Summary: Jesus was a revolutionary who everyone was talking about prior to the feast of Passover.
I’ve been reading and re-reading the Palm Sunday story this week, not so much for the story itself because that is familiar to all of us – Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover, He sends His disciples off to steal a donkey (it’s ok – I’m sure they took it back when Jesus was finished with it), and then He rides it into Jerusalem while crowds cut palm branches and lay them on the road and shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!! Hail to the King of Israel.” We are familiar with the simple story and we celebrate it every year as it leads us quickly to the cross and the empty tomb.
So my reading and re-reading this week hasn’t been for the story, but rather I’ve been trying to really understand the bigger context, and trying to see what it really means for us. I’ve always noticed the contrast between the crowds – Palm Sunday they are shouting of Jesus as the king, leading Him into Jerusalem like a king returning from a great victory; and then 5 days later the crowd is shouting “crucify him! crucify him!!” It is a huge contrast; what changed? How could it turn from welcome and victory and celebration to death?
What’s really going on?
Reading around the Triumphal Entry story in Scripture, we get a much bigger picture of what is really going on. Jesus spent a lot of His ministry time in Galilee, which is in the north part of Israel and quite far from the capital city of Jerusalem, where the temple was and all the religious and political leaders were. He made several trips to Jerusalem, but it would be fair to say that Jesus was “headquartered” out of Galilee for much of the time. Because of His teaching and His miracles, word had gotten around, and the leaders had begun to see Jesus as a threat to the established order – which He certainly was!
It was getting close to the celebration of Passover, which was the largest and most significant celebration of the year for the Jewish people. Think huge crowds, logistical nightmares, an extremely important religious ceremony, and an undercurrent of political unrest and history of violent confrontation with the established military occupying force from Rome. Can you imagine being in charge of the festival in that type of climate? You would be very, very stressed out!
Now we add Jesus like a blazing torch into a pile of dried out straw. He had been around, and the leaders knew they had a potential problem. The whole city was talking about this Jesus guy who apparently could heal the sick and could tell stories that cut right to the heart of the matter, and the leaders had been trying to find a way to eliminate the threat to the established order that this “outsider” represented, especially as the Passover celebration drew closer. But then Jesus withdrew for a while, and the talk in the city changed to “is Jesus going to come?”.
Outside the city, Jesus had withdrawn to be with His disciples and He gets a message that His friend Lazarus is sick. Now Lazarus (with Mary and Martha) live in Bethany, which is right outside Jerusalem. Lazarus dies, Jesus goes and raises Lazarus from the dead and calls him out of the tomb after 4 days of the tomb being sealed. All right on the doorstep of Jerusalem, which was full to overflowing with all the visitors from all over who had come for the Passover festival and who were all wondering if this guy, Jesus, which they had heard all kinds of crazy-sounding rumors about, was going to show up in Jerusalem for Passover (and if so, what was going to happen?).
45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 46 But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”…
53 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. 54 As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.
55 It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” 57 Meanwhile, the leading priests and Pharisees had publicly ordered that anyone seeing Jesus must report it immediately so they could arrest him.