Why The Palm Branches?

Matthew 21:1-11

I am curious to know if any of you came here this morning wondering what was going on. Wondering, what is up with the palm branches? What is the big deal surrounding Palm Sunday?

The festivities surrounding Palm Sunday come from the gospel texts, sometimes subtitled, "The Triumphal Entry". As usual, I will be dealing primarily with the text in Matthew, but it is important to note that all four Gospels contain this account.

Matthew's account begins quite ordinarily in Bethphage, which is a suburb of Jerusalem(v.1). Jesus tells His disciples to enter the village to get a donkey and a colt for Him(v.2). If you were to read all four accounts, you would notice that only Matthew mentions the second donkey. It is not unusual that the other Gospel writers leave out this detail because the donkey, of course, is NOT the emphasis of the story. Why does Matthew include the second donkey then? Likely because Matthew is known for being meticulous when it comes to documenting the fulfillment of prophecy . Zechariah's prophecy mentions two donkeys and so Matthew is careful to point out that the disciples brought two donkeys--exactly as it was prophesied.

Zechariah had prophesied, "Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden"(Zech.9:9; Mt.21:5). Jesus instructs the disciples to bring a donkey and a colt, and so they do exactly that--just as it had been prophesied.

Here is the first reason we have the retrieval of the two donkeys--to fulfill prophecy. But why the donkeys in the first place? Is their any significance in the choice of animal? There is indeed . The fulfillment of prophecy here points to Jesus as being a certain type of king --but what kind of king? The donkeys provide us a clue.

What kind of animal is a donkey? Zechariah calls them "a beast of burden"(Zech.9:9). This "beast of burden" points to what kind of king Jesus is. Last week we heard the challenge of Jesus to be servants since that was His purpose--to serve humanity. The donkey contrasts the horse. If Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a horse we would get a very different picture of what kind of king Jesus was meant to be. Perhaps the image of Jesus riding on a horse would have reinforced the prevalent notion that Israel's leader would be a great military force who would overthrow the Roman domination.

This is not what Jesus wanted to portray. Instead, Jesus sent a very different message to the multitude when He entered Jerusalem riding on two donkeys. Jesus portrayed a humble, serving king.

After retrieving the donkeys, the disciples put their garments on the donkeys where Jesus would sit(v.7), and when Jesus and the disciples entered Jerusalem "the multitude spread their garments on the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road"(v.8).

It is John's Gospel that informs us that these branches were palm branches(Jn.12:13), but what was their purpose? Why was this massive crowd stripping off their outer garments and throwing them on the road? Well, thankfully, we have another biblical precedent of this to provide us a clue.

If your Bibles are open, you may want to turn to 2Kings, chapter 9. In 2Kings 9, the prophet Elisha sends a messenger to give a Word from the Lord to Jehu. After pouring oil over Jehu, the messenger said to him in verse 12, 'Thus says the Lord, "I have anointed you king over Israel"'. After that declaration, everyone who was present took their garment and placed it under Jehu's steps, and they blew the trumpet, shouting, "Jehu is king!"(9:13).

So what does this mean for Jesus' entry into Jerusalem? It would imply that the multitude recognized Jesus as a king . Like in the case of Jehu, the garments and palm branches served as an improvised red carpet.

As Jesus continued into Jerusalem, the multitudes that were following Him were yelling, "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!"(v.9).

What does that all mean? The multitude spread their garments--why? Because they recognize Jesus is a king. The multitude call Jesus "the Son of David"--why? Because they recognize Jesus is a king--as David was.

So what kind of king is Jesus? One that rides on a donkey rather than a horse. Jesus is not a military leader, but a servant leader. The other key phrase that tells us what kind of king Jesus is the word "Hosanna". This Greek form of the Hebrew word means, "Save us". Jesus was a saving king . But what was Jesus to save them from?

