Preparing for Palm Sunday Without Church

This week churches all over the world will not be celebrating Palm Sunday the normal way. We won’t gather together with songs or palm leaves like we did in the tiny Methodist church I grew up in. Instead we will be in our homes glued to our screens watching our worship services online.

Some churches have made their services like a drive-in theater. That’s pretty cool. Still, this will be a very different Sunday before Easter. In fact, with the craziness of schools and businesses closing, I almost forgot that this Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Did you forget too?

Palm Sunday Praise and Pleas

The last two weeks I’ve written about finding peace in a pandemic, and worshiping Jesus through serving others, but this week and probably in the rest of the posts to come I don’t want to focus on the problems of the world. Instead, I hope to focus our eyes on King Jesus. The best way to fight a battle or discover peace in the storm is to worship and pray, and that my friends is exactly what was happening thousand of years ago as Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the first and last time.

We call it Palm Sunday because the people waved Palm branches and threw their cloaks on the ground as a makeshift red carpet. On that day the people worshiped the man they believed would take all their troubles away.

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

John 12: 12-16 NIV

Why Palm Branches?

The disciples would later realize all that happened to Jesus had been prophesied. One of those prophecies was in Psalm 118. This Psalm holds the reason why they waved Palm branches. Have you ever wondered why they were doing this? I always assumed their actions honored a king, but so much more was happening than what I learned in Sunday School.

My friend, Maureen, always helps me read the New Testament with Jewish eyes. (Don’t you love friends who help you grow in the Lord?) She taught me that the crowd’s actions resembled their tradition during the celebration of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. This feast commemorated their escape from Egypt (Leviticus 23:33-44).

The Lord had instructed his people to live in small huts during the week of Sukkot to remember their forty year journey in the desert where God dwelt with them. The roofs of the huts were covered with Palm branches. The people would carry their palm branches to the Temple at the end of the feast just as the people carried and waved palm branches when Jesus arrived.

Celebration of God with them

Though Jesus’ triumphal entry occurred in the spring, and the Feast of the Tabernacles is celebrated in the fall, many believe the palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna” symbolized the belief that Messiah (God) had come to dwell with them again just as he had in the desert. Their actions symbolized their belief that Jesus was God.

The words the people cried out as Jesus entered the city were actually Psalm 118. This psalm is recited each day of the Feast of the Tabernacles. Read these verses:

“O Lord, save us (Hosanna); O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”

Psalm 118:25-27 NIV

What Hosanna Really Means

But the people weren’t just worshiping Jesus. They were begging Him to change their world. The word Hosanna means save. The people were actually crying out to Jesus:

“Save us, Jesus!”

“Save us, Messiah!”

If you do a deep word study, you’ll find this meaning, but I learned this at a Seder (Passover) meal. Our host reenacted this scene with such desperation I could no longer see Palm Sunday as a moment of praise. The people were begging Jesus to save them from the oppression of Roman Rule.

It’s always good to read other translations. The Complete Jewish Bible is one of my favorites:

Please, Adonai! Save us!
Please, Adonai! Rescue us!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai.
We bless you from the house of Adonai.
27 Adonai is God, and he gives us light.
Join in the pilgrim festival with branches
all the way to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I thank you.
You are my God; I exalt you.
29 Give thanks to Adonai; for he is good,
for his grace continues forever.

Psalm 118: 25-29 CJB

Jesus Came to Bring Peace on Palm Sunday

Just as God had brought them out of Egypt and to the Promise Land, the people begged for a land of their own. Jesus, however, didn’t ride into town that day on a strong, white horse–the symbol of war. He rode on a colt. This was the sign of peace. As He rode through Jerusalem, the people were begging Him to be their savior, their physical savior who would free them from oppression. But Jesus clearly demonstrated His intent. He would bring peace.He did not come to make war but to bring peace.

A great article written by Dr. Brant Prite explains that Jesus’s ride through Jerusalem on a donkey was also prophecy lived out before the begging crowd. Zechariah had proclaimed:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, 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.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River[a] to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

Zechariah 9: 9-10

Jesus did bring a peace greater than the crowds could comprehend.. Their request was temporary. His actions were eternal. He knew full well that each step toward this city was one more step to His last breath as a man on this earth and peace for the world.

Disappointed with God?

Have you been asking Jesus to save you from something, and it seems He is riding a donkey of peace rather than a white horse? I know many of us are praying for this virus to disappear, a vaccine discovered, and our lives restored to normal.

Take heart. Even if His actions do not seem an answer to your plea, believe He has a good plan. Worship Him as the One True Eternal Savior of your soul. He isn’t finished.

Jesus is Coming Back

Jesus is coming back. When He does, He’ll be riding on a white horse to finalize His victory. And then He will dwell, “tabernacle,” among us, and we will celebrate Sukkot much as the people did the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. Read this scripture in Revelation:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9.10.)

What problem do you need to trust Jesus to handle differently than you planned? Can you trust His timing?

Let’s pray the last few verses of Psalm 118 together:

“You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever, Amen.”

coffee bible

Bite of Bread Reading Plan for Palm Sunday Week

Turn off television. Stop scrolling through your social media feeds, and let His Word give you peace and hope. Come study scripture that will help prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem no matter what our Sunday looks like this year. Maybe you’ll use this with your family as you worship together in your home.

Psalm 118: 1 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love endures forever.”

Prompt: When I’ve been disappointed with God, choosing to believe in his goodness healed my oozing wound. When I confessed, “Lord, I believe you’re good no matter what has happened, the disappointment faded, and I could praise him again. Do you need to choose this belief today? Journal your thoughts and a prayer about the goodness of God.

Psalm 118: 25-26: LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.

Prompt: Bless Jesus today with your praise. Rather than crying out for salvation, thank him!

Grab the Printable

Psalm 118: 27: The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

Prompt: As Jesus rode to the Temple the people followed. If this was the enactment of Sukkot, they carried their palm branches to the Temple where they lit four large menorahs celebrating the light of God shining on them. The light was another part of the festival. How has Jesus shined light on you?

Luke 13: 34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Prompt: Are we ever guilty of running from Jesus or refusing His love and protection? Go to the altar today. Shuwb (that means turn back toward Him.) Run under his wings and read Psalm 91:1-5.

Make Your Quiet time special with the printable

Revelation 7: 9-10: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9.10.)

Prompt: One day we will be clothed in white waving palm branches to our King. Think of all Jesus went through for this to one day take place. Are you still disappointed with God?

Don’t forget the printable here.

Enjoy. Savor the flavor of truth and promise. Chew. Ponder. Trust. You are loved all the way to the Cross.

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