I realize I have addressed this each year for several years now, but my hope is that we can end, at least in our personal understanding, some of the mistaken traditions, and more importantly, know and understand the Truth and allow it to expand and enrich our faith.
Now that being said, today, many Christians will celebrate what we call, “Palm Sunday.” It marks what more mainline and traditional churches call, “Holy Week,” or in Latin, “Hebdomas Sancta.” Now, as many of you know, I was raised in a traditional Calvinist church. I was taught the Heidelberg Catechism and never introduced to any of the more liturgical traditions.
However, my exposure came to many of the Churches traditions and practices after our move to Ann Arbor. That said, I learned that Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey. While He entered the city, the crowds spread their coats and palm branches on the street and shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” to honor him as their long-awaited Messiah and King.
Some of my Messianic friends say this is a Pagan celebration, one that Jesus did not celebrate. Which, frankly, I find humorous. Jesus was the one celebrated! So I guess he did indeed participate. Not only that, beforehand, he had instructed his disciples to get the donkey for him. So I don’t understand their argument.
The significance of Jesus riding a donkey and having his way paved with palm branches is a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by the prophet Zechariah that says,
“Rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Tziyon!
Shout out loud, daughter of Yerushalayim!
Look! Your Melek is coming to you.
He is righteous, and he is victorious.
Yet he is humble — he’s riding on a donkey,
yes, on a lowly donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).
The donkey was a symbol of peace; Anyone who rode on them proclaimed peaceful intentions, which in contrast, someone riding on a warhorse, is indeed bringing violence and death. By laying down the palm branches, they were indicating that the king or dignitary was arriving in victory or triumph. It was an act of celebration and yes, honor.
During Jesus’ time, it was indeed on a Sunday, in the springtime as a matter of fact, because the crowds had come to celebrate the annual Passover meal. Although I may not have fully embraced many of the traditional church observances, a few years ago or more, I began to grasp and understand many of the Hebrew traditions and practices. In my mind, these are the authentic roots of my faith, so I became intrigued and fascinated with them.
As a result of my studies, I would like to share some of the Passover events, because if you, like me, have not been exposed to this aspect of our faith, you probably will not immediately recognize them, certainly those of us who are gentiles. This is important because virtually every great event in Christ’s life centered on one or another of these Pilgrimage Feasts, so actually, we should understand that the timing of these events was very significant.
In Deuteronomy 16, the first feast discussed is Passover, or in Hebrew, Pesach. In the very first verse, Israel is told to observe the month of Aviv and to offer a Passover sacrifice to God, because this was the night that Yahweh freed Israel from the clutches of Egypt.
If there is one thing that most physically identifies the people of Israel as being set apart for God, and also stirs the very depths of the soul of the Jewish people, it has to be Passover. It was that act of saving Israel from Egypt, and removing them as an identifiable group with Yahweh as their God and King, that established them as a set-apart nation.
Passover literally means, “new ears of grain.” The reference to grains indicates the agricultural connection of this celebration that coincides with the Exodus-from-Egypt connection. Aviv corresponds to our current months of March-April, so we are dealing with the spring season.
Aviv is also the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar year. Now it is important that we do not confuse the Hebrew religious calendar with the Hebrew civil calendar year. In the civil calendar, Tishri is the first month. In the religious calendar year, Tishri marks the seventh month (which is the Fall season).
I don’t want to confuse you, but while Aviv resets the religious calendar year, the first day of Aviv is not New Years Day; the first day of the month of Tishri is the Jewish New Year: Rosh Hashanna. So why does God ordain this separate religious calendar year with Aviv as its beginning? Well, simply because it was the month of Aviv that marks the official beginning of Israel as a nation and the Lord as the God of that nation; Aviv is quite literally, the beginning of Israel.
