Every year on Palm Sunday we observe Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It marks Jesus’ final week before His crucifixion. In our text, we’re told that as Jesus was making His way into Jerusalem, He was greeted by people waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna." Some churches today hand out palm branches to their members to remind them of this very event.
What I’d like to do is focus on the significance of the palm branches. Maybe some of us are unfamiliar with the symbolism and meaning of palm branches. It’s beneficial for us to know why we do what we do in the church and the symbolism and meaning behind it all. This all helps us to appreciate our faith more.
The palm branch symbolizes victory first and foremost. This is quite applicable to our Savior. Didn’t Jesus win the victory over sin, death, and the devil? He certainly did. Some people probably waved palm branches on that day only in anticipation of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil because Jesus hadn’t yet accomplished His victory over the dark spiritual forces. But He was about to.
The big question is how many people that day actually understood this. We look at Palm Sunday after the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. We completely understand what Jesus’ victory entailed because we have been told that Jesus resurrection was the sign of His victory. But did the people on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem understand this, since Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross and rose from the dead? Most people on that day certainly regarded Jesus as a king, but what kind of king. My guess is that many were hoping that Jesus would reign in Israel and deliver the Jews from Roman rule. This was perhaps the victory the people were expecting. So not everyone was aware of the spiritual victory Jesus was about to accomplish but waved palm branches nevertheless.
Jesus’ mission, however, was to accomplish a spiritual victory over the powers of darkness which had a hold on us. Because Jesus went into Jerusalem and fulfilled the Scriptures concerning His death and resurrection, we have life eternal. That’s why we wave palm branches, all in honor of His victory.
Palm branches represent eternal life. We celebrate the life we have because of Jesus who went through with His plan to save us even though a terrible death awaited Him. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I could have gone through with it, especially knowing what awaited me. It’s a good thing that we don’t know when and how we are going to die. But Jesus knew fully well what awaited Him and still went ahead with it. And because He did, we have eternal life. This is symbolized in the palm branch, too.
One source I consulted said that the palm branch represents goodness. The people on that day certainly were aware of the goodness of Jesus. Of course, Jesus had His skeptics as well. Some of the Pharisees believed Jesus to have come from the devil. He healed people and did good things on the Sabbath, a day of rest for the Jews. Even though Jesus did good things, He wasn’t able to convince His skeptics because He broke Jewish law. He was supposed to rest according to them. But Jesus was certainly in the right. It was the Pharisees who misinterpreted the law of the Sabbath.
I don’t need to convince us of the goodness of Jesus. Just read the accounts of what He did in the Bible and you’ll see how good He was. As a matter of fact, He was sinless, and we’re told He fulfilled the law perfectly contrary to what the Pharisees maintained.
Because we live in a sinful world, people constantly mistake good for evil and vice versa. People don’t always understand our good intentions and misinterpret them for evil. The important thing, though, is to not let the misinterpretation of others derail our intentions to do good. We need to keep our heads up and press forward with a good attitude as we try to please the Lord by what we do. Besides, we ultimately give an account to God and not to those who fail to see our goodness.
The palm branch represents goodness, and we celebrate the goodness of Jesus as we wave our palm branches.
Finally, the palm branch represents peace, as does riding on a donkey. Jesus came to establish peace between us and God. He was about to establish that peace by entering Jerusalem to face the judgment of Pilate and the religious leaders who didn’t at all understand Jesus’ peaceful intentions. They viewed Jesus as a threat to their authority. But Jesus wasn’t interested in supplanting their authority. Instead, He wanted to accomplish our salvation and give us the forgiveness of sins so that we could enjoy a peaceful relationship with God. This was necessary because sin causes relationships to turn hostile.
We see that in our daily lives in our relationships with others. When we sin against our neighbor, we cause the relationship between us to change for the worse. The only way such a situation can be rectified is through forgiveness. When we ask our neighbor for forgiveness and he/she forgives us, the hostility is removed.
Jesus removed the hostility in our relationship with God when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, was condemned by the authorities and sentenced to death, and then rose from the dead to forgive us all of our sins.
It was Jesus’ intention to restore peace in our relationship with God our Father. This peace is represented in the palm branch.
I hope the palm branches will bring to mind for us what Jesus went through for our salvation. He was greeted by some who waved palm branches in anticipation of what He was about to do for us on the cross. I hope the palm branches will cause us to reflect on His victory over sin, death, and the devil; eternal life; Jesus’ goodness; and finally the peace we have with God the Father. Each year on Palm Sunday we hand out palm branches to bring to mind the significance of Jesus’ entering the city of Jerusalem.
It is my prayer that we will hold dear what our Savior did for us and remember the extremely high cost He paid for us. It was by no means a cakewalk for Jesus. It’s so easy for us to let all that Jesus did for us pass by us. We’re busy doing our thing and forget to pause and reflect on what our Savior went through for us. I hope that during Holy Week we will take time out of our busy schedules and journey with our Lord to the cross.
It amazes me that Jesus continued into Jerusalem even though He knew ravenous wolves were waiting to devour Him, but if He hadn’t, He wouldn’t have accomplished our salvation.
May we welcome Jesus into our hearts this Palm Sunday, and may we embrace Him with all the symbolism and meaning of the palm branch.