Four Ways to Prepare for Palm Sunday

palm-sundayPalm Sunday marks the beginning of what we know as Passion Week or Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The term “Passion” in Passion Week refers to the inhumane suffering Jesus experienced on the cross to make redemption possible for mankind.  The Passion Week is crowned with Easter or Resurrection Sunday.  Christians make much of the Easter season because the events, Jesus’ death and resurrection, are the two pillars of the Christian good news.  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).  The gospel is the sun in the universe of what Christians believe.  In sum, the events we remember during the Easter season display that fundamental truth God did for us in Christ what we could never do for ourselves.  “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  Because the Easter season sets before us the most precious and essential truth of the gospel, we should prepare ourselves so that we can spiritually benefit from the Easter season.  In the spirit of preparing ourselves to spiritually profit from the Easter season, here are four ways to prepare for Palm Sunday.

  1. Read the triumphal entry passages in the gospels.  All four gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.  All four accounts reveal the significance of the triumphal entry.  It was a profoundly important event in Jesus’ life.
  2. Reflect on the significance of the triumphal entry.  Jesus was introduced as King!  This has major implications for here & now and then & there.  The here & now implication is that we should pay homage to the King and give our lives in service to Him.  The then & there implication is that He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 7:9; 17:14; 19:16).
  3. Delight that the King came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness and that, by grace alone through faith alone, He transferred you into His kingdom.  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).  Do this corporately on Sunday.  Gather with other kingdom constituents and worship the King.

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise
(Robert Grant, “O Worship the King,” 1833)

  1. Commit or recommit yourself to the King.  There is no better time than Palm Sunday than to yield yourself to the King for the first time or anew.  Is Jesus your King?  If not, why not?  There are are only two ways to live.  If He is, does your life reveal complete allegiance to Him?

An Outreach Parable

The year is 1621 in Massachusetts.  The English settlers have endured a brutal winter.  Their numbers are fewer; some contracted illness Massachusetts Winterand died.  Others survived.  And now it’s finally Spring.  A man wakes up to the melodious sounds of birds singing.  The man knows that the time has come to prepare the soil and plant the crops.  Supplies are dangerously low and they will last the man and his family until harvest but no longer.  This man contracted a severe illness along with others but as Providence would have it, he survived.  Though he is much improved, his body is still feeling the effects of the illness.  Even so, he knows in spite of his personal discomfort he must labor in the field.  The lives of his wife and children depend on it.  He goes out to the field and labors but before too long he is tired and his health rapidly deteriorates.  Based on his level of discomfort, he leaves the field.  One day passes and then another.  Days turn into weeks.  The field is never prepared and no seeds are ever sown.  The family prays for an abundant harvest because their rations are nearly depleted but they pray in vain because no seeds were ever sown.  Harvest comes.  The family eats their final meager portions.  The man now sees the irrevocable and tragic effects of his decision to consider his own comfort before the well-being of his family.  Their supplies are spent.  The man and his family die.  Unknown to this family, many of the other settlers also experienced severe personal discomfort while laboring in the fields but they persevered because the lives of others depended on them.  They prepared the soil and unsparingly sowed seeds.  They prayed for God to bless their labors.  He rewarded them with a bountiful harvest.

There are two lessons on outreach from this parable.

  1. We are often quick to succumb to our personal discomfort when it comes to being a witness for Christ.  Sadly, this means our discomfort is more important to us than the lost souls of men. So are you willing to move beyond your personal discomfort in being a witness for Christ, especially this Easter season?  Are you willing to labor in the fields of the gospel for the sake of others regardless of the personal cost?
  2. We cannot pray for a gospel harvest if we never sow gospel seeds.  God cannot and will not bless outreach efforts we never carry out.  Are you praying for God to bless your non-efforts?   Conversely, we can and should pray for God to bring forth a harvest of souls when we faithfully and liberally sow gospel seeds.  The gospel is still the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes!

The Passion Week – A Dark Sabbath

The crucifixion itself began shortly before noon, or the sixth hour (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:25, 33; Luke 23:44; John 19:14).  Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3:00pm (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:44).  The crucified victim may have remained on the cross for days.  Yet Jesus died in only three hours.  This surprised Pilate (Mark 15:44).

Pilate inquires, “Is it true?”

The centurion replies, “Yes.  He is dead.”

Jesus experienced immense physical trauma.  The gospels flesh out what Isaiah foresaw in Isaiah 53:4-5.

  • Jesus was beaten by the Jews (Luke 22:63).
  • Jesus was scourged or whipped by Roman soldiers (John 19:1).  This leads to tremendous loss of blood.
  • A crown of thorns was crunched down upon his head (Mark 15:17).
  • He was struck with the reed they used as a mock scepter (Mark 15:18).
  • He was beaten some more by Roman soldiers (John 19:3).
  • He was forced to carry his own instrument of death a significant distance, especially for a man in such a condition (Mark 15:20; John 19:17).
  • He faced insatiable thirst on the cross (John 19:28).
  • There was the unbearable agony of taking a breath on the cross.  Crucifixion meant a slow, painful death by suffocation.

All of this physical suffering is enough to cause life to ebb away from any person.  Yet people remained in the cross for days.  Why only three hours for Jesus?  There may be more to the time of Jesus’ death than purely physical reasons.   First, remember this took place during the Passover on the day of Preparation, i.e., the day before the Sabbath.  If a holy day was near, and one was, the Roman soldiers would expedite death by smashing the shin bones of the victim so he could no longer breathe.  The OT indicated that not a bone of Jesus would be broken (cf. Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20).  Second, remember that Jesus died at the ninth hour or 3:00pm.  The Passover was commemorated with the slaughter of lambs, as God commanded.  The slaughter of the lambs was supposed to take place on the 14th day of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5).  This began on the ninth hour, or at 3:00pm!  Just as the cries of the dying Passover lambs began in Jerusalem, the Lamb of God excruciatingly but triumphantly cried out on the altar of Golgotha, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  The fulfillment of prophecy, no broken bones, and the sacrificial work of the Lamb of God both were factors, I believe, in the duration of Jesus suffering and the timing of His death.

