Psalm 118: 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Inspired by Mark Barnes
Today it is Palm Sunday, a day of celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palm Sundays are about shouting out hosannas and praises to Jesus. It’s day of waving palms, lifting our hands up in the air, laying down of coats in honor of the Son of David. It is the highpoint of Jesus’ career. Yet we know over the week ahead everything will slowly unravel. Jesus will encounter vicious confrontations with religious leaders in the temple. The people, including disciples, will begin to slowly drop away. By Friday, Jesus will be betrayed, denied, deserted, tortured, until he dies on a cross. Next Sunday we will be back here, once again celebrating his resurrection from the dead. If we are not careful or observant, we can miss it all. Those critical events that will transpire in Holy Week that form the bedrock of our faith.
Palm Sunday begins at the Mount of Olives and the scriptures invite us to pay close attention because the Mount of Olives is center to the unfolding of the drama of Holy Week. The Mount of Olives, from its place in the Old and New Testaments, reveals the unfolding of salvation history before our eyes. The Mount of Olives tells us a lot about who Jesus is and how we are to relate to him. The Mount of Olives reveals for us Jesus, Son of David, the Anointed one, our Messiah, our Lord and Savior, the one who was, who is and is to come.
The Mount of Olives was on the eastern side of the city of Jerusalem. Also called the Mount of Anointment, the hill owes both of its names to its olive groves. It is also called Mt. Olivet, or the “mountain facing Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7). Olives are a symbol of peace and prosperity, and these olives were used in the anointing of priests and kings, in the preparations of sacrifices in the temple. It is no wonder that out of the seven mountains surrounding Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives should play the key role in the life of Jesus, and in turn our life as followers of the Lord.
Two notable people are associated with the Mount of Olives in the Bible. King David is the first. Who is the second? That’s right, Jesus.
According to 2 Sam. (15:23), King David was forced out of Jerusalem and rejected as King by his own son, Absalom who was trying to take the throne away from his father. David fled Jerusalem with loyal soldiers, and made his way up the Mount of Olives, barefoot and head covered – signs of mourning and penitence. As David climbed the mountain, He wept and mourned for himself and the betrayal he experienced but also for His own sinfulness (2 Sam. 15:30). So, the Mount of Olives was a place of refuge, penitence, sorrow, and prayer – all aspects that would serve Jesus is his life.
The only two other references to Mount of Olives in the Old Testament come from the prophets that reveal the coming of the messiah. Zachariah (in chapter 14) talks about the coming of the day of the Lord, the messiah:
“ 4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. ….9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.”
The prophet Ezekiel (11: 23) infers the Mount of Olives when he prophecies about the future restoration of Israel and the regathering of the exiles: And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. This mountain is identified as the Mount of Olives. So, in Jewish lore, the Mount of Olives became associated with the longed-for messiah.
Not surprisingly then, Jesus is associated often with Mount of Olives. Jesus made many visits to the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37). In fact, it was “usual” for Him to go there when in the vicinity of Jerusalem (Luke 22:39). During Holy Week, Jesus visited the Mount of Olives no less than three times. In the first instance which we heard from today’s reading, he came down Mount of Olives and entered Jerusalem on a donkey, as told in Matthew 21:4 quoting Zechariah 9:9: “Look your king is coming for you, humble and riding on a donkey.”
As Jesus moved towards the Temple Mount, crowds of Jewish people greeted Him with a proclamation: “Hosanna (or help, save Lord) to the Son of David! “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”. These words were not random. It is a cry to God, Son of David referring to the Messiah – a cry of help. It is the official messianic greeting based on the words of Psalm 118:26. The people are pinning their hopes on Jesus as the longed-for Messiah – who deliberately begins his trek into the Holy City, that last week of his life, on the Mount of Olives, as foretold by the prophets.
While still on the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked at the vista in front of Him, wept over the city, and pronounced a judgment against it (verses 41–44). Matthew 23:37-39 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it…! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” So, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus uses that same phrase from Psalm 118, the phrase that the people were crying out – and by doing so Jesus identifies himself as the subject of the messianic greeting. Jesus is messiah.
Bible scholars believe Jesus spent Monday of Holy Week at the Temple, overturning tables, violently conflicting with temple leaders, teaching the crowds with highly critical parables and sayings. After this intense confrontation, Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives, when on the next day, Tuesday, Jesus delivers what is usually called the “Olivet Discourse.”
The Olivet discourse, which bible scholars believe was delivered on Holy Tuesday, is found in Matthew (24:1 —25:46), Mark 13:1–37 and Luke 21:5–36. It was Jesus’ response to His disciples’ question, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). Jesus’ Olivet teaching are prophecies the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (which happened in 70AD), the future tribulation period, and the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. (Mark 13:1-37, Luke 21:5-36). The conflict on the temple grounds from Monday of Holy Week will spread worldwide. In Jesus last days, he speaks of Jerusalem’s last days, of our last days.
Jesus’ third visit to the Mount of Olives during Holy Week was on the night he was betrayed, Thursday of Holy Week. That evening began with the Last Supper in Jerusalem and ended in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Then He took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (literally, “Garden of the Oil-press”) located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. There Jesus prayed in agony as He contemplated the day to come. Jesus himself was so pressed by fear and dread, so overcome by the horror of what He was to experience in the passion and crucifixion the following day, His sweat was “like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
We see that as King David was rejected, so Jesus was rejected. As David ascended the mountain, he wept and mourned for himself and his sin (2 Samuel 15:30), Jesus the son of David, both descended and came to the mountain where he wept and mourned for Jerusalem and the sin of its people (Luke 19:29, 41). Whereas David’s companions were faithful and stuck with him (2 Samuel 15:15), Jesus’ companions deserted him and denied him (Matthew 26:31). David suffered for his own sin (2 Sam. 12:10; 2 Sam, 15:30), Jesus suffered for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). By God’s grace, David escaped from his persecutors (2 Sam. 12:13). By God’s grace, Jesus submitted to his oppressors to suffer in our place (Isa. 53:6-7).
There is still more. Jesus’ presence on the Mount of Olives didn’t end with Gethsemane. Around 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus took the disciples back to the mountain, and it was from there that he ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-12).
The very location where David wept in defeat and where Jesus was betrayed and rejected will be the place Jesus ascended, and where Jesus will one day return in triumph as Zechariah foresaw:
6 On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.,,,9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.
Today, Palm Sunday, we are called to the Mount of Olives. We are
called to repent and pray like David did. We are called to find refuge from whatever is troubling us. Today we join the crowd, shouting Hosanna – save Lord! We sing the messianic chant; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Today on the Mount, we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah sent to redeem the world. This week let us be on the mount, listening to Jesus. Let us be on the mount, praying with Jesus as he suffers and embraces his destiny of the cross for the life of the world. On this mount, this week, let us pay due homage for the great sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. This week, this very holy week, let us be on the mount, as we await his return once more, that glorious day when He will be crowned King of Kings, Lord or Lords, because his name will be the only name that reigns on the Mount of Olives to all the world. Amen.