Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday in First Person: What's with the Crowd?

It wasn’t exactly Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, but it was a pretty big deal for our little part of the world. We had no mammoth balloons of cartoon characters, no bands, no floats, no celebrity emcees. But we had Jesus, and on that day He seemed to be enough.

To put it in your terms, Jesus was “hot.” Had He lived in your day, Jesus would have been hounded by the paparazzi—invading His privacy, snapping pictures, a hundred flashing lights in his face every time they could steal a shot. He would have been on magazine covers, would have made the list of People magazine’s “The Year’s 25 Most Intriguing People.” He would have been a celebrity—and not just famous for being famous either, but famous for His mighty acts and deeds.

It’s not that Jesus tried to be famous or anything. He really didn’t court all the attention He received. Truth is, Jesus enjoyed quiet times and solitude as much or more than the attention of the crowds. But crowds were drawn to Him nonetheless. And it’s easy to see why. Jesus did things no one else could do—supernatural things, miraculous things, Messiah things. He healed the sick. He stopped a storm. He walked on water. He took one sack lunch and fed thousands. He made mincemeat out of demons, restoring the people they once possessed to sanity and wholeness, to family and community. He did some very amazing things. Things nobody else could do.

And word gets around about somebody like that. Even though Jesus usually told the people he healed not to blab it all over town, people just couldn’t keep it to themselves. And how could they anyway? Suppose you’d been blind all your life, led around by the hand wherever you went, and one day Jesus healed you. What do you say when a friend sees you walking around with 20/20 vision and asks what in the world happened to you? Do you say, “Gee … I don’t know … uh … I’ve been eating a lot of carrots lately”? Like who’s gonna believe that? Nobody, that’s who. So word got out. Jesus’ fame began to spread like a prairie fire. And people flocked around Him like bugs around a lamp.

He drew a crowd most everywhere He went. Many wanted His healing touch. Some loved to listen to His stories. Others were just curious and wanted to see this celebrity up close. You know, just in case Jesus ever amounted to anything lasting, they wanted to be able to tell their grandchildren, “Yes, I saw Jesus with my own eyes. Yes sir, I was close enough to touch him.” I don’t know, maybe they hoped some of Jesus’ fame might rub off on them.

Jesus was a celebrity in many ways, but He was not without His critics. He was not universally popular. For the most part, the common folks gave Him a thumbs-up, while the majority of the religious leaders gave Him a thumbs-down. They didn’t like Jesus much. Fact is, some of them hated him with a passion. I think they felt threatened by Him. In every encounter with them, Jesus ate their lunch. They could never outwit Him, outsmart Him, or outthink Him. Plus, Jesus didn’t keep the Laws like they thought He should—especially the Sabbath laws. And when Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” well, in the minds of the religious leaders, that was blasphemy. “Only God can forgive sins,” they said. And they pretty much had it in for Jesus the rest of the way. So whether for good or for bad, Jesus was the talk of Israel in those days.

And now it was time to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. We had a hunch that once word leaked out about this, there would be a crowd waiting for us. And sure enough there was. We had a pretty good contingent of followers already as we climbed up the mountains to Jerusalem.

And once we got up the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem, we stopped for a break. But this was more than a rest stop; this break had purpose. We didn’t stop just to rub our aching feet. We stopped because Jesus had a little mission to accomplish. He sent two of His disciples to get it done. The whole thing sounded like something out of a spy novel. The two disciples were to go to the village up ahead. Jesus told them that they would find a donkey and her colt tied up there. “Untie them,” Jesus said, “and bring them to me.” You could see these two disciples were a little confused about this. It showed in their eyes. And it looked like they were thinking, “Okay, You’re telling us to go steal a couple of donkeys. A fellow can get hung for something like that.” Jesus must have sensed their anxiety, so He quickly added, “If anyone says anything to you, your code words are, ‘The Lord needs them.’ Just say that and you’re home free.”

Those of us in the group who were paying attention realized that our entry into Jerusalem was going to be different from our entry into a hundred other dusty little towns in Israel. Believing Jesus to be the Messiah, some of us wondered if this was somehow connected to the prophecy of Zechariah: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” We wondered if that prophecy was about this entrance? But surely not. Messiah’s bound to enter Jerusalem with more boldness than on the back of some donkey’s colt. Why not a white stallion, a bleached charger—ready to rumble with the Romans and set things right?

Anyway, we laid our cloaks on the animals and Jesus sat on the colt. A humble way to enter the city. But the humility of Christ was balanced by the jubilation of the crowd. It was a very large crowd. You should have seen it. As Jesus made His way into the city, the crowd began throwing their cloaks on the road. I know that sounds odd to you. You roll out the red carpet; we threw down our cloaks. And with knives flashing in the sunlight, some in the crowd began to strip nearby trees of their branches. They threw them in the road too. People began to circle Jesus, some behind, some in front. And while we had no bands in this parade, we had shouting and singing. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It was quite a spectacle really. The whole city was caught up in it. People were asking who it was that was stirring up such a fuss. For a man who never seemed to be much in for fanfare, Jesus made anything but a quiet entrance on this day.

Some of us had been a little nervous about going to Jerusalem. The reception Jesus received was quite a relief. Jesus had been talking about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die (whatever that means), but with such a warm welcome, maybe Jerusalem will be kind to us after all.

The crowds that greeted us were certainly hospitable. But you never know about crowds. Were they sincere? Or did many of them just get swept up by the momentum of numbers? People can act very differently in crowds than they might act alone. There’s security in a crowd. There’s anonymity in a crowd. And there’s pressure too. Crowds create pressure to conform—for good or for bad. When a crowd is moving one way, it’s hard to move against them. I think your courts call this “mob mentality”—“He couldn’t help it, your Honor, he was the victim of mob mentality. He was swept up by the crowd. He would never have done this were it not for the crowd. He would never do such a thing alone.” We’re talking about mob mentality here … about crowds.

So we didn’t really know about this crowd on Palm Sunday. They were giving three cheers for Jesus today, but were they sincere, or were they just swept up in crowd and the passion of the moment? We didn’t know. But one thing appeared obvious: Jesus wasn’t caught up in this crowd. He seemed almost oblivious to their praise—as if He knew something about this crowd that we did not know.

But there was one particular thing that did trouble some of us on that day. When we got into Jerusalem, people were in quite a stir by all the commotion and you could hear them asking people in the crowd, “What’s going on? What’s all the fuss? Who’s the man on the colt?”

“This is Jesus,” the crowds answered, “the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” The crowd was with us now, but they called Him a prophet. Those of us closest to Jesus believed Him to be more than a prophet. We believed He was Messiah. This prophet thing is troubling. Here we are in Jerusalem, and anybody who knows anything about Jerusalem knows this: Jerusalem is a good place for a prophet to get himself killed.

1 comment:

  1. LOVED this one Dad. Thanks for making this story so real to us.