Concerning Palm Sunday

The Questions: The Catholic Church calls Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Easter – a feast. What makes this day such a big deal?

The Response: The Roman Catholic Church has a thing about feasts, celebrations and observances, as a quick look at a Roman liturgical calendar will confirm. So many special events that, in reality, there is nothing special about them.

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. -- Matthew 21:5, KJV

When Christ entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, it was a significant event. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Zechariah had prophesied that the long-awaited king who would deliver the Jews would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey colt. In so doing, Jesus fulfilled yet another prophecy concerning Himself.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. -- Zechariah 9:9, KJV

The reference to the Daughter of Zion appears to have been taken from Isaiah 62.11, where the prophet wrote "say ye to the daughter of Zion, behold thy salvation cometh", or "thy Saviour cometh.” Clearly, this reference is to Messiah, but who is the Daughter of Zion? It is not the city of Jerusalem, but those who live in the city, the Jewish synagogue. The Targum renders the phrase "the congregation of Zion", the people of the Jews, in particular the elect of God among them, those who embraced the true Messiah, and believed in him:

The next phrase in the Matthew verse, “behold, thy king cometh unto thee,” and the words that follow, are from Zechariah 9:9. They refer to the king Messiah, who, in a little time after this prophecy was pronounced, was to come to Zion and redeem Jacob from all his iniquities. Messiah had come.

Though Jesus entered the city as a king, He did not come as a conqueror, nor with great show of power. Rather, He entered the city meekly, as He had lived and ministered.

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. -- Matthew 21:8, KJV

There are those who would make more of Christ's choice of conveyance than can be drawn from Scripture. These people, whose numbers include both ancient and modern Jews, consider the passage, "sitting upon an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass," to be evidence of His humility. Jews declare this donkey to be an uncommon one. They say it had 100 spots on its coat and that it was the foal of that which was created on the eve of the Sabbath; and is the same that Abraham and Moses rode upon. (See: T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 98. 1. & 99. 1. Bereshit Rabba, fol. 66. 2. & 85. 3. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 63. 2. Zohar in Gen. fol. 127. 3. & in Num. fol. 83. 4. & in Deut. fol. 117. 1. & 118. 3. Raya Mehimna in Zohar. in Lev. fol. 38. 3. & in Num. fol. 97. 2.)

Actually, there is nothing in the Scripture, or in Jewish history or culture, to support the supposition that Christ humbled Himself by making His royal entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt. In fact, the ancient governors, patriarchs, princes, and judges of Israel used to ride on asses. It was in Solomon's time that horses, forbidden by the Law of God, were introduced into the Hebrew nation.

It was a common custom in many lands in the ancient Near East to cover, in some way, the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible reports that Joshua was treated this way. Many of the pre-Christian mystery religions, particularly that of Dionysus, report that their central human-divinity figure entered a major city in this triumphal fashion. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. However, in the synoptics they are only reported as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John more specifically mentions palm fronds. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory, in Jewish tradition, and is treated in other parts of the bible as such (e.g. Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). – Palm Sunday, Wikipedia

One of the precautions every Bible student should painstakingly observe is to never approach the Word of God with contemporary presuppositions. The literal/historical/grammatical hermeneutic demands that one receive the Scriptures as did those to whom they originally were delivered. Only then may we truly discover how they ap[ply in our own time

This is what appears to have been the case with many who view Christ's entrance into the Holy City as something other than that which would be expected of a king. These days, to ride on the back of a donkey almost defines poverty and humility in many parts of the world However, 2000 years ago in Palestine, such a mode of transportation was considered quite suitable for Christ's exalted state as a king -- as the son of David and king of Israel. In fact, He was strictly observing the law given to the kings of Israel, and riding in such manner as they formerly did.

The people of Jerusalem honored Christ as a king. As He rode through the streets, they removed their outer garments and laid them, together with palm branches, along His path. This was an ancient act of homage reserved for high royalty (See 2 Kings 9:13), which suggests that they recognized Jesus' claim to be the King of the Jews.

Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was significant because it fulfilled prophecy and because His reception seems to indicate that the multitude had accepted Him as Messiah. Yet, important as these two events are biblically and historically, there is no command in Scripture to commemorate the event by a feast or other observance.

Establishing perpetual commemorative observances was not unfamiliar to Almighty God. By the time of Christ's ministry, He already had established several to be observed by the Hebrew people. The Festival of the Unleavened Bread, for example, commemorates the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 23:15). The most solemn of all Jewish observances is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, first mentioned in Leviticus 16.

Does any Christian not understand the incredible importance of Christ's atoning sacrifice on what we know as Good Friday? By His terrible suffering and death, Christ paid, once for all time, the total debt of sin charged against every man, woman and child who had ever lived, was living or would live. Yet, though He has made atonement for their sins, so many face the eternal fires of Hell for they have not claimed by faith the salvation Christ bought for them, and so their account remains open and the retribution due them for their sins continues to mount up.

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. -- Romans 3:22-28, KJV

The Roman Catholic Church calendar abounds with feasts, festivals and observances, none of which they can support from Scripture. Many of these occasions were absorbed into the RCC with the other practices and beliefs of the many pagan systems the Roman Church swallowed over the centuries. No doubt, they once were observed to make the newly 'converted' pagans feel more at home with their new religion, but over time, I reckon they devolved to nothing more that opportunities for the display and panoply so dear to the RCC.

As for me, I treat Palm Sunday no differently than any other Sunday. On Good Friday, however, I depart from my usual prayer routine. Though I daily thank God for His mercy and for sending His only begotten Son that through Him the world might be saved, on that one day, I meditate a bit more than usual on the significance of the event being marked and on the horrible suffering Christ endured for me and for all who love Him. And, in my meditation, I am made even more grateful to the Father.

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