What History Tells Us about the Christian Celebration of Palm Sunday?
The Hebrew word Passover means (p¹saµ) “to guard over.” The feast instituted by God to commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites (refugees) from Egyptian bondage and the sparing of their firstborn when the destroying angel smote the first-born of the Egyptians. The deliverance from Egypt was regarded as the starting-point of the Hebrew nation. The Israelites were then raised from the condition of bondmen under a foreign tyrant to that of a free people owing allegiance to no one but Jehovah. The prophet in a later age spoke of the event as a creation and redemption of the nation. God declares himself to be "the Creator of Israel." The Exodus was thus looked upon as the birth of the nation; the Passover was its annual birthday feast. It was the yearly memorial of the dedication of the people to Him who had saved their first-born from the destroyer, in order that they might be made holy to Himself.
In New Testament times, Passover became a pilgrim festival. Massive numbers gathered in Jerusalem to observe this annual celebration. Jesus was crucified in the city during one of these Passover celebrations. He and His disciples ate a Passover meal together on the eve of His death. Like the blood of the lamb which saved the Hebrew people from destruction in Egypt, His blood, as the ultimate Passover sacrifice, redeems us from the power of sin and death.
Timeline of Essentials and Facts
Sunday - Day 1 Passover
Jesus starts that Sunday morning by healing the two blind men just outside of Jericho on the road to Jerusalem – despite being on Caiaphas most wanted list… (Mark 10:46-52)
By Noon Sunday between 200-300 hundred thousand people have gathered in Jerusalem for the beginning of Passover Feast.
As Jesus gets close to the city gates the gathering crowd starts to chant, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalm 118:25-26) The Pharisees who were in the crowd yelled to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." Jesus answered them back by saying, "If they are silent, the very stones and rocks lying around them would cry out." (Luke 19:37-40)
Jesus fulfills a biblical prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed colt of a donkey. Little known fact - big statement. In ancient Israel every king from Saul until Jewish captivity hand-picked a young never ridden donkey/colt. They rode the donkey out in the streets in parade before the people of God, to communicate the three-fold promise of God’s property-peace-prosperity. Another little known-big statement was that for centuries it was common (on the first day of Passover) for the residents of the holy city to fill the streets and cry out the ancient songs and praises of David as welcome to the Jewish travelers gathering from around the world to celebrate the beginning of Passover. Only on this day, (unlike any other Passover) the people directed their praise and prayers to Jesus as the son of David king and savior! Finally, the non-Judeans lay down their garments and palm leaves in His path – signs of peace and victory. Jesus weeps as he looks at Jerusalem and its people. (Zechariah 9:9-13)
Jesus comes to Jerusalem to confront religious hypocrisy, to force the corrupt Jewish leaders to repent and act once again in their faith or to move on and do the evil they intended to do. He comes to Jerusalem to fulfill the will of the Father by completing His mission of redemption and salvation for all mankind. (John 6:38-40)
There were three people groups converging in the Passover crowd – The Judeans of Jerusalem (did not trust Jesus), the Galileans were curious but not convinced, and the followers from Bethany, Jericho and all the other out-lying regions who fully believed in Jesus. In this convergence Jesus becomes the ultimate sign to unbelieving Jews, and the only hope to truth seeking Gentiles. (John 12:20-26)
In a legendary move, Jesus clears the temple with a public display of authority, decisive judgment, and declaration. He champions the right of all to have access to the word of God. (Court of the Gentiles defiled) (Isaiah 56:7-8)
Jesus heals a blind man and a cripple at the gates of the court of the Gentiles to further bring glory to God, force the confrontation and to declare the temple as “His house – a house of prayer.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
Jesus answers the Pharisees and sets the tone for His mission (mercy and salvation) – The praise of the children is for Him and is approved by God. We know how that turned out.
Having delivered the message to the Jews – “You don’t have to live like refugees” and to the Gentiles – “You don’t need the Jews to get to God – you need me.” Jesus, returns to Bethany to spend the first night of Passover. (John 12;24-26)