Shalom: This is a teaching from my friend and former teacher, Michael Wade.
Why do we call it Palm Sunday?( Our text for this can be found in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19.)
The first thing I’m going to tell you might be a little hard to swallow, after all it contradicts about 1700 years of church tradition.
I don’t think Y’shua – Jesus – entered on a Sunday. We get Palm “Sunday” from the church around 378-394. The Catholic Encyclopedia (see footnote 1) states, “on the authority of Severus, Patriarch of Antioch, and of Josue Stylites, states that Peter Bishop of Edessa, about 397 ordered the benediction of the palms for all the churches of Mesopotamia. The ceremonies had their origin most probably in Jerusalem. In the "Peregrinatio Sylviæ", undertaken between 378 and 394…” Since the church which by then was almost exclusively gentile confused the Jewish Gospel writers use of Sabbath they assumed that Jesus was crucified on a Friday before the Sabbath and using John’s timeline this entry must have been six days earlier or on a Sunday. Not being Jewish and not understanding that major holy days were referred to as Sabbaths they didn’t realize that the beginning of Pesach or Passover was also referred to as a Sabbath. Think of it like this Thanksgiving always occurs on the fourth Thursday in November no matter what the date; it is a day holiday. Christmas always occurs on the 25th of December no matter what day that falls on; it is a date holiday. It is possible to have Christmas on a Thursday which the first century Jew would refer to as a holiday or Sabbath and have the weekly Sabbath on Saturday thus having two Sabbaths in one week. Chew on that and on to the lesson.
When the pilgrims would enter the Temple Mount they would literally have an uphill journey (that’s why scripture so often refers to “let us go up to Jerusalem”). Herod had also designed the Temple steps in such a way that your “pattern” of walking would be broken – there would be 2 or 3 steps of the same stride and then a long step or several short steps. This design prevented anyone from being able to run up the steps. Its purpose was to slow the pilgrim down and allow them to focus on the reason for their journey and its ultimate destination – the Temple or “haBeit l’Adonai”, the House of the Lord. As they ascended they would sing from the Hallel or Songs of Ascent. These were Psalms 113-118.
In Exodus 12:3 the Jew is told to select his lamb which he will sacrifice for Pesach. This date is the 10th day of Nisan. This is the date upon which Yeshua entered riding on a donkey. It is as if God is saying to Y’srael, “Here is my lamb, pure, spotless and without blemish.”
When the crowds saw this Rabbi entering many would have recognized Him. The cry of “Hoshanah” literally means “Save (or deliver) us”. Perhaps the Zealots in the crowd were the first to wave a Palm Branch. It was their political symbol and would have great national significance to the crowd. The palm branch was to Y’srael what the Stars and Stripes are to Americans. It was a symbol of freedom and national pride. It had attained “political” significance during the Maccabaen Revolt an hundred years earlier. And by identifying Him as “ben-David” or the son of David they were aligning Him with the “correct political party”.
Rome also recognized the importance of the palm to Y’srael. When Titus razed the city and the Temple in AD 70 he had all the palms surrounding the Temple mount stripped of their leaves and branches and used as crosses upon which to hang his victims. Rome also minted a coin to commemorate this event. It showed a Roman soldier standing over a Jewish woman with his foot upon a palm branch. Commenting on the victory Titus refused to accept a wreath of victory as was customary as there is "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God" (footnote 2)
Thus we can understand that the crowd was crying out to the Messiah not for salvation from sin but for the end of Roman domination. It became a moment of political action and had no spiritual significance to them. It’s no wonder Yeshua wept and remind them that they had missed the moment of His coming. He returned the b'rakhah or blessing that they had given Him, “Baruch haba b’shem Adonai” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord) back to them with the admonition that He would not return until they really understood what it meant and would say from their hearts.
This is why we call it Palm Sunday.
Thousands of years later there is still a lesson or two for us in this scene. The Holy One of Y’srael had bestowed upon His Beloved the greatest gift He could offer, “Come, let us reason together, even though your sins are like scarlet I will wash them white as snow.” (sefer Yeshaayahu1:18) He offered them shalom – peace with God, joy eternal even in the midst of turmoil, salvation and yet they were willing to settle for so much less. How many times do we turn away from the Holy One because He hasn’t given us the little we demanded of Him but has instead offered us more than we would have even dared to consider asking of Him? (Ephesians 3:20) And how often do we look to our political parties, our leaders, to Oprah for answers. If only MY candidate was elected this nation would get better, my circumstances would improve.
Even now if Yeshua, Jesus, would come into our lives, our businesses, our churches would we see Him? Would we welcome Him for Who He is? Or would we miss Him also? A Rabbi, commenting on sefer Shemot (the book of Exodus) said, “The Jews were just like everyone else, only more so.”
I am like everyone else, only more so. I long to see Him as a friend, face to face.
“Hoshanah, ben-David! Baruch haba b’shem Adonai!"
1 - (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11432b.htm )
2- Philostratus, Vita Apollonii