By Pastor Glenn Pease
Little Bobbie listened with deep interest to the story of the Prodigal Son right up to the happy ending when the son returned; the fatted calf was killed, and the house was filled with music and dancing. Then he suddenly burst into tears. "Why what is the matter Bobbie?" exclaimed his mother. "I'm so sorry for that poor little calf," he sobbed. "He didn't do nuffin!" Here was a case where the expected emotion was to be joy, but the tender-hearted boy responded with unexpected sorrow, for he saw an aspect of tragedy in the story that no one else even considered.
This same thing happened on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus promoted the biggest demonstration of his earthly life. There was so much emotion kindled in Jerusalem that day that it could probably be called the most emotional day of history. It would be hard to find another day to equal it. Emotion was at such a high pitch that the people spontaneously threw their garments and palm branches before the king upon the colt. They lifted up their voices in a chorus of praise. They shouted with loud voices, "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord." There was so much noise the sophisticated Pharisees were getting headaches. They were thoroughly disgusted with this exhibition of emotionalism, and they urged Jesus to put the damper on these flaming emotions.
It would have been futile, however, even to try. Jesus said if he did manage to get them to hold their tongues the noise would not be diminished, for the very stones would immediately take up the shouting where they left off. The air was so charged with the excitement and joy of what was taking place that nothing, just nothing, could stop it. This dramatic and climactic expression of joy and praise had to be. Jesus was the King of Israel, and his triumphant entry into the capital city was a necessity in the plan of God. Here was music that had to be heard. Palm Sunday was no luxury, it was a necessity in God's plan. Vaughn wrote,
Hark! How the children shrill and high
Their joys provoke the distant sky
Where thrones and Seraphim reply;
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring;
Such sound, sweet mirth
Makes heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.
While all heaven and earth are joining in this joyful symphony, however, the King whose triumphal entry has produced this unparalleled emotion seems to be adding a note of contrasting discord. Like the boy listening to the joyful conclusion of the story of the Prodigal, Jesus seems to see something that no one else does. His ears hear the music triumphant, but his eyes have focused on the tragic, and the result is what we see in verse 41, a King in tears. Amidst all this joyful shouting, the King for whom they shout, weeps. Make no mistake about it, these are not tears of joy. These are not the tears of a Miss America walking out into a crowd of cheering subjects. These are not the tears of excitement and surprised joy.
These tears of the King were tears of sorrow from the very depths of his being. They were in absolute contrast to the joyful emotions being displayed all around him. Palm Sunday provides us with abundant material for the study of contrasting emotions. People were keyed up to near fanatical enthusiasm, and in contrast you have the utterly disgusted Pharisees looking on. Jesus, who gave rise to both of these emotions by his actions, also displays duel emotions. Weeping in tender-hearted sorrow, and then a few moments later expressing anger with an intensity of indignation that had such moral force that men fled in fear before him.
There is no doubt at all that Palm Sunday was one of the most emotion filled days of history. Jesus wept on other occasions, but his tears here say something different. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and revealed his sympathetic understanding of what people must endure in facing the tragedies of life. Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane and revealed his own full humanity. He was not merely playing a role. He actually bore the burden of suffering humanity. Jesus sweat drops of blood. He learned from personal experience what it is like to bear a crushing burden.
There is a great deal being written today about the psychosomatic. Psycho meaning mind, and soma meaning body. When a man suffers in body because of a mental or emotional burden it is called a psychosomatic illness. This is a modern term, but the experience is as old as man, and Jesus experienced it in Gethsemane. His sweating drops of blood was psychosomatic. There was nothing wrong with his pores or his arteries or his blood. There was no physical problem. He sweat blood because of the terrific mental and emotion burden he bore.
Remember this when you flippantly say to someone, "It's all in your head." It was all in the head of Christ as well, but nothing can be more real than a mental or emotional burden. Whenever you begin to think lightly of the problems of the mind and emotions, you had better sing again, "Lest I forget Gethsemane, lest I forget thine agony...lead me to Calvary." The tears of Jesus tell us that emotion is natural and ought to be a part of the normal healthy person. Our particular culture does not encourage, but rather discourages the stronger sex from exhibiting his emotion in tears. This was not so in Biblical times, for great men like David, Peter, and Paul wept.
Tears are the silent but eloquent language of the soul. They can communicate what words cannot. Emotions are a language of their own, and speak on a level easy to understand. A group of children who were deaf mutes once took part in a reception of King Edward of England, and they did so by marching before him with a banner which read, "We cannot shout, we cannot sing, but we can love our gracious king." What king would not rather have the tribute of their silent emotion than the blare of trumpets and the boom of cannon? Words and noise can be cheap, but emotion is an expression of the real person. Jesus said with his tears more than any lecture could communicate. Jesus was saying, I see something that no one else sees. I see as God, and, therefore, I weep as man. He saw the future as it was going to be, and not as he wished it to be, and not as the circumstances would suggest it was to be.
Jesus saw that in spite of all the enthusiasm to exalt him to the throne of Israel, he would be exalted instead to the cross. He knew the leaders of Israel would reject and crucify him, and he knew that the result would be the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of Judaism as it had been. What Jesus saw was literally fulfilled in 70 A. D. about 40 years after this triumphant entry. The tears of the king tell us he is a king who does not take lightly the loss of his people. He knows they will reject him, but he cannot accept this fact without deep emotion. Jesus was no stone-hearted, flint faced stoic who could look upon the tragic side of life and be unmoved. He broke down and wept. He cared that men would parish, and he loved those who despised him. He did not limit his love to those shouting, "Hosanna to the king of David." He loved equally those blind Pharisees, and he wept for them who would lead his people into the ditch of destruction.
