Palm Sunday And Jesus’ Last Week – Walking With The King – What Is He Teaching Us?
Recently my wife and I visited Lijiang old town in Yunnan province. I had been almost 20 years before, but this time was different. There were many people doing Vlogs. They were walking around with cameras on themselves talking about the shopping, the restaurants, and the sites and live streaming all over the world. Technology has come a long way.
Today we get to tune in to a recording of the King of King’s visit to the holiest city in the world almost 2000 years ago. It was recorded for all of us who couldn’t watch the live stream. We will accompany Jesus as He walks and talks in Jerusalem during the last several days of His life.
The King Comes –
Luke 19:36-40 – And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Matthew 21:9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
A. Jesus Welcomed As King
As Jesus descended the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem, He was greeted by an exuberant crowd. They recognized that He was their King, their Messiah. And they welcomed Him as such. They took off their outer garments and laid them on the road. Others took palm branches and spread them in front of Jesus. It was a glorious and exciting scene. It is often called the Triumphal Entry for a reason. Jesus was declaring Himself to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about their Messiah.
The Pharisees are angry because they recognize the people are praising Jesus as the Messiah, and they don’t accept it.
But Jesus doesn’t reject their praises. He doesn’t tell them to calm down. He doesn’t say that their faith is misplaced. He accepts it and welcomes it because it is right. They are right to welcome Him in this manner.
Most likely, Jesus walked through the East Gate. This is the gate that the priests would have taken the sacrificial lamb (scapegoat) throughout of the city. It leads directly to the temple.
Even in later centuries, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come through this gate. Because of this, the Muslim ruler Suleiman the Magnificent, who had the current walls built in 1538 AD, had the gate sealed in 1541AD, hoping that this would prevent the Messiah from ever coming. He even had a cemetery put outside the gate.
B. Meaning of Hosanna
Hosanna is a Christianized form of the Hebrew word Hoshana (הושענה). It is a contraction of the words “save” and “please” (“hosha” and “na”). It means something like “save now” or “give us help from our oppression!”
Psalms 118:25 Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Here the same words are translated “save now.” The people were asking for Jesus’ help as Messiah to save them. They had been waiting hundreds of years for their Messiah, the one prophesied throughout the Old Testament, to come.
But they were probably not looking for someone to save them spiritually. For ages, Judah had been oppressed. They had been subjected to multiple foreign empires. And now they were subjected to Rome. They wanted Jesus to free them from their oppressors and restore Israel as an independent power. They wanted Jesus to be a hero and make Israel great again. Like many other times in Jesus’ ministry, they were hoping for a prosperous physical kingdom, while Jesus was building a spiritual kingdom.
“Son of David” was a term used to describe the Messiah, since it was prophesied the Messiah would be descended from David.
C. Jesus Presented Himself As The Passover Lamb
Exodus 12:3 – Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.
Exodus 12:6 – And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
First, they select the lamb and get it from the flock. Then they keep it for four days. Some translations say to “take care of it” for that amount of time.
By requiring the families to care for the lamb separately from the flock for four days would help them to realize that the sacrifice was personal. It was not just a nameless, faceless lamb from among many. It was a lamb that had been with them. It would live with them in their house for four days. They would feed it and care for it. Perhaps they would grow to be fond of the lamb. And they would know it was innocent of what was going to happen. All of this was designed by God to make them know that the sacrifice was personal. This innocent lamb was taking the punishment for their sins.
It was going to face death so that they would be spared.
That lamb’s sacrifice was directly connected to their own deliverance. It wasn’t just some lamb somewhere who died for some person somewhere. That specific lamb died for them and by their own hand.
Jesus likely entered Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month Nissan, the same day the Jews would take their lamb home before the Passover. That significance is not coincidental. He was presenting Himself as their sacrificial Passover Lamb. He would then remain with them over the next few days. Finally, just as the innocent Passover Lamb did, He would die by their hands. The Passover Lamb was killed just days later on the 14th day of the month Nissan. We don’t have enough time today to look at it, but there is good reason to suspect that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, also the 14th day of the month Nissan.
