The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:6–9 NIV)
Palm branches symbolized peace and victory in ancient times, especially in Jewish tradition. They were commonly used during the Feast of Tabernacles and other celebrations to symbolize the peace that comes from God. When the people of Jerusalem waved palm branches at Jesus, they were expressing their hope and belief that he would bring them peace and liberation from their Roman oppressors. The air was filled with the sound of cheers and praises as people welcomed Jesus as the Son of God.
Of course, Jesus knew the path before him as he trod along on that donkey. Just days later, he’d hear cheers from the crowd once more, but instead of crying “hosanna,” they’d be chanting “crucify him!” When I think about Jesus riding a donkey, knowing what was about to unfold, I think of a faithful Mary, who trod along on her own path, to Bethlehem thirty-three years earlier. She had become obedient to the plans God had for her to carry the Messiah within her. Jesus was about to become obedient to death on the cross. Donkeys were often used to carry heavy loads and perform menial tasks. They symbolized humility and were associated with those who served others selflessly. It seems fitting that these two faithful individuals would begin their difficult trails in such a similar way: not by way of power but in a humble agreement to trust God’s plan by way of their suffering, and for the good of the world.
In John 16, shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prepares and warns the disciples that they will face persecution and suffering for their faith, but he assures them their sorrow will be turned into joy when they see him again after his resurrection. He uses the analogy of a woman in childbirth to explain that while the pain may be intense, the joy of the new life that comes from it makes it worthwhile. Jesus concludes by telling the disciples he has overcome the world, encouraging them to take heart in the fact that he has already conquered evil and darkness.
What the crowd would eventually learn is that Jesus would, in fact, bring them peace and liberation, but instead of rescuing them from the empire during their temporary stay on earth, Jesus would liberate them from the weight of their own sin and offer them an eternity of peace in heaven with him. He was born the Prince of Peace, and he would die the Prince of Peace, regardless of the ignorance of the crowd.
This world is a wobbly place to call home, but we can find rest in knowing we’re just renters here, patching holes and fixing leaky pipes until we’re called to our permanent residence, our perfect home where we can finally dwell in perfect peace.
—Written by Sarah Sciarini, Director of Communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She is also a part of EYELET, working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.