Singing in Jerusalem

“Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

—Mark 11:11

Do you ever wonder why the greatest teacher of all time was so little recognized during His ministry? Why is it that the noblest Master to ever walk upon the earth was not widely accepted by those whom He encountered? Perhaps our surprise would be lessened if we would put ourselves in the place of Jesus’ contemporaries.

Suppose news came to your town or city that in some distant place—say New Orleans—a child had been born. It was so busy in the city because of Madi Gras that the hotels were all booked and a baby was born in a stable. The mother had wrapped the baby in strips of cloth torn from her dress and placed her child in a manger. That would be a nice tidbit of news to talk about at the coffee shop for a day but nothing to lose any sleep over.

Then suppose thirty years later it was reported that this child—now a man—was a traveling evangelist who was performing marvelous works and was coming to your town. Along with him were twelve of his companions—a couple of fishermen, a tax collector, and some poor, uneducated men.

Even though you may have read that he was a great teacher of unquestioned holiness and astonishing ability, the hum of business in town would hardly be hushed at his arrival. Only a few would come and listen to him speak. After all, it is the women’s curling championship this week, or the school’s big fundraiser is taking place, and Gospel Trio is in town.

The Welcome

All through His ministry there is evidence that Jesus would have been more welcome if He had been quicker in His speech and arrived in a different manner. The people were awaiting the restoration of the theocracy, a king to rule over Israel and overthrow the Roman government.

If Jesus had come with a band of soldiers that He had gathered together over the three years of His ministry; if He had come announcing Himself as the One who would get rid of the Roman oppressors, then they would have cheered Him on with shouts of adoration and delight.

Our Lord and Savior, however, did not come that way. He would not be content with a worldly homage. He never is. In fact, he turned away from the priests and the Pharisees. He refused to be in the right circles at the right time, rubbing elbows with all the right people who thought themselves to be influential over the crowds. Jesus went to the crowds—ordinary people. He met with the humble peasants in Galilee and the loving children in Jerusalem.

In order to avoid false homage, Christ came—and still comes today—quietly. He does not come with peals of thunder or as a national leader with a great army. His motto throughout His ministry seemed to be: “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.”

Popular applause was suppressed. Natural enthusiasm was cooled. If the people would try to take Him by force and make Him king as they did after one of His sermons, He departed and hid Himself from them. If the disciples saw a glimpse of His glory as they did on the Mount of Transfiguration, He would warn them to tell no one. His miracles were generally performed with as few witnesses as possible, and those who were blessed by Jesus would be told not to publish it abroad. Throughout His ministry Jesus avoided publicity.

On the first day of the last week of His life, however, Jesus wanted singing in Jerusalem. The crowds had come from all over the world to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They were coming to celebrate how Israel had once been freed from bondage in Egypt. They were longing for one who would be able to free them once again—this time from their bondage to Rome.

If only one would come, as Isaiah had prophesied, who could preach good news to the poor, give sight to the blind, and set the prisoner free. If only this Jesus from Nazareth would give them some sign that His name may be proclaimed. If only He would be willing to receive the crown that seemed to be His destiny.

On that first Pam Sunday, Jesus was willing. He even arranged for His entry into the city of Jerusalem. He sent out to a village for a young colt. When it was brought to Him, Jesus sat on it and allowed a simple processional to be formed. The processional increased in number and enthusiasm as they neared the city.

The People

Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt. Not a horse that would symbolize the coming of a great warrior, but a colt—a symbol of one coming in peace.

Have you ever noticed that almost every nation has incredible stories about their famous men of old? Most often history records the heroic events of men of war. The Norsemen had Eric the Red; the English had King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the states some of us grew up, we learned about the military genius of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant. Who can forget the words of General MacArthur, “I shall return”?

By contrast, the Jews have as their early heroes men of peace. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were lovers of God and lovers of peace. Abraham fought in only one battle, and that was to save his nephew Lot. The Jewish Messiah was to be a man of peace. Isaiah had called Him the Prince of Peace. He would come with the marks of a man of peace—not on a prancing steed with trumpets blaring or soldiers following behind him. He came meekly riding on a donkey.

