We find ourselves in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, verses one through eleven. According to the text, a great crowd had gathered in the city of Jerusalem. It was time for the Passover. The law required the people to attend, but no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover, and the name on the lips of everyone was Jesus.
Each one of the Gospel writers emphasizes the size of the crowd. Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Luke says the crowd was so great the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells us a great crowd had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). All the Gospel writers tell us the crowd cheered for Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. You can’t question the fact that the crowd was large. You can’t question the fact that Jesus was the eye of the storm on that first Palm Sunday. However, you can question the commitment of the crowd. In the end, the cheers of Palm Sunday were replaced with the tears of Good Friday. The massive Palm Sunday crowd disappeared. The crowd was large, but the crowd wasn’t committed. Do you think Jesus was more impressed by the size of the crowd on Sunday, or the commitment of the few on Friday?
It was the crowd that grabbed my attention as I write this blog. What caused the crowd to abandon Jesus? It is a fair question. However, one thing is clear. The problem was not Jesus. The Master was consistent throughout the week. The problem was the crowd, itself. There were many reasons why the crowd abandoned Jesus. In this blog, I want to look at three of the most obvious. I would like to say those reasons died with Jesus’s generation, but I can’t. People are still walking away from Jesus for the same reasons. I hope that isn’t your story. As we begin our annual Holy Week pilgrimage, I hope you are truly committed to Jesus. Let us look at the three reasons.
This is reason number one. Some found themselves in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday because Jesus was a celebrity. Let us call these people “trendy”. What does trendy mean? It means fashionable. The name on everyone’s lips that day was Jesus. Why was Jesus so popular? Jesus was popular because Jesus was known as a miracle worker. Everyone knew the stories. Because of Jesus the blind could see, the lame could walk, the deaf could hear and the demoniacs were made whole. However, according to the Gospel of John, the greatest miracle was the resurrection of Lazarus. I can’t say this too strongly. Jesus was a celebrity! Trendy people wanted to be near Jesus because Jesus was fashionable. Do you know any trendy disciples?
Years ago, my brother-in-law introduced me to the term “C and E People.” You know who C and E People are. They are the people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter. They make up a significant number. We experienced them at ever church I served. Some of the people you will see on Easter morning will not be seen again until Christmas Eve. That isn’t being mean; that is being honest. Don’t get me wrong. I am always glad to see the C and E People. However, I must make a confession: I worry about them because there is more to Jesus then his birth and his resurrection. It bothers me that they have so little exposure to Jesus. However, it doesn’t seem to bother them. Do you think they will come to church on Easter to learn about Jesus? Or do you think they will come to church next week for other reasons? Do you know of anyone who comes to church on Christmas and Easter because it is fashionable? Then, you know a trendy disciple. Someone once said, “You can be committed to a church and not be committed to Jesus. But you can’t be committed to Jesus without a church.” Some in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday were there because Jesus was trending. That is reason number one.
This is reason number two. Some found themselves in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday because they needed something from Jesus. The Master healed many people, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone. There was no shortage of suffering in their world. They heard Jesus was coming and they had someone in their life who needed to be healed. Everyone knew someone who needed help. They came because, maybe Lady Luck might smile on them. It was like playing the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play. You can’t really blame them. Jesus was their only hope. Do you know of anyone who has ever tried to use Jesus for a personal favor? Do you know of anyone who has ever tried to bargain with God? Do you know of anyone who is mad at God? They would like God if God did things their way.
For many years, my wife Kathryn worked with Russian orphans who would never be adopted. Several of them stayed in our home as they got their prosthetics. We formed a friendship with those young men. Many were curious about them and asked questions. One person felt like it was his duty to make a statement. (People are always saying odd things to me. This person was no exception!) This person said, “They are an example of why I don’t go to church. Why would a loving God create handicapped people?” I didn’t respond because I was clueless about what to say. I guess, he was saying he would go to church if God gave him what he wanted. We live in such arrogant times. Why are there so many people who think God must live up to their expectations? Why are there so many who are mad at God? They can be mad at God, but the truth is, God doesn’t care. Never forget it. God is God! It is God who sets the agenda and creates the venue. We are nothing more than nameless characters on the stage of world history. Some in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday were users. Do you know any users? This is reason number two.
This is reason number three. Some found themselves in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday because they were misinformed. One of the reasons this scene is so loved is that it is easy to imagine. If you use your sanctified imagination, then you can picture Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on that simple animal. However, while it is easy to imagine the scene, it is hard to completely understand the scene. For to completely understand the scene, you must understand the politics of that day. (Does anyone here understand the politics of our day?) The politics of that day revolved around foreign domination. The Roman Empire had come to their little corner of the world and oppressed the people. The Jews hated the Romans. They prayed for their liberation and longed to be rescued. They prayed that God would respond and send them a Messiah, a savior. They hoped Jesus was that political Messiah. He seemed to be just the one. They wanted Jesus to lead a political revolution. They wanted Jesus to be a political Messiah, so they did political things. They waved palm branches like he was a conquering military warrior. They yelled political slogans: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! The problem was, he was not a political Messiah. Jesus was not interested in politics. That section of the crowd was misinformed. He was a spiritual Messiah. Do you know of any misinformed disciples?
Don’t be misinformed. Jesus was not just one more historical religious figure in history. Jesus was completely different. Jesus was the incarnation of God himself. That is why we celebrate Christmas. God became one of us, and He never committed a single sin. Your understanding of sacrificial theology may be thin but get this point. The sinlessness of Jesus made him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. The sinlessness of Jesus made him the perfect sacrifice for your sins. Let me tell you one more time. You can’t earn your salvation. It is a great gift from God. We are saved by grace and by grace alone! The only way to say, “Thank you” to Jesus for dying for your sins is to be like Jesus. I hope you are a little more like Jesus every day! Some in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday were there because Jesus was trending. Some were in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday because they were users. Some were in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday because they were misinformed.
A missionary society once wrote the famous missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) a letter. They wanted to send him help, so they asked, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.” Livingstone wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” What was Livingstone saying? He was only looking for the truly committed, and so is Jesus. Founder of Saddleback Church in California Rick Warren (born 1954) once said, “Nothing will shape your life more than the commitments you make.” This is the question: are you committed to Jesus, or just one of the crowd?