The Message of Palm Sunday

The Message of Palm Sunday

It is impossible to overstate the dramatic change from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. The typical Palm Sunday service is filled with kids waving palm branches, upbeat songs, and a vibe of joy. Good Friday, on the other hand, is a service in a dark room, marked by Scriptures read that describe brutal violence, ending in silence. 

That is a stark change in just five days, like driving a car on a new spring day then suddenly slamming into a wall. What happened in those five days? What happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday?

The presence of Jesus is what happened.

The original Palm Sunday was a day long in coming for the people of God. It was first spoken of in Genesis 3, it was hinted at by God when He promised David an eternal line of kings through his descendants, it was described in full by Zechariah, and now at lastit was here. The Messiah was coming into Jerusalem to establish His reign. Everyone knew what that meant. Jesus was going to throw out the Roman oppressors and establish God’s world-wide reign of peace. 

Then Jesus showed up and ruined everything.

He confronted the people of God, not the Roman oppressors. He said to them “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:46) 

Now a decision had to be made. What to do with this confrontational Jesus?

This is where things turned tragic, how we get from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. The religious leaders of the day determine they are not interested in what Jesus is offering, so they scheme, plan and devise a way to get rid of Him. Instead of instituting the reign of God from the hill of the Temple, Jesus was crucified on a hill called “place of the skull.” What a drastic, rapid fall.

What happened?

It is easy to believe that we want Jesus, but we must confront the fact that it only took five days for an entire city to go from revering Jesus to rejecting Him. Five days is all it took for Jerusalem to move from cherishing Him to crucifying Him. That is the message of Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday reveals how fast my reverence for Jesus can turn to rejection.

In the presence of Jesus, I am confronted with where I am broken, where I am hostile to the Kingdom of God, where God’s purposes are at odds with what I want to do in the world. As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote:

In the presence of his integrity, our own pretense is exposed. In the presence of his constancy, our cowardice is brought to light. In the presence of his fierce love for God and for us, our own hardness of heart is revealed….He is the light of the world. In his presence, people either fall down to worship him or do everything they can to extinguish his light.

Holy Week is an invitation for us to meditate on the ways in which our hearts move from welcoming the presence of Jesus to trying to extinguish His light. To let His integrity expose the false ways I live. To let His courage and constant commitment to others expose my selfishness. To let His love and devotion to the Father expose my own fickle commitment to the path God calls me to follow.

Meditate on those themes, and the weight is crushing. However, the irony of Holy Week is that while our pretenses are laid bare and exposed, Jesus’ commitment toward us is firm, resolute, and irreversible. The way we tried to extinguish His light became the very means by which He flooded this world with His light. Crucifixion. Death. Resurrection. The dramatic shift from Palm Sunday to Good Friday may reveal the darkness of our hearts but it also sheds light on the glory of Jesus.

My reverence for Jesus may quickly turn to rejection, but Jesus never responds that way to us. Whether we are waving palm branches, shouting for joy and worshiping Him as Messiah, or trying to go our own way, rejecting Him and blocking His light from our eyes, He continues on His way to the cross, committed to our salvation, our healing, our redemption.

Palm Sunday may reveal how quickly we turn on Him, but that is not the message of Palm Sunday. The message of Palm Sunday is that our heart toward Jesus will not affect His heart toward us. He is always working toward our healing, even while we are trying to snuff out His light.

Three Resources on Genesis 3

Three Resources on Genesis 3

Genesis 3 is a great hinge in the biblical story. It provides the answers to the questions:

What’s wrong with the world?

Why do things never seem to go as they ought?

Why does there always seem to be a problem?

The author of Genesis, guided under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has given us an incredibly rich account of what went wrong in the good world God made. Here are three resources that have helped me understand and appreciate just a bit more the richness of Genesis 3.

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Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

What would have happened if Adam and Eve had resisted the evil one instead of joining him? This is what Lewis explores in the second book of his science-fiction space trilogy.

In it Lewis imagines a human from Earth visiting a planet—Perelandra—that has not fallen into sin. Perelandra is still a new world in which there are only one man and one woman, the king and queen. But evil is seeking to invade this world too, and soon this human visitor is caught in an epic struggle to keep the queen of Perelandra from believing the lies of the evil one. Every time I read it, Lewis awakens in me a deep longing for the world as it ought to be and revives in me great hope for the world as it will one day be again.

With the exception of Till We Have Faces, Perelandra is probably my favorite of all of C. S. Lewis’ fiction writing. Even though it is the second book in a series, you can read it as a standalone story. But I highly recommend reading all three!

Bonus: The Screwtape Letters is also a fantastic fiction work by Lewis that explores how the evil one seeks to tempt, distract, and destroy humans.

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Spiritual Beings by The Bible Project

Another incredibly helpful resource for understanding Genesis 3 is the video series Spiritual Beings. This series of short, animated videos explores what the Bible teaches about the spiritual creatures that God made. The videos are especially helpful in understanding the origins of the evil one who enters the garden in the form of a snake.

Bonus: Also helpful from The Bible Project is the “Read Scripture” video on Genesis 1-11 and also the Torah Series video on Genesis 1-11.

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Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

In the introduction to this outstanding book on what sin is and how it works, Plantinga observes:

…even when it is familiar, sin is never normal. Sin is the destruction of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God, and it does all this disrupting and resisting a number of intertwined ways. Sinful life, as Geoffrey Bromiley observes, is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life.

He then goes on to trace out those intertwined ways in which sin has infected us and our world, vividly reminding us that this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Yet, he also offers deep hope for the triumph over sin. For example, he concludes:

“Creation is stronger than sin and grace stronger still. Grace and creation are anvils that have worn out a lot of our hammers…. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”

In spending time reflecting deeply on the nature and results of sin, you will find yourself with a new deeper joy and gratitude for the rescue you have in and through Jesus!

Bonus:  Another great resource on how sin affects us as human beings is Curt Thompson’s book The Soul of Shame. Bringing together insights from neurobiology and the biblical story, Thompson shows us how shame is the primary weapon of the enemy in our lives.

While these books and videos are not a substitute for deep reflection and meditation on the text of Genesis 3, hopefully, they will give you fresh insight and a new appreciation for this critical passage of Scripture.