It had since He had come to town. The last time he had been there a notable miracle had taken place. Lazarus, who had been dead for four days was raised from the dead at the command of Jesus. Jesus had raised Jairus’ daughter from the sleep of death, but that was in Galilee. The widow’s son was raided from the dead in the village of Nain. What made this miracle stand out was that it happened just outside the walls of Jerusalem. When Jesus came to Jerusalem the year before at the Feast of Tabernacles, He refused to do the signs and wonders His brothers had advised. Instead, He came teaching. But when Lazarus was raised whom everyone knew was dead, this had to be the work of either God or Satan as it was beyond what any human could do. Those who rightly saw this as being the hand of God believed, and those who believed He did this by Satan were the more determined to kill Him. Jesus came to Bethany on that occasion for the sole purpose of raising Lazarus. He quickly left, but the buzz spread like wildfire.
So when the news had gotten out that Jesus had come back to Bethany on the pilgrimage expected of every Jew to Jerusalem, the news quickly spread. Jesus of Nazareth was coming to town. The sign he had done seemed to convince many that He was the promised Jewish Messiah. The irony was that He indeed was the Messiah; he just wasn’t the one they expected. Barabbas was coming to town as well. Soon the Jews would have to choose for themselves. John clearly clues us in to the real purpose of Jesus’ visit and the Kingdom He was to rule over. In the previous passage, Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus for burial, and the indignant Judas who had hoped to get his hands on 300 pieces of silver from the sale of the spikenard, went out to sell Jesus to the authorities for thirty. The very way John brings up Palm Sunday warns us not to make too much of the uproar. On Sunday they would wave palm branches. On Friday, they would beat Him with the palms of their hands.
John’s account of Palm Sunday is a bit shorter than the other Gospels, He does not mention how the colt he rode on was acquired. He zeroes in instead on the excitement the coming of Jesus to town was causing. People started gathering from all sides unto Him. The pilgrims coming to Jerusalem came from behind and the inhabitants of the city came out to greet Him. John only mentions those who came out of the city. They came out in the way people came out of towns to meet Caesar with garlands, songs of praise, and with great pomp. This should not be missed here. The palm branches they waved are a dead giveaway to what the crowds thought. It had been the symbol of the last time the Jewish nation had won freedom from foreign oppression. And Passover was the same as our Independence Day which commemorated the delivery of Israel from Egyptian slavery. They did not come out to greet a savior who would die for their sins. Instead they came out to greet a great conqueror who would overthrow Roman tyranny.
Of course, not everyone in town felt this way. It is true that the Romans oppressed many in Palestine, but the priests had a pretty good deal. In exchange for keeping the peace, they were allowed by the Romans the privilege or wealth, influence, and power over the nation. They had a lot to lose. So they felt the need to get rid of Him, even before he cleansed the Temple the second time. They had a blinding hatred of the One who would have saved them, if they only had believed.
As the crowds grew, they shouted out a line from the 118th Psalm: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh!” This is one of the psalms recited at Passover time when the pilgrims would assemble. This is the same Psalm which states “This is the day the Lord has made”, which has been put into a popular praise song today. However, this psalm is far more significant for us than that. From this very psalm which talks about a terrible struggle the psalmist was dealing with are the words: “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” In a real sense, there are overtones of judgment in this psalm. Luke mentions how the people had misunderstood the situation. In Luke Jesus weeps over the coming destruction of Jerusalem in much the same way Jerimiah had six centuries earlier. In a sense, this day which is celebrated in the church with children waving palm branches and joyful hosannas was actually the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment.
The crowd also cries out: “This is the King of Israel!” This is further proof of what the crowds thought. When Jesus had fed the five thousand, the result recorded in John 6:15 was that they wanted to arrest Him and make him king. But within the week, they would reject the King that God had sent. They would instead choose the world’s king, Caesar.
Jesus did not come on the white horse Caesar would have come, but on a donkey which John simply mentions had been found for the purpose. This provides for some ironic contrast between Caesar and Christ. Jesus who is truly worthy the honor far greater than that of Tiberius does this to fulfill the prophecy of Zachariah. King Jesus was indeed coming to town, but not the way the people expected. He had come to deliver Israel from atop a humble beast of burden and not a white steed of war.
Starting in verse 16, John lets us know that no one, not even His disciples knew what was going on. It was only after the cross and resurrection that they knew the significance of what was going on. In the meanwhile, they partied like everyone else.