God designed this entire ritual to point to Christ.
Their King, their Messiah, was also their sacrificial lamb. The King was their Lamb, giving His blood, so that God’s judgment would pass over them.
Application: Have you welcomed Jesus as King of your life? If Jesus came to your house, would you shout out praises and roll out the red carpet? Or would you leave him outside the door, “Wait a minute Jesus, I have something to do first” and then run into the house to get rid of something or clean something because it is not ready? We should invite Jesus in and welcome Him as king.
And they did that. They welcomed Him on Sunday, but how about the rest of the week?
And what will the King do when He comes in? We are going to zoom out and look at Jesus’ last several days before His death. These can show us what was on His heart and what lessons He wanted to leave to the disciples and to us at the very end of His earthly ministry.
The King Curses –
Mark tells us Jesus entered the temple and looked around and then went to Bethany, before coming back the next day.
Mark 11:12-14 – On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Jesus was staying in Bethany, which was about 1.7 (3KM) from Jerusalem, and commuted to Jerusalem each day by walking. He knew His time was nearly up. We should look carefully at what He did in His last days as that will show us what was on His heart as His sacrificial death approached.
And the first words recorded in Mark after declaring Himself as King in the triumphal entry are “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
Not exactly what you would expect. It’s a curse. It was no careless act of temper. This curse is different than how we understand cursing. Cursing in modern terms often involves profanity. But this was a curse pronouncing judgment, a removal of God’s favor and blessing.
But why would Jesus curse the tree when it was “out of season”? Is that fair? And why is this account even recorded here?
According to scholars, in Palestine, the fruit appears before the leaves. If a tree had leaves, the logical assumption would be that it also had fruit. A fig tree could have fruit in that area for as much as ten months per year.
This tree had leaves. From a distance, it looked like any other healthy fig tree, with lush, green foliage. It was an attractive tree. It attracted them to walk over to it from the road, expecting fruit. But this tree was barren. It was worthless. It was not fulfilling the role God created it for. The tree looked good on the outside, but in reality, provided nothing of value. It was a pretender. So Jesus curses it. In essence, He doesn’t allow it to deceive anyone else. The next day it was already withered up.
Most scholars agree that the fig tree symbolizes Israel. A fig tree is often used to represent Israel in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10). The curse on the unfruitful tree is symbolic of God’s judgment on unfruitful Israel, which ultimately rejected the Messiah.
Israel was blessed by God as His chosen people. He gave them prophets. He gave them Scripture. He performed miracles on their behalf. And He sent them His Son. But in spite of all these blessings, the nation was not fruitful. They killed the prophets. They disobeyed Scripture. They would kill the Son.
Their leaders wore long robes and recited long, spiritual-sounding greetings of blessing to each other in the marketplaces. They gave lots of money publicly. And they prayed long-spiritual-sounding prayers. But Jesus pronounced woes on them because they were hypocrites. He called them blind leaders of the blind. The famous “seven woes” he pronounced on the Pharisees were also during this last week before His crucifixion (Matthew 23). In short, they looked good on the outside (like the fig tree), but on the inside were rotten, bearing no fruit.
The king’s expectation is simple. A believer should bear fruit. Every good tree bears good fruit. A person who merely looks religious, but does not honor God from their hearts will be cursed just like the fig tree, and just like Israel.
The people welcomed Jesus as king with their mouths. They sang loud praises to Him on Sunday (much like we do). But their actual lives were fruitless. For the king, that was unacceptable.
Application: How about you? From far away that tree looked good. But up close, it was another story. Maybe others only see those shiny, green leaves on you from far away. Perhaps you keep people at a distance so they won’t see what is underneath the leaves. But if Jesus comes up close to inspect your life what would He find? Would He find a barren tree? Would He find fruit? Let us not practice righteousness in front of people to impress them. Instead, let us demonstrate a genuine faith in God that bears fruit no matter who is watching.
The King Cleanses –
So where does the king go and what does He do after He enters Jerusalem? Does He hold a banquet?
