1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Although frequently overshadowed by Good Friday and Easter, Palm Sunday is an important part of Jesus’ ministry on its own, and we know this is true for the following reasons: first, Jesus performs a minor miracle on this occasion, using His power of prophecy to predict where the donkey would be tied, and that someone would have a problem with them using that donkey. Second, the donkey is an unridden colt – unridden and unused animals in the Old Testament were used only for especially holy purposes, the sacrifice of atonement, and when the ark of the covenant is returned to the Israelites from the Philistines. And thirdly, laying down palm fronds and shouting “Hosanna!” were not everyday occurrences, but reserved for conquerors and kings. The crowd rightly seems to know that Jesus is not just a prophet, but a KING.
And yet, despite the significance of Palm Sunday, we know what is to come in just a short time, that that same crowd would cry for Jesus’ crucifixion, and for a criminal to be released in his stead. How did this happen? How did something that started so well, end so terribly, so quickly? The problem was that the crowd did not truly understand Jesus identity, and more, what He had come to do – they may have known that Jesus was a savior, but they did not understand what He had come to save them FROM. They thought he had come to establish a secular kingdom, when actually he had come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. They thought he had come to save them from Roman occupation and oppression, but in reality, He had come to save all of humankind from sin and death. And because of this, because their expectations of Jesus were so faulty, it leads to disappointment and discouragement, and they turn on Jesus quickly.
But we shouldn’t look down on the crowd because this is a very common situation in our own lives, where God fails to live up to our expectations, and our faith can experience a dangerous turnaround as a result. That is why it is important for us to test our expectations, and make sure that they are aligned with who God really is, and what He really promises. He does not promise us a pain-free life, only that He will be with us when we suffer, and will redeem that suffering to greater purpose. He never promises us a comfortable existence, but instead, one filled with providence and daily bread. He never promises material wealth, or marriage, or children, or a long life. Each of these ideas have become deeply entrenched in the western view of Christianity, but are unbiblical, and unhealthy.
In the end, Palm Sunday is a reminder for us not to conceive of God as a divine vending machine, or a benevolent grandfather figure in the clouds, who grants our wishes and whims and caves to our demands. He does respond and answer us, but much in the way that the best of parents do: with His eye focused on longer, larger things. He is not as interested in our comfort as He is in our betterment. And the sooner that we realize this, the less likely it is that we will follow in the footsteps of this crowd, disappointed with a Savior who fails to live up to faulty expectations.