Imagine yourself in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. There was a great crowd there that day that had come to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. I can imagine it was something like what we see in Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve.
Josephus, the notable Roman historian, estimated that over two million people were involved in the great Passover Feast. It is known that 256,500 lambs were slain at one Passover and that each lamb represented at least ten worshippers. Thousands from all over the world were flooding into the city to observe the Passover.
An excitable carnival-like atmosphere was bound to prevail over such a mass of people cramming the streets of the city, getting ready to celebrate. As they prepared to observe one of the most important feasts that the Jewish people celebrated all year, word got around that Jesus was on his way into the city.
It is rare that all four gospels record the same event in Jesus’ life. For that reason alone, we should consider what happened here to be important.
What is special about this man Jesus? Prior to his arrival, Jesus tells two of his disciples: “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. A colt no one has ever yet sat on.
If we fast forward to Friday, after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea takes down the body of Jesus and lays him in a tomb cut in stone, “where no one had ever yet been laid.” A colt no one has ridden. And a tomb no one has ever been laid in. What is going on here?
It appears there are some divine arrangements happening. God has set apart some never-used vessels, a colt and a tomb, set apart and reserved for a special purpose, a special person – Jesus, God’s Son. The colt and the tomb are set apart and planned by God. That’s the point: both Palm Sunday and Good Friday are part of God’s plan.
The crowd gathers as Jesus rides into the city, and they begin to wave palm branches and shout their welcome to Jesus. But who were the faces in that crowd that day? If you were there, who would you see? And what were they thinking?
I believe that as we examine the crowd that was present that particular day, we may find ourselves and some of those around us.
First, the Roman soldiers were there.
As the crowd begins to honour Jesus, it gets the attention of the Roman soldiers, they were charged with keeping the Jewish people under control. During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon for some of the Jewish zealots to try to persuade the people to fight back against the Roman occupation.
Here comes Jesus, I imagine that some of the Roman soldiers must have smiled at the “Triumphal Entry,” because it was nothing like their own triumphal celebrations back in Rome.
Isn’t that how some people treat Jesus today? They are amused by the stories about Him. They laugh at Him and at people who worship Him. How could educated people believe some of the things that people say He did? Make the blind to see. The lame to walk. The deaf to hear. Walk on water. Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish! Who in their right mind would believe such things?
There were would have been some of those in the crowd that day.
And then there was probably another group of people there. If we go back to some earlier verses in John 12, Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
This group wanted to see what was going on - they came to see the spectacular, that is, to see Lazarus, the man rumoured to have been raised from the dead.
Wherever Jesus was there was action and things were happening. It was where everyone was gathering. They wanted to join the party.
That is why some people come to church. They don’t come to worship the King; they come because their friends are there. They come to socialize.
I think, sadly, that’s why some inner city churches are becoming megachurches. They are drawing the crowds, yes. Lots of people are attending. But people are coming because of the concerts that are available. They’re there because of the orchestra. They come for the sing-along. How many sitting in the presence of the Lord and His church today are only half-sincere? How many come to church just because it is the thing to do, the place to be, the place where everyone else is? How many seek the spectacular signs only?
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?
That’s the attitude of some. What will you do for me Jesus? What will you give me?
How many want the miracles, but miss the Master. There were probably some of those in the crowd that day.
And then there was another group of people there that day. The religious leaders were there.
The Pharisees said to one another, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Wherever the power was, that was where you’d find the Pharisees. They wanted the praise. They wanted the glory, and they wanted to be the ones who had all the influence. They were fine as long as they were the centre of attention, but look out if someone else received the praise.
People were beginning to come to Jesus and follow Him. And the Pharisees knew that this meant their powerful political positions were in jeopardy. God isn’t pleased with that kind of leadership.
The Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Sadly there are people in the church today who want the visible positions. They want the power. They want to be the movers and shakers. They’ll preach the prosperity gospel. Come to Jesus and all your cares and troubles will be over.
They point to themselves, not to Jesus.
There were some bad shepherds in the crowd that day. And they even went so far as to plot to do away with Jesus.
Who have we got in the crowd so far?
The ones who were amused and laughed at Jesus.
The ones who wanted to see what was going on
The ones looking for a miraculous sign
The ones who wanted the power and the prestige.
There was one more group there that day.
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, with a request. “Sir, “we would like to see Jesus.”
“We would like to see Jesus.”
Oh that we would all say that, what a difference it would make in our lives if we would say, “We would like to see Jesus.”
For when we see Jesus and recognise his love for us then we are changed. When we come to truly believe that God gave His only Son to die for you and for me that we might not perish but have everlasting life, it changes our lives. When we see and believe this glorious truth; then we really begin to worship Him. We begin to bow down and surrender our whole beings to God. We begin to follow and obey His will.
The people in the crowd that day were shouting something that was far more significant than they realized.
The pilgrims who had come to the city for the Passover were singing the so-called Hallel psalms –the ‘lets go up to Zion’ Psalms of David. They would sing these every Passover. They are ancient praise songs. They are full of Hosannas.
This Hebrew word means “he who saves.” And Hallelujahs, which mean “praise Yahweh or Jehovah”. They were welcoming their King.
But this was not a king that would reign over Israel. No, this King was far more important, far more powerful than any king on earth.
For although they didn’t realize it, they were honouring the King of heaven. They were honouring the King of kings and Lord of lords. They were honouring the King that would triumph over death. They were singing praises to the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.
Who will we be this Holy week – like the pilgrims singing and welcoming Jesus, waving our Palms on Sunday but by Friday?
Like Peter who said he would never deny or desert Jesus ..?
Like any of the others I have mentioned in the crowd ..?
Today is a day of celebration but it is also a day to take stock of what is important in our lives – are we ready to follow all the way to the cross or will we be just like the others.
But for today at least – we can join in the celebrations – we sing our Hallel psalms - for “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.