We had a really blessed Palm Sunday service last Sunday at the mission, remembering the Jewish significance of those palm branches laid before Christ in the streets of Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. Israel was commanded to make sukkot, or “booths” out of palm and fruit tree branches every year in the autumn and to live in those booths as a memorial of God’s having led them out of Egypt, their dwelling place being in booths in the dessert until He led them into the Promised Land. The prophet Zechariah prophesied that in the Day of the LORD, all those who are left from all the nations that will go up against Jerusalem in that coming ill-fated eschatological battle will then celebrate the feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) from year to year.
During this feast in times of antiquity, the Jews would quote Psalm 118 on the last (eighth) day of the feast. It’s familiar lines “Hosanna (‘save now’)… Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” is what the people were shouting as Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey (fulfilling Genesis 49:11 and Zechariah 9:9) on that first Palm Sunday. Even the toddlers in the temple got in on the action, calling to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and this was a great honor to our Lord.
The followers of Jesus on that day were ready to start building sukkahs in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy. They were hoping to see the holiday psalm and the Kingdom of God fulfilled in their eyes. But the cross was to come first, and almost all of them had missed that teaching though the Lord had been declaring it plainly. Peter had been ready to start building sukkahs on the mount of the transfiguration, and the LORD had stopped him, commanding him simply to listen to the Son as He spoke, among other things, of His coming cross and resurrection.
How strange to think that four or five days after that scene on the first Palm Sunday, Christ Jesus would lay in death’s strong bands, for our offenses given! Two rulers who had waited for the kingdom of God would blatantly break a rabbinic ceremonial requirement by entering a Gentile ruler’s hall in order to ask for the body of Jesus, thus also defiling themselves, biblically, with a dead body, making themselves ineligible to eat the Passover. By this they chose the greater part and identified allegiance with Jesus. Nevertheless, in the coming first day of the week, on the Jewish feast of Firstfruits of Barley (biblically, the day after the Sabbath following the first night of Passover), the victory would remain with LIFE; the reign of death would be ended. Hallelujah.
[Giving credit to whom it is due: In the above paragraphs, I have quoted or alluded to sayings by Mark Minnick, Craig Hartman, and Martin Luther. The statement about the toddlers in the temple is Minnick’s; Peter’s action on the mount is Hartman’s; and the allusions to “death’s strong bands” and “the victory remain[ing] with life” are from Luther’s hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.”]
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A recent convert here in the city made me laugh today with his use of phraseology typically used by drug addicts—now to describe his desire to read the Word of God. He said, “I feel like kind of, I don’t know… kind of like a fiend to read it.” I know from past experience what he means by this – he desires greatly, with a consuming desire, to read the Word. He asked me recently if I would be willing to increase my weekly Bible study with him to two times weekly. In this Bible study we typically go through five chapters, reading verses alternately, and I anticipate and explain interpretive issues as they arise. Big James, as we affectionately call him, is living on the Word of God moreso than he ever anticipated.
Christopher Love, NYGM Intern