we need to sit there for a minute. What would we be thinking if our biggest hopes, dreams, plans and strategies — that had looked so promising a week ago — were dashed before our eyes?
A promised victory
Of course, the disciples didn’t stay in that locked room. Three days after the earth shook and the sky became like night in the middle of the day, their King rose from His grave.
The religious leaders had tried to silence Him. The Romans had tried to end Him. Even the people had cheered for what looked like His failure. But none of their plans or attempts could stand in God’s way.
Jesus has power over every enemy we will ever face, and it is because of His victory that we can have hope no matter what we endure. Our own plans and strategies aren’t going to save us. Our best efforts will sometimes fail, and even the attempts that seem to work out will never be a permanent fix. No matter how polished or ingenious our ideas might be, they can’t promise us victory.
But no worries. Despite COVID, racial and political tension, senseless shootings and damaging legislation, God will be victorious, just as He always has been. It may not look like we expected, but Jesus will win.
He has a better plan.
Copyright 2021 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.