Roy Exum: What Is Palm Sunday?

Sunday, April 14, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

A Christian once wrote to the famed evangelist Billy Graham: “Every year, our church celebrates Palm Sunday, the day when the crowds cheered Jesus as He entered Jerusalem for the last time. But I've never understood why they turned against Him just a few days later and demanded He be put to death. Why did they?”

The question is as old as time. And as we embrace the beginning of “The Holy Week” with both those who believe and those who do not, it is still asked repeatedly and for good reason.

According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Foundation, Christians from all over the world are today celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we usually call “Palm Sunday,” because the crowd welcomed Him by spreading palm branches in His path). Those who greeted Him were convinced He was the Messiah (or “anointed one”), sent by God to establish His Kingdom on earth.

Why did the crowds turn against Jesus so quickly? One week they welcomed Him, and the next week they demanded He be crucified. Billy Graham, who died in February of 2018, offered what I believe is the best answer. He held onto his answer with all of his heart before he died and ascended into heaven to be with the same Jesus for an eternity:

Dr. Graham begins, “No events in human history were more important than Jesus’ death and resurrection, and yet many people (even Christians) never take time to study them.

“It must have been a dramatic sight as Jesus approached Jerusalem on a donkey (which was a sign of His humility),” he told many millions for years who attended his Crusades. “The Bible says that ‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices … ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 19:37-38). Even those who weren’t part of that welcoming crowd listened eagerly to His teaching during the next few days.

“But not everyone in Jerusalem welcomed Him; the very next verse says that “the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?'” But soon many turned against Jesus and demanded His death: “‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!'” (Matthew 27:22). 

* * *


(By Billy Graham, courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)

One reason the crowds turned against Jesus was because He refused to be the kind of king they wanted—a political and military leader who would free them from the hated Roman government. Roman soldiers had occupied their land for decades, and they hoped Jesus would lead them in a successful revolt.

But Jesus made clear to them that this was not His goal. God had another purpose for Him—and that purpose was far greater than any mere political or military victory. His goal was to establish another kingdom—the Kingdom of God.

This, He taught them, wasn’t to be a political kingdom, but the rule of God over our hearts and minds—and ultimately, over the whole universe. To the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, He declared, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight…. My kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

How could this happen? It could happen only if sin and death and Satan were defeated—for these keep God’s Kingdom from becoming a reality in our lives. And how could they be defeated? Only by Christ’s death and resurrection for us—for by His death and resurrection Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and Satan.

Where would you have been during Jesus’ final days? Would you have been in the crowd demanding His death—or would you have been among the minority who remained true to Him? And are you true to Him today?

The central message of Easter is that God still loves us, and because of Christ we can be forgiven. He came for one reason: “Christ died for sins once for all … to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). May you welcome Him into your life during this holy season.”

* * *

An equally perplexing question: What if you have spent a life worshipping Jesus, adhering to his teachings in the Bible, and supporting the church, but when you finally die, find there is no heaven or hell, that there is no Christ nor any Church? Some say you are going to feel a little silly.

But the best answer is also a question: What if you, on the other hand, are an atheist, and have never believed the promise of eternal life, or that Jesus died to forgive your sins? What would you do, upon your death, to find out that every single part of being a Christian, asking to be forgiven by the grace of God, and therefore assured of everlasting life, is absolutely true? If it is, guess who ain’t got a seat on the train? 

Only in life can you ask and receive the keys to the kingdom. All you have to do is ask and God’s promise is you’ll live with all those you love for an eternity. It is guaranteed.

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