First Mennonite Church
March 24, 2019
Jesus, Loved and Hated
Text John 12:9-19; Luke 11: 39-40; Matthew 12:10-11
For many years two of my very good friends worked tirelessly for a Christian institution. Work made them go away from home for weeks at a time, sacrificing their time and families many times. They worked long hours and even on weekends, sometimes. For many years these friends of mine were praised by most everyone who knew them for their whole-hearted services, dedication and for the achievements made for the institution. But one day both made mistakes and failed the expectations the board had on them. And that day everything good they had done well was all forgotten.
This happens in churches and other institutions also. Every congregation and group of people have certain expectations from their leaders and when certain ones are not fulfilled everything else done well sometimes seems not to matter. So why or what happens to people who stands by your side and then suddenly turn against you?
Is it that what happened to Jesus? Could it be possible for such a large crowd of “Hosanna-singer” to suddenly turn to “Kill-him-singers” by the end of the week?
Typically, Palm Sunday sermons focus in “the inconsistency crowd.” First they love Jesus and then they hate him. There is inconsistency even among the disciples. Peter offers to lay down his life for Jesus and then denies him three times. Judas who was one of the 12, eats from Jesus’ hand and then betrays him. As for the crowds, it seem they admire Jesus, sing him praises and then demand his crucifixion.
Could it be possible that the very “Hosanna-singers” of Palm Sunday suddenly turn “Crucify-him-singers” on Good Friday? It is hard to believe otherwise because we have heard it so many times that that was the case. Before we once again settle with that impression of the crowds, it would be good to see the case a little closer. It would be good to see the social environment of the Jewish festival of the Passover of the first century.
The Jewish festival of the Passover in Jerusalem in the times of the New Testament was always a tense time. In the year 4 BC, there was a Passover riot in which three thousand Jews were killed. In fact, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 71 AD was the result of trouble that started to brew during the Passover Feast that year. (Josephus’ account of the soldier)
Why was the Passover Feast always a tense time? The Passover Festival is the yearly celebration of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. On that day the Jews celebrate their deliverance from the oppressive hand of the Pharaoh. And in the times of Jesus, the place this festival took place was in Jerusalem on the Temple grounds. Every year thousands of pilgrims would come to Jerusalem. Just any quarrel or argument could get out-of-control. The noise, the bustling, the waste, the demand for resources, the convergence of ideas and expectations just happen to be more than any city council or board would be ready to handle. And the people responsible to secure a smooth two-week celebration were Caiaphas, in charge of the Temple through his Temple police, and Pilate by appointment of Caesar Augustus.
Caiaphas, the High Priest, was responsible to see that Jerusalem is secure and so the Temple. Pilate, the Procurator, was responsible for the peace and stability of the whole province of Judea, beginning in Jerusalem.
Every year Pilate had to leave one of the loveliest seaside resorts in the eastern Mediterranean and go to a madhouse house in Jerusalem and stay there for about two-and-a-half weeks, which took the pilgrims to arrive, worship, and leave Jerusalem. As for Joseph Caiaphas, the Temple’s High Priest, he had enough reasons to be worried. He knew what happened in the Passover riot in Jerusalem 30 years earlier that left thousands of Jews dead at the hands of the Romans. Caiaphas knew that any outbreak of unruly activity was enough to put him in trouble. It was the same risk Pilate ran. Any act of social or political instability could cause him to be removed by the Roman Emperor. And the best tool Pilate had to handle a riot was his indiscriminate use of force. There was zero tolerance for disturbance during the Passover.
Now with this background we can better understand the Passion Week. In John, the last public miracle Jesus performs was the resurrection of Lazarus. And because of the great publicity of that miracle, many Jews were coming to see Lazarus. In chapter 11, John says, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 11:46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 11:48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 11:49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 11:50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”
Caiaphas knew exactly what would happen if Pilate took matters into his own hands. Caiaphas knew that if Jesus were to cause a riot, Pilate would not hesitate to slaughter any number of people in an overcrowded Jerusalem. But as the pilgrims started to arrive, a larger crowd also wanted to see who the miracle man was and who Lazarus was, that Jesus resurrected. And that is where our passage begins.
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
But Jesus did not stay out in Bethany. He decides to come to the crowded Jerusalem where tension was building up against him
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!” John 12:12
Caiaphas and Pilate are by now in Jerusalem and there comes Jesus. For about three years he has been preaching, healing, casting out demons and his fame has gotten all over Judea and beyond. The pilgrims that have come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast now hear that Jesus is entering Jerusalem. They all go to one of the entry points of Jerusalem and sure enough there Jesus is coming on a donkey. And they not only give him a royal welcome, but they also openly acclaim him “the King of Israel”. Did they all know what they were saying? Was the entire crowd his usual followers? Have they all witnessed him do a miracle? Knowing this would be crucial. Because if not everyone in the crowd has ever heard Jesus teaching or witnessed him do miracles, certainly there would not have been faith, conviction, and devotion towards Jesus as would for those who had been with Jesus. For such, turning against Jesus would not have been difficult to do.
So let us read verse 16-18 “ His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him.
My dear friends, did the crowd understand everything they were saying? No.
Did everyone in the crowd stop loving him when he was arrested? No.
Did everyone who had followed him request his crucifixion? No
Were his disciples fair-weather friends? No
So what happened?
Very likely, the Jewish religious leaders felt the tension rising as Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. They were filled with fear. Fear of losing control over the crowds; fear of losing their authority as religious leaders. And fear of falling out of grace with the political authorities. Pilate was afraid too. He was afraid someone would defiantly claim kingship beside Caesar Augustus, which was precisely what the hosanna-singer were doing. He feared losing his position given him by Caesar Augustus. And above all, the people feared. The disciples feared. It was a world full of fear.
Therefore when Jesus was arrested, even when his disciple had seen his miracles; even they had believed his teaching; even when Peter had promised his full loyalty even to death, fear overwhelmed each of them. So, what do we say about the disciples? Were they just a bunch of wishy-washies? No my dear friends. They were overwhelmed with fear. And that is exactly what fear does to every follower of Jesus. Fear can make you and I remain silent when we should speak what is the truth, just, and right. Fear can make us hide in our politeness. Fear can make us run away when we should stand for the Lord, in whom we believe and who we love.
So let us remember the crowd that sang him hosanna to Jesus. They sang it loud and clear. They sang it publicly. They sang it and Jesus loved it and defended them, even when it was likely they did not understand everything they were saying. Jesus said to those who wanted to silence them, “If they keep silent, the stone will certainly sing.”
You and I have been given faith to believe Jesus is Lord and Savior. Therefore, let us join the Hosanna Choir. Let us sing Hosanna to the Lord. Let us allow God’s Spirit to empower us to sing an ever louder Hosanna Song to Jesus the King, our King. Let us live worthy of calling Jesus our King. Not everyone can claim him to be King, but he is our King and we love him. Amen!
Pastor A. Romero