by Wayne Barber
In our next several articles, I want us to explore the crowd that was present the day that Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. In John 12:12 we read "On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem." It is so interesting to me to look intently at the crowd that was there the day our Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem, which we call Palm Sunday. Sadly, this crowd is everywhere today and they look to Jesus only as a cosmic bellhop rather than understanding that He is Lord of lords and King of kings.
On that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, very few if any knew why He was really entering the city. They had no clue that He came to die. Not even His disciples grasped the seriousness of this moment. That same crowd is still around today and the way they look at Jesus ought to bring grave concern to those of us who love Him and seek to walk with Him. Let's take a look and see what we can learn.
First we see the hopeful crowd. There are always those who want a better life but have no clue how that is to happen. John tells us that this large crowd took palm branches and began to wave them as He rode into the city: "[They] took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel" (John 12:13).
The waving of palm branches had become a common practice at national celebrations in Israel. These palm branches even appeared on their coins in that time. The waving of the palm branches would have been the signal that this crowd believed that Jesus was the King of Israel, their promised Messiah, and that He was about to set up His Kingdom. Jesus, acting upon the direction of His Father, in order to fulfill the Scripture, took a donkey and used it to ride into the city.
Never forget, that Jesus, as the God-man, had chosen to empty Himself of His glory and to not use His power for His own benefit. "Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19).
His act of choosing to enter the city riding on a donkey was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey." This is partially quoted in John 12:15: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."
Israel had long thought that when the Messiah came He would set up His earthly Kingdom and kick the Gentiles out! He would come as a KING! That first Palm Sunday they hailed Him as their king and pronounced Him King of Israel as they waved palm branches over their heads hoping that He would free them from all Gentile power such as Rome itself and give them a better life. Sadly, in this hopeful crowd were His own disciples, whom He had taught on so many occasions as to what His purpose on earth was: "These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him" (v. 12:16).
Again, this predominantly Jewish crowd looked to Jesus to be their King and to give them a better life, free from their bondage to Rome and the Gentile world. They still didn't understand that their bondage was a spiritual bondage, not just a physical one. Their prophets, such as Daniel and Ezra and others, had labored in prayer because they did understand that sin was the ultimate bondage of their people. But the majority wanted a better life, and had no clue how that would have to come about!
Sadly, in a few days, these same palm -waving people would be yelling "crucify Him, crucify Him." It's so disheartening to realize that many who call His name have their hands out instead of their heads bowed, even in our day. Next time we will continue to look at this crowd that hurried to see Jesus when He entered into Jerusalem. It might wake us up as to who is sitting in the pews of our churches from week to week.
Next month: the Hallalujah Crowd.
Wayne Barber is senior pastor of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.