Can picture the scene? A man of ordinary appearance; riding on two donkeys; a crowd in front throwing down their garments and palm branches; a crowd behind yelling "Save us Son of David!". Jesus enters Jerusalem, people begin to leave their homes and shops to see what all the racket is about. They begin asking one simple question: "Who is this?"(v.10).

Did the multitude following Jesus really know who He was? Do we really know who Jesus is? The clues are there: the two donkeys; the garments and the palm branches; the cries of "Save us!"; calling Him "the Son of David". So what do we make of it? The multitudes replied by saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee"(v.11).

"Prophet"? Who said anything about a prophet? Aren't we talking about a king here? We are indeed talking about Jesus being a king, but He is more than that. It is also true that He is a prophet, but He is much more than that. On His entry to Jerusalem, Jesus presents himself, and many understand that He is, the promised Messiah .

Deuteronomy 18:15-18 describes the Messiah as a "prophet". Isaiah 53 describes the Messiah as a "servant". And many parts of the Old Testament speak of the Messiah as a king.

We return to the question, "Who is this?". Jesus is a prophet. Jesus is a king. Jesus is the promised Messiah. But what does all this mean?!

The answer actually lies in John's account of the entry to Jerusalem. Haven't you been wondering where this multitude came from? Haven't you been the least bit curious as to what could provoke such a large crowd to recognize Jesus to be the promised Messiah? And what could provoke a crowd to begin stripping off their outer garments, cutting down palm branches, and throwing them down on the road before Him? What did this crowd see that would cause them to shout "Hosanna!/Save us!"?

Listen to John 12, verse 17: "And so the multitude who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, were bearing Him witness".

This multitude surmised this Jesus was the Messiah when they saw Him take a dead man and bring him back to life. Witnessing the raising of Lazarus is what motivated this crowd to do and say these things about Jesus. And what were they saying? "Save us Son of David!". What kind of saving did they want? It wasn't deliverance from the Romans because Jesus was a "gentle" king. It wasn't the kind of saving Lazarus got because none of them were dead. No, the saving the multitude was looking for was more profound.

Jesus had said these words to Martha, just before raising Lazarus from the dead in Jn.11:25,26:
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die".

Does anyone remember Martha's response? "I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God"(Jn.11:27). The crowd that was following Jesus had seen the risen Lazarus. The miraculous raising of Lazarus had opened their eyes. They now knew who Jesus was--the holy Son of God, Israel's Messiah.

You are now equipped. What you have heard today has equipped you to do 2 things. First of all, you can now thoroughly answer the question, "Who is Jesus?". Your friends at work may reduce Jesus to a moral teacher. The Muslims may simply regard Jesus as a prophet. But we know better. Jesus is THE prophet. Jesus is THE king. Jesus is THE promised Messiah, the Son of God, the One who offers eternal life.

The second thing we are equipped to do is related to the first. Since we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the author of eternal life, we are able to overcome suffering and hardship. With the hope of the Resurrection, we can persevere through our present trials.

I am not suggesting for a moment that we trivialize hardship because Jesus didn't. Think about this--Jesus knew He was going to bring Lazarus back to life, but what did He still do? He wept . Jesus wept because of the loss He felt even though He knew that loss was temporary.

Our struggles, no matter how severe, will some day end. Jesus' example allows us to weep in our struggles yet still look ahead to the hope of eternal life. "Everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die".

Christians don't shout "save us" the way one normally does, we shout "Hosanna" the same way we shout "Hallelujah". We do this because we believe Jesus Christ has already saved us.

When the multitude recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they threw down their garments and palm branches. We must do the same. As Jesus comes to each of us in our daily lives, we too must lay down the palm branches of our heart and let Him journey through.

We, like the multitude, believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord. Our challenge today is to live as we believe. Our challenge is to "walk the talk". Our challenge is to "practice what we preach". Our challenge is top stop running our own lives and allow Jesus Christ the King to rule in our hearts. Amen.