Summary: The crowds shouting "Hosanna!" soon were shouting "Crucify Him!" What accounts for their sudden change of heart?
We are assembled here this morning, as millions of other Christians are assembled in other churches
all over the world, to commemorate our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the close of his earthly ministry, almost two thousand years ago. We share this celebration, not only with our brothers and sisters in other nations, and other languages, and other cultures, but also with those of prior ages. Because for twenty centuries, this day has been observed by every branch of the church, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. And that testifies to its great importance. The triumphal entry is important, not only because it stands at the beginning of Holy Week, not only because it sets in motion a chain of events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, but also because it communicates vital theological truths in its own right. It reveals crucial information about Christ, and about God’s plan for his people. And so, we cannot fully understand Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, or Ascension Sunday unless we also grasp the significance of this day, Palm Sunday. This morning, I’d like to invite you to explore with me what this day means to you and I as followers of Jesus Christ. Let me begin by reading from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 21.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, ’See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ "
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" – Matthew 21:1-9
As we read this passage, and the similar accounts in the other gospels, we can almost see Jesus sitting on a donkey; we can picture the crowds waving palm branches and throwing down their coats for him to pass over. We can hear the cheering and the shouts of acclamation – "Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!" What a thrilling scene that must have been! Imagine how the disciples must have felt in the midst of all this – what rejoicing; what excitement and exultation. Christ was being hailed as king, as messiah, as savior. Everything they had been anticipating for three long years seemed to be coming to pass! Surely, it was now only a matter of time until their master took his rightful place as the ruler of his people, and they, the Twelve, took their places at his side.
It would be difficult to read this and not be reminded of the scenes we saw played out on television this week – hundreds of jubilant Iraqis singing, and dancing, and celebrating in the streets, welcoming the U.S. troops into Baghdad, embracing them and hailing them as liberators. But we probably wouldn’t want to take the comparison too far. Because, as we know, the crowd’s adoration of Christ was short-lived. Just five days later, the same people who had been shouting, "Hosanna! Hosanna!" were shouting instead, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" What happened? How could public opinion turn against him so quickly and so violently? The answer is that Christ didn’t meet their expectations. The people were expecting a warrior-king, someone who would lead them in an armed uprising against the hated Roman occupiers. They were expecting a military commander, under whose leadership the yoke of bondage to Rome would be thrown off, and the ancient glory of Israel would finally be restored. They were expecting power, and might, and victory. But when Christ was arrested, without even putting up a fight, and was brought before Pilate, what they saw was apparent weakness and defeat. It seemed that their hopes for deliverance had been crushed once again, and they reacted with furious rage.
Now, in order to understand their response, we first need to realize that their expectations were not unfounded. Their hopes were based on Biblical promises and prophecies concerning the Messiah.