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John 12:12-19, NIV 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"
March 27, 1983It was rather like a parade, going up toward Jerusalem. A gravel road surface with some larger stones sticking up for travelers to avoid. Packed down hard from much travel. Dusty and dry. A few palm trees and bushes along the way. Close to the city, therefore a few houses and farm buildings in the background.
The pilgrims who had come to the city for the Passover Festival intended to give a royal welcome. When they heard he was coming, they came out to meet Jesus with palm branches in hand. How many? The roadway is crowded and people spill over into the fields. Scrambling, pushing, holding hands so as to not get separated. I think there was fascination with his disciples, too, and people wanted to touch them also. Lots of dusty feet stirring up more dust. Dogs, sheep, maybe other animals add to the mix.
Noise, confusion, lots of questions about what was happening. Jesus usually walked, so why was he riding on a colt? The rider was too large for the little animal. No saddle, just garments draped over it. Matthew's version says a donkey accompanied the colt, that would have a calming effect. Someone leading the donkey, probably Andrew. The colt, with Jesus on it, following its mother. Peter and the disciples shouting at people to keep back so they can get through.
In their excitement people made a palm branch carpet for Jesus to travel on. With momentum building, they start hailing Jesus variously as "Messiah", "King of Israel", "Blessed", "Coming in the name of the Lord." These people were really enjoying themselves. Some got very emotional; others, mostly watched and pondered what it all meant.
Joyful excitement is contagious. More and more people started singing, shouting about God's salvation, raising their hands toward Jesus, dancing along the road, trying to keep up. Some would gather whatever greens they could, run ahead and put them down on the road again. They would shout as Jesus passed by, spend a second or two in wonderment and awe, and then repeat the process.
Jesus wasn't healing or teaching. He wasn't giving anything away. He was simply receiving from the people. Possibly he had planned this event, wanting to give people an opportunity to praise and act out their feelings for him. Jesus knew he was advancing toward his death, and he loved these people. They received him so eagerly and without the hard-nosed attitude of the Pharisees. Yet they were fickle and easily swayed. Like innocent children, like sheep who have lost their shepherd and are looking for someone to lead them. When Jesus died a few days hence most of them will be shocked but their memories may be short lived. They'll soon move on to something else. How could Jesus get them to lift their eyes to God, everyday and wherever they are, with a faith that will last a lifetime?
Even though it may seem shallow, they gave Jesus what they could, and he accepted their praises and love. Children were there, men and women, and the elderly for whom it's difficult to keep up with the young ones. Jesus had compassion on them all and wanted them to know and experience the steadfast love of their faithful heavenly Father.
November 5, 2011Beyond all that, the gospel writer wants us to know there was a much greater significance to everything that is about to happen to Jesus. Jesus is in control. No one is doing, or will do, anything to Jesus which is not part of some already decided upon plan. The quote he used to illustrate this is from an Old Testament prophet who lived hundreds of years earlier. This is the first of many such quotes we will read as we follow Jesus through the week of his passion.
Back in the fifth century before Jesus was born, Zechariah foretold a king riding into Zion on the colt of a donkey. At the time this event was happening to Jesus, these words of Zechariah were not on the minds of the people. Only later did the followers of Jesus begin to search the ancient scriptures with an eye to finding words and images which described the life and experience of Jesus. The result of all these efforts is supposed to serve as proof that Jesus was who they claimed he was--God's Messiah, sent to save all people from their sins.
"Only after Jesus was glorified . . . " John frequently connected some form of the word "glory" to the death of Jesus. It might sound odd, even a bit outrageous, to say that anyone's death was, or is, glorious, but Christian teaching declares the death of Jesus and even the death of the "saints" glorious. Death is not the end, but the beginning; not defeat, but victory. When the old is passed away that is good news because then all things become new. Nothing in this life can compare to what God has in store for those who believe. Just this past Sunday in church I heard these phrases: "We feebly struggle, they [the saints] shine in glory."; "We live as ones who go forth to die and die as those who go forth to live." Well, that might be how we are supposed to view death, but when a loved one departs this life, reality speaks a different and sadder language.
The Pharisees in this story are representative of all who live only for this life and fail to grasp the concepts Jesus taught about him being the light of the world, a spring of water welling up inside of us that never fails, the bread of life, the good shepherd, and finally the resurrection and the life. These words add a spiritual quality to our earthy life, and lead us on to life that is eternal. The Pharisees saw only what was happening before their eyes, and it wasn't moving in their favor. Blind to the glories of God, they thought it ridiculous to associate any kind of eternal exuberance to Jesus.
The Pharisees were quite modern, actually. Many people today agree with them that the life of Jesus held no special value.
They looked at the events on the day we refer to as Palm Sunday, and see "the whole world gone after him." In their minds, this man must surely be stopped. Passover or not, adoring crowds or not, they must end the charade.