The tears of Christ on that first Palm Sunday were tears of hopelessness. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus could look ahead through his tears and see the resurrection. In Gethsemane Jesus could look through his tears again to the glorious victory of his own resurrection. The tears on those occasions were temporary tears, but the tears of Jesus on Palm Sunday were an expression of a sorrow with no hope. Jesus could not look through the tears to a bright future. It was so dark, and that is what brought on the tears, for there was no silver lining in that cloud at all.
A king in tears of agony.
A king in tears, how can it be?
Because the men he came to free,
Chose bondage over liberty.
But nothing could a charm impart
To sooth the Savior's woe,
For grief was heavy at his heart,
And tears began to flow.
He came unto his own and his own received him not. This Palm Sunday demonstration was the last chance for their eyes to be opened. It was their day of visitation, but Jesus observed that the leaders of Israel looked upon it as fanatical emotionalism, and so all hope was gone, and he wept. Have you ever felt helpless, and felt like crying because you could not compel reality to be different from what it was? This is how Jesus felt. He had performed miracles; he had taught with unsurpassed wisdom and authority, and now he had fulfilled the prophecy of the Messiah riding into Jerusalem. Yet, it all failed to open their eyes. These are tears of frustrated love.
Those who think man cannot frustrate the grace of God, and resist the love of Christ, have no explanation for the tears of the king weeping over his capital city. Man can leave the king of kings standing at the door knocking, and refuse him entrance. King he is, but he will not reign in any heart except by consent. He could have taken the throne of Israel by force with a popular movement, but he could only take it, in the only way he would, by the consent of those in power. They rejected him, however, and so Jesus refused to be their king. Jesus was not a revolutionary as we usually think of one. Had he been so, he could have allowed himself to be made king by the force of the masses, but he took no throne, for it was not the choice of the leaders. He will enter no heart but by the consent of its owner. His form of government could be called totalitarian democracy, for he reigns as Lord, but only by the consent of the governed. The consequences, of course, are a king in tears, for men will not give this needed consent. Jesus was no superficial optimist who felt all would turn out for the best in the end. Jesus knew some things were absolutely tragic. Men who might be saved will be lost. Men who could know and experience the love of God will have to endure his wrath.
I believe in the power and value of positive thinking, but it has its limitations. Nothing is so superficial as the denial of the reality of the negative. We could have reminded Jesus of his own wisdom about taking no thought for tomorrow. Why bear the burden of tomorrow let alone those of 40 years in the future? What applies to the temporal does not apply to the eternal, and that is why Jesus wept, and that is why no peace of mind philosophy could dry his tears that day. You could say, cheer up it could be worse, but you would be wrong, for it was hopeless, and that is why he wept.
If we use simple logic and admit the reality of sin, tragedy, and hell, then we know there is no way to escape some tears in life. Heaven is pictured as a place where tears shall be no more, and this implies they are inevitable on earth. When men reject Christ and die as children of wrath rather than children of God through faith in Christ, there is no hope, and so there is no comfort. There is nothing that God or man can do but that which the God-man did, and that is weep the tears of hopelessness.
The tears of Jesus are the tears of sorrow over what might have been. He was not weeping because of what did happen, but because of what did not happen. His heart was burdened with the grief of lost opportunities. There is no use crying over spilt milk we say and it is true, but it is also true that there is no use trying to stop people crying over it, because once it is spilt it is beyond recovery and that is sad. The milk that might have given life and health is now wasted. The talent that might have been used to bless and enrich the family of God has been devoted to worldly pleasure, and the gift is wasted. The life that might have been for the glory of God shrivels up into a pitiful self-centered bundle that pleases neither God nor man. Don't say we shouldn't cry over lost and wasted opportunities, for Jesus by his tears said it is a valid sorrow.
The dual emotions of Palm Sunday correspond with the dual nature of reality. It can be tremendously triumphant or terribly tragic. None can claim to be realistic who do not recognize this. The tears of Jesus say more about heaven and hell than any words. Tears would have no place in such a glorious and joyful setting as Palm Sunday unless there was a heaven to be lost and a hell to suffer for those who rejected Jesus as king. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He no doubt weeps yet over those persons and nations who go through their day of grace with no response.
The tears of hopelessness are a valid response to reality, but we need to also see that they never cause Jesus to give up. He wiped his tears away, and went into the temple, and in anger he cleansed it. Yes, it is hopeless for some, and they will never respond, but Jesus went on fighting for the rights of others to have hope, and to respond to the grace of God. The pessimist gives up in the face of the reality of tragedy. The optimist denies the reality of tragedy. Jesus was a realist. He weeps over the reality of tragedy, but goes to work, for he knows that victory is also a reality in the plan of God. In other words, no matter how true it is that nothing can change some sad facts for which we must weep, it is also true that nothing should hinder us from fighting to the end for the right of all men to have the opportunity to experience the grace of God.
The king in tears does not die weeping, for he will not let the negative reality dominate his life. He faces that reality squarely, and will not pretend it isn't real, but then he goes on to fight for the positive reality of the triumph of good over evil. Palm Sunday has a message, not of superficial optimism, but of true spiritual optimism which says, no matter how much there is to weep about, there is always much more to rejoice over, and to pursue in the will of God. The full symphony of the Christlike life will have its pessimistic discord, but the major emphasis will be the positive harmony of the victorious. The tragic and the triumphant are both real, and the Christian should feel both, but be ever pressing on through the tragic to the triumphant.