Somehow that symbol was lost on the crowd. Excitement was running high in the city, as it always did during such feasts as the Passover. The natural excitement was heightened by the procession, a strange, impromptu parade that was making its way toward the city gates.

The crowds gathered, curious at first, but soon they were shouting and singing and turning the place upside down for Him. People were grabbing anything they could get their hands on—tearing branches from trees and laying the clothes off their backs before Him—to form a type of red-carpet entrance into the city.

The hosannas grew louder and louder. The green palm branches were waving frantically. They were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Something was happening! Something tremendous was happening! Laughing, singing, and shouting, the crowd swept through the city gates and finally stopped on the plaza in front of the temple.

Jesus got off the colt. Everyone watched with anticipation. Some had seen the miracles and told others. Others had heard His teaching and knew that Jesus spoke with authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees. Certainly now He would make His move. After all, wasn’t He the Messiah, the chosen one of God? Wasn’t He the One who, with legions of angels, would establish the kingdom of God in Israel forever?

Can you feel the anticipation? Do you get a sense of the excitement within the crowd on that Palm Sunday when Jesus entered into the temple? Those troubled, enslaved people, groveling under the hated heel of pagan emperors and their puppet governors, had kept their faith alive throughout the generations for this very moment. This had been their hope! This had been their inspiration of worship! Jesus of Nazareth was the One who would end the oppression and bring Jerusalem to new heights of world power. “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

Hosanna! What a day this was! What joy there would be in Jerusalem!

The Paradox

And then, the crowd grew quiet. The only sound was a low murmuring as they watched Him enter the temple. They seem to have kept one eye on the temple and the other up to the heavens, because you never know something great is going to take place.

Time passed. Then some more time passed. There grew within the crowd an uneasy restlessness. And then it happened!

What happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. Slowly, one by one, two by two, a group here and there began to leave as the crowd began to melt away. All that was left was an eerie silence followed by an empty feeling in the hearts of most of the people.

No story ever built up to a greater anticlimax. Even the Gospel writer, Mark, couldn’t get rid of the flat taste this episode left in his mouth. After all the shouting, Mark ends the account of the triumphal entry with these words: “Jesus entered the Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

That’s it. That is the whole story. That was the end of all the singing and shouting in Jerusalem. From the moment Jesus entered into Jerusalem and did nothing, His future was sealed. Just five days later the palm branches would be palms of hands slapping Him. The hosannas would become hideous mockery as soldiers would strike the blindfolded Jesus and ask, “Who struck you, King of the Jews?” The crowds that applauded Jesus on Olivet call out for His death a few days later. Instead of calling out for Jesus, they cry out for Barabbas.

Jesus of Nazareth could not deliver what they expected, so they cried out for His death in exchange for the life of Barabbas. At least Barabbas had fought against the Romans soldiers. Barabbas had never said, “Love your enemies” or “Turn the other check.” Crucify Jesus. After all, who needs Him?

The truth of the matter is, you need Him.

Jesus did not come to be king over some earthly city in the Middle East. He did not come to establish a new world power. He came to be King of your life. He came to display His power, not over a Roman government that would eventually destroy itself, but over Satan, sin, death, and hell.

We are not much different from those people who shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday so many years ago and then “Crucify Him” a few days later. We, too, often sing praises to God on Sunday but reject His Son as Lord and King of our lives through our actions during the week.

The people in Jerusalem saw the Messiah go into the temple. They thought He had failed to deliver what He had promised. Unlike the people in Jerusalem, we are assured that Christ did deliver exactly what He said He would. We no longer need to look for a King who will free us from Satan’s bondage and remove the sin within us. Through the sacrifice Jesus, the Messiah, made on Calvary’s cross we are no longer slaves to sin. He has paid the price in full.

We celebrate Palm Sunday not because a king entered Jerusalem on a colt one Sunday years ago and did nothing. We celebrate because the King of kings died on the cross one Friday and did everything. He shed His blood for our salvation. We worship the King who came to Jerusalem to establish a kingdom not on earth but in our hearts.

Rev. Wybren Oord  
is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.