One has to be careful to let the noise and excitement of the crowd influence him or her. The opinions of a crowd are easily swayed. Many of them were even more than clueless to what was going on. They were there because of the excitement and were shouting because everyone else was. I can remember when I was in eighth grade in New Jersey coming on the bus to school. When we got there, something was different. The buses normally held the students until all the busses had arrived. This morning, the students were all outside shouting what to me sounded like Lafayette is leaving. Lafayette, the parent company of Radio Shack had a factory nearby. These students were obviously protesting that the company was moving and people were losing their jobs. So like a dutiful lemming, I got off the bus and started shouting with the rest of them “Lafayette is leaving!, Lafayette is leaving!” Later on in homeroom the principal congratulated us on the protest on the first “Earth Day”. What the students were really saying was “Love the Earth or leave it>” Needless to say, I felt quite foolish.
Some of the people in the crowd who thought they were better informed on the matter told others that this was the man who had raided Lazarus from the dead. In fact, John uses one of his favorite terms “bore witness”. This witness was also borne to the Pharisees as well. In a way, they had a better understanding of the implications of the event. Luke records that they and the other Jewish leaders came to Jesus’s disciples in an attempt to squelch the gathering. Here a tinge of jealousy seems be stated. Every year, extra soldiers had to be brought up by the Romans as a show of force from Caesarea. Even Pilate the governor who hated Jerusalem came up lest a revolt against Rome break out. This is exactly the kind of gathering that would draw their attention.
We don’t know what communication went on between the Jewish leaders and the Romans, both of whom had an earthly interest in maintain order. This has been the subject of frequent speculation and “Passover Plots”. At some point, there had to have been talk as 400 Roman soldiers joined the Temple police in the arrest of Jesus. The best I can say is that they may have promised on this Palm Sunday that they had a plan to get rid of Jesus without spilling a large amount of blood.
Jesus Christ had come to town. What a week it would be!
This morning, we are celebrating the season of Advent, which many confuse with Christmas, Why would anyone preach a Palm Sunday text for Christmas. Let me explain. Advent is the season that Christians prepare for the return of Jesus Christ to our town. When we read the Gospel of John, or literature in general, we place special emphasis on the beginning and end. In ancient literature, the high point is actually in the middle. When we read John, we emphasize the beginning which climaxes with the words “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” which is a Christmas message and ends with Jesus’ resurrection accounts which is Easter. However, the passage we discussed this morning is at the very center of the Gospel. In the other Gospels, the center point is at or near the Transfiguration in which selected disciples saw what the coming of the Kingdom would be like or what we call “The Second Coming.” Here, Jesus Christ coming to town serves the same purpose. As we have mentioned, the theme of the Last Judgment and the Day of the Lord is brought out. The coming of the King to town is also prominent.
When we think about it, what would Christmas or Easter mean without the promise of the return of the Lord in glory? It would be like that of a bride left abandoned at the altar by the groom. All that the groom had said before would mean nothing at all. All that the groom had done for her would be false. What should energize us is that the Lord Jesus is coming back to our town, this time on a white horse. On that day, we shall see the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who left the throne of glory and who has created all things and come to earth as a humble servant. On Palm Sunday, the King came to town, but the people were not prepared to meet Him properly.
I truly wonder how ready we are to meet Jesus in today’s world. He has promised to return for us, but we don’t live this expectation out in our lives. Like Martha who say that she believed in the resurrection at the end of time, in the sweet by and by, we have become dull in our belief and sleepy. The day of our release is coming. The Day of Judgment is coming to the unbelievers. Are we trying to explain to the crowds of this world the true significance of this? Are we bearing witness to them to believe in the Lord Jesus?
The world will miss the message of the season again. They think it is Santa Claus who is coming to town, not the Lord Jesus. They are looking for a jolly fat man in a red suit. We will cry out “Ho! Ho! Ho!” the same was the crowds on Palm Sunday shouted out “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!” they will sing that Santa knows whether you are sleeping or away, or whether you have been bad or good with an exhortation to “be good for goodness sake” and to be watchful. But One far greater than St. Nicholas is coming to town. Are you ready to meet Him? He does not come with a sack full of toys for children but the eternal reward to those who believe. And he has more than a lump of coal to give to the unbeliever. It is He, not Santa Claus who can penetrate into the innermost motives of your heart. Prepare your way for the Lord’s return to Earth. Hosanna!