Scripture: Leviticus 23:4-8; Zachariah 9:9; Psalm 118:24-29; John 12:12-19
It was not an uncommon sight for these residents of Jerusalem to witness grand entrances of their Roman rulers into the city. They often entered riding on a grand stallion accompanied by chariots and the Roman guard around them.
This day would be different. It is almost Passover. Just a few days now and the city’s population will swell to almost two million people according to Josephus, a Jewish historian of that time. Every Jewish male was required by the Law to observe the Passover and they came to Jerusalem, bringing their families with them, to celebrate at the Temple. On this day, we too, shall finally reach Jerusalem with Jesus.
It is the day after the dinner that Jesus and his disciples had at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It is now time to begin the final journey, a distance of not quite two miles. Jesus sends the disciples to bring the young donkey on which He will ride into the city. He must fulfill the prophecy of Zachariah. The people respond just as Zachariah had prophesied.
The throngs of people line the road when they hear that Jesus is coming. And why wouldn’t they? For so long they have been looking for a ruler, a king, who will force the Roman government out of their land and restore them to an independent nation. This crowd of people have come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Passover celebrated a great liberation from oppression in Egypt. Perhaps this is the time and this is the One who will liberate them again, this time from Rome. Perhaps by the power that He obviously possesses He will remove the Roman governor and the Roman guard and make them once again a free and independent people.
All of the nation has heard of this Man in one way or another.
- His home was in Nazareth, where He lived until He began his public ministry.
- He had then moved the center of his ministry to the area of the Sea of Galilee and the town of Capernaum.
- Many of them had sat for hours and heard Him teach, not as the Rabbis did, but with authority.
- Thousands of them had eaten of the bread and the fish that had miraculously come from the five loaves and the two fish that the little boy had brought with him.
- Some of them had been personally healed by this Man, and many had heard the stories of their healing.
- And just within recent days, they had heard of his raising of Lazarus from the dead!
Now, here was a Man who could help them. Here was a man who could be their King!
The people had tried to make Him their king once before, just after the feeding of those thousands. Knowing this, Jesus had made his way up into the mountains alone until their intense emotions had cooled and the crowd had dispersed.
Before this week is over, Jesus will answer Pilate’s question, acknowledging that He is indeed the King of the Jews. It will lead to his crucifixion. There is much for Jesus to do in this last week while He is in Jerusalem. It will be the last time that He will come here. After his resurrection He will never come here again.
As Jesus enters the city, riding not upon a stallion or seated in a chariot, but seated on a young donkey, the people strip the palm fronds from the trees and throw them down in the road before Him. It is what they would have done for any King. And they cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”
It becomes a huge demonstration of adoration and of hope that finally their liberator has come. This Man has real power. This Man is a celebrity. Just maybe, God has sent this Man at this Passover season to liberate them once again!
They have no comprehension of who He really is. It is no wonder that Jesus begins to weep as He enters the city. In anguish He says, “If only you had known the things that make for peace!”
Jesus is saying to them, “If only you would understand that I have come to free you from all of the distresses that you are experiencing as the result of sin. I come to give you forgiveness upon which real peace depends.”
In anguish He talks to those near Him about the real future of Jerusalem and of these people. He says, “The time is coming when, because of your rebellion against Rome, you will be killed and the city of Jerusalem will be utterly destroyed.” (Luke 19:41-44) His words became reality in the year 70 AD.
It is not the first time that Jesus has wept over Jerusalem. On another night Jesus had sat on the side of a mountain overlooking Jerusalem, and wept for her. With weeping He had cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34)
Jesus will spend his days this week teaching in the Temple and healing people who have come to Him. He will commit one final act that incites the Temple leaders because it touches their treasury as well as their power. These religious leaders have sold out their souls to Rome in order to retain their positions of power. Jesus will clean out the Temple, his Father’s House, of the money changers and drive out the animals who are on the porch of the Temple waiting to be sold for sacrifice.
This is more than the Temple authorities can abide. They need a traitor within the ranks of the disciples and Judas becomes that man. He is also a man who loves money, and he sells out cheap. Thirty pieces of silver; about what one slave would have been worth.
Today is our day to remember that entrance into Jerusalem. We sometimes find it easy to be critical of those people gathered on the roadside as they cheer for a physical liberator but fail completely to understand who Jesus really is and why He has come.
“Who are You and why have You come here?” is really the prior question. It was the question that Jesus even needed to ask his disciples. It was the question that He posed to Martha as they stood at the tomb of Lazarus. It is the question that Jesus poses to us. “Who do you say that I am?”
The people of that day were looking for a man like this Man who embodied all of the abilities that were needed to make their life what they wanted it to be. The thing that really mattered for them was not anything about Who he was; what mattered for them was what He could do for them. They lived in a time when there were the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
- a group who was very well off financially,
- a group that was the merchants,
- a group who lived from agriculture, and
- a group of indentured servants.
They lived in a time when devastating physical and mental illness existed, but physicians had few ways to bring healing. They lived in a time when there was a religious system that had created oppression for them with the addition of so many man-made laws that it was difficult to be counted as religiously righteous.
They lived in a time of political oppression by the Roman government that ruled with unbending authority and heavy taxation. They lived in a time when finding justice in the court system depended on one’s ability to buy it. Punishment was swift and beyond harsh.
As they stood by the side of the road they were really crying out, “Hosanna! Finally, we have found the one who can make our lives better!” They had heard his teaching but did not understand what Jesus was saying. They needed their lives to be better now.
They didn’t know who He was. It may well be that some of these same people who cheer today will be standing outside of Pilate’s court on Thursday night crying out “Crucify Him!”
We stand there today by the side of the road and watch Jesus as He rides by. His question for us is the same question that He asked those disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” If we listen closely, we will hear Jesus say, “I am the Son of God, begotten, not created. I was sent to be the final and everlasting sacrifice for the sins of all people of all time. I did not come to judge people, but I came so that everyone who places their trust in Me can have abundant and everlasting life.”
The question for us this morning is, “Who do you say that I am? And the next question to us is, “What will you do with Me?
Jesus continues to say to us, as He had said to those people in days past, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are over-burdened (with trying to be righteous in your own power) and I will give you rest. I will refresh your soul.” (Matthew 19:29)
The invitation remains.