The first Palm Sunday looked like people throwing a birthday party for a birthday boy they did not know. People had high expectations on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but the full meaning of the event would not make sense till later. (Read John 12:12-19)
The crowd that met Jesus on the way expected a national hero. They came out to meet Jesus thinking he was the one who would lead an insurrection against Rome and return the nation’s sovereignty back to the Jews.
Other people there on that first Palm Sunday responded in a different way. They did not lift palms or chant victory. They boiled with rage. The Jewish leaders feared an insurrection would threaten their socio-economically beneficial relationship with Rome.
One day Jesus will come as a warrior king to palm branches and shouts of victory to claim his Kingdom once and for all (Revelation 7:9-10). However, if Jesus was marching to victory on Palm Sunday, victory started with a death march to the cross.
We ought not to expect Jesus to come to us on our own terms. We can manipulate the historical data, even the Bible itself, to favor our prejudices and preconceived notions of who we want Jesus to be. Many people today want a Gumby Jesus they can bend and pull to their own desires and ambitions.
Only with hindsight and help would the disciples see what Palm Sunday stood for. The palm branches did not tip them off nor the messianic Psalm many chanted (Psalm 118). The Holy Spirit (John 16:13) brought to their mind the Book of Zechariah. Zechariah said the Messiah would come not at first on a war horse, but humble and mounted on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
This little line in Zechariah about a donkey speaks a thousand lines for you and me. Here lies the key to understanding Palm Sunday. We keep looking for our solutions on war horses, but Jesus came riding on a donkey.
So, take not to the streets with palm fronds and chanting before you bend your knees to your humble King. For, the way to victory will always be through the cross.