Often we forget that, for Jesus, Palm Sunday was not exclusively a happy day. In fact, it was a day of tears and sorrow as Jesus wept over the unbelief of his chosen people. The City of Shalom (Jerusalem) had rejected the way of peace.
The picture of Palm Sunday is bittersweet to the extremes. It is extremely bitter and extremely sweet.
The bitter part has to do with the cup of judgment Jesus was soon to drink on behalf of his people. This cup was twice bitter because the people he had loved and chosen – the Israelites – were the very ones forcing this bitter cup upon him (“Would that you, even you…”). And the cup was thrice bitter because Jesus’ Father would abandon him and crush him on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Bitter is an understatement.
Luke 19:41-42 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Bitter because the City of Peace was rejecting the way of peace, and they were intent on killing the Prince of Peace.
Jesus could not contain his sorrow. The people he loved, hated him. He broke down and wept for their lost peace.
But Palm Sunday wasn’t only bitter. It was also sweet – sweet to the highest degree. In fact, it is one of the most prominent and clear celebrations of the kingship of Jesus Christ we find in Scripture. The Palm branches wave as victorious pom-poms, and shouts of glory fill the air:
Luke 19:37-38 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
When rebuked for such direct praise, Jesus made the following remark: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (v.40). What a sweet and wondrous truth. God will get his praise. One way or the other, he will be praised.
And it gets sweeter still. For the very thing that made Jesus weep that day, God was using as the means to save. Those Jesus loved, hated him. But God was using their hate to save them. It was their hate that hung Jesus on the cross, and it was Jesus’ work on the cross that made their salvation possible.
His tears were real, and so were the nails driven through his hands and feet.
But the shouts of praise were also real, and so was the life-giving sacrifice Jesus made to save guilty, hate-filled sinners and fill them with fullness of joy and peace.
As you gather to worship this Palm Sunday, do your level-headed best to feel deeply both extremes.