In the midst of worldly turmoil, we kick off Passion Week today and set our sights on the most significant event of the year for Christians: Resurrection Sunday. But that is next Sunday. Passion Week begins today with Palm Sunday.
As was Jesus’s custom, he traveled from the Galilee area (where the vast majority of His ministry took place) to Jerusalem for Passover, which was celebrated annually on the 15th day of the Jewish month Nissan. Matthew 19 tells us that Jesus left the Galilee area to the region of Judea, and that He healed the sick along the way. Matthew 20 goes on to describe Jesus’s teaching and ministry to people on the way, even teaching them about serving others.
On the map above, you see that it is a significant distance Jesus and His followers would have walked in order to attend Passover in Jerusalem. Notice that travelers crossed over the Jordan River in order to avoid Samaria, where Jesus was rejected. They crossed back over just east of Jericho and headed “up to Jerusalem.” The terrain was difficult and the journey was not easy. The “valley of the shadow of death” reference in Psalm 23 may well have been a section of the journey along the route between Jericho and Jerusalem. It was an area fraught with robbers and criminals, and a difficult part of the journey. On the lighter side, it was also an area shepherds may have taken their flocks to graze. They may have seen something similar to this:
When they reached the city of Bethpage on the Mount of Olives to the east of the Temple, Jesus sent two of His disciples ahead to procure a donkey and, on that fateful Palm Sunday, He rode it into Jerusalem to the wave of palm fronds and shouts of “Hosanna to God in the highest.” He was hailed as a king. (Matthew 21:1-11)
That ride took Him from the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, through the Eastern Gate. Here are pictures of that area today:
It is important to note that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not on a big white horse, on which kings victorious in battle or coming for a royal visit would have ridden. Jesus came humbly on the back of a servant animal, depicting His purpose. However, that very fact is a primary reason the eyes of Jews were veiled, making it difficult to see their messiah. You see, they were under heavy Roman rule and were expecting a conquering king. On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as king, but within the next few days the mood changed and He was rejected as messiah. He wasn’t the conquering king they expected.
Jesus knew He would be rejected, and the apostle Mark records Jesus’s words as He lamented their blindness:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Indeed, most Jews continue to seek the coming of their Messiah. Having missed His first appearing, they will not recognize Him until His Glorious Appearing following the Tribulation. So, on this Palm Sunday, why not pray for hearts to open and eyes to see. Jews are not the only ones who have missed the Savior’s first coming. Many Gentiles reject Him as well. We are all in need of the saving grace of Jesus, so pray for friends and family who do not yet know Him. By the way…Resurrection Sunday is coming. Why not invite someone to come to church with you! It just might be the day eyes see and hearts are opened.