Today is Palm Sunday which celebrates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, There are two figures that represents Palm Sunday. One is a palm tree and the other is a donkey. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, he was riding a donkey and crowds were greeting him with palm branches on their hands, shouting, “Hosanna!”
What is interesting is that each chapter in the Bible tells a little bit of different story about this event. While John 14:14 says that Jesus sat upon “a young donkey,” Matthew 21:7 states that “They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.” (Colt is a baby horse.) So in Matthew, we are not certain as to whether Jesus rode on the donkey or the colt. On the other hand, Mark 11:7 states that “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.” And surprisingly, Luke 19:30 states that there was “a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.”
All four Gospels talk about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But as you can see, they have different details because they emphasize different things about this event. For example, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ royal status. That’s why it mentions the adoration of the Magi and that’s probably why it mentions the colt as well as the donkey.
However, whether it is a donkey that Jesus sat on, or a colt, the important thing is that an image of a king that we generalize today and an image of Jesus’ royal status are absolutely different. Kings today supply himself with their horses, chariots and the army to show their royal status and authority. But, the King of Kings, Jesus does not need to rely on such external things. The reason that Jesus came to Israel riding on a donkey (or a colt) was to show the people that the nature of his ruling this world was different from what we think of kings. And, whichever he rode on would not shaken Jesus’ authority.
There was this interesting video that showed an experiment. The experiment tested how many seconds does it take for a car to honk its horn when the car in front of it would not move at an intersection when the light turned from red to green. If a small car was the car that was not moving, it would get honked at in less than 3 seconds. But, if a big car with a well-known expensive brand was the car that was not moving, the car behind it would not even honk its horn, it would just go around it. So this experiment showed that in spite of the same person who was driving those two cars, people showed different reactions that depended on the size and brand of a car.
After thinking about the verse of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I thought about what humility was. It’s related to lowering your self esteem. Jesus was modest enough to ride on a donkey when entering Jerusalem.
But without modesty, a person would become materialistic. I hope that we are all able to be modest like Jesus, and be judged on not by external things but internal.
One other symbolization of the Palm Sunday is the palm trees. A palm tree is a symbol of victory. In the history of Israel, when Maccabi won a war in Israel, they were welcomed by their people who were waving palm branches. The meaning of the situation seems to be same when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
Also, what is the word that the people shouted when they were greeting Jesus? They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" Here, as we well know, Hosanna means “To save us,” “the King of Israel, please deliver us, free us.”
The word, Hosanna, is a greeting to welcome the Messiah, and the palm branches mean the people are welcoming and accepting the new ruler.
So while palm trees and donkeys are important things that represent the Palm Sunday, I would like to talk about John 12: 20. The verse says, “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.” The Greeks in this verse are outsiders to the Jews. However, even these outsiders came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jews’ Passover.
But this was not impossible. Although this case was rare, there were outsiders who believed in Judaism. So in 1 Kings 8:41-43 says, "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name-for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. So it is evident that there were foreigners who were able to pray and worship in the temple.
The Greeks in today’s verse ‘came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."’ We are not certain as to why the Greeks told Phillip they wanted to see Jesus.
But what is important is that when Jesus heard this, he replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus seems to be glorified when he was greeted by the people, who were waving palm branches and shouting Hossanna.
But the Bible does not say this is when Jesus is glorified. So when the foreigners say, “We would like to see Jesus,” Jesus replies, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ Why did he say this?
As I have mentioned previously, I am colour blind. If we look at this next picture, I am unable to tell what number is in the figure because I can’t distinguish between the colours.
Just as there are people, like me, who can’t tell the colours apart, there are others who are unable to distinguish genuine voices from others. Not all of the people yelling “Hosanna” have their hearts invested in their voices; however, the voices of the Greeks, who asked to see Jesus, possess this genuine quality.
Why is that? The people who were yelling “Hosanna” were praising Jesus without fully knowing him. They were admiring what Jesus had done with Lazarus, “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word” (12:17) and that was the sole purpose of their praising.
Because they had see Lazarus rise from the dead, the people began to hold higher expectations for Jesus and yet their perception of him was still incomplete, like those who are colour blind, “But it is your custom for me to release to you one prison at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jew?’ They shouted back, ‘No, not him! Give us Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion” (18:39-40).
When Jesus saved Lazarus, the people saw his power and strength; however, singing Jesus being judged by Pilate, Jesus seemed to be powerless and weak. As a result, they wanted someone with more power like the rebellious Barabbas.
Because Jesus had known that the voices shouting “Hosanna” can, at any point, become voices that sentence him to death and thus Jesus was not glorified by their voices.
However, when the Gentiles asked to meet Jesus, he then said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23).
How were the voices of the Gentiles different from the rest? As mentioned previously, the sounds of the crowd were merely a sound that had the potential to change into something like ‘put him on the cross’ at any given moment. However, the sounds of the Gentiles were different. Perhaps this request was small and subtle as they were unable to speak up with the Jews surrounding them. Furthermore, at a time when “the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well” (12:10), asking to see Jesus may have been dangerous.
The riskiness of the situation is further highlighted by how the message is conveyed – from the Greeks to Phillip, Phillip to Andrew and the two of them approaching Jesus together.
Then as soon as Jesus had heard the request, he says that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23) then says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:24-25).
What does this mean? The glory the Jesus is receiving was not due to the palm branches that people were waving or the sounds of Hosanna they were shouting but to be that one kernel that falls on the ground and dies to produce more… To achieve this he is going to Jerusalem, to his cross… The death on the cross was to save not only the Jews but the entire world…
When these Greeks came to see him. When Jesus heard this, he saw another form of the kernels personified in these Gentiles. Thus proclaims that the hour of glory has come.
After reading the passage, I asked myself if there was any way for me to find out what had happened to these Greeks afterward. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any record of them.
However, when ‘the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost’ there were “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome” (Acts 2:9-10) and when Saul and Barnabas were spreading the words of God, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Furthermore, “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).
How could this happen? How could Gentiles accept and understand the very Gospel that the Jews were rejecting?
I felt that perhaps this was possible due to the Greeks we meet today. Perhaps they became the kernels and spread throughout the world and made this feasible.
At a university in Korea, there is a Gingko (Maidenhair Tree) that is more than 500 years old. The tree was planted by Tak Yun, a high ranking government official at the time, at around 1519. The small seed, 500 years later, has grown to be 26m tall and 12m thick.
There is another giant tree. The tree is called ‘Church’ and this tree is older than 2000 years. How was this tree planted? It all started with the death of Jesus Christ as the kernel. When Jesus heard “we would like to see Jesus” by the Gentiles, he saw how these seeds would grow and thus stated that the hour has come.
When we become the kernels and produce more seeds, wouldn’t we feel honoured and glorified? We are conducting the Communion service today and I thought that we could be compared to the seeds that were produced due to someone else’s sacrifice.
Thus, when we grow, we can become the next farmer, the next kernel and sacrifice our lives to see the hour of glory.
The Gingko has another name in Korean that connotes the fact that once you plant a Gingko it will be your grandchildren who are able to eat the nut-like seeds of the tree. The Gentiles could, then, be compared to a Gingko tree as their seeking for Jesus produced significant results years later. I hope that, like the Gentiles, we become kernels and Gingko trees… (translated by Mika Choi and Soyeon Song)
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