Palm Sunday can sound like a joyous celebration if we tell the story a certain way. There’s a big crowd waving palm branches, shouting “hosanna.” Jesus rides in on a donkey—his triumphal entry. Then, we get our kids to relay the scene on stage at church. It’s cute and fun and we all leave feeling like we just participated in something historical. But we missed one major part of the story… Jesus weeping.
That’s right. After this huge, spontaneous celebration erupts in his honor, Jesus sobs.
There must have been something going on behind the scenes that we didn’t catch. It most likely has to do with Jesus seeing straight through to people’s hearts and motives—because he is always doing that.
So, let’s retell the story and see where we went wrong.
The route Jesus took, the donkey he rode, the season of Passover… all of these details pointed to one thing: Jesus is the Messiah.
- The Mount of Olives is the predicted location for the Messiah’s appearance (Zech. 14:4-5).
- Oftentimes, kings would procure donkeys to ride into a city—a sign of humble authority.
- Passover celebrates the Israelites freedom from slavery in Egypt…
and the Jews deeply desired to be freed from Rome by a messiah, or savior.
So, the crowd (who has been ready to thrust Jesus into a throne for quite some time) worship him like a king. The disciples lay down their cloaks, making the modern-day equivalent of a red carpet. The crowd makes a huge, political spectacle by waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna.” They want a revolt. They want Jesus to rise up and overthrow the Roman government. And they are going to be thoroughly disappointed.
THE RELIGIOUS RULERS
These men have been rolling their eyes at Jesus since the first day of his ministry. When their rules and guidelines are challenged by Jesus, they never stop to consider if their ideology is wrong. Instead, they are disgusted by Jesus’ rise to popularity, especially among the sick, poor, and outsiders.
This day is a little different, though.
Passover often stirred up strong political hopes in common people. In the past, thousands of traveling Jews crowded the streets of Jerusalem leading to tension and revolts. Once, Archelaus unleashed his troops during Passover, killing 3,000 people (First Century Study Bible Notes). Rome did not appreciate the uproar.
The religious rulers are afraid of this happening again. Surely, Rome would be furious of Jesus’ Messianic claims. So, they yell to Jesus:
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”— Luke 19:39
Basically: Tell these people to stop calling you the Messiah! But Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus says:
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”— Luke 19:40
It’s true. Jesus claims to be the Messiah. And even if the people didn’t proclaim it, the earth would. So, the religious rulers believe they have no other choice than to capture him and turn him into the Roman authorities.
JESUS + AGENDAS
Next, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he begins to weep.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” — Luke 19:41-44
Here, we see Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. He was very aware that 1) he was not going to fulfill the crowd’s Messianic hopes and that 2) these hopes would turn to violence. That’s exactly what happened in AD 66-73.
Both the crowd and the Pharisees are applying their agendas to Jesus. The crowd wants the Messiah to be a strong, powerful war leader. The Pharisees want the Messiah to be like them—perfect, set apart, and untouchable. Neither have it figured out.
Jesus is a strong, powerful savior. He is also perfect and set apart. But he doesn’t save the world through violence or requiring people to reach his standards. Jesus touches the sick, eats dinner with sinners, and allows himself to be beaten and murdered. He is the opposite of everyone’s expectations.
So, he weeps. Because of the Jew’s agendas, they cannot see him for who he is, and they kill him for it.
I find it somewhat ironic when we wave palm branches at church. The last thing I want to be is a person in the crowd on that day, seeking after my own idea of who Jesus is. So, let’s use Palm Sunday as a reminder to evaluate ourselves. As we approach Good Friday, I encourage you to examine your expectations of God.
Here are a few questions I’m asking myself:
Is there any expectation I have of God that, if left unfulfilled, would challenge who I believe Him to be?
Do I envision Jesus being proud of me for following all the rules, even at the cost of loving others?
Would I follow Jesus into dark alleys and dilapidated neighborhoods to care for others?
Do I picture Jesus agreeing with all my political stances? Why?
Do I expect Jesus to always destroy my enemies to keep me safe?
Who do I believe Jesus to be—while he is flipping tables, touching lepers, being beaten, and even dead?
and most importantly: WHO DOES JESUS SAY THAT HE IS?
We will never know…
…if we would be a part of the crowd that would worship Jesus one day and crucify him the next. But we can know if we are willing to spend our lives seeking him for who he is, and not who we want him to be.