Worship Helps for Palm Sunday
Jesus enters Jerusalem
Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, Paris, 1842
As we come upon Holy Week once again in the church year, we praise Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:61).
On Sunday Jesus rides a donkey down from the Mount of Olives. He did this so that on Friday He could carry His cross up to Mt. Calvary.
The image of Jesus entering Jerusalem, created by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, may at first glance appear stationary and without expression of emotion by the Palm Sunday worshipers. However, at the same time, this painting is also dominated by Jesus in his regality and majesty.
It is a simple painting that contains much depth … much like the events of that first Palm Sunday.
In the beginning of the week, Jesus is praised as a king with palm branches in the air and robes thrown on the ground. On Friday the soldiers mock Jesus as a king with a purple robe, a crown of thorns and a sign above His cross that reads, “The king of the Jews.”
On Sunday Jesus rides past the walls of Jerusalem carried on a donkey. On Friday Jesus’ corpse is on Golgotha’s hill, being carried by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, so He may be buried in a borrowed tomb.
This was the greatest miracle of all time! The King dies for His subjects. The Shepherd lays down His life for sheep who love to wander. The Creator allows His creatures to crucify Him.
“See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zecheriah 9:9). There is both a simplicity and a depth to the entrance of Jesus on Palm Sunday.
If Jesus came in the fullness of His glory with His voice like thunder and His eyes like fire, we would surely run from Him in fear. When Isaiah saw the Lord’s glory, He came undone (Isaiah 6). When Jesus stilled the stormy sea, the disciples were terrified (Matthew 8). When He ordered the fish to jump into their nets, the disciples demanded that He depart from them (Luke 5). So Jesus humbled Himself and became a servant (Philippians 2:8).
Jesus humbled Himself and came as a servant so that we would not fear Him, but trust in Him. He did not enter Jerusalem on a gleaming white steed to rule over us, rather He came gentle and riding a donkey because He was being obedient to Another.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem. He is riding on in majesty. At the same time, He is riding to a criminal’s death. A death that will make centurions and governors shake, but a death that will take a criminal to paradise.
Jesus enters Jerusalem as King. The people putting their cloaks on the ground and waving palm branches in the air recognize this. Even as a King, Jesus still enters with humility and gentleness.
The next time Jesus comes, it will not be with humilty and gentleness. “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:7).
On Palm Sunday, the people praise Christ with palm branches. One day, we will gather with the saints in heaven to wave palm branches in victory around the throne of Christ (Revelation 7:9). There will be no gentleness or humility … only glory and victory. For Christ reigns now and forevermore as our King of kings and Lord of lords.
For this Sunday we witness Jesus riding to His death. We also see Him riding to His victory over death.
Worship Theme: Hail the King who humbly comes to save us! For 1700 years, the Church has celebrated with Hosannas and palm branches this festival that opens Holy Week. The time for Christ’s glory had come. He would not, however, gain glory in the manner of other kings. Rather, he would humble himself in great acts of love for us, and then the Father would exalt him to the highest place, because he had fulfilled God’s mission to save mankind.
Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9,10 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
1. How is Christ “your king”?
2. How would this king be different than other earthly kings?
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
3. What quality of Christ is stressed as a model for us?
4. Where was Christ’s humility most obvious?
5. What was the end result of Jesus’ humility?
Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.
very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches
from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went
ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of
David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!" 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem,
the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" 11
The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in
6. Of what significance is the fact that Jesus is the Son of David?
1. Though he was more than qualified, Jesus never claimed an earthly kingdom like we normally think with the word “king.” Instead, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. We often consider him ruling in three kingdoms: the Kingdom of Power (his power places him above all things in heaven and earth), the Kingdom of Grace (where he rules in the hearts of his believers), and the Kingdom of Glory (he rules in heaven and will continue there into all eternity).
2. Zechariah tells Jerusalem to rejoice when the messianic King comes to her, because he will have with him the righteousness she needs and the salvation she craves. This King would surpass the glory and power of all Israel’s kings before him. King David’s rule extended to the River Euphrates at its farthest—but this King’s rule would extend from the Euphrates to the very ends of the earth, from sea to sea. His worldwide kingdom would mean the end of war and the advent of peace. All this he would do not with an army, but with his person—not with violence, but with gentleness. Rejoice, daughter of Zion! Your King comes to you. Hail him!
3. His humility which caused him willingly to lay aside the honor and majesty that were his as God.
4. In the death he died, a form reserved for the worst of criminals, “death on a tree.”
5. “God exalted him to the highest place,” and at his name, “every knee should bow.” Jesus extends the same promise to us when he says that the last shall be first (Mark 10:31).
Jesus is our King, but he came humbly to save us. Though true God, he became man. Though all powerful, he became a servant. Though immortal and eternal, he died. He not only laid aside his glory, but he took our shame upon him. He not only humbled himself, but he died as one who was cursed. Yet in this great humility, he won the peace of forgiveness for us. The King came humbly because he wasn’t on the way to a throne in Jerusalem, but to a hill called Golgotha where he would fulfill God’s mission and save his people. Therefore, God would give him glory greater than his humiliation—every creature will bow the knee and hail him: Jesus Christ is Lord!
6. The Messiah was foretold to be of David’s family (2 Samuel 7:16), and Jesus could trace his line back to King David through both his mother and his earthly father. The Jewish people knew well that the Messiah must have these credentials.
The great King comes to his city and to his temple! He could have come with all the power and glory of the Son of God. He could have ridden a thunderstorm as his chariot with legions of angels striding beside him and creation itself singing forth the praise of its Maker. But look how he comes: Not on the storm, but on a donkey; not accompanied by heavenly warriors, but by fishermen with a spotty record of faith; not to the sound of creation singing, but to the shouts of fickle pilgrims who cheered him on Sunday but would desert him by Friday. Why did he come so humbly? Because he came not to rule us, but to save us. He came, not to command us, but to invite us. He came not to demand anything from us, but to give everything for us. He comes in the name of the Lord to save us.
Putting your faith into action
“Jesus is a peculiar king. You do not seek him, he seeks you; you do not find him, he finds you; your faith comes from him, not from you; and all your faith works in you come from him, not from you” (Martin Luther). As we see Jesus come humbly to Jerusalem on a colt, may we be reminded of this peculiar nature of our king who serves so that we might live for him.
12] We believe, teach, and confess also that the assumed human nature in Christ not only has and retains its natural, essential properties, but that over and above these, through the personal union with the Deity, and afterwards through glorification, it has been exalted to the right hand of majesty, power, and might, over everything that can be named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come [Eph. 1:21].
13] Now as regards this majesty, to which Christ has been exalted according to His humanity, He did not first receive it when He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, but when He was conceived in His mother's womb and became man, and the divine and human natures were personally united with one another. 14] However, this personal union is not to be understood, as some incorrectly explain it, as though the two natures, the divine and the human, were united with one another, as two boards are glued together, so that they realiter [relate], that is, in deed and truth, have no communion whatever with one another. – Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, The Person of Christ (paragraphs 12-14)
579; 370; 716; 133; 344; 363
1 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry.
O Savior meek, pursue your road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed.
2 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.
3 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
To see th’ approaching sacrifice.
4 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Your last and fiercest strife is nigh.
The Father on his sapphire throne
Awaits his own anointed Son.
5 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow your meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O Christ, your power and reign.
Text: Henry H. Milman, 1791–1868, alt.