Palm Sunday

The Righteous One Comes

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. Psalm 118:19–20

Four days before the Passover feast, Jews brought an unblemished lamb into their homes—the lamb would become their atonement sacrifice (Exodus 12:3-6). Four days before his arrest, the Lamb of God entered the city of Jerusalem—the Lamb who would become the atonement sacrifice for all mankind.

Psalm 118 was definitely on Jesus’s mind when he rode the donkey through the holy city. He heard the crowd shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (118:26). Waving celebratory palm branches was a common practice during festal processions (v. 27). And Psalm 118 was one of six psalms customarily sung during Passover.[1]

As the crowd cheered, Jesus may have been thinking of verses 17–18: “I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” Although Jesus would be slain as the atonement for sin, he would rise again to eliminate forever the power of sin and the need for atonement. As Paul later wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory … through our Lord Jesus Christ” (See 1 Corinthians 15:55–57.)

Jesus went directly to the temple after the procession (Mark 11:11). Did he look toward the Court of the Priests and think of the rest of Psalm 118:27: “with boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar”? Each year, the blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on the horns of the altar (Leviticus 16:18–19). This year, Jesus was the lamb. This year, his blood would be shed.[2]

Psalm 118 begins and ends with the refrain: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Jews often sang this affirmation of God’s steadfast love during feasts and other celebrations (see Ezra 3:11; Jeremiah 33:10–11). The psalmist used “his love endures forever” five times. The Lamb of God’s voluntary entrance into the city where he would be crucified was a declaration of his love.

Although millions of people have entered Jerusalem’s gates over the last 3,000 years, only One was truly righteous. And he loved us enough to become our savior (118:14). Will you sing of his everlasting goodness and love today?

Dig Deeper:

Jews typically sang Psalms 113–118 during the Passover meal, so Jesus probably sang them the night he was arrested. What verses in those psalms might have encouraged Jesus? Which verses encourage you?

The day after Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he quoted Psalm 118:22 in the temple. Read Matthew 21:33–46. Why did Jesus quote the verse? Why were the chief priests and Pharisees so upset?

Peter quoted Psalm 118:22 twice, in Acts 4:8–12 and 1 Peter 2:4–8. What point was he making in each instance?

Denise K. Loock

This devotion is included in Restore the Hope, our collection of Lenten and Easter devotions.


[1] Psalms 113–118 are known as the Egyptian Hallel, or the Hallelujah Psalms, sung in connection with the annual feasts. Psalm 118 was traditionally sung after the cup of wine served at the Passover meal (see Matthew 26:30). See Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). Note at Psalm 113. See also The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976). Note at Psalm 113.

[2] To see a diagram of Herod’s Temple, including the altar on which the sacrifices were offered, go to http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEHerods_Temple_Illustration.htm.

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