Why We Celebrate Palm Sunday-John 12:12-19

The Christian church celebrates Palm Sunday the Sunday before Easter every year, but what exactly are we celebrating? Is this just a mindless ritual we reenact every year, or is there a meaning to it? In John 12:12-19, we find the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration which would result in His crucifixion. As He enters the city, we find a great crowd of Jews coming out to meet Him carrying palm branches. Why palm branches, what is so special about palm branches? The palm branch was used as the national symbol of Israel, and they were carried in the procession celebrating Israel’s independence gained during the Maccabean rebellion in 141 BC. The palm branch symbolized victory. We also find the crowd crying out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This is a quote of Psalm 118:26, which was a messianic Psalm and also a Psalm of thanksgiving for victory given to Israel. The word hosanna, in fact, literally means “salvation now” or “victory now”. When we combine all of these things, we discover what was really going on this “Palm Sunday”. Israel here believes that Jesus is the Messiah (quoting Psalm 118 about Him), that He is going to bring victory (the use of palm branches), and that victory will be given now (hosanna). Does this mean that Israel is now saved? Not quite. The Old Testament presents two “pictures” of Messiah, one as a conquering king who would come in the clouds with great power and glory and make all the “nations” bow at his feet (Daniel 7), and another as a suffering servant who would suffer for his people (Isaiah 53). Israel here believes in Jesus as the conquering king who has come to give them victory over Roman oppression, but that is not why Jesus came. He did not come as the conquering king, but as the suffering servant, as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus himself tells them this by his means of entrance. He does not come on a stallion with great pomp as a conquering king, but on a donkey, an animal associated with peace and humility, rather than war and power. Israel wanted Messiah, but they wanted Him on their terms, and when He did not come as they wanted, they rejected Him. This is plainly seen shortly afterward, for when Jesus emerges from His meeting with “Rome” (in the form of Pilate), He does not emerge with Pilate’s head on a platter, but as a prisoner in chains. When they see He is not the conquering king who will give victory over the Romans, they quickly turn from honoring Him as king to shouting “crucify Him” (John 19:15). So was Israel right, did Jesus not bring “victory now”, are we wrong in crying hosanna on Palm Sunday? The answer is no to both, for Jesus did bring victory, just not the type of victory Israel wanted or expected. He brought victory not over Rome, but over an enemy far more deadly and insidious, He brought victory over sin, and this is what we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Palm branches are used to celebrate victory, and we bring them on Palm Sunday to celebrate the victory which the “suffering servant” brought to us 2000 years ago, the victory He has given us over sin. But this is not all that we celebrate on Palm Sunday, we not only celebrate a victory already accomplished, but also a victory still to come. For we celebrate not only in thanks for the victory already given, but also in faith toward the victory still to come, in faith toward the day when Jesus does come as conquering king, toward the day when all nations will bow at His feet, when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). But that is not all we look forward to on Palm Sunday, for we also look forward to another victory, to our full and final victory over sin and death (the last “enemy” to be defeated), to the time when “a great multitude that no one could count , from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding PALM BRANCHES in their hands, And they cried out in a loud voice “salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). So we see that Palm Sunday is not just a mindless tradition or a meaningless ritual, it is a celebration of victory, victory over sin, a victory which was “won” in the past, is being “won” day by day as we grow in Christ, and will be “won” fully and finally when we stand before the throne, free from sin and death for all eternity, victorious in Christ.

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