Mark 11:15-19 – And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
Jesus goes to the temple. That should not be a surprise. When He was 12 years old, that is also the place He went. But He finds a very different scene there than the one on the road as He entered Jerusalem. Their words of welcome are quite different than the behavior at the temple. There is inconsistency.
The King’s expectation is that those who claim to follow God as King should worship Him as King.
When Jesus saw the temple, He found that it was turned into a place of business. People were selling the animals for sacrifice. They had money exchange. The temple had become a center of business and profit. If there was any place in all of Jerusalem where God should be the central focus, it is the temple. But though it looked religious, it was far from it. It was a lot like the fruitless tree, which had nice leaves.
The people who were doing this had selfish motivations. They were using God as an excuse to make money. Greed, selfishness, and evil desire were on display.
What should have been the platform for spreading God’s kingdom, was in fact a platform for profit. The thing which should have brought people to God, instead distracted people from God.
If Jesus came down the road outside to GICF this morning, I believe we would lay out the red carpet for Him. We too, would shout, “Hosanna.” If He came to our homes, we would probably do the same. But what would He actually find there? Would we need to be cleansed like the temple?
Let’s see what lessons we can learn for today.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO TO CHURCH OR FELLOWSHIP EVERY WEEK WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPPING GOD!
Many people have the exact same problem today. Evangelists, pastors, and missionaries get on TV, radio, or in front of the church and beg for money. They offer products like prayer cloths, holy water, and even prayers of blessings over any product you send them. The bad reputation of these money-grabbers has tarnished the reputation of much of the church. However, this self-centered thought process has trickled down to mass numbers of church-goers.
I have had many people point blank ask me, “What do I get if I follow God?” “What benefits will I receive?” One person asked me if he could get a beautiful girlfriend. Another asked me if he could immigrate to America.
So what kinds of reasons do people go to “worship” on Sundays?
Social life – People go to church because that is where their friends are. Hey, churches have lots of nice people and it is easy to make friends there. Some churches have many activities throughout the week to enjoy during one’s free time. One church I attended before went on a mission trip to Alaska! This is not to say that any of these things are wrong. One can fellowship in these kinds of settings and make an impact on others for Christ. However, it is all too easy to begin going for the fun, food, or friends. The purpose of the church is not a club to meet your friends!
Safe feeling – Many others go to church for the feeling of safety that it provides. It makes them feel they are doing well spiritually or because they feel guilty if they don’t. Basically, they get their assurance of salvation from going to church rather than from faith in God.
Warm fuzzies – I’ve invited lots of people to church with me for the first time. After they go to church I often ask them what they thought and what they like about it. The most common answer is that they like it because it makes them feel warm. Even many non-Christians have given this answer! They feel comfortable and peaceful when they go to church.
Pressure – Another category of people go to church because their parents or friends put pressure on them to go. They are the ones who go because they “have to.”
Legalism/Pharisaic – Another very common reason for going to church is that it has become an ingrained ritual. We go because “we have always gone” or it’s “what we do on Sundays”. In a way, this is good to set a habit. We should not choose not to go to church because we don’t feel like it on a given Sunday. However, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting church become an impersonal ritual.
So what is the solution for us to avoid these church traps? There is no magic trick. We need to have the right attitude and motivation.
There have been times when our family has felt stressed going to church. We have a lot of things to prepare and help with. In addition, we have to get the children dressed, fed, and ready to go. Sometimes bickering would break out even on the way to church. We realized something was really off. So we started praying each time before church, asking God to prepare our hearts and help us worship. That really helped.
When you go to church, focus on worshiping. You can try some new things to make church more fresh and personal. Pray on your own during prayer times. Think deeply about the words of the songs. Make notes and applications about the sermon. Pray beforehand and afterward that God will teach you in that day’s service. Discuss what you learned with others. Choose one or two points and practice them during the week. Most importantly, remember to go to church for the right reason and don’t think about what you can get out of it. Confess all selfish motivation. Think about what you can give to God and people, not what you can get.
Most people who visited the temple in Jerusalem probably thought it was great. But He didn’t. He cleansed it. What might He cleanse from GICF if He came to visit?
