The King and the Uncommitted Crowd
The dividing line in the sand is beginning to form. The sides are becoming impassioned. The opposition is harsh. You are either with Jesus or against Him.
That was the building tension in Jerusalem this week in the time of Christ. Yesterday was Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem. It was the first day of a week in which Jesus drew a clear line in the sand. In preparation for the coming celebration next Sunday, it helps us to recall the choice of the people in that day when faced with Jesus’ actions and claims. The same choice is ours again today.
Jesus and his disciples are walking with others on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jesus is coming from the east and comes to Bethany, and then to the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley and finally to Jerusalem. But Jesus doesn’t just walk right in. Instead, we see Jesus intentionally setting up an entry for himself. He tells his disciples to go and borrow a donkey and bring it to him to ride on. What is he doing? He is revealing who he really is. He is the King who has come to his city in peace.
But why a new donkey’s colt? Donkeys were the choice of the kings of old, what they used to ride in peace when they came into their own city. Their war horse was for battle, and the donkey for the royal procession. Mimicking Solomon’s entry to Jerusalem, Jesus enters his city as the peaceful King.
This doesn’t seem like Jesus. He doesn’t usually create a show; he avoids it. But the end was coming, and it was time to allow the people to proclaim who he was. So Jesus goes from telling people to hush about his identity to setting up an astonishing appearance where the crowds can yell through the streets that the King has come.
And the people did. Those traveling, entering Jerusalem from all over for Passover, begin to celebrate. They caught the meaning. The King has come! Throwing down their garments was a royal salute, and they lay down the leafy branches in celebration. They shouted from Psalm 118, a Psalm used often during the Passover. “Hosanna!” It literally means “save us,” but it had become an exclamation of praise or greeting over the years of use.
They probably chanted alternatingly, “Hosanna”! Then another group, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And back, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” And back again, “Hosanna in the highest!” The energy rose with the hope shouted from their lungs.
The people knew that this Psalm had been interpreted to foresee the coming Davidic Messiah. The blessing on Jesus wouldn’t be rare with all the celebration of the Passover, but there are hints that there is something more when they speak of Jesus. Is the Kingdom coming with this man? Is he the King they have been waiting for?
The Fading Crowd
Nevertheless, even with the mounting enthusiasm, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, their temporary explosion of faith fades away. Jesus walks as the real King of glory to see His temple (Mal. 3:1), even as the people have dispersed. And he returns to Bethany to sleep with only the 12 with him.
Their enthusiasm was temporary. There was a celebration of royal proportions as Jesus entered Jerusalem. But then it was gone. From joyful pronouncement to a small band of known disciples.
I imagine it similar to an experience several years ago when I was living in Spain and decided on a whim to go to the running of the bulls. I arrived to Pamplona, a city of a couple hundred thousand that turned into a couple million in one day- on the day of the San Fermin festival. All day the people sing and dance and exult to prepare them to risk their lives to run with bulls. When it began, I pushed to the front on the physically packed streets, so I could stand on a wood palate and watch the bulls run just feet away. The power and celebratory unity of the crowd was palpable; the people craved it. And after just a few more hours, it was over. The only sign of millions being there was remnants of celebration in the streets. The enthusiasm was gone, and they had no commitment to the city.
It would become more and more intense as the days went by, but at the end of this Passion week, when He would be arrested and killed and rise again, the line would be drawn.
The Palm Sunday crowd seemed to love the idea of Jesus as a King, but their enthusiasm was done and gone in moments. The crowds celebrated his kingly entry, but there was no commitment to him. But there would only be two sides by the end of the week, and they would have to take one. Was Jesus the King? It would become more and more intense as the days went by, but at the end of this Passion week, when He would be arrested and killed and rise again, the line would be drawn. They would have to be with Him or against Him. There is no middle ground. No retreat when the celebration is done.
Is Jesus King? He wasn’t immediately strong and victorious. He didn’t relieve the pressure of their civic circumstances or religious politics. He cannot be a King who is celebrated one day a year. He’s the King who dies at the end of this week to bring that kingdom they shouted about. This week as we prepare our hearts, let’s also examine our fickleness and our distraction from what King Jesus has done. Do we see his death as the kingdom-bringing act better than relieving our life stresses? Do we see his kingdom when the crowd moves on in boredom? Do we follow him back to Bethany, like the twelve disciples, or would we rather just celebrate him when there’s excitement involved?
The crowd, the disciples, no one truly saw what he was doing Passion week, but we can see that he was sacrificing himself for his subjects. And it makes it clear which side we want to be on. We want to be with Jesus, the gracious King, even when the party ends.