Why We Celebrate Palm Sunday

I remember the drive home from the hospital after the birth of our first child. While the drive to the hospital was obviously a significant moment, there was something much more weighty about that first drive home. On the way there, the car seat was still empty. But on the way home, little newborn Jude was there, lying in his little Marlins onesie and blanket . . . and I was very aware of it. Our Jeep had another passenger, one whose life depended on me.

I’m sure at some point, you’ve taken a similar ride, traveling down the road on your way to something you knew would be a significant moment in your life. Maybe you were on your way to your first day of college or to an interview for your dream job. Or maybe you were driving to your wedding or boarding a plane to your new life.

This ride is different from your usual trip to the grocery store! Your heart is racing; your entire life flashes before your eyes as you realize that, after this moment, everything will change!

Imagine how Jesus felt as He traveled down the road, about to enter Jerusalem. While He knew this road would ultimately lead to His betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and death, He also knew the world would never be the same again. The hour had “come that the Son of Man should be glorified” (John 12:23 NKJV).

What did this mean? Well, the most important moment in human history had come. It was time to tear down the great divide between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:18), to restore what was broken in the Garden of Eden (Romans 5:12–21), to render sin powerless (Romans 6:6), to defeat death (1 Corinthians 15:55), and to set mankind free (Galatians 5:1). This trip into Jerusalem was the most important trip ever taken.

What Is Palm Sunday?

Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on the Sunday before Easter. We call it Palm Sunday. As a kid, I remember going to church on Palm Sunday and getting a palm branch, sometimes there would be donkey rides for the kids, and we’d sing a variety of songs that said, “Hosanna.”

But what exactly happened on this all-important trip into Jerusalem? There are various things we see in the story, all with deep, purposeful, and powerful significance.

Coming to Jerusalem

“On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem . . .”—John 12:12 (NASB)

There are many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. One such prophecy is found in Daniel 9:20–27. Here, Daniel had been given a vision about the Anointed One, and Gabriel had come to explain what these things meant and when they’d take place. So in Daniel 9:24–27, we’re given a timeline; we’re told when the Messiah would appear as King. Verse 25 (NLT) tells us, “Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes.”

The Hebrew word used here for week is shabua. It describes a time period of seven. So, from the time the decree to rebuild Jerusalem is given until the Messiah’s arrival into the holy city, 69 sets of seven years would pass. Now, for the Jews and Babylonians, the calendar year was only 360 days. So, if we add this in terms of days, it’s 173,880 days. In the now standard 365-day calendar year, 173,880 days is 476 years, 25 days.

This prophecy clock began ticking in the twentieth year of Persian King Artaxerxes’ reign when the command to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was given in Nehemiah 2:1–8. Scholars believe this occurred in either 445 or 444BC, in the month of Nisan. This would put the arrival of the Messiah in Jerusalem at the end of March in either 32AD or 33AD. This corresponds perfectly with the time of Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem.

The Noble Donkey

“As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”—Luke 19:29–31 (NIV)

Jesus and His disciples were heading to Jerusalem for the Passover, but in reality, He was really going to become the Passover Lamb for us. For three years, Jesus had been travelling the land of Israel preaching revolutionary messages with remarkable authority, healing the blind, sick, and lame, raising the dead, doing things that completely defied all the laws of nature, casting out demons, forgiving sins, and giving hope to the hopeless. There is no doubt He was the most famous—and infamous—person in Israel.

The people knew who Jesus was, and more importantly, they’d begun to wonder, to hope, to believe that He was the anointed One, the Son of David who would establish an everlasting kingdom.

Now, if I were to ask you, what do you think the greatest king would ride when making His grand and triumphal arrival? Today, you’d probably imagine the top of the line jet or most expensive, amazing car, something like a Rolls Royce, Bentley, or Ferrari. You probably wouldn’t expect Him to pull up in a reasonably priced Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. Back in the first century, you would probably picture the finest, most regal stallion. But not the Jews . . . They expected their king to arrive riding something else. You see, they knew Zechariah 9:9 (NASB), which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So imagine their joy, their uncontainable excitement when Jesus arrives so humbly on a donkey. They knew what this meant, and they thought they knew what it meant for them—more on that later.

The Royal Palms

“Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.”—Mark 11:8 (NIV)

In a 2015 Time Magazine article, Charlotte Alter wrote, “Christians carry palms on Palm Sunday because according to the Gospels, Jesus’ followers covered his path in palm fronds on the day he entered Jerusalem after the custom of placing palms in the path of a high-ranking person.”

When the people saw Jesus making His entry into Jerusalem on the young donkey, they excitedly began to pay homage to Him by praising the Lord and laying their cloaks and palm branches on the road in front of Him. According to Alter, “The palm branch also signified victory in Greco-Roman times, so the waving palms would have resembled a triumphal procession.”

Blessed Is He . . .

“Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”Mark 11:9–10 (NKJV)

The phrase “in the highest” implies “to the utmost, highest degree” or “in the highest heavens.” Many scholars believe that the Jews were most likely calling on the angels of heaven to participate in glorifying the inbound Messiah with cries of salvation, to confirm their growing suspicion that the One had finally arrived.

These shouts of adoration showed that at least some of the Jews believed their Messiah was finally riding in to free them from their Roman captors. And as is typical with large crowds, excitement and expectation began to spread, and soon the masses began to shout in unison.

However, what they got wasn’t exactly what they had wanted. From the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans, the Jews had grown tired of being ruled. They were anxious to see the time of David’s heir come, to see the promises of God to the great king fulfilled. But what they envisioned was not a spiritual kingdom, which is what Jesus came to establish with His first coming (John 18:33–37). They wanted a physical kingdom; they wanted to see the Anointed One overthrow the Romans and establish an empire like the world had never seen.

And so, as Jesus rode in, they became excited. The people believed their time had finally come. And when this didn’t happen, only a few days later the same multitude that shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” would also shout “Crucify Him” (Luke 23:21).

Final Thoughts

I hope this overview of Palm Sunday gives you a greater scope of what this celebratory day means. And I pray this Sunday as we get together to worship Jesus and study His Word, it will be a day of renewed surrender for you and me . . . a day where we lay the palm frond of our life in front of Him. I pray it will be a day of renewed joy and celebration as we remember that our King has come, and He’s made a way for us to enter His kingdom and be with Him for all eternity!

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.