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What is Palm Sunday?

"The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!'" —John 12:12-13

Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, one week before His resurrection (Matthew 21:1-11). It is so-named because of the events which unfolded that day and serves to mark the beginning of "Passion Week," a commemoration of the last seven days of Jesus' ministry on earth.

Some churches will hold a Palm Sunday service on the Sunday before Easter. Service attendees are given fresh palm leaves either as they enter or leave the building, allowing for a "procession" of palms, just as when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Catholic and some liturgical churches will save the leftover palm leaves to create ashes used in the following year's Ash Wednesday service.

The First Palm Sunday

One Sunday morning, Jesus and His disciples were traveling over the Mount of Olives. Jesus knew His time on earth would soon close. He had come to save the lost (Luke 19:10), and His work would be finished in a matter of days on a hill called The Place of the Skull, where He would secure that salvation once and for all (John 3:16; Matthew 27:33).

As they drew closer to Jerusalem that Sunday, Jesus sent two disciples ahead to the village of Bethphage. He told them they would find a donkey and its colt so He could ride it into the city. They found the donkey and colt, just as He'd said they would, and when the owners asked why they were taking it, they replied, "The Lord needs them," as Jesus had instructed them to say. Incredibly, the owners found this perfectly reasonable, and let them go (Luke 19:29-35). As Jesus rode the colt into Jerusalem, He fulfilled a prophecy which had been written almost 500 years prior to that day.

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! / Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! / See, your king comes to you, / righteous and victorious, / lowly and riding on a donkey, / on a colt, the foal of a donkey." —Zechariah 9:9

A multitude of people gathered as they saw Jesus coming. Many understood that this was their Messiah, the Deliverer who had been promised to Israel generations ago. They threw their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to cross, and some cut palm leaves from nearby trees to wave in welcome along Jesus' path, shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9; John 12:13). This kind of welcome was how kings would be treated in those times (2 Kings 9:13), and their words were a quote from Psalm 118:25-26, which was a prophecy of the coming Christ.

This honoring of Jesus as the Christ so publicly made nearby religious leaders very upset. They demanded that Jesus rebuke His followers for blasphemy, but Jesus saw no reason to rebuke the people for telling the truth (Luke 19:37-40). What no one realized was that the Kingdom of God would not come immediately, that their King was not meant to reign in the way they wished—even though Jesus tried to explain in a parable what was yet to come (Luke 19:11-27).

Looking at all those joyful faces calling out, "Hosanna in the highest!" to Him, Jesus still knew that, in less than a week's time, they would be crying, "Crucify Him!" instead (Matthew 27:22-23; John 19:14-16). For He did not come to rescue them politically, free their nation from hardship, or save them from cultural ruin. Rather, Jesus came to offer spiritual salvation, which is what was truly needed first and foremost.

"And when [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, 'Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'" —Luke 19:41-44

How tragic to have been in the presence of the Savior of the world and never realize the gravity of that moment! But there will come a day when every knee will fall before Jesus and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). John paints a beautiful image of a time to come when the worship will be real: "There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Revelation 7:9-10).

TL;DR

Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, one week before His resurrection (Matthew 21:1-11). It is called Palm Sunday because the multitude who greeted Jesus as He entered Jerusalem waved palm branches to welcome Him like a king (Matthew 21:8-9; John 12:13). Palm Sunday marks the beginning of "Passion Week," a commemoration of the last seven days of Jesus' ministry on earth. Some churches hold Palm Sunday services wherein attendees receive fresh palm leaves either as they enter or leave the building, creating a "procession" of palm branches, just as Jesus saw upon entering the city.

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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