Think back to the reason that Passover is indeed called Passover. It is because on a single dreadful, and yet wonderful night the Lord passed through the whole land of Egypt and killed the firstborn males, both animals, and humans, of every household, except for those who sacrificed a yearling lamb and painted its blood on the doorposts of their homes. Whoever did this, as an act of obedience to Yahweh (almost exclusively Hebrews) were not touched by death that night; and this divine judgment caused Pharaoh to finally understand that he could not maintain his grip on God‘s people any longer.
Now did you notice that I did not say that the people of Israel were excluded? I stated, the only ones excluded from punishment were those who sacrificed a lamb and painted the doorposts with its blood. If any Israelite did not paint the doorpost, they experienced the judgment. On the other hand, if an Egyptian had painted their doorpost, the angel of death would have passed over their home.
The only sign the Angel of the Lord looked for, was the blood painted on the doorpost! He did not check to see who was in the house. He did not verify their identification or ask them where their allegiance laid. This is important, and you need to catch the significance of what is being said. If you refuse the offer Yahweh has given you for Redemption, namely, Yeshua — Jesus — you will face His judgment, regardless of how you feel about it, how righteous you feel you are or how special you believe you are, or even how unfair you think it is. You either accept the terms that are offered, or accept the responsibilities of your choice.
The following morning, after the angel of death passed over, Israel gathered together in the land of Goshen, the delta region of Egypt where most Israelites lived, and with Moses leading the way, they marched away from two centuries of slavery and oppression.
While I am sure that in English, Passover will always be called Passover, but the word Pesach does not mean to “pass over.” It comes from the verb pasach, which means, “to protect.” Ooh, I just some eyebrows raise on that one. Where the Scriptures say that “you shall slaughter the Passover sacrifice,” what it says in Hebrew is that they shall slaughter the Zevah Pesach. Literally, it means the “protective sacrifice,” referring to the fact that Israel was protected from God’s final and deadly plague on Egypt. It was only the result of that protection that they could say they were passed over; and that name, Passover, has stuck since Jerome re-translated the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible in the 5th century AD and chose the term “Passover.” We will get back to this in a moment.
Let’s get back to our story of Jesus riding a donkey. Before this celebration, where everyone was throwing down their coats and palm leaves, Jesus had been traveling through the towns and villages of Palestine for several months. He preached about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick wherever He went. Now it was time for Him to claim His title as the Messiah — the Savior that God had promised to the Jewish people.
Jesus knew His mission was almost finished and as they traveled to Jerusalem, Jesus warned His disciples that He would soon be put to death. But assure them that after three days He would rise again.
When they were close to Jerusalem, Jesus told two of His disciples to go into a village that was close by and bring a donkey that would be waiting there. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey. Crowds of people spread their coats on the ground in front of Him. Some waved branches of palm trees, a sign of victory. The people shouted,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord –
the King of Israel!”
People would only greet a king this way (II Kings 9:13), and the people wanted Jesus to be their king. However, most of the people did not understand what kind of king Jesus would be. They expected their Messiah to be a great political and military leader who would free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They envisioned someone like King David. But the Kingdom of God is not of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom that is now growing in the hearts of those who put their faith and trust in God.
Later that day, Jesus went to the temple, and as most of you know, he did not like what He saw. This holiest of places had been turned into a marketplace, a place of thieves and unholy activity. Merchants were selling animals for temple sacrifices. Money changers were exchanging the pilgrims’ money for special coins used in the temple. Many of these people were cheating the pilgrims who came to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.
That irritated Jesus, and he made quite a ruckus by turning over the tables of the merchants and money changers, scattering their coins. He told them all to leave. He made a whip of some cords and used it to drive out the animals, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations‘ [we forget that part], But you have made it a den of robbers!”
Scriptures don’t tell us, but we presume that for the next couple of days Jesus went to the temple, healed people and taught them. He probably continued to tell stories and parables to help people understand the Kingdom of God and all of the other things he had been doing.
We will pick up here when we return on Wednesday . . .
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.