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Palm Branches and an Unbroken Colt

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 21:1–11, 14–17; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:29–44; John 12:9–19

As we see Jesus entering Jerusalem for the final time, He is greeted by the religious leaders of the Jews, who hate Him, and the throngs, who praise Him but have false expectations. We do well to remember that religion and even worship are not sure signs of faith.


As this Wisdom Journey embarks, it is now Sunday, the beginning of what we call Passion Week—that week from Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to His trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Jesus must still be carrying the aroma of the perfume Mary had anointed Him with, as He and His disciples leave Bethany and head west toward Jerusalem, only two miles away on the other side of the Mount of Olives.

All four Gospels tell us that when they arrive at a village called Bethphage, Jesus sends two disciples into town to fetch an unbroken colt upon which He plans to ride into Jerusalem. This is a young donkey that has never been ridden before. This act will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, given some 500 years earlier, that the King would arrive, sitting on a donkey’s colt (see John 12:15).

Not only does this fulfill prophecy, but it is also a miracle of Christ’s authority over creation. Imagine riding an unbroken donkey. I don’t know how many cowboys might be reading this, but at rodeos I have attended, we hold our breath when a cowboy tries to ride a bucking bronco for just eight seconds. Let me tell you, this donkey ride through a mob of shouting, singing, palm-branch-waving people is nothing less than a miracle.

Now riding a donkey at this time was a royal symbol of peace. So, Jesus is signifying that He is royalty. He is the King, but He has come in peace.

John 12:12-13 describes the scene:

The large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. 

Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, estimated that Jerusalem’s population grew to some three million people during the Passover. And John tells us this is a large crowd that comes to meet him carrying palm branches, an activity reserved for honoring the arrival of royalty.

Revelation 7 shows believers from all around the world, standing before the throne of God, with palm branches in their hands. One day, beloved, you and I will be there waving palm branches before King Jesus.

In John 12:13, we are told the crowd is chanting, “Hosanna!” Hosanna is the Hebrew word for “save us now.” The Jewish people are expecting Jesus to ride into town, overthrow Rome, and restore the kingdom of Israel. They are planning on a revolution; Jesus is planning on a resurrection.

The crowd is also singing one of their favorite psalms: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (verse 13). This is one of their Passover songs from Psalm 118. But they have added a line here. Notice they are singing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  

They are ready to crown Him King. They think it is time for a coronation! Jesus knows that it is almost time for His crucifixion.

Remember, beloved, we have the advantage of the entire account. That is not the case with the disciples—and they are deeply confused. Only later will they connect the dots and figure out the prophetic words and the symbols.

But for now, we read this:

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. (verses 16-18)

So, the news has spread all around. Any remaining doubts about Jesus’ power have been eliminated by the raising of Lazarus from the dead. That miracle had undeniably revealed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the King of Israel.

But what about the Jewish leaders? As we have already seen, John 11:53 tells us, “They made plans to put [Jesus] to death.” And then we read here John 12:10 that “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were … believing in Jesus.” Now these religious leaders are forced to stand on the sidelines while thousands of people shout praises to Jesus and declare Him their long-awaited Messiah.

The religious leaders just look at each other in frustration and say, “Look, the world has gone after him” (verse 19). They want to kill Him; the people want to crown Him.

It is ironic that on this Sunday, it was traditional for the priests to read Psalm 24 in the temple. So, while the people outside are singing Hosanna to Jesus, the priests are inside the temple reading Psalm 24, which includes these words:

Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty! (verses 7-8)

For just a moment, the world is arrested by the truth of who Jesus is. While the unbelieving world wants to silence the gospel truth of Christ, it seems that all of Jerusalem is alive with people glorifying and praising the Son of God.

I remember watching the funeral service of one of our former United States presidents. The entire service was carried on television and radio. Millions of people tuned in. It was prime time, which is typically when the honor and values of Christianity are being undermined. Then Billy Graham got up to preach. While millions of unbelievers watched, while the media were forced to focus in, while ungodly politicians sat quietly, this old evangelist preached the gospel of Jesus Christ—he even called everybody sinners who need the Savior! I was sitting there in my living room, alternating between “Amen” and “Go get ’em.” The world was silenced for a moment, forced to observe the glory of Christ.

Matthew 21:14 tells us that Jesus then enters the temple and heals blind and lame people. Luke 19:39 records the Pharisees’ pitiful objection to all the public adulation and excitement, telling Jesus to rebuke His disciples. Jesus answers them in verse 40, saying that if these people were silent, the very stones would cry out.

And after this first day in Jerusalem, Matthew 21:17 says, “And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.”

Luke 19:41-44 records that Jesus is moved to tears as He looks upon the city, knowing that their ultimate rejection of Him will lead to devastation. Beloved, mark this down: to oppose Christ is a hopeless task. You cannot stop the sovereign plan of God. God is not wringing His hands over the latest decision to come out of Washington. He is not nervous about the latest evil idea being advanced. God has never once called an emergency meeting of the Trinity.

There will be people in every generation who spend their lifetime opposing Christ, rejecting Him and ridiculing Him. They are found on college campuses, behind news anchor desks, in major publishing houses, and in liberal pulpits.

But the only thing they destroy is their own lives. I think of the atheist philosopher, Voltaire, who predicted the end of Christianity. He relentlessly attacked the Bible and the gospel. In the irony of God’s plans, after Voltaire’s death, his home was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society, which distributed Bibles around that part of the world.

Beloved, the religious leaders should have waved a white flag and bowed in surrender before their Messiah. But they didn’t. So, the cross of Christ is now one day closer, according to the plan of God.

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