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The Problem With Palm Sunday

• Dan Kent

This sermon narrates how Jesus was proclaimed as the Jewish Messiah by the people as they laid palm leaves as he entered Jerusalem. This is contrasted with their condemnation of Jesus to death, and it asks why they made this radical shift. Why did they adore him on Sunday and seek his crucifixion within the same week? These insights will open our eyes to what Jesus was doing, and what he is now doing in our world.

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In this sermon, Dan Kent provides an introduction into the experience of Palm Sunday. This day remembers how Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week while riding a donkey. God’s people laid down palm branches to pave the way for Jesus to enter into the city. This was a way of announcing Jesus as God’s Messiah, the one that they hoped would deliver them from the oppression of the Roman Empire.

The Israelites believed that they were God’s chosen people, but they had been subjugated under the thumb of pagan rulers. Many had lost their faith because they had been under oppression for so long. A remnant held on to the hope that God would liberate them from this rule, deliver them from bondage, defeat their foes and restore God’s people to their rightful place.

There were rumors of Jesus and what he was doing as he traveled the villages around Israel. He was healing the sick, feeding the poor and he had even raised someone from the dead. The crowd heard that he was coming to Jerusalem for Passover. They had even heard that he affirmed how he was the “Son of David,” a title given to the coming Messiah.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the frenzy grew as the crowd became excited about the hope that Jesus offered. They laid the palm leaves on the ground before him and they proclaimed “Hosanna” which means “Save us now!” This act fulfilled a prophesy from Zechariah 9:9, which reads:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you; righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But less than a week later, after all of this excitement, the people turned and screamed that Jesus should be crucified. This is the problem of Palm Sunday. What occurred that caused these people to shift from one extreme to the other, from joyous praise to utter rejection?

The basic answer is that Jesus did not give the people what they wanted in a Messiah. They wanted him to liberate them from Rome, just like Moses had liberated their ancestors from Egypt. Instead, he taught them to love their enemies and “turn the cheek.” How could he defeat Rome with such tactics? Barabbas had been arrested for trying to lead a rebellion against Rome, and when Pilate brought Barabbas and Jesus before the crowds and asked who should be released, they chose Barabbas. He fit the bill for what they wanted more than Jesus did.

Jesus definitely fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, but he failed to fulfill the following verse, where the Messianic king was supposed to break the power of their enemy. And on the surface, this is what the facts point to because he died. However, the resurrection changes all of this. We can only understand Palm Sunday if we look at it through the eyes of the resurrection. Jesus was proclaiming his kingship, but his is a different kind of kingdom. And to be a part of this kingdom means that we will seek to embrace the contrasting ways of Jesus. Instead of violent revolution, Jesus calls us to peaceful resistance. Instead of hatred of those who harm us, we are to love. Instead of lording over others, we are to serve them.

To work this out in our lives there are two things to consider. First, we must pursue anti-fragile faith. The Israelites had connected their faith to an outcome that they expected, and when their expectations were not met, they lost their faith. We should never hitch our faith to circumstances that we experience in the world. We must only connect our faith to God’s character and his promises; only he is faithful.

Secondly, it is important to be explicit about our faith. Jesus was overt about what he was doing. God did not merely announce what it meant to be in God’s kingdom. He put his own “skin in the game.” He demonstrated the life of the kingdom, and he made it obvious that he was doing so. In the same way, our faith is best lived explicitly, when we make overt choices to live in distinct ways that stand in contrast to our culture.

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Topics: Faith, Non-Violence, Power

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Focus Scripture:

  • Mark 11:1-11

    When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said, and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple, and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem With Palm Sunday

  1. Jerry says:

    Dan, thanks – scatter crutches great thought

    The crowd – from adoration to contempt reminded me of something Matthew commented a while back.

    “According to Rene Girard, the whole scriptural story is about moving from the often violent, very archaic narrative we find in the Hebrew Bible to the pinnacle of God´s revelation in the non-violent, all-loving, ever merciful Jesus Christ. It is a slow unveiling, if you will, that takes a lot of time but it is a very important unveiling.”

    Interestingly here, in the case of the crowd, the opposite flow direction.

    My two cents response!

  2. Jerry says:

    Dan, thank you for a very insightful message Sunday and I agree that we as followers of Jesus need to get serious about putting some skin in our walk with him. We have been way to enamored with our cultural status and have been unwilling to renew our minds daily to the Kingdom of God, which is our reasonable service. Because we cannot be transformed until we are will to stop being conformed. At some point we have to come to the point where enough is enough and stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the Principalities and Powers that we wrestle with daily.

    My only hiccup in the message was when you compared the crowd that was shouting “Hosana!” on Sunday with the crowd that was shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday and saying they were the same crowd and saying how fickle they were to go from one extreme to another.

    I believe that the crowd shouting, “Hosanna!! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” was in fact the group of Galilean Jews who had been following Jesus for the last two weeks as he was moving towards Jerusalem. They knew something was fixing to happen, they knew Jesus was about to become the Messiah, but they were expecting it in a different way and when Jesus was arrested, not only his close disciples went into hiding, but most of these Galilean Jews went into hiding out of fear of the unknown.

    The group that was crying out, “Crucify him!!” on Friday was the complicit Scribes, Pharisee’s, Sadducees and probably some of the Herodians who were in danger of losing their privileged status if Jesus continued to rock the boat. This was a well-orchestrated mob and a mob under the sway of an evil spirit is one of the most dangerous factions known to humanity.

    Well, that is the way that I see it anyway. Thank you for a very good message!!

    Jerry Lewis
    Durant, Oklahoma

    1. Dan says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Jerry-from-Oklahoma.

      You might be right about the two different crowds. And of course there were probably scribes and Jewish leaders piling on to the humiliation at the time of Pilate’s offer.

      Me, I think either (1) they were, largely, the same crowd, or (2) it doesn’t matter.

      I say (2) because, since even Jesus’s closest disciples scattered, I have a hard time believing the group of Galilean Jews were somehow more loyal.

      Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write your thoughts.

      Dan Kent

  3. Dan says:

    Cool, Jerry. I will check that out after our pastors’ meeting!

    Dan Kent

  4. John says:

    Dan, You are becoming very clear and even entertaining as a speaker. You have become explicit with your thoughts which makes your opinion on the subject worth active listening.

  5. Dan says:

    Thanks for taking the time to say that, John. I appreciate it.

    Dan Kent

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