As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the day we remember as Palm Sunday, many people came out to greet him. Yet a few short days later instead of cheering Jesus, the crowd cried out for his crucifixion. It is an astonishing change in attitude from the crowd.
When I think about the crowd who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday, I observe three different groups of people amongst them.
FIRSTLY: Disciples and the other followers of Jesus.
I am not just referring to the twelve disciples but also to the others who followed Jesus around. (For example in Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy two people to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. There were also the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who supported Jesus financially e.g. Joanna, whose husband Chusa was Herod’s administrator; Susanna; and many other women).
Yes we all know that the disciples got things wrong and make mistakes. I guess that is because they are humans like us! However they were not naïve or stupid. They knew it was dangerous going up to Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 tells us that “that those who followed him were afraid.” Yet they still bravely followed Jesus.
I would imagine that when walking into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday they may well have felt nervous and worried about what might happen. However deep down they wanted to follow their master.
I wonder if we can identify with those disciples? We want to serve God but so often feel we are not adequate or feel scared. Or we just plain get it wrong on occasions!
SECONDLY: The crowd who spread their garments cheering Jesus
The Jewish people hated being ruled by the Romans. They wanted their freedom back. It was the week leading up to Passover, when they remembered God rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The religious and nationalistic expectations of the crowd would have been huge. The people had for years been longing for the Messiah to come and rescue them from the Romans. Could Jesus be their Messiah?
However the Messiah / King that the people were expecting was a military king, just like David. They were looking for the wrong type of king. Israel was looking for a king to defeat their enemies: the Romans. But Jesus did not regard the Romans as his enemies. Jesus’ enemies were the power of sin and death. These were the enemies that he came to fight and defeat.
His was a spiritual battle in which he would be going toe to toe with sin and death. They were the real enemies. These were the enemies that had brought misery to the human race and that Jesus would defeat.
We might ask the question: how could the crowd have turned against Jesus so quickly?
It is easy sometimes to worship God when He does what we think He should do; when God answers our prayers the right way (i.e. our way).
However what happens when our prayers are not answered in the way we think they should? What happens when Jesus does not “drive out our Romans?” Do we still praise Him then? Or do we allow ourselves to become either bitter or disappointed with God?
THIRDLY: The Pharisees and the religious rulers
If you study the life of Jesus in the four gospels, one thing that leaps out is that the Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus!
Whenever Jesus performed a miracle and they had a chance to criticise it they did.
If we remember the amazing healing of the blind man in John 9 and the way that the Pharisees would not accept this miracle. You would imagine that they would have been overjoyed but no they were not.
There was the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm and the religious leaders were unhappy with this as the healing happened on the Sabbath. This grieved Jesus. (Mark 3)
It is difficult at times to comprehend what was wrong with them!
They seemed to think the way to God was through obeying rules. And don’t you dare break their rules or you are in trouble! (woe betide you!)
Yet I wonder are there occasions when we are like the Pharisees? Do we allow religious traditions to stop us from meeting Jesus? Does the fact that “we’ve always worshipped like that” prevent us from truly meeting Jesus in a fresh way? Do we search the scriptures like the Pharisees but refuse to come to the one who gives life? (John 5:40)
In closing which one of these three groups of people do we think most reflects us today?