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Coats & Palm Branches

Our reading for Palm Sunday is from Mark 11:1-11.  Jesus had just stayed with friends in Bethany and was making his final trip into Jerusalem.  As they neared Bethphage, about two miles from Jerusalem, he sent his disciples to get a colt from the village.  He rode the colt into the city of Jerusalem, greeted by a large crowd waiving palm branches and shouting Hosanna!  On the surface, what a strange story.  We need to look at the deeper meaning behind these things to really understand what is happening.

Jesus asked for a donkey that had never been ridden and this little detail is packed full of symbolism.  At the time horses were only ridden for war, so when a king rode into the city on a donkey, it was a sign of peace.  Jesus was reminding the people that he was coming in peace, not to start a war with the Roman occupiers.  When Solomon entered Jerusalem to be crowned as the third king, he rode in on his father King David's donkey.  It was a sign of the continuation of the royal line.  Jesus rode a donkey that had never been ridden before, demonstrating that his rule had no predecessor.  In addition this fulfilled the prophecy of Zachariah in Zachariah 9:9 where he said the messiah would ride into Jerusalem riding on a donkey as a humble king of peace.

The symbolism was not missed on the crowd, and since Jesus was already loved by the people, they responded to him as their king.  As he entered the city people laid down their prayer shawls like a red carpet.  The people of Jerusalem had done this once before on the day Jehu was proclaimed king.  Jehu destroyed Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, who had tried to kill the prophet Elijah.  The people hoped that Jesus would respond by freeing them from the similarly oppressive forces in their lives.

They waived palm branches in the air as a greeting.  The palm was a sacred symbol in both Jewish and Greek cultures.  It was a sign of victory, providence, and eternal life.  In the Jewish mind it reminded them of Sukkot, the festival of booths.  Each day of the festival they would parade around the city with fresh cut palm branches and they made little booths or tents to live in out of them.  The festival was a reminder that they once wandered the desert, but God gave them a home and provided for them.  The people were welcoming the King to his home, and hoping he would return their home to them from their oppressors. It was a sign of celebration and victory, as well as a wish for an eternal rule to the line of King David.

They called out to him "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God's name! Blessed the coming Kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in highest heaven!"  If any doubt was left to what the people were asking of Jesus it should end here.  Hosanna is a word that is a desperate plea for salvation, it means "save me, please!".  They were begging for salvation, proclaiming him king, and looking forward to the continuation of the line of King David.

After this amazing entry they were expecting a clash with the Roman government and the religious rulers; but instead, the scriptures tell us that Jesus entered the Temple, looked around, and then left to spend the night in Bethany.  Talk about false hype...the people must have been devastated, their hopes crushed in this anticlimactic moment. If you ever wondered how a week later they could call for his crucifixion, the answer is found in this moment.   Hurt people hurt people.

Do you ever find yourself frustrated with your current situation?  Looking around for hope and wondering why God isn't doing anything?  Can you imagine seeing your savior walk into the center of oppressive power and then walking out to go spend time with his friends?  Would you feel crushed?  Do you feel crushed? Remember that the story didn't end here, the victory battle is next week.


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