Jesus’ corpse is taken down from the cross.  Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and received it.  His lifeless body was prepared for burial, placed in the tomb, and its entrance was sealed by a massive stone (Mark 15:42-47).  Sabbath has arrived.  This would be an unusually dark Sabbath.

What a disheartened Sabbath this must have been for Jesus’ disciples.  The Sabbath was a day of rest, or delighting in God.  It was instituted on the occasion when God created and said, “It is very good!” (Genesis 1:31-2:3).  The followers of Jesus just witnessed the death of their Messiah by the cruelest method ever known.  Current reality can be abrasive.  One wonders how much goodness the followers of Jesus perceived this particular Sabbath; how much delight they experienced on this particular Sabbath.  It was a very dark day.  This Sabbath was probably not characterized by delight but by mourning the death of the Christ.  But there was more.  The current reality was not the end of the story.  There was a providential hand still very much at work; though it was unseen.  The morning was coming . . .

This is a rather common human experience, isn’t it?  Days that were supposed to be filled with delight were filled with sorrow.  Relationships that were supposed to bring us joy brought disappointment.  Endeavors that promised fulfillment yielded emptiness.  Yet God was doing something on this Sabbath day that Jesus’ followers did not see.  God is also doing something in the times in your life when things have not turned out as you thought they should.  This is why God’s ways are not our ways–they are better.

Passion Week Meditation – Friday

The choices people make can be flat-out baffling.  We wonder, “What were they thinking?”  We encounter one of these perplexing moments on Friday of the Passion Week.  It is now early Friday morning (John 18:28; Mark 15:1).  Jesus had been subjected to what can only very loosely be called a trial by the Jewish leaders.  He is now turned over to the Roman authorities to be tried for political reasons (the title “King of the Jews” was a two-edged sword in a Roman province).  Jesus was before Pontius Pilate, prefect of the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD.  After interrogating Him, Pilate concludes that Jesus is innocent.  The Jews, particularly the chief priests (Mark 15:10-11), had one final recourse to see that Jesus was crucified.  Pilate had a custom of releasing one prisoner during the Passover (Mark 15:6).  Their options: Barabbas and Jesus.  The former was a murderer and a notorious insurrectionist (Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19; John 18:40).  In short, Barabbas was a convicted thug.  The latter was a Man who had done nothing wrong and posed no threat to Rome.  On the contrary, He taught that Jews should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17).  No brainer right?  A reasonable and just people would call for Jesus’ release.  The chief priests would not have it and they chided the crowd to choose Barabbas, so they did and Barabbas was released (Mark 15:11).  This takes us to noon on Friday of the Passion Week (John 19:14).

By any account, the Jews made an irrational and unreasonable choice on Friday of the Passion Week.  How about you?  Who would you have chosen that day, Barabbas or Jesus?  Let’s move beyond the hypothetical and into the here and now.  Have you chosen Jesus over any other religious figure?  Have you chosen Jesus over any pleasure or ambition?  Jesus is the only reasonable choice.

Martin Luther wrote well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  In it he declares,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He!

On this Good Friday we are reminded once again, “Christ Jesus, it is He!” who suffered and died for our sins.  This is why Jesus of Nazareth was and remains the only reasonable choice for all people.  In 1871, Antonio Ciseri painted a depiction of the scene of Jesus’ trial.  He called it “Ecce Homo” which is a Latin phrase that means, “Behold the Man.”  In the painting, Pilate is looking out that the crowd with his back to those looking at the painting with his hand pointing back at Jesus.  Similarly, Good Friday calls our attention to look upon Jesus, the One who endured the ignominy of the cross for your sins and mine.  On this Good Friday I urge you to “Behold the Man!”  Choose Christ.  For His suffering and death is the basis of our glorious justification.  This is what makes Good Friday, well, good.

Passion Week Meditation – Thursday

What we eat is often of little consequence, except when it’s our last meal.  What we say is often rather ordinary, except when they are our last words.  Thursday of the Passion Week was the day of Jesus’ last meal and His last words, at least His last extended discourse.  Jesus and His disciples observed the Passover in an upper room; known as the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23; John 13:1-5).  Following the supper, Jesus gave what is known as the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17:26).  Jesus taught on His departure, i.e., return to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He concluded His instruction with a poignant High Priestly prayer in John 17.  Then they sung a hymn (probably Psalm 118) and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus never lost sight of His mission or ministry.  John 13:1 tells us that “Jesus knew his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.”  Jesus was fully aware that unspeakable agony was just hours away.  But the reality is that His anguish began in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42).  Jesus transparently shared, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34).  The intensity of Jesus’ prayer is palpable.  Luke the physician recorded a unique but important detail, “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).  Blood-mingled sweat is a rare but real condition during extreme levels of stress known as hematidrosis.  The cross before Jesus was a more than adequate reason for this physiological expression.

It is right to call this Passion Week.  Jesus suffered immensely.  He tasted anguish not only on Friday but throughout the week, including on Thursday, the day before His crucifixion.  He was rightly called a man of sorrows by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:3).  Not only did He bear His own sorrow but He also carried ours (Isaiah 53:4).  The last meal and the last words of Jesus are momentous.  He experienced all of this enormous distress for you and for me because of your sin and mine.  What a Savior!

Man of Sorrows what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
(Philip Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”)