He Wept as They Welcomed Him
The Hope and Sorrow of Palm Sunday
Save us, we pray, O Lord! . . . Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalm 118:25–26)
When Jesus approached Jerusalem on what history remembers as Palm Sunday, he wept over her. To a casual observer, it might have seemed like Jesus wept at strange times.
He recently had wept at Lazarus’s tomb, only to call him out of it moments later (John 11:35–44). Now the enthusiastic crowds who had heard of this great miracle (John 12:17–18) were escorting him royally into the city of David, crying the words of Psalm 118:25–26: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). All Jews would have understood these words as a messianic salutation — and Jesus responded with a tearful lament.
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you. . . . And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:42–44)
This is a response worth pausing to ponder — what a psalmist might call a selah moment. The great King wept over the city of the great King just before his “triumphal entry” through her gates, to the prophesied rejoicing of many (Luke 19:41; Zechariah 9:9).
Rejected Stone, the Lord’s Doing
Psalm 118 was much in the Savior’s ears and eyes as Holy Week began — that consummate week when all that the temple and sacrificial systems foreshadowed (Hebrews 10:1) would be fulfilled in a single, great, once-for-all sacrifice conducted by the great high priest himself (Hebrews 4:14; 9:26).
Jesus heard the psalm in the “Hosanna!” shouts of the crowds. And he saw the psalm in the murderous machinations of the Jewish leaders: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22–23). This is what broke the heart of Jesus as he rode the donkey’s foal toward Jerusalem amid the waving palms. And it was marvelous.
It was marvelous that Jerusalem, “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2), did not recognize when the Joy of her joy arrived after her long centuries of waiting.
It was marvelous that the sovereign King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15), the Son and Lord of David (Matthew 22:44–45), who ordained from ages past that the builders would reject their cornerstone, felt profound grief over their blindness and rejection, and deeply wished they had known all he was doing to make peace (Luke 19:42).
It was marvelous that the Jewish Messiah had come to answer the “Hosanna!” cries and make peace not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Gentile peoples of the earth — a mystery “kept secret for long ages” (Romans 16:25) that would soon be proclaimed to the Gentiles by a Jewish Pharisee (Ephesians 3:1–6) who, if present as Jesus entered the city, would have zealously hated everything the procession implied.
And all this was “the Lord’s doing” (Psalm 118:23). Yes, for the Lord had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
Oh, for the things that made for peace!
The Day the Lord Had Made
The marvel is not only that the builders rejected the cornerstone, but that the Blessed One had come to become a curse for all of us who would later call him blessed (Galatians 3:13).
The great psalm celebrates, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” (Psalm 118:27). Who on that day of the King’s great arrival would have imagined that this King had come to be the Sacrifice of sacrifices, and that the Roman cross to which he would be bound would become the most sacred altar ever constructed?
No one but King Jesus. This was why he had come, and why his soul was so troubled in the midst of the rejoicing crowd (John 12:27).
But the crowd’s rejoicing was the right response. Indeed, the psalm called for it: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). What deeply troubled the great Deliverer was a work set before him that would atone for the sin of myriad millions of sinners (Ephesians 1:7).
This was the day that the Lord had made, a day of rejoicing and gladness for sinners. But a day of weeping for the Lord. For oh, the things that made for peace!
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
But Jesus’s grief was not hopeless. No, he knew his weeping was only for the night, and joy would come with the morning (Psalm 30:5). He knew it was the will of his Father to crush him and put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). He also knew that after he had made the supreme offering for sin, after he had borne the iniquities of many that they might be accounted righteous, after the anguish of his soul was past, he would see his redeemed spiritual offspring and know supreme satisfaction (Isaiah 53:10–11). Even through his tears, Jesus looked to the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2) and set his face toward what lay ahead in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).
This was the resolve of fathomless love — a love stronger than death and fiercer than the grave — the very flame of the Lord (Song of Solomon 8:6). It was a love so good, so steadfast, so enduring, so high, so broad, so long, so deep that it requires the very strength of God even to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18–19). It was the way God so loved the world (John 3:16), a world that had rejected him (Psalm 118:22). It was love that went to unimaginable extremes to accomplish the things that made for peace — for us.
Therefore, in honor of such a King, we join with that ancient crowd in rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made, lifting our hands, as if holding festal palms, and declaring,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:26, 28–29)