By Emma Danzey, Crosswalk.com
One day each year in the spring, churches gather around the world and are given palm branches to wave. This beautiful service called Palm Sunday is one week prior to Easter. It is an incredible tradition, but why do Christians celebrate Palm Sunday? What is the purpose of raising branches? To an onlooker, this might appear to be a strange worship service. However, as we dive deeper into the meaning of this unique day, we can all gain a greater understanding of the value of celebrating and commemorating the victorious entrance of our King Jesus.
What Is Palm Sunday and Why Do We Celebrate It?
Palm Sunday was the first day of Holy Week leading up to the Jewish holiday of Passover. Jesus rode on a donkey through the town of Jerusalem on His way to conquer death and bring us life through His sacrifice on the cross.
According to Christianity.com, “Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, the remembrance of Jesus' last days to the cross. In many churches, Palm Sunday is observed by the blessing and sharing of palm branches symbolizing the palm branches the crowd placed in front of Christ as he entered into Jerusalem.”
Palm Sunday is celebrated by the Christian community because it represents the victory that we have in Christ. A palm branch is a symbol of triumph, a banner of peace, and a physical representation of surrender to King Jesus as Lord. It is no command that we lift a palm branch in worship to the Lord, but it is a great delight to join those many years ago who shouted “Hosanna!” There is power in knowing that the same Jesus whom they celebrated in the streets, is the same Jesus who we celebrate today. They may have been in cloaks and we might be in blue jeans, but the tradition of preparing the way for our King still remains.
Another reason we celebrate Palm Sunday is to prepare our hearts for Easter. It is incredibly easy to allow Easter Sunday to come and go without choosing to ponder the gift of salvation and the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Palm Sunday reminds the church to honor Jesus as King over all and to meditate on the week of His great sacrifice. We could not have the empty tomb if we did not have the cross, and we could not have the cross if Jesus did not willingly go to it in obedience to the Father. Palm Sunday in essence is Jesus’ act of obedience of going to the place where He would be our Sacrificial Lamb. He went in honor on his way to die. We celebrate that Jesus chose to go to defeat sin and grant us His victory and peace.
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What Does the Bible Say about Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday was in the making long before the day it occurred. Old Testament writers prophesied the coming King. Zechariah predicted the ride into Jerusalem years before Jesus accomplished the task. As we look at Scripture as a whole, we can see the glorious unfolding of the redemptive plan.
Zechariah 9:9 says, “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.”
There is even a verse in Genesis 49:11 predicting that Jesus would ride on a donkey with a colt. “He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.”
This is fulfilled in the New Testament. One example is Matthew 21:7-8, “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.”
The Savior was predicted as coming from the line (or house) of King David. Psalm 118:24-25 says, “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”
This Psalm parallels Matthew 21:9, “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Honestly, this is one of the only Kingly moments that Jesus lived on the earth. He did not demand to rule in a palace (although He could have easily), but instead, He came as a servant in humility. Of all the animals that Jesus could have ridden into the city, he chose a lowly donkey and her colt. If I were riding into town and was trying to make an impression, I would have at least considered a horse, if not an elephant. However, this is what sets Jesus apart. He came to serve and not be served. He came on a mission to sacrifice His life to reunite us with the Father.
What Happened between Palm Sunday and Easter?
After Palm Sunday, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Then, He went to the Temple in righteous anger. People were trying to sell items in the temple. He overturned the tables and explained that the house of God would be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-17). Over the next few days, Jesus taught valuable lessons through parables about Himself, the kingdom of God, and the end of times.
Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday. The Jewish calendar day begins at sunset. On Thursday at sunset, Jesus and His 12 disciples celebrated the Jewish Passover meal. While they were eating and drinking, He revealed that Judas (one of the disciples) would betray Him. Jesus and his 11 disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray that night. He asked them to stay awake, but even the closest disciples fell asleep. Jesus prayed so hard that He sweat blood as He begged God to take the cup from Him, but also accepted the Father’s will. Judas came with the guards and arrested Jesus. All who were with him fled (Mark 14:50).
On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified and killed for the sins of all mankind. He was confirmed dead by a guard who pierced His side. The earth went dark and the temple curtain tore from top to bottom. Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb and his body was guarded. Saturday was a day of sadness for the disciples and those who loved Jesus. However, Easter Sunday came around and Jesus rose from the dead. He revealed Himself to His disciples and His followers after that. Jesus conquered sin once and for all and He became our Savior.
What Does Palm Sunday Have to Do with Easter and Why Is it Important?
When the people shouted "Hosanna!" they were hailing Christ as King. That word actually means "save now," and though in their own minds they waited for an earthly king, God had a different way in mind of bringing true salvation to all who would trust in Him.
Palm Sunday is significant to Easter because it was the welcoming of the Savior. The triumphal entry was a foreshadowing of the victorious resurrection. These events can even prepare our hearts now for the day when Christ returns.
The triumphal entry is included in all four gospels. Any event that is in the Bible one time is significant. When a recorded event is shared across various books of Scripture, we should pay close attention. We do not want to miss the value in something that the Lord wants repeated to us. Repetition brings understanding.
John 12:13 says, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”
So when we enter a church service and palm branches are waving, may we be reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made and the obedience that He had to the Father. May we pick up our branches and hold them in the air proudly, knowing that we share in His victory. And may the waving of our palms move our hearts to prepare for Jesus’ return.
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Emma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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