Who is this?
Matthew 21 1-11
This story for Palm Sunday is all about the identity question. Verse 10 makes it clear, “When he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?'”
I believe this question helps us understand the fickle reactions of the people present at that first Palm Sunday. The most obvious question from Palm Sunday is, “How could the same people who yelled, ‘Hosanna!’ on Sunday turn around and yell ‘Crucify Him!’ on Friday?” The cheers turned into jeers in an alarmingly short time.
How do we solve this mystery? I think we solve it by looking at how the people responded that that question, “Who is this?” Everybody was looking for something different in Jesus, and most were disappointed in who he really was.
Who was Jesus for the crowds? They wanted a Miracle Jesus. They probably loved the fact that he taught in parables that were easier to understand than the obscure reasoning they heard from the Pharisees. They were attracted to him because he was a vigorous, dynamic leader. They liked it when he put the Pharisees in their place. But of all the qualities of Jesus that the crowds loved, they loved him best as a miracle man. The crowds thronged around him when they saw him healing the lame, the blind and the sick. And they clamoured for more.
Who was Jesus for the Pharisees? They wanted a Ritual Jesus. They thought the most important matter of religion was to be found, not in how they believed or prayed, but in how they dressed and washed and ate. Their greatest fear was that their whole culture would be absorbed into the culture of the Hellenistic world. So they emphasized the thousand little details that kept them distinctly Jewish.. But Jesus came preaching that the real way to God was through having faith in God and maintaining a high ethical standard. In fact, Jesus often broke the rules that the Pharisees had set up. He broke the Sabbath, ate with the unclean, and defied the laws of purification. The Pharisees wanted a Ritual Jesus, but he disappointed them.
Who was Jesus for the Zealots? They wanted a Military Jesus. The Zealots were the radical nationalists who were ready to use force, even terrorism, to overthrow the oppressive hand of the Roman government. Many suggest that Simon was a Zealot, and perhaps Judas.. They clearly wanted Jesus to be the leader of their resistance movement. When Jesus came to Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple by force, they must have whispered to one another to gather the troops. The Zealots wanted a Military Jesus, but He disappointed them.
Who was Jesus for the Disciples? They wanted a Victorious Jesus. They began following Jesus when the crowds were thronging around him. Their heads were full of self-seeking dreams. They wondered aloud which of them would be allowed to sit at his right hand when he came into his kingdom. They were thinking of the prizes, not the costs. It must have been a heady time to be one of the chosen twelve. These men were the true believers. Simon Peter spoke for them all when he boldly proclaimed at Caesarea Philippi, “Thou are the Christ!” They expected Jesus to be accepted quickly by every Jewish person. He would be greater than David. But Jesus kept up his negative talk about his death. The Disciples wanted a victorious Messiah, but Jesus disappointed them.
All of these different groups were in the crowd that first Palm Sunday, each with their own private view of Jesus. As they waved the palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna,” they thought they were finally getting what they wanted.
The crowds assumed that he would do even more miracles in Jerusalem than he had in Galilee, and the coming days would be filled with massive crowds and a frenzy of miracles.
The Pharisees had already decided that Jesus wasn’t to their liking. They floated on the edges of the crowd trying to catch him in a misstep so they could turn the crowds against him.
The Zealots were thrilled that Jesus was finally bringing the revolution to the seat of Roman power in Jerusalem.
The Disciples expected this to be their greatest week of popularity and glory. But the expectations of all these groups were quickly dashed as the week progressed.
When we look closely at the dynamics of that Palm Sunday, we are not really surprised at the Friday outcome. On the surface, it seems like the Triumphal Entry was a grand celebration, but underneath we find the seeds of the crucifixion lying among the palms.
Triumphal Entry was a parade, a protest and a funeral procession. Only Jesus knew that this was the beginning of the end.
Palm Sunday was a funeral procession. Jesus knew the cheering would stop very soon.
On Sunday they shouted, “Hosanna,” and treated him like the King of the Jews. On Friday, they hung him on a cross and put up a sign saying, “The King of the Jews.”
The real meaning of Palm Sunday for us can be found in that same question I asked about each of the groups, “Who is this? Who was Jesus?” Perhaps the most important question in life is the one the people asked in our passage, “Who is this?
The writer of Colossians says,
He “is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For by him all things were created,
in the heavens and on the earth,
things visible and things invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things have been created through him, and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.
You know, it really doesn’t matter what the crowds were looking for. It doesn’t matter what the Pharisees or the Zealots or the Disciples were looking for. The real meaning of Palm Sunday is between us and God. What kind of Jesus are we looking for? We still ask the question, “Who is this?” And our answer makes all the difference.