Psalms 24:3-4 – Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
As we walk with Jesus during His last week, let us examine our own lives. Is your life clean and holy? Is your worship sincere? If Jesus came to your home, (or computer or phone) what would He cleanse out of it? If anything comes to mind, that is what you need to deal with.
The King Is Coming Again –
We have seen some of what Jesus did in His last few days. What did He teach about?
Much of His teaching was focused on urging the people to repent, join the kingdom, and be ready for His return.
Here are a few of Jesus’ key teachings in His last few days before His crucifixion.
Wedding Feast – Matthew 22
Signs of the End/Jesus’ Second Coming – Matthew 24
Faithful Servant – Matthew 24
Ten Virgins – Matthew 25
Talents – Matthew 25
Final Judgment – Matthew 25
In these parables and teachings, Jesus urges His listeners to be prepared. He is going to go away for a while. But then He is going to return. And they need to be ready.
Matthew 24:44-46 – Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
Jesus is telling His followers something very important. “I am not going to be personally with you all the time. I am going away. But that is not abandoning you. I will return. But you have to be ready.”
Most people find it easier to obey the authority when he is present. Students tend to misbehave when the teacher leaves the classroom. Children tend to disobey when their parents are absent. Drivers tend to speed more where there are no video cameras.
Jesus warned believers that they were going to have to be faithful even without His physical presence. We often say, “be ready.” It was a key theme in our Revelation study. But what does that mean?
Jesus gave the answer here, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” We are ready when we are doing what He asks us to do, even when no one is watching.
The King expects us to faithfully obey Him just as we would if He was physically present with us.
Application: If Jesus sent you a text message and told you He is coming to your house this week, what would you do differently? What activities would you drop from the schedule and what activities would you add to your schedule?
The King Condescends –
What would you do if tonight was your last night before death?
- Eat your favorite food?
- Watch your favorite movie?
- Say “goodbye” and “I love you” to your loved ones?
- Take your spouse out on a date?
- Record a video of yourself to be played in the future?
- Give some last advice to your children?
- Wash a bunch of guys’ stinky feet?
That is what Jesus did. Even though Jesus was about to die and experience the worst pain and wrath ever known to man, He was focused on Himself. He didn’t look for sympathy or encouragement from others. Neither did He try to satisfy His own desires or finish a bucket list. Well, perhaps this was on His bucket list. But if so, it looked very different than most people’s.
John 13:5 – Then he [Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13:14 – If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Why did Jesus do this? The last night before Jesus’ crucifixion offered the last opportunities for instructing His disciples. And Jesus didn’t want that opportunity to go to waste. He wanted to leave His disciples with an important lesson.
He wanted to teach them servanthood and humility. And His method certainly left an impression. Here He was, the King, serving His followers in a very humbling way. It reminded them that His way was radically different than the world’s way. They were not to become authoritarian lords, bossing people around and competing for power.
The King’s expectation is that His followers would serve one another. This was His model. It is His model for the church. It is His model for the home.
Most religions are about power, money, and authority. Jesus was all about service, love, sacrifice, and faith.
Unfortunately, His last lesson is one that is often forgotten. Too often in history in the name of religion, leaders have abused their authority and rejected Jesus’ example of service. Too often today we selfishly push for our own rights instead of serving others.
Application: Think of how you can serve your family or community this week.
- The King Comes – Have you welcomed Jesus as King of your life?
- The King Curses – If Jesus came close to inspect your life, what would He find?
- The King Cleanses – If Jesus came to your home (computer, or phone), what would He cleanse out of it?
- The King Is Coming Again – If Jesus sent you a text message and told you He is coming to your house this week, what would you do differently?
- The King Condescends – Does your “religion” cause you to serve others?
1. What do you learn about Jesus from His words and deeds in His last week?
2. When and how can you evaluate your own life and actions to make sure that you have real fruit and not only attractive leaves? What are some things that are leaves? What are some things that are fruit?
3. What is one new way you can serve your church, family, or community (especially a task that others may not like to do)?