“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9–10)
Palm Sunday is the day in the church year when traditionally we mark the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem for the last week of his life.
As he rode into town on the humble beast, Jesus was not oblivious to what was about to happen to him. His enemies were going to get the upper hand, and he would be rejected and crucified. And within a generation the city would be obliterated. Here’s how Jesus says it in Luke 19:43–44:
The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.
God was visiting them in Jesus, his Son — “he came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). But they did not know the time of their visitation. So they stumbled over the stumbling stone. The builders rejected the stone and threw it away. Jesus saw this coming.
The King Cries
How did he respond? “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’” (Luke 19:41–42). Jesus wept over the blindness and the impending misery of Jerusalem.
How would you describe these tears? I would call them tears of sovereign mercy. The effect they should have on us is to make us admire Christ and treasure him above all others and worship him as our merciful Sovereign. And when we have seen the beauty of his mercy, we become merciful with him and like him and for his glory.
So, let’s admire Christ together on this Palm Sunday.
Admiring His Tender Sovereignty
What makes Christ so admirable and so different than all other persons is that he unites in himself so many qualities that in other people are contrary to each other. We can imagine supreme sovereignty, and we can imagine tenderhearted mercy. But to whom do we look to combine, in perfect proportion, merciful sovereignty and sovereign mercy? We look to Jesus. No other religious or political contender even comes close.
Look at three pointers to his sovereignty in the Palm Sunday account.
First, the crowds praised God for Jesus’s mighty works (Luke 19:37). He had healed leprosy with a touch; he had made the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk; he had commanded the unclean spirits and they obeyed him; he had stilled storms and walked on water and turned five loaves and two fish into a meal for thousands. So as he entered Jerusalem, they knew nothing could stop him. He could just speak and Pilate would perish; the Romans would be scattered. He was sovereign.
Then look, secondly, at verse 38. The crowds cried out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus was a King, and not just any king, but the one sent and appointed by the Lord God. They knew how Isaiah had described him — as sovereign over an invincible, never-ending kingdom:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7)
A universal, never-ending kingdom backed by the zeal of almighty God. Here was the King of the universe, who today rules over the nations and the galaxies, and for whom America and ISIS and every other political state are only a grain of sand and a vapor.
Third, verse 40. When the Pharisees tell him to make the people stop blessing him as a king, he answers, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Why? Because Jesus will be praised! The whole design of the universe is that Christ be praised. And therefore, if people won’t do it, he will see to it that rocks do it.
In other words, he is sovereign. He will get what he means to get. If we refuse to praise, the rocks will get the joy.
Fulfillment, Not Failure
It is remarkable, therefore, that the tears of Jesus in verse 41 are so often used to deny his sovereignty. Someone will say, “Look, he weeps over Jerusalem because his design for them is not coming to pass. He would delight in their salvation. But they are resistant. They are going to reject him. They are going to hand him over to be crucified. And so his purpose for them has failed.” But there is something not quite right about this objection to Jesus’s sovereignty.
He can make praise come from rocks. And so he could do the same from rock-hard hearts in Jerusalem. What’s more, all this rejection and persecution and killing of Jesus are not the failure of Jesus’s plan, but the fulfillment of it.
Listen to what he said in Luke 18:31–33 a short time before:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written [planned!] about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
The betrayal, the mockery, the shame, the spit, the flogging, the murder — and so much more — was planned. In other words, the resistance, the rejection, the unbelief and hostility were not a surprise to Jesus. They were, in fact, part of the plan. He says so.
This is probably why it says at the end of verse 42, “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Remember what Jesus said about his parables in Luke 8:10: “To you [disciples] it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” God was handing them over to hardness. It was judgment.
Merciful and Mighty
The mercy of God is a sovereign mercy. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15). But here is the point we see on Palm Sunday: This sovereign Christ weeps over the hard-hearted, perishing people of Jerusalem as they fulfilled his plan. It is unbiblical and wrong to make the tears of mercy a contradiction to the serenity of sovereignty. Jesus was serene in sorrow, and sorrowful in sovereignty. Jesus’s tears are the tears of sovereign mercy.
And therefore his sovereign power is the more admirable and the more beautiful. It’s the harmony of things that seem in tension that makes him glorious — “merciful and mighty,” as we sing. We admire power more when it is merciful power. And we admire mercy more when it is mighty mercy.
O, that we would see and savor the beauty of Christ — the Palm Sunday tears of sovereign joy and the self-sacrificing love and obedience that took him every step of the way during Holy Week. And O, that as we admire and worship him this week we would be changed by what we see and become more tenderly-moved, self-denying, need-meeting people.