Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem for the last time.
Unlike His previous entrances to the city, this last approach was lauded and celebrated. Palm fronds waved around Him as He rode serenely past on a borrowed donkey, surrounded by His followers and apostles.
Jesus knew, long before this impressive entrance into Jerusalem, that He was approaching His death. He warned His apostles that the time of His death was near, but they refused to accept it. They even asked Him to stay away from Jerusalem, wanting to avoid any threat to their beloved Master’s life.
But Jesus insisted on returning to Jerusalem. He spent a week there, continuing to teach and serve, continuing to anger those who led the Jews.
That week led up to the most important, most significant event in all of human history.
Today is Palm Sunday – a week before Easter. This is the day we recognize Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem that week leading to the end of His mortal life.
In some parts of Christianity, people carry palm leaves in memory of that kingly entrance into Jerusalem. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don’t. But remembering that day, and that week, leading to the crucifixion can prepare us to celebrate His triumphant resurrection on Easter.
What Did Happen That Week?
Entrance to Jerusalem
I know I started the post with this, but I wanted to talk a bit more about why this was such an important event that week.
It wasn’t just a celebration that a man of miracles was entering the city. He’d come with that reputation before. But this reaction was based on the prophecy of the coming Messiah.
The Jews of the time believed that a Messiah would come and save them. It had been prophesied for centuries – longer, really.
But the idea of what “saved” meant had changed somewhat. It’s easy to see why. The Jews had been subject to various other powers – like Babylon – for a long time as well. At the time of Jesus, they were subject to the Roman Empire.
The Jews and the Romans did not get along. They barely tolerated each other at times. The Jews refused to worship any but their God, and the Romans, as pagans, worshipped many gods and viewed their Caesar as practically a god himself.
So we can see how these religious differences paired with the Jews being subject to Rome caused some problems.
The Jews were looking to be saved. And they were expecting that Messiah to come and free them from Rome and all other enemies in – I assume – a dramatic military effort.
Instead, Jesus – the true Messiah – came to free them in a different, eternal way.
This entrance to Jerusalem shows Him being recognized as the Messiah – or at least, it shows that people hoped He might be the Messiah.
The palm fronds were accompanied with shouts of:
Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.John 12:13, King James Version
The Messiah had come. But within a few days, many people stopped seeing Him as the hoped for Messiah and started to see Him as some sort of threat.
Of course, this did not change Jesus’s course during that week.
Cleansing the Temple
Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem twice in His lifetime. Cleansing is an accurate word, but it doesn’t quite do justice to what He did to cleanse the temple.
The scriptures say He drove people who were buying and selling in the temple out, even using a whip of sorts to get attention. This surprises some people. After all, Jesus is well known for His teachings of love.
But when we read this part of the gospels, we need to remember that He isn’t just a prophet who taught love. Jesus is the Son of God. He is Jehovah in the Old Testament. And the Bible records many instances of God’s wrath on the wicked.
The practice of buying and selling in the temple corrupted and distracted from the purposes of worship and sacrifice that the people had come for in the first place. Jesus drove them out to preserve the sacred nature of the temple.
Daniel H. Ludlow, in 1972, pointed out the differences between the first cleansing and the second:
“Now that he has openly avowed himself to be the Messiah, the Savior refers to the temple as “my house” when he quotes the scripture: “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:13.) Before the week is over, the Savior will say to the rebellious residents of Jerusalem concerning the temple, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:38. Italics added.)”Daniel H. Ludlow, “The Greatest Week in History,” Ensign, April 1972
Jesus clearly states His ownership of the temple, knowing that it was built for Him and His Father. To see it desecrated was certainly offensive and painful.
However, Jesus’s cleansing of the temple offended leaders among the Jews. This was one of the biggest grudges the Jewish leaders held against Jesus that led to His arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus came to Jerusalem the week of Passover. He and His apostles had a quiet Passover meal together, during which He spoke with them and taught them without surrounding crowds.
It was during this meal that Judas Iscariot left Jesus and went to betray His Master.
After Judas left, Jesus gave the apostles the first sacrament. This gave Him the opportunity to instruct them in how to break the bread and bless both bread and wine.
He also explained the symbolism of each: bread representing His body and wine representing His blood.
The sacrament, as it’s called in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is still performed weekly to this day.
It still holds that same symbolism, but from a perspective of the sacrifice Jesus Christ has already performed for us rather than something yet to happen.
Last week in General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that during the sacrament:
“We are to remember in as personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family. Inasmuch as we contributed to that fatal burden, such a moment demands our respect.”Jeffrey R. Holland, “Behold the Lamb of God,” April 2019
The sacrament isn’t an archaic tradition. It is a constant reminder of the sacrificial Lamb of God and maintains the same significance now as it did that first time when Jesus Himself blessed and distributed it.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Now we come to the start of the great sacrifice. Following the Passover meal, Jesus and His apostles walked to the Mount of Olives on which is the Garden of Gethsemane.
After separating Himself from His apostles, Jesus fell to the ground and bled from every pore as He, alone, suffered for the sins and pains of every person who had lived and would ever live.
He suffered for us.
There are no words that can come anywhere near explaining what this experience was. We can hardly comprehend what it means to us.
The best description comes from Christ Himself, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants:
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.Doctrine and Covenant 19:16-19
The Jews were looking for a Messiah to free them from mortal bondage to Rome and others.
But the Messiah came to free them – and all of us – from an even worse power and bondage: sin and death.
This suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane freed us, saved us, from our fallen mortal existence. Jesus saved us from Satan and our poor judgment in following Satan. Jesus offered us the choice to follow Him and live or to follow Satan down to hell.
It’s heavy stuff.
But it happened. And we have our Savior, Jesus Christ, to thank forever for His infinite sacrifice that lifts us from every and any circumstance to a higher and holier place.
Following this time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and sentenced to death.
He was crucified among thieves and laid to rest in the Garden Tomb.
Then, as we will celebrate next week, He rose again, resurrected and glorified, to return to His Father and continue the work of salvation.
Let’s take this week to remember all that our Savior has done for us.
If you live near a temple, take some time to visit it and remember that it is His house and that it is a place of purity and peace.
Or pray for greater understanding of what Jesus Christ did for you personally and see how great the love is that He has for you.
Whatever you choose to do this week, find a way to remember Him.
Then enjoy the hope that comes with His resurrection next week for Easter!
Don’t forget to check out the new page on the blog where you can submit your personal testimony to share with all the readers of this blog and others who the post may reach. You can find more information on that here.