Reading: John 12
Today is Palm Sunday, it is the time when people hear the story of the crowds that met Jesus when he went into Jerusalem — it is something that we hear every year. For the longest time, thought of this as an example of how fickle crowds are: On Sunday the crowd is calling Jesus the king of Israel, and on Thursday the crowd is calling out to Pilate, “Crucify him.”
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that perhaps there were two crowds. These days we see two crowds all the time — it seems like our last decade up until now has formed crowds behind politicians: There is a crowd who looks to a politician as the messiah, and there is another convinced that the same politician is the Antichrist.
John is different than the other gospels, because John directly talks about Jesus being God. John is also different from the others because it gives us a look at both crowds. In the other gospels, the Pharisees, the Sadducee and the scribes do are more props than part of the story. In the other Gospels, they are in the story to allow Jesus to say something clever.
In John, the Pharisees are characters starting when Nicodemus visits Jesus in chapter 3. In chapter 5, Jesus heals a lame man who stayed at the pool of Bethesda, and Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for Sabbath breaking. In John’s account, Jesus responds to this confrontation by making a statement about his relationship to the Father. John 5:18 reads: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Right when some of the Pharisees started thinking about their Jesus problem, the other crowd was ready to make this Son of David king right now. Jesus of course had no desire to be that sort of a king — so Jesus went up into a mountain, away from those who had their plans for him.
John makes it clear that not every one of the Pharisees felt this way; John chapter 7 has both ordinary people and even the pharisees talking with each other about who Jesus might be (as in some of the Pharisees believed Jesus was special); but soon, there would no longer be any room for discussion. People discussed Jesus with each other, and they discussed Jesus with Jesus — though for the Pharisees that did not accomplish what they hoped it would — Jesus continued to “testify concerning himself”.
When Jesus heals the blind man in chapter 9 — and the last part of Chapter 9 through most of chapter 10 has more discussion of who Jesus is, and annoyed Pharisees. We can see where this story leads because people are afraid of what might happen. When the blind man was healed, and the parents were asked if this was their son — their answer was “He’s old enough to speak for himself.” John tells us that followers of Jesus were thrown out of the synagogue, so the parents wanted nothing to do with this. John points out that it is quite a miracle to heal the eyes of a person who has been blind from birth.
At this time, Jesus started gaining followers again. For a while Jesus’ followers left; now people started to remember John the Baptist, and how he preached about the one that was coming. John even identified Jesus when at the baptism. As people remembered John’s preaching, and they noticed what Jesus said about himself, and they started to realize that Jesus was exactly what John told them to look for.
Basically, at first, the crowds made the leaders of Judah nervous. Rome was not exactly a friendly occupier; and this Jesus guy was attracting crowds, and many in those crowds wanted him to be the king that drove off the Romans. The chief priest expressed this problem exactly — if this continues, the Romans will take away both the temple and the nation.
About this time, Lazarus dies — and Jesus tell his disciples that he’s going to raise him from the dead. The disciples don’t want to go back to Bethany. They know that the anti-Jesus crowd has some real power there — they know, because the last time there were there people were throwing rocks at them. Thomas says to the disciples: “Lets go die with Jesus.”
Jesus goes and raises Lazarus from the dead — and the Pharisees decide form a committee to see to it that Jesus and Lazarus both die. If the crowds were frightening because Jesus healed a few people and gave out food; if that was enough that they wanted him as king — imagine the response when they see that Jesus has power over death! Death is the only thing that Rome had to threat ed the people of Judah with — Jesus has it within him to disarm the enemy!
Jesus knows what is coming — he is at a meal celebrating Lazarus coming back from the dead, and Mary, Lazarus sister washes his feet with a perfume called nard; this bottle cost roughly a year’s wages. When Judas protested that it could have been put to better use, Jesus points out that this is a burial perfume, and it is for *his* burial. Jesus was quite clear that saying “Lazarus come forth” was his own funeral, though it is safe to say that if Lazarus were not raised from the dead, the perfume would have been used; This happened on Saturday, six days before Passover. On Sunday, Jesus would travel to Jerusalem. Remarkably, Messiah means the anointed — and Jesus was, in his own words, anointed for His own death.
Those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead spread the word — by the time Jesus got to Jerusalem, his name was on many lips and as he was riding his donkey, on the way to Jerusalem he was greeted by a crowd of people with palm branches yelling “Hosanna, blessed be the king of Israel.”
Think about this; Jerusalem is the place where people go for Passover because the temple is there. Jerusalem was also the capital of the Roman Provence of Judea: The Praetorian was in Jerusalem — Pilate lived in Jerusalem! People are gathering and yelling praise to the King of Israel right in the very city that the Roman governor lives in.
When the committee decided that Jesus had to die — this had not happened, this was basically their worst fears coming true in front of their eyes. Thing is, the crowds were looking for a king, if it were not Jesus, it would be someone else — the crowds were itching for a fight, because they knew they could beat Pilot, but, the leaders were fully aware that even if they could beat Pilate and crown a king they would never be able to beat Caesar. In a very literal way, the Pharisees decided that Jesus had to die as a scapegoat — he had to die for the rebellious attitudes of the people.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, there were two crowds — both of them very powerful. One crowd was the crowd that was seeking a king who would beat the Romans. Many of Jesus’ disciples were in this crowd. When Jesus preached, he said things that drove this crowd away — but, they saw the miracles he did and they came back; This crowd was large, in Jerusalem, and ready to move. This crowd was dangerous. The crowd that did not want revolution now continued their plan. This was a crowd that was in panic — and a crowd that was ready to use any means possible to both prevent the coming insurrection and appease the Romans.
Today we remember how Jesus was welcomed when he entered Jerusalem — “Hosanna, Blessed be the king of Israel.” On Thursday, the crowd that feared these words reaching the Roman leaders, and attracting Roman soldiers would give Jesus to the Romans; and the crime is the very words of the first crowd: Above the cross is written the accusation: “King of the Jews.”