Most of the crowd spread their coats on the road ahead of Jesus, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matt. 21:6-8 NLT)
When the two disciples returned with the two donkeys, they took their outer cloaks and placed them over the backs of the two animals not knowing which of the two Jesus would ride. Jesus selected the colt that had never been ridden.
As the Savior rode down the road toward the holy city, two throngs of people converged upon him – a massive crowd out of the city, and the disciples who followed out of awe for the miracles he did – especially the recent raising of Lazarus.
Some paved the way with their garments, while others laid down layers of leaves and palm branches from which we get the expression “Palm Sunday.” It is significant that spreading garments before a king or dignitary of high rank was a symbol of submission. (2 Kings 9:13) Palm branches were used as a token of victory. Some Jewish coins used in the first century contained palm leaf engravings with the inscription “the redemption of Zion.” (Taken from an article “The Triumphal Entry” by Wayne Jackson in Christian Courier).
There is no doubt that the Jewish followers were full of great expectation that Jesus would be the one to lead them to victory over their Roman oppressors. Once before, after Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, the people were emotionally charged to make him king because “Jesus perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone.” (John 6:14-15). Even the disciples were getting caught up in the frenzy, so Jesus put them into a boat to cross the lake to the other side. He felt it necessary to get them away from the influence of the charged up crowd lest they become involved in the cry. It was not his intent to come and rescue them from the Romans. He had a much different idea of Kingship. He wanted to become the king over their hearts and not over their government.
A year ago Elaine and I were in Yaounde, Cameroon on a mission trip which encompassed Palm Sunday, and the African Baptist church we were attending gave everyone a palm branch and we marched as a group up through the village and back singing hallelujah choruses while waving the branches back and forth. It was wonderful celebration of joyful singing and praising the Lord. Nobody can sing with joyful movement like the African Christians.
I’m afraid that we sometimes view submission as a somber obligatory act of duty, but we see in this passage that great joy was being exhibited. Submissive obedience to the Master is not something we have to do, but an act of worship that we want to do and is accompanied with great joy. I love the hymn that says, “There is joy in serving Jesus.”