Choose the Passover Lamb
Many who observed the original Palm Sunday would have been shocked by what they saw.
Many Jewish people would have been shocked by the waving of palm branches and by the shouting of “Hosanna” on that particular day—the first day of the Feast of Passover. The waving of palm branches and the shouting of “Hosanna” was something the people typically did during Succoth, otherwise known as the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles, which takes place each year in September or October. During this great Jewish holiday, believers leave the comfort of their homes for seven days to sleep under the shelter of a temporary cover in a “booth” or “tabernacle.” In doing so, they recall their deliverance from Egypt and how they lived in temporary shelters while God led them through the desert. The booths remind believers of the shade God provided as the Jewish people wandered through the hot desert for forty years. Their shade came in the form of a cloud that hovered above them throughout the hot day. The cloud was actually the glory of God covering them, sheltering them, and leading them. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people would celebrate Succoth each fall by waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna! O LORD, save us. O LORD grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.”
But when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey, it was spring, a half a year away from Succoth. It was not the right time of year for the people to wave palm branches and to sing “Hosanna.” But they believed Jesus might be the fulfillment of their Succoth prayers, that He might be the One who had come to deliver them from Roman rule, and to shelter them from harm. So they waved branches from Him, and they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”
The Roman soldiers would have been shocked for a different reason. They would have been shocked to observe the excitement of the crowd over something that appeared so diminutive to the Romans. Philip Yancey comments, “What stands out to me now is the slapstick nature of the affair. I imagine a Roman officer galloping up to check on the disturbance. He has attended processions in Rome, where they do it right. The conquering general sits in a chariot of gold, with stallions straining at the reigns and wheel spikes flashing in the sunlight. Behind him, officers in polished armor display the banners captured from vanquished armies. At the rear comes a ragtag procession of slaves and prisoners in chains, living proof of what happens to those who defy Rome. In Jesus’ triumphal entry, the adoring crowd makes up the ragtag procession: the lame, the blind, the children, the peasants from Galilee and Bethany. When the officer looks for the object of their attention he spies a forlorn figure, weeping, riding on no stallion or chariot but on the back of a baby donkey.” (The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 190)
What particularly grabs my interest in the Palm Sunday story is something else. The day Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was the day that had been stipulated in the Mosaic Law as the day when Jewish faithful were to choose their Passover lamb. They were to select their lamb on the first day of the week of Passover and bring the lamb into their home for four days before they slaughtered it for the Passover meal (mirroring how God came to live among us in Jesus before we slaughtered Him). By coming into Jerusalem on that precise day, Jesus was announcing to the people that He had come to be their Passover lamb—that He had come to be the One who would lay down His life to set His people free!
The crowd was ecstatic when they thought Jesus had come to be their conquering hero. They waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!” But a few days later, when He was led sheepishly to the slaughter, they turned against Him. They shouted, “Crucify Him!”
I am struck by how similar I am to the crowd. When I think Jesus will trample my enemies, I wave a palm branch. When I think He will bring to me a happy life where everything goes the way I want it to go, I shout “Hosanna!” But I am not as excited when He speaks of His kingdom coming through sacrifice and forgiveness and unconditional love—especially when He wants those things from me. But, as it turns out, it is the kingdom of the Passover Lamb that I truly long for as opposed to the kingdom of a conquering warrior. Human history reveals the failure of warrior kingdoms over and over again, but the Passover Lamb has been transforming people’s lives through love and forgiveness for centuries now, and I long to see the fulfillment of this kingdom!