An overnight sensation in Galilee, Jesus will now face his biggest challenge yet. In Galilee, people knew Jesus for his healings, his feeding the multitudes, his teachings, his miracles; he captivated rich and poor alike. Yes, there were those who opposed Jesus, but it was typically in the context of argument, which was a Jewish way of seeking what God was doing in the light of the law and the prophets.
Those images, however, fall away as Jesus rides through the gates of Holy City on a colt and a donkey (21:30.) The crowds are shouting, “Hosanna in the highest,” or “God saves,” with palm branches and cloaks before him. Excitement is in the air. There is this expectation that something big is going to happen, but what? God will save, true, but from what?
The cheering did not last long. The tide against Jesus begins to turn, as Matthew indicates, with the city “in turmoil” (21:9). Indeed, there seems to be confusion as to who Jesus is. Even the religious leaders are asking, “Who is this man?” whose caravan stops traffic and upends business. Yet, the crowds are quite clear that the man on the donkey is a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee (21:11).
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the religious leaders become more open in their attacks against Jesus: they see how the crowds are reacting, and they are fearful of how Jesus might excite them. It is Passover, after all; the city is already abuzz.
Palm Sunday is the day when the Passion of Jesus begins. It is a time that ushers in Holy Week. In terms of our discipleship, it is a time of saying goodbye to the old ways and hello to the new, noting the cost of it all: Jesus’ life. Palm Sunday is a time of turning and realizing what the love of God encompasses – a cross and a tomb, God’s ultimate goodbye.
Pastor Andy Kinsey