This is the first post of an 8 part series I’m writing for Holy Week. I hope you’ll come back to read the entire series in posts #45 – #52
FROM PALM SUNDAY TO EASTER
#1 – The Triumphal Entry – John 12:12-19
The buzz was quickly spreading. As the crowd began to develop on the outskirts of the city, there was a growing anticipation that they were going to be a part of something significant. The stories that preceded His arrival were becoming too difficult to ignore — the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the leprous were cleansed, and the hungry had been miraculously fed. There were even reports that a dead man from the nearby village of Bethany had been brought back to life. This teacher, this miracle worker, this enigma was coming to the Holy City for the Passover celebration. It would be a day unlike any other these citizens of Jerusalem had ever seen. But, oh, how the tables would turn by the end of the week!
The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, known to us as Palm Sunday, marks the start of what we now call “Holy Week.” In this season we are challenged to consider the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross, and His resurrection in victory. The entire basis of our Christian faith is founded upon the events that transpired during this singular week in human history. If Jesus did not come to Jerusalem and obediently offer his life as a sacrifice for our sins- if he didn’t rise from the dead three days later- then we, of all people, are to be most pitied. Our hope for salvation and eternity are all rooted in the experience we call “The Passion of Christ.”
What interests me most about this story is not the fact that Jesus came in obedience to His calling, or even the fact that He rode into the city on a donkey. It isn’t the fact that a noisy crowd surrounded Him waving palm branches saying, “Hosanna in the highest!” and “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” No, the thing that intrigues me is who was in the crowd that day lining the street as Jesus made His way into the city. John clearly records their presence in his account.
First among the crowd, you had Jesus’ own disciples. John 12:16 implies that they were somewhat confused by the events that were transpiring there on that Jerusalem road. They experienced so much in the three years they served as Jesus’ ministry team, but they had never seen anything like this grand, celebrated entrance into Jerusalem. It seems they didn’t grasp the meaning of what was happening until after Jesus’ resurrection. Only then did they realize how the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament applied to this celebratory entrance into the city. For this moment, they just looked on without understanding.
Also in the crowd there were those who had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, of whom John mentions in verse 17. These were people who most likely personally knew Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. They had grieved over the death and burial of their friend. The arrival of Jesus four days after burial must have seemed like a noble gesture, though woefully too late. But none of them could have expected what happened next. Jesus called Lazarus from the grave, and to the amazement of all, Lazarus came out- still dressed in his grave clothes! That had to be a WOW-moment those folks would never forget! Therefore, when Jesus returned to Bethany the night before he would enter Jerusalem, the word spread through the village. The next morning these witnesses, the ones who had seen Jesus raise a man from death to life, assembled quickly to follow Him into the Jerusalem. And I suspect they were among the first to cut down those palm branches, shouting “Hosanna in the highest!”
Of course, you don’t have to look far in any crowd to find the group described in verse 18 – the curious onlookers. Unlike those who had seen the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, these people had just heard the stories of that event. Perhaps a bit more than just lookie-loos, these folks likely had an invested interest in what was going on. The stories about Jesus circulating throughout the city were spectacular; if He could do half of what folks said He could do, this show might be too good to miss! And so, they came to see the man who was causing such a stir. They may not have been convinced just yet who Jesus really was, but they couldn’t miss the opportunity to see for themselves – they may have even picked up a branch or two along the way.
The final group that gathered along the roadside that day didn’t jump right in to wave a palm branch or utter a “Hosanna”. In fact, far from it. This group probably stood in the back of the crowd, most likely with a pained grimace on their face. These were Pharisees, elite members of the Jewish religious aristocracy, introduced in verse 19. Today, we would call them the skeptics. To them this miracle worker was a threat, especially during this season of Roman occupation. Their desire was to maintain the status quo so that their own status as the authority on Jewish religion and tradition remained unquestioned. But Jesus consistently upset the apple cart, seemingly ignoring their laws and spouting doctrine that was not stamped with the Sanhedrin’s (the Jewish Ruling Body) seal of approval. Despite their objections, John tells us the Pharisees could see that “the whole world had gone after Him.” Jesus, the rebel rouser, was coming into town and they couldn’t stop Him…..but they were determined to watch His every move.
Today, on Palm Sunday, we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem so long ago. And though we live thousands of years later, we still see the same faces in the crowd, watching the celebration. Faces like the disciples who don’t always understand, but try to walk in obedience to God’s direction in their lives. Faces like the enthusiastic first-hand witnesses, who have clearly seen God do miracles in their lives or the lives of those around them and want to get as close to the action as possible. Still others like the curious bystanders watch the proceedings with mixed feelings. Casual observers attracted to the idea of a personal Savior like Jesus, but not yet willing to make a commitment. And then there are the skeptics who have seen too much and heard too much, or maybe they’ve hurt too much. Whatever the case may be, they are simply not interested in the myths and stories surrounding Jesus.
And so the question remains, where are you in that crowd today? If you feel like a disciple, but you still are a bit confused, I challenge you to look up for a minute and see the greatness of the God you serve- take joy in His presence! If you identify with the curious onlookers, allow yourself to look. Watch and see what God does in your life. I am confident you will see for yourself who Jesus really is. If you find yourself feeling like the Pharisee, I challenge you to ask this simple question, “God, if you’re real, show yourself to me.”
I’m hoping you can identify as a personal witness to what God has done. Don’t miss this opportunity to join those who know the story and want to proclaim, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Pick up a palm branch or two, figuratively or literally, wave it in the air and declare your gratitude to the God who loves you and sent His only Son to enter Jerusalem that day in preparation for the greatest sacrifice ever made in human history-
A sacrifice He willingly made for YOU!