On Palm Sunday, we remember the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, knowing that he would then be captured and crucified. On the way to the holy city, one of Jesus’ disciples (Peter) begged him not to go. He was aware that Jesus was a hunted man. The religious leaders of the day felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity. Hoping to silence him and protect their “monopoly on religion,” they plotted his death.
…And Jesus rode into their hands on the back of a young donkey. Why did he do it?
Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was the special day of the year when every Jewish person remembered how God delivered Israel from slavery to Pharaoh, and when God’s judgment “passed over” them. This story can be found in the book of Exodus. Israel had been in Egypt for more than 400 years. For much of this time, they had been forced into slavery. When they cried out for deliverance, God answered.
Moses was chosen as God’s messenger to Pharaoh. God’s message was, “Let My People Go.” Pharaoh refused. God responded by sending 10 judgments on Pharaoh and Egypt, the last of which was death. To be spared from God’s final judgment, every Israelite was instructed to place the blood of a “Passover Lamb” on their doorposts. Placing this mark on their homes was an act of faith. When death visited Egypt, it “passed over” all the homes marked with the blood of a flawless lamb. God’s judgment passed over Israel, and Pharaoh finally allowed them to leave. Israel was free. They left slavery, death and the false gods of Egypt behind.
When a prophet known as John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he called out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, he did it not just to celebrate the Passover, but also to become humanity’s Passover Lamb. This time, however, it was not just Israel that could be freed from slavery; it was the whole world. It was not just Israel that could have their sins “passed over”; everyone on earth–past, present and future–can now experience freedom and forgiveness.
The apostle Paul explains to us how Jesus accomplished this extraordinary miracle. Everyone who trusts (has faith) in Jesus as humanity’s Passover Lamb is “united with Christ” by the Spirit of God. This means that his death becomes our death. The judgment due to everyone who has been a servant of sin passes over us, because in Christ, we have already died. As far as our former master (sin) is concerned, we are dead and therefore freed from any further obligation to serve. United with Christ through faith, we also share in Jesus’ resurrection. We rise again with Christ–free and forgiven–to live new lives “in fellowship with God.” Rather than being “slaves to sin,” we are now called “sons and daughters of God.” God even sends his own Holy Spirit to live within us, to teach us just how much we are loved by God, and to help us learn to love one another as we have been loved. Freedom, forgiveness and eternal life with a God of love–all of these things belong to everyone who is united with Christ through faith.
Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, knowing that it would lead to his death? He did it to free us from our sins so that we might know and share the love of God forever.
Happy Palm Sunday.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'” (John 1:29)
“Christ, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
“When you were the slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. What did you gain from doing the things that you are now ashamed of? The result of those things is death… For sin pays its wage—death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23)
“It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
“For when we die, we are set free from the power of sin. Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again—death will no longer rule over him. And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God. In the same way you are to think of yourselves as dead, so far as sin is concerned, but living in fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:7-11)