The Palm Sunday Explained
What is Palm Sunday? The Holy Week of Jesus' resurrection falls on the Sunday before Easter. It began with the people in Jerusalem welcoming Jesus entering Jerusalem with palm branches. That is why it’s called Palm Sunday in English. Palm trees, like coconut trees, grow in the tropics, but the palm tree was a symbol of victory to Israelites.
Turning to the Old Testament, Leviticus 23:40 and Nehemiah 8:15 mention that the Israelites used palm branches to provide temporary shelter while they wandered the wilderness. Even now, the people of Israel celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles during the September-October harvest season with the use of palm branches to mark their daily celebration in the synagogue.
In Africa where coconut trees are plenty, many houses may be covered with such branch leaves as their roofing material. So coming from Africa, I am not a stranger to such lifestyles.
Turning to today’s reading, verses 12-13 recite, "The next day the great crowd had come for the festival." The great crowd gathered in Jerusalem in anticipation of the Passover. They heard about Jesus coming to entrance Jerusalem, so they took palm branches and went out to meet him and shout “hosanna!” They heard about Jesus regularly raising the dead and hoped that Jesus would bring victory and salvation to them also (verses 17-18).
Of course, their expectations were worldly expectations. They sought to be liberated from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, and shouted hosanna to secure the blessings of the political glory of the kingdom of the Messiah. But the enthusiastically welcomed Jesus never espoused the ambition to build such a kingdom on earth, so it only took a few days for them to turn against Jesus and conspire to do away with Jesus. In less than a week, they conspired to turn Jesus over to be put to death.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, do you know what hosanna means? Hosanna is a word song so often in praises that we often dismiss it as being associated with praise singing. But hosanna is not merely associated with praise singing, but rather it is associated with salvation. Hosanna at the time of Jesus was an Aramaic expression which meant "deliver us." At that time they connected the word to political deliverance, whereas today the word hosanna as shouted means salvation. So hosannas should not be taken merely in the joyful context of praising and singing, but it should be taken as a sincere confession of faith in Jesus who forgives and takes away our sins with his blood. So when we praise with the word hosanna, we should take to heart such a confession.
As read in today’s reading, we shout hosanna in keeping with the Lord’s suffering and resurrection, and reflect on the following two aspects. For all the people on earth, and particularly the faithful, these reflections raise a few questions.
The Israelites then and even today do not believe in Jesus as the savior, but rather sought a savior who would deliver their people from political oppression and hardship, thereby expecting a worldly deliverer rather than a savior. But the foremost reason why the Lord came to us was to save those who are lost.
Jesus spoke, "Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost"
As written in John 2:19, Jesus spoke.
"Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days"
It is a prophecy to save the sinners through the crucifixion and resurrection. And he has accomplished the prophecy. Jesus did not come to us for worldly blessings. He came to bestow the blessings of eternal heaven. But does that mean we do not need worldly blessings?
I have pondered over this during my 17 years of ministry in Africa. Particularly as I observe their lives. I have pondered of my own accord, "Why is their life so difficult?” I have asked this because despite the proliferation of construction, cars and cell phones in their hands, the majority endure the lives of hardship. “Why is hardship such a problem? What is the problem?"
It takes about $100 per year to feed, shelter and educate the seminary students. Unbelievable, isn’t it? But that is true. Some people practice self-reliance. But where people live, we must believe that there are those who live the impossibly horrid lives.
As I reflect, many aspects of African theology still cling to the faith based on worldly blessings. Although spiritual blessings may be professed, the bottom line is that even the spiritual blessings are necessarily tied to worldly blessings for them. Well if so, what should we do? What can we do about it? What can we muster to solve this problem?
At this rate, righteous teaching is the best. There may not be an immediate gratification, but righteous teaching would surely bear fruit with time. Having been encouraged by the success of the theological seminary, in January we have inaugurated Living Stone Christian Middle School. Our Korean heritage provides a fine example. To provide the foundation for a righteous education, we have focused on the goal of providing superior learning facilities.
The proudly established Living Stone Christian Middle School was not made possible because Africa is rich with wealth. The school was established by the contributions from the caring patrons like you who value righteous education. That is true. Righteous education bears good fruit. Let us dream together. Let us dream of one day when righteous teaching yields a right understanding of the Messiah, that they may serve to glorify the Lord.
But how do you understand the Messiah? Jesus likened himself to the bread. (John 6:53-58) Bread bestowed from heaven, not just an ordinary bread of the ancestors, but Jesus likened himself to an everlasting bread. Jesus even today fills our needs. But He suffered not for just that sake. He suffered to lead us all into the paradise.
You have all given to share the everlasting bread with others. We have built a seminary school in Tanga of Tanzania, and we have inaugurated the Living Stone Middle School. I am very proud of the patrons like you who have made it all possible. Let us continue to move forward into the future.
Luke 23:13-25 recites the betrayal by those who shouted hosanna.
V. 18 -> But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”
V. 21 -> But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
V. 23 -> But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.
Their betrayal was not an everyday betrayal. When we ponder the meaning of hosanna, their betrayal was against the very salvation. As they saw no apparent advantage, they had a change of heart. Faith and understanding not founded on righteousness is susceptible to a change of heart. So, that is why we seek righteous understanding and faith.
Our faith must not become means to secure our desires for satisfaction in worldly blessings. We must become people of faith in consonance with Jesus who came to save the whole world through his suffering and resurrection. Such people of righteous faith will not be discouraged by any trials and tribulations. They do not lose sight of the love for Christ. They do not waiver by the circumstances. And "Hosanna" will become an everlasting praise for Jesus who brings everlasting salvation.
Let us reflect on this point. Let us reflect on the regretfully foolhardy betrayal by those who shouted hosannas
Revelation 2:4 recites rebuking of the Ephesian church.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
Oh - I'm afraid that this may come true. Who are the crowds written in Luke 23:13-25. They were the very crowd who shouted hosanna in today’s reading. And they were the crowd who betrayed Jesus and saw to his crucifixion.
Hosanna -> save me.
Let us hope that our shouts for salvation would not suffer a change of heart.
Hosanna -> Save also my neighbors.
Let us hope that our deepest hopes for the salvation of our neighbors would not suffer a change of heart.
Hosanna -> Save all the people of the world.
Let us hope that our shouts to the whole world would not suffer a change of heart.
Hosanna -> Save the people of Tanga in Tanzania
We pray that our passionate cries of mission first heard would not suffer a change of heart.
Bless you, and let us reflect upon our faith that the occasion of Easter Sunday would be a joyful season.