Five days before His vicarious sacrifice for all sin and seven days before His victorious resurrection, Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die according to His Father’s will. St. John recorded that a great multitude of people “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!'” (Jn. 12:13) Hence the name Palm Sunday.
Their welcome was not an unusual way of greeting conquering kings. Perhaps many of the people that day believed that Jesus–their Messiah, Worker of wondrous miracles–had come to save their nation from the ruling hand of the Romans and from other wrongs and woes. Their very cry of “Hosanna” means “Save now” or “Grant salvation.”
The palm tree mentioned is the date palm–stately and beautiful. It has deep tap roots and can thus flourish in desert climes, growing tall and living long. Its value was beyond question, producing dates for food and the by-products of sugar, wine, oil, resin, tannin, and dyes. Cattle were fed its seeds, trunks yielded lumber, and from its leaves were fashioned roofs, fences, mats, baskets, thread, and rope. Its fruit is reported to get sweeter as the tree matures.
No wonder then, that to the oriental the palm tree was the perfect tree–everything a tree should be. It became a symbol not only of victory (in classical Greek literature), but also of life and salvation.
With the very recent raising of Lazarus from death to life still immense in the people’s minds, a chorus of “Hosanna” to the King of Israel was not inappropriate. Yet any expectation of social or political deliverance was repudiated with the enacted parable of Christ riding humbly into town on a donkey. He had come as Jehovah’s King–but for the purpose of saving His people from sin and Satan, and to graciously give perfect righteousness and true spiritual life.
Two thousand years later our daily link to the stately palm is found in Psalm 92 (vv. 12-14): “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord Shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall thrive and be very green.”
So faithful believers are likened unto palm trees. Our roots are grafted into Christ by faith, and from Him we draw strength and vitality. Planted in God’s House, we delight in His saving Word, producing even to old age the sweet fruits of praise. “Hosanna” is our whispered prayer and our mighty chorus. Having died unto sin and death with Christ, we have life in His name.
Hence our daily lives are to be a gospel-preaching of love and hope. Some Christians are even buried with palm fronds in their hands (an old custom), testifying to their faith in the One who alone saves.
What provided a gentle path and appropriate greeting for the Lord Jesus as He rode in Jerusalem was itself a picture in miniature of eternity. For the same John saw standing in heaven a great multitude of the redeemed and resurrected saints “clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Their loud chorus–“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9b-10) The righteous in Christ will flourish forever in God’s House, enjoying in glorious bodies the final and perfect fulfillment of their Savior’s Kingdom.
How can this vision not incite and encourage us to flourish like palms–made beautiful and special in the Lord, perfect in His righteousness, ever useful in His service, bearing good fruit to His glory, sweeter even in old age!?
By God’s grace may we “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
May we faithfully sing from Palm Sunday to Palm Eternity: “Hosanna!” ‘Our salvation belongs alone to God . . . and to His Lamb!’
–Pastor David Fuerstenau