Crowds on Palm Sunday
One way to make Palm Sunday more meaningful and personal is to examine the various groups of individuals who were part of that exciting day 2000 years ago.
First, let’s look at the setting for that specular event. Historians tell us that on Palm Sunday, which was the beginning of the week of Passover for Jews, thousands and thousands of people would have gathered in Jerusalem. While the celebration of the Passover was certainly high on the mind of everyone, it was also a festival time. Everyone able to attend Passover in Jerusalem found it to be a fun time as well as a spiritual experience.
That year the celebration had an additional component to it. There was a strong expectation that the Messiah may make His appearance. The people desperately longed for the promised Messiah to set them free from Rome. A man called Jesus just might be that Messiah. Jesus had previously healed the sick and commanded the demons to obey Him. Recently He actually raised someone from the dead, or so it had been reported. Read John 12:9. If Jesus could raise the dead, He certainly had the power to lead a revolt against Rome and set up a Messianic Kingdom.
With that setting in mind think about those who were in Jerusalem that day, and ask yourself how they might represent people today.
One group that was obviously present that day were the Roman soldiers. We have no idea how many soldiers were stationed in Israel at that time but for the Passover celebration every one of them was on duty in Jerusalem. Over the years Israel had been somewhat of a problem to Rome so to ensure no insurrection occurred, Rome stationed extra soldiers there. With talk of a Messiah on the increase, Roman authorities would have made sure all soldiers were on duty.
I wonder what they thought that day. Most were hoping for a peaceful week. No one wanted violence, although they were prepared for it if it came. I suspect their attitude was, “Let them enjoy the celebration just don’t get too carried away with it.” That is often the attitude today of folks. Let Christians enjoy their celebrations and worship but keep it low keyed and certainly don’t let it flow out into the community in a way that appears to be fanatical. Go about your worship and get excited but don’t go overboard.
We can only wonder what those Roman soldiers thought when they saw Jesus arrive on a donkey. When a conquering General returned to Rome from battle he was given a parade and rode into Rome on a marvelous stallion draped in gold. Compared to that, the entry of Jesus on a donkey was less than a joke. Their feelings that Jesus could not lead a serious rebellion would get more realistic as the week went on. Before the week was over Jesus was crucified at their hands. That had to have settled it for the soldiers. Of course, that was not the end of the story but for too many in our society that is the end. Without a resurrection they are right. The resurrection changed all as it always does for anyone who truly believes Jesus is alive. If there was no resurrection, then indeed as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:12-20, we are most miserable. But He is alive. The soldiers couldn’t have imagined that on Palm Sunday so as far as they were concerned let the people celebrate and let us go back to our barracks.
There were others present that day beside the soldiers. There were lots of religious leaders looking on. Read John 12:19. To appreciate this comment by the Pharisees one has to put himself in their place. They were deeply religious, attending services whenever one was being held. They were committed to living as the Law of God said they should. If there was something else they needed to do to please God, they were more than willing to do it. They were respected and held up as those in authority. They enjoyed the prestige that came with their position. The crowd could be interested in what Jesus might say, but they did not need Him. Beside, the Pharisees had done all they could to keep peace with Rome so the last thing they needed was talk of a Messianic kingdom.
The position of Pharisee no long exists but we all know that their attitude is all around us. There are many today who believe they are good enough to make it and do not personally need Jesus. In their minds they think we are wrong to declare one must actually make a personal commitment to Jesus to be saved. Like the Pharisees of old they believe because they are good, honest and generous they are all set. Why go chasing after Jesus in this post-Christian era?
Many in our community who, like the Pharisees, ignore Jesus because they believe that in making Him a vital part of their life, they fear their friends will think less of them and they will lose the popularity and façade of respectability they so desperately want. Realistically, the world no longer looks at Christians the way it did a generation ago. If you make Jesus a vital part of your life and the life of your family, you are likely to be made fun of, if not left out of the life of the community. In the long haul many Christians are respected by the community if they are consistently living the way God wants them to but, that is not going to be the case early in one’s walk with Jesus. Christians are depicted as a relic of the past. Like the Pharisees many ignore Jesus to ensure their sense of importance isn’t minimized.
In addition to soldiers and Pharisees there were thousands and thousands of ordinary individuals present that day. Those individuals made up the majority of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into the city. Some were there just to see this Jesus everyone was talking about. There are those today who worship Jesus so they can participate in the activities and say they were a part of the crowd that went to church.
Undoubtedly there were some there that day simply for the fun and festivities. They went with their friends and family just to have a good time. There are those today who attend church on Palm Sunday or Easter just because of the atmosphere of the day. Church cannot get much more upbeat than on Easter when we celebrate the resurrection. The hymns, the Scripture and the sermon are all positive. Everyone’s in a great mood. Many dress up especially nice and after church they all go out to eat together. There’s no problem with that if that is not the only reason one wants to be in church. Jesus came to give us an abundant and fun filled life. The message of the Bible is that Jesus wants us to enjoy that life more than simply at an occasional parade but He wants us to make Him the center of every activity all day every day.
Some in that crowd were there, I’m sure, hoping to see Jesus perform a miracle or do something spectacular. I’ve known individuals who attended church because a loved one was seriously sick and they hope that by showing a little interest in God He would heal that person. I’ve seen the same with individuals who need something like a job. They hoped that if they gave God a little of their time He would reciprocate with a miracle. The problem with that group is that when they don’t get what they want, when they want it, they line up to shout, “Crucify Him.”
There was another group there that day that can too easily be missed in our study of Palm Sunday. Read John 12:20-2. That group was made up of Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. We can all learn from them. They were not the individuals one would have expected to be at a Jewish festival, but they wanted to see Jesus. They were not the individuals one would have expected to be at a Jewish festival or parade, but they wanted one thing above all else, they wanted to see Jesus. What a powerful reason to go to church not only on Palm Sunday and Easter, but every Sunday.
The real issue every week is, “Why do I go to church?” Do I go hoping my presence will encourage God to do something nice for me? Do I go for the excitement of the day? Or do I go to church so I can see Jesus? That is the real reason we should go to church. Enjoy each worship service but remember church is primarily about seeing Jesus in a fresh and deeper way.