“Now he came near the path down the Mount of Olives, and the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!’ Some of the Pharisees from the crowd told him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This morning finds us in one of those awkward in-between moments. We finished up our short series on how to get better at being rich yesterday. After Spring Break (which is next week, during which time I won’t have any posts going live except for my Easter Sunday message) we are going to start a new journey through Exodus about which I am pretty excited, and which will likely take us much of the rest of the year. That leaves us with four days (including today) to fill with something else. Given that Easter is on the near horizon, I thought we would take a little journey with Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb. We’ll start this morning with His triumphant ride into Jerusalem.
Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem at the beginning of His final week before the crucifixion is an interesting story. Only the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) mention it. All three of them do put it in about the same chronological position in their storytelling, so we don’t have to worry about that particular set of issues when dealing with it. Their presentation of the details, though, vary in some ways that make reproducing what actually happened a bit of a challenge.
For starters, Mark and Matthew both make it sound like huge crowds gathered spontaneously to shout His praises as He rode triumphantly into town. Most of the visual retellings by way of pageants and cantatas and movies capitalize on this. They all give the impression that this was a stop-everything-and-watch type of event. Life in Jerusalem ground to a halt as everyone celebrated the arrival of the Messiah into Jerusalem. This spin on the events, though, has always bothered me just a bit. Given just how potent the hopes for the Messiah were in Judea at this time, if Jesus really came riding into town making this huge deal that attracted the attention of thousands upon thousands of people, why didn’t anything more come of it? Mark’s telling in particular has Jesus ride all the way into the temple and then…He looks around for a bit and everyone goes home for the night. Really?!? That’s it?
Luke’s presentation of the events here, though, gives us what is probably a bit more realistic an assessment of how things unfolded. While there was a crowd shouting Jesus’ praises as He rode into town, it was a crowd made up of His disciples. Luke’s designation of “disciple” here is almost certainly not a reference only to the main group of twelve, but rather the larger group that accounted for at least as many as 120 men and women. Still, though, given the throngs of thousands of pilgrims who were no doubt making their way into Jerusalem in anticipation of the Passover, this was a relatively small group.
Still, though, they were making enough of a scene, that some Pharisees who were on the road told Him to keep His group under control. There are perhaps many reasons why they did this. Not a few sermons have focused attention on their jealousy or hatred of Jesus being the primary driver for their opposition to the commotion. I’m not quite so sure.
Jerusalem was a tinderbox at this time of year. The Messianic hopes of the people were riding high in this day generally, and a time of great spiritual significance like Passover raised things to a fever pitch. The Roman authorities would have been on high alert for the troublesome Jewish people to burst out into spontaneous, religiously-motivated violence directed at them. The Jewish authorities knew they needed to keep everyone in line or Rome would lash out preemptively to put a stop to trouble before it had a chance to start. Their telling Jesus to tell His followers to keep it down may have very simply been motivated by this desire to avoid making a scene. And, for someone to come riding into town self-consciously claiming to be the Messiah as Jesus was doing, was guaranteed to make a scene.
Now, there are a whole variety of further elements we could analyze from this story, but I want to draw our attention to two things that really stand out to me this morning. The first one is that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He rode into Jerusalem. It was time to start to go a whole lot more public with His identity than He had been thus far in His ministry. No longer was He going to tell anyone to keep quiet about who He really was. It was time to shout it from the rooftops. He was intentional about fulfilling prophecies as He went that perceptive observers would have been able to pick up on quickly.
The whole thing was a reminder that Jesus was never not the one in control of how things were unfolding during His entire final week before the cross. In other words, He was consciously choosing the way of the cross. He had told His followers not long before this (as we talked about yesterday) that if they were going to follow Him, they needed to be prepared to take up their own crosses. He was about to demonstrate that He wasn’t calling them to anything He wasn’t willing to do Himself. He chose the cross in spite of the pain and shame He knew would be a part of it. He did all of this because of His great love for us. He is indeed worthy of our praise and devotion.
The second thing I want to make sure we see this morning is that in spite of His intentionally making a claim to be the Messiah, most of the people around Him didn’t get it. Even most of His own followers didn’t get it. Yes, many of them were convinced He was the Messiah, but they still didn’t understand the kind of Messiah He was. For everyone else, they were all so locked into a narrow vision of what the Messiah would be like, that they couldn’t see Him when He was literally riding in front of them.
It is possible for us to get so focused on looking for Jesus that we miss out on Jesus when He’s right in front of us. We narrow down our understanding of who He is to such a degree that when He appears in a form or fashion that goes outside of our little box, we can’t comprehend what we are seeing. We can easily convince ourselves reality is something other than it actually is.
How do we avoid this? By making sure we are intentional about taking in the full picture of Jesus. We need to read the full Gospels, and not limit ourselves to bite-sized pieces that can be misconstrued to show or say something other than they do when put in their broader context. We also need to be intentional about engaging in our journey of faith in the context of a community of people who aren’t like us in every way. Sure, it is good to have some level of relational similarity to the people in our congregation, but having folks around us who are equally committed to the path of Christ, but who bring a different perspective to the table is a good and wise thing. It helps to keep us from getting siloed and developing blinders to the full scope of the Gospel.
As you prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, ask for the Spirit’s help in seeing Jesus more fully for who He really is. Make sure that you don’t miss out on what He is doing because you are so focused on where you are going.