Summary: This is a Palm Sunday sermon about faces in the crowd who saw Jesus.
We Would Like to See Jesus
Northside Christian Church
April 9, 2006
John 12:12-19 (NIV)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Imagine yourself in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. There was a great crowd there that day that had come to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. I can imagine it was something like what we see in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Josephus, the notable Jewish historian, estimated that over two million people were involved in the great Passover Feast. It is known that 256,500 lambs were slain at one Passover and that each lamb represented at least ten worshippers. Teeming thousands from all over the world were flooding into the city to observe the Passover. The mass of people and the necessary housing and food arrangements to handle such a mass of people can hardly be imagined.
An excitable carnival-like atmosphere was bound to prevail over such a mob of people. Lots of people jamming the streets of the city, getting ready to celebrate. But as they prepared to observe one of the most important feasts that the Jewish people celebrated all year, word came that Jesus was on his way into the city.
It is a rare thing that all four gospels record the same event in Jesus’ life. Sometimes one or two gospels record an event; some events in Jesus’ life are recorded in three gospel accounts. But what happens on this day in Jerusalem is recorded by all four of the gospel writers. For that reason alone, we should consider what happened here to be important.
The crowd gathers as Jesus rides into the city on the colt of a donkey and they begin to wave palm branches and shout their welcome to Jesus. But who were the faces in that crowd that day? If you were there, who would you see? And what were they thinking?
I believe that as we examine the crowd that was present that particular day, we may find ourselves and some of those around us.
First, the Roman soldiers were there.
As the crowd begins to honor Jesus, I’m sure it gets the attention of the Roman soldiers. There were probably a large number of soldiers who gathered to see what was going on, for they were charged with keeping the Jewish people under control. After all, the Romans were the ones in control of this country.
What did this demonstration mean to the Romans? Nothing is recorded about the Roman viewpoint, but it is certain that they kept a close watch that day. During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon for some of the Jewish zealots to try to arouse the people to fight back against the Roman occupation of their city and their country. Maybe they thought this parade was that kind of an event. Maybe they were expecting to have to quell a riot.
But then here comes Jesus, riding on a donkey’s colt. I imagine that some of the Roman soldiers must have smiled at the “Triumphal Entry,” because it was nothing like their own triumphal celebrations back in Rome. I’m sure the Roman soldiers who were there were smiling and laughing a little. They’d probably seen this type of tribute before.
Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign soil, killing at least 5,000 of the enemy, and gaining new territory, he was given a “Roman triumph” celebration when he returned to the city. It was the Roman equivalent of the American “ticker-tape parade,” only with much more splendor.
The general would ride into the city in a gold-covered chariot with white stallions pulling it, a symbol of a warrior. The general would display the trophies he had won. The enemy leaders he had captured would be paraded in chains down the street behind the general. The parade ended at the arena where some of the captives entertained the people by fighting wild beasts.