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The Unreliable Voice of the Mob
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 20, 2016
Zechariah 9:14-17 Luke 19:28-41 Psalm 118
The story of Palm Sunday is not one of people overjoyed with Jesus. It is rather a story about mob mentality. It is a story of people jumping on the bandwagon, not a story of people following their best instincts.
The story of Palm Sunday needs to be understood in the light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For in a very short time, the same people who welcome Jesus with palm fronds and songs of joy—these same people in a short time will call for Jesus execution.
What could account for this dramatic turn in people’s reaction to Jesus? Why would people who shout for joy at Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem in a short while turn against Him? I think that there is an answer to these questions. I think the answer is that Jesus didn’t live up to the expectations of the people who cheered His arrival. And the disappointed mob turned ugly and saw Jesus as an imposter. All through Jesus’ ministry, people didn’t get it. All through Jesus’ ministry, Jesus had to correct people as to who He was and what His mission was.
The people living in Jerusalem thought Jesus would be a divine deliverer from Roman rule. Riding into Jerusalem on a colt, Jesus fulfilled a prophesy in Zechariah 9. Matthew calls our attention to this prophesy. It reads,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass. . . .
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9, 10).
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a young ass, was the way the magnificent all-powerful messiah was supposed to arrive. The messiah was the divine king who was sent from God to restore the fortunes of Israel after conquest first by Babylon, then by Greece, then by Rome.
Notice that in this passage, the prophecy is about a king. Our reading from Zechariah tells us just how great this king will be. Zechariah tells us that the king will institute peace among the nations. The nations would be all the kingdoms outside Israel. Zechariah tells us further that the king’s rule would extend “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). The River mentioned is the Euphrates River. From the Euphrates to the ends of the earth means that the king will rule the whole known world. The whole world will be at peace.
And especially, the people of Israel will be saved and raised to prominence on that great day of God, when the king restores a fallen world. The prophesy in Zechariah reads,
The LORD their God will save his people on that day
as a shepherd saves his flock.
They will sparkle in his land
like jewels in a crown.
How attractive and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men thrive,
and new wine the young women (9:16-17).
God will save his people on that day. We see the familiar metaphor of a shepherd. The people of Israel will sparkle like jewels in a crown. Grain and wine will make young men and women thrive.
These were the hopes and expectations heaped on Jesus. The people in Jerusalem thought Jesus would accomplish all this, wanted Jesus to accomplish all this, expected Jesus to accomplish all this.
While the people of Jerusalem could still hope for all this, they listened to Jesus’ parables and teachings. I have no reason to doubt that the people of Israel were captivated with the charisma of Jesus. I have no reason to doubt that the people of Israel were caught up in Jesus’ storytelling and His lessons of peace and love. I have no reason that they even loved this prophetic God-Man.
But when Jesus was arrested, all that changed. Let’s try to imagine what was going through the minds of the people back then. I have tried to paint a picture of their expectations. The expectations of a divine king who would rule the world, establish peace in the world, and exalt the people of Israel. The divine king would drive out the Romans and allow the Israelites to rule themselves. The “shalom” or divine peace would fill the whole natural world and the political world of men and women. But Jesus didn’t do any of this. Instead He was arrested and did nothing to fight back. This must have been quite a shock. This couldn’t be. This couldn’t be the messiah, the divine king. Shock and disbelief must have been the initial reactions. Then, I imagine, feelings of being duped might have prevailed. They had been played the sucker. They had been reeled in hook-line-and-sinker by an imposter. This led to rage. Kill the bum! They must have wanted to cry out. And they got their chance. When Pilate presented Jesus to the mob, that is exactly what they did. With a little stirring up by the temple priests and Sadducees, the crowd turned on Jesus with the same vehemence as the joy they showed upon Jesus arrival in Jerusalem.
Perhaps the mob wouldn’t have been so enraged had they not expected so much of Jesus. Maybe if they had thought Jesus was an ordinary prophet, or a great rabbi only, they wouldn’t have turned so violently against Jesus. But they did expect much of Jesus, and they did turn violently against Him.
So I think that we can’t celebrate Palm Sunday without keeping in mind the upcoming passion of Jesus on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter. I don’t think we would have Good Friday had there not been so much excitement in the Jesus everyone expected. The Jesus who Jesus wasn’t. In our reading from Luke, Jesus seems to anticipate the crowd’s turning against Him. Luke tells us,
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (19:41-42).
Jesus here points out that the people of Jerusalem don’t know what would bring them peace. This is yet another example of Jesus trying to correct the people’s understanding of who He was and what His mission was. The peace that Jesus brings is not worldly peace. It isn’t material well-being. When Jesus is questioned by Pilate, Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world. I imagine that sensitive people in Jesus’ day must have felt their hearts burn within them when they were near Jesus. But caught up too much in the politics of the day, they must have overlooked their burning hearts and thought only of deliverance from Rome.
The peace that Jesus brings is interior. The fortunes of the world come and go. There is nothing stable about material possessions and material goods. Of course it’s nice to have them, but we can’t really count on anything from this material world. I think it can be said that when we realize this, then we are able to find the peace that Jesus gives. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace,” Jesus says. Let us, then, turn our minds and hearts to a quest for just that. What would bring us peace. For that, finally, is the Palm Sunday message. “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus. And when we realize that truth deep in our hearts, then we will know the peace that is not of this world.
Lord, on this Palm Sunday, we think of all you do and have done to redeem the human race. And as the residents of Jerusalem did, we offer our heartfelt praises and thanks to you. You created the great universe. You created humanity. You continually work to save the human race. Your love is tireless and never lets us go. You always have and always love each one of us. You came to us in a human form we could understand and love. You yielded to the human condition even to death. And you did these works to save humanity from ourselves. For this and for all the countless ways of your holiness, your goodness, and your love and wisdom, we thank you and sing your praises.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.
And Lord we pray for the healing of this ailing planet.