Palm Sunday: Coming Victory over Sin and Death

Palm Sunday: Coming Victory over Sin and Death

Read: Luke 19:28-44

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Luke 19:38, ESV


What do we see when we see Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday of Holy Week? And, what will be our response?! The world sees a Conqueror, but the reality is Jesus enters as the Redeemer. The prophet Isaiah referred to God as the “Holy One of Israel, our Redeemer” which held implications both for Israel and Gentiles. (Isaiah 44:24; 54:5). The Lord comes to dwell in the midst of his people as Savior, and the powerful image that he uses to show this fact is the young colt upon which he enters the city. He arrives in the city riding on a donkey and not on a warhorse. This symbolic action indicates that he came as the Messiah of peace, not war, thus fulfilling Zechariah 9:9-10. So, how may we benefit from such a gesture?

Triumphal Entry into Our Lives

Jesus’s entrance into our lives demonstrates his Messianic authority. Bear with me a moment because we need to shed light on this truth. Luke has been developing this theme, and it extends to the end of chapter 19, and of course, he has a reason (18:31-19:44). Take a quick moment to look back to see Jesus’ authority that was shown through his prophetic statement about his coming death (18:31-34; “Son of Man”), and the final miracle prior to his suffering and crucifixion (18:35-43; “Son of David”). The conversion of Zacchaeus provides a contrast to the rich young ruler (18:18-30; 19:1-10), and it shows the transforming Kingdom power of the Good News over sin. This rich tax collector who had it all gives it all up to receive the gift of new life. Jesus’ parable of the pounds teaches us that we are ultimately accountable to him (Luke 19:11-27, “did not want me to reign”). Christ came to conquer sinful hearts which holds implications for our misplaced nationalism and our willingness not to confront oppression. Hmm. That last sentence sounds important, but what does it mean?

Jesus’ coming was universal in scope and not politically motivated. His mission was made clear from the prophets forward (Isaiah 61:1-4). He makes a regal entrance into Jerusalem and the crowd of followers hails him as Messiah. The Jews were obsessed with overthrowing Roman domination by force. They likely saw Jesus’ triumphal entry as the beginning of revolution. Luke shows us, however, that we need to look at this moment through the lens of 18:31-34 where Jesus foretells his death for the third time! Dying was not the typical approach to overthrowing.

His coming was not to fulfill the political aspirations of the oppressed Jews; instead, his arrival was to accomplish God’s salvation. He addresses those systems that oppressed people and kept them from drawing close to the God who delivers (19:45-46). In Ashlock speak, Jesus would have none of the earthly acclaim because it would prevent his universal reign (cf. Luke 4:5-8; “And the devil. . .said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and glory’”; cf. Colossians 1:15-20)! His actions demonstrated this truth.

Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem showed the nature of his mission to be peace. He mounts a young donkey, as symbol of peace, on the Mount of Olives which held prophetic connotations (cf. Zechariah 9:9). This place was identified as the location where God would take his stand in a battle against those who attack his people (Zechariah 14:4; Faithlife). Keep also in mind that a donkey that had never been ridden qualified to perform a sacred task (19:30; cf. Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7; NAC). Jesus sat on the young donkey as king (cf. Solomon’s coronation in 1 Kings 1:33). The people spread their cloaks on the road as a sign of homage (2 Kings 9:13). The praise that had been given at his birth is now given just prior to his imminent death (19:37-38; cf. 2:13, 20). You and I, like those first disciples, rightfully give Jesus the acclaim that he deserves, but this does not go far enough.

Jesus’ authority was missional. Luke shows us here that the kingship that would be bestowed on Jesus at his resurrection and ascension, and which would also be exercised at his second coming, was being announced (19:38, “the King”; cf. Psalm 118:26); NAC). God’s kingdom was a present reality that was embodied in Jesus’ ministry and the lives of his disciples. Ours becomes a genuine Easter faith only when we embody it (Luke 9:23; Matthew 5:9). As John Stott said, “His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”

Steps to the Cross

A growing number of young Americans are religiously unaffiliated, so they will be elsewhere today and not in our Palm Sunday services. They choose not to identify with a religion for a variety of reasons, but sixty percent believe “nothing in particular” because they question religious teachings. The second-most common reason, held by forty-nine percent of those surveyed, is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues (Pew Research). They make a good point. Glen Stassen reminds us that “what we celebrate as Palm Sunday is seldom taught for what it is—Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah of peace.”

“By riding a donkey, Jesus is declaring that he is entering into the presence of the powers and authorities in Jerusalem to confront them nonviolently, as a Messiah of peace” (A Thicker Jesus). Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies to confront unjust power and domination, as well as the greed and wealth of religious authorities. He did this not by zealous nationalism or political machinations but by spiritual transformation. This Jesus is the one we celebrate at Easter, the one we follow with all of our lives!

Action Plans

1. Our first step today requires us to submit to Christ’s kingdom reign as it was intended. One way we may do so is to tone down the angry rhetoric and turn up the volume of peacemaking (cf. Matthew 5:23-26). How may you spread his transforming peace at home, school, work, and in your social relationships? Seek forgiveness from brother and sister and your adversary (cf. 1 John 4:20).

2. For families: Placing Easter bunnies or eggs in our yards is a colorful and cheerful thing to do in springtime, but these symbols do not readily tell what Easter truly means. This year, families might consider erecting a cross in our front yards to tell the Gospel story, even without words, to all who may pass by. The cross of Christ was, and remains, the focal point of all of Eternity past, present, and future. It can serve as the focal point of your family's witness too.

On Palm Sunday morning, before church services, children can bring palm branches and tie them to the cross in your yard, symbolizing this special day that begins the Holy Week of Easter. Encourage them to carry some to church with them too. Each day of this next week, families can remember together where Jesus was on that day of his final week, leading up to the Passover meal on Thursday evening, and his arrest and trials through the night. On Friday morning, the family can gather for breakfast and tell about his crucifixion. The cross in the yard can be draped with black cloth on Friday and Saturday. Then early on Easter Sunday, maybe even before dawn, the family can joyfully wrap the cross with white or gold or purple cloth, symbolizing the resurrection of the King of Kings! Parents, we can gift our children spiritually by finding ways to restore the meaning of Easter in our homes.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock