As many of you know, Diane and I have just returned from a two-week pilgrimage to Israel, the Holy Land. Now that we’re back home, a mountain of memories and spiritually significant experiences are lined up waiting to be processed. Images flow in and out of our minds like a kaleidoscope. All of them were indelibly imprinted in our hearts by the love for one another that grew with every passing day among our group. All of that combined to deepen our faith in the living God, to reinforce our trust in His Word, and to forge a passionate love for the land itself that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. No place on earth has the eternal significance of the place that Jesus called “home”.
A Change in Focus ~
But as much as we love reviewing the highlights of our journey, that isn’t our purpose today. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We commemorate that day and identify it with names like Palm Sunday, or the Triumphal Entry. Whatever we choose to call it, the episode represents a final shift in focus for the Son of God. What we’ve come to call Holy Week, or Passion Week, begins here.
This was a crisis moment for the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus had already manifested His Messianic credentials in ways that the religious hierarchy could neither continue to deny nor ignore. His popularity had grown, and now the crowds that had gone out to meet Him were chanting Zechariah’s words:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NKJV)
An Ultimatum Emerges ~
This dramatic public entry into Jerusalem was being seen as an obvious fulfillment of prophecy, and the leaders were faced with an ultimatum. Jesus represented an existential threat to their system and their power, and they would have to either acknowledge Him as the promised Messiah or find a way to eliminate Him. But just getting rid of Him wouldn’t be enough. They needed to do it in a way that would not only discredit Him, but at the same time, reduce Him to abject humiliation. Nothing could do that with more open attention and agonizing finality than an unjust public trial and death on a Roman cross.
The Jewish power brokers obviously made their choice, but they weren’t the only ones for whom this episode represented an ultimatum. All who witnessed those proceedings had a decision to make as well. Was Jesus who He claimed to be, or simply a clever fraud? Did He really demonstrate sovereign authority over natural laws and biological limitations, or was He just a masterful magician? Did He really make blind men see, and did Lazarus really come back to life after being dead for four days? Were all those miracles lies, or was all of it profoundly and eternally real?
And most personally impactful, did shouting those passages from the Hallel Psalms along with the crowd represent a true expression of their heart, or was it just another ritual associated with Passover week?
It Gets Personal ~
But Palm Sunday’s ultimatum isn’t relegated just to those who were there. Accounts of what happened that day and the events that followed were written and distributed by faithful men who witnessed them firsthand. Because of that, all of us who read them become in a sense, witnesses ourselves, and the questions of the day confront us as well. Is Jesus who He claimed to be? Was His transformational teaching just gifted oratory designed to appeal to a naive audience? Were all the miracles lies? Did uncounted millions of people from every race, tribe, tongue, and nation give up everything to follow a fraud and embrace a hoax? Or … Was all of it profoundly, eternally, and irrevocably real — and what does it have to do with me?
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem ended inside the Temple that day, and what He found when He got there infuriated Him. The mercenaries and money changers had brought their nefarious trade into a place that God had sanctified for Himself. In particular, they had invaded the Court of the Gentiles and had desecrated the only place where non-Jews could bring their sacrifices and worship God. Jesus drove them out because He had not just come for a select few. He had come for everyone. He came for the rejects, the outcast, and the broken. He came for the lonely, the poor, the orphans, and those declared to be unclean and untouchable. He heard the cries of all those who couldn’t meet the impossible standards for righteousness demanded by the religious leaders. He came for those who had no personal access to God and no hope of forgiveness. He came for all of them. In a nutshell, He came for folks like you and me.
The Questions Remain ~
Since then, more than 2,000 anniversaries of Palm Sunday have been celebrated. Tomorrow we will see another one. The festivities will eventually end just as they did back then. The music will stop, benedictions will be delivered, and the crowds will disburse again. Life will go on, but the questions will still linger, and the ultimatum is inescapable. Some of us will sing our praises with the crowds tomorrow and some will not. Some of us will include ourselves among the prisoners He came to set free and the subjects He came to embrace, and some will not. In any case, we should recognize this as a time to consider our personal response to the questions about Jesus.
The personal implications of tomorrow’s celebration, and the questions it represents, will remain whether we choose to respond to them or not. We can be confident that regardless of our response, or lack of it, life will go on. It will go on, that is, until that inescapable day when it doesn’t. On that day, each of us will find that the fruit of our answers awaits us, and anything short of Yes to Jesus . . . is a No.
Our prayer for each of you is that your celebrations on this Palm Sunday will represent a personal response to Jesus that has a glorious outcome. The King who came on our behalf back then is coming again. May the songs we sing and the praises we offer tomorrow serve to welcome Him in advance. May our Hosannas reverberate across our land and around this war-torn, sin-cursed world and stir the awakening and revival we so desperately need.
With that as our hope, and believing that the living God can make it happen in and through each of us, we wish all of you a happy, praise-filled, and joyous Palm Sunday.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Jesus came for the rejects, outcasts and the broken; for the lonely and poor, the orphans and those declared unclean, untouchable. He heard the cries of all who couldn’t meet the impossible standards for righteousness demanded by religious leaders.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The personal implications of Palm Sunday’s celebration, and the questions it represents, will remain whether we choose to respond or not. Life will go on until that inescapable day when it doesn’t. The fruit of our answers is waiting for us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Palm Sunday has celebrated more than 2,000 anniversaries. Tomorrow’s festivities will eventually end. The music will stop, benedictions will be delivered. But questions about Jesus will still linger – and the ultimatum is inescapable.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to tweet)
- “Some of us will sing praises with the crowds tomorrow; some won’t. Some of us will include ourselves among the prisoners He came to set free and the subjects He came to embrace; some won’t. In the end, the fruit of our answers awaits us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to tweet)
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