Everyone loves a winner! When any sports team starts doing well, many people who don't normally watch the sport, start getting interested. These people are generally known as "bandwagon fans," those who join a movement or cause because of excessive hype. In the noisy and crowded city of Jerusalem during Passover, there was excessive hype over a man named Jesus. Everyone had expectations and everyone responded to Him in different ways. On this Palm Sunday we are going to look at three groups of people in the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem: 1) the crowds; 2) the disciples; 3) the Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders).
The crowd at that time comprised of Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was mandatory for all male Jews to go up to Jerusalem and the population of the city sometimes grew from 50,000 to 150,000 people during the Passover. Also in the crowd were those who had followed Jesus from Bethany and who had seen the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11).
With these crowds came expectations. In the past, God had delivered the Israelite people from under Egyptian oppression and brought them to the promised land. Now there was an expectation that Jesus as King would come in victory and overthrow and kick out the Romans who were in charge and the land would once again be theirs. Included in that, there was the expectation that their Messiah would bring peace, healing, prosperity and security - everything that comes when you believe that someone is in charge who can make a difference.
The crowds response to Jesus: John 12:13 tells us "So they took palm branches and shouted 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!'"
The crowd responded with hope for what He would do for them. They celebrated Jesus as the coming king - the long awaited Messiah.
The second group of people in this story is the disciples. They were Jesus' faithful followers who had been with Him from the beginning. They had experienced 3 years of ministry: healing, teachings, miracles.
They had expectations of Jesus too. They believed He was the Messiah and like the crowd, they were expecting Him to come in earthly glory and reign as King on earth. And they were expecting to hold positions of power in this new kingdom.
So when Jesus told them to get a young donkey for Him to ride on, they didn't understand. Not only was Jesus fulfilling prophesy (Zechariah 9:9) but He was giving them a sign of what His Kingdom would be about. Riding into the city on a young donkey was a sign of peace and humility. He did not ride a warhorse or carry a sword or wear a crown.
The disciples response was they believed, but they didn't understand what Jesus was doing. John 12:16 "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 these things had been done to him."
The third group of people is the Pharisees. In John 12:16 the Pharisees say to one another, "See this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"
The Pharisees were the religious rulers and they were exasperated and frustrated. Their expectation of Jesus was that He was a fraud and a blasphemer. He wasn't doing things the way they expected God would and most of all Jesus didn't respect them! They were striving to live a "holy" and "righteous" life and all He had for them was rebuke. (Matthew 23)
Their response to Jesus: We must get rid of this man! In John 12:16 it seems as if they are giving up, but we know that in a few short days they will have Jesus arrested and crucified.
So how does this apply to us today? We can identify with three types of Christ followers:
1) Consumer Christians - They are always asking "What's in it for me?" Their expectation is what God or the church will give them. How is God going to help me to have a better, more comfortable life? What church is going to entertain me and raise my children?
How does this group respond to God? When things are going well, they are happy and content with God. But when things start going badly or they start getting busy, then worshiping and following Christ gets put on the back burner.
2) Complacent Christians - Following Christ has ceased to be an active way of living. Instead, going to church on Sunday is just a weekly routine and being a Christian has no impact on the choices they make in their life.
3) Controlling Christians - They are always asking "What do I need to do to earn approval?" Their expectation is that God wants perfection and they try hard to live up to that standard. They want to control situations and fix things and make them right.
This group responds to God with anxiety, performance orientation, people pleasing and can be "control-freaks."
Do you find yourself in one of these groups? There is a fourth option that I will offer:
4) Kingdom Christians - They are always asking, "What may God be doing here? How is God inviting me to be a part of what He is doing?" Their expectation is that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God is sovereign. They know that God is with them and for them and pray "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done."
Their response to God is trust, confidence, perseverance, openness and vulnerability.
On this Palm Sunday, what is your expectation of Jesus? How will you respond to Christ's invitation to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness in the midst of all that is going on in your life? What type of Christ follower will you be?