Power of the People - Part 1
Date: 09 Apr 2017 (Palm Sunday)
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
I hope that we all realise that today is Palm Sunday, the day that signals the start of what we know as Holy Week, the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. In a few minutes I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the events of that incredible day but before that I want to think about what happened shortly before Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem.
There were a number of things that happened in the days shortly before Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. So, if we go back to Matthew 20 we get a picture of some of the events immediately preceding Palm Sunday. We read in 20:17-19 that Jesus once again predicted his betrayal and death. Whether or not the disciples believed what He was saying to them or even understood what he was saying I somehow doubt. We then read in 20:20-28 that the mother of Zebedee’s sons wanted Jesus to allow them to sit at His right and left hands when He entered heaven. Jesus soon denied that request and reminded everyone that the Son of Man had come to serve rather than be served. Once again I’m not sure that they understood what He was talking about. Finally, in 20:29-34 we see Jesus performing His final recorded miracle when He restored the sight of two blind men.
In 20:17 we see Jesus accompanied by His twelve disciples but by the time we get to 20:29 He has been joined by a large crowd. Despite the size of the crowd it was the two blind men who shouted to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (20:30b). Amazingly, although they couldn’t see Jesus, they knew just Who He was.
It is important for us to remember that in those days the main and perhaps only form of regular communication was word of mouth and it was undoubtedly word of mouth that brought the crowds together to see this Man Jesus. As Palm Sunday approached that crowd grew larger.
This was the day when Jesus made His jubilant entry into Jerusalem; the day when the crowds hailed Him as the Messiah; the day which began that most momentous week in Christian, and possibly world, history.
Throughout that day as Jesus entered the holy city, the crowds were yelling for Him; they were waving palm branches and they were laying palm branches and cloaks on the road in front of Him for His colt to walk on. There was loud cheering and acclamation and the people were in a boisterous and triumphant mood. Here was Jesus, a seemingly ordinary carpenter’s son from Nazareth, a place that was despised by most people. You may remember the rather disparaging comment from Nathaniel when first told of Jesus; he asked Philip, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46). Regardless of Nathaniel’s unflattering remark, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that colt he was acclaimed as the conquering hero. Was this the first example of that 21st century phenomenon populism?
In the modern political world we have seen the normal ways of politics turned upside down by the rise of people power in what has become known as populism. Many of the political commentators and politicians themselves have been rather disparaging in their remarks about this movement of the people. However, I suspect that that may be due to their status quo being rocked and their opinions being overruled for a change. The voters seem to have had enough of being ignored by those who consider themselves to be untouchable. The first sign of this movement came with the EU Referendum in June 2016 when more people than ever before voted in a Referendum, ignored “Project Fear” and overturned the opinions of the establishment. In the USA Presidential election in November 2016 something similar happened. The old established politicians and their ideas were pushed out by the populist move to support Donald Trump. Just for once the people were triumphant. History will soon reveal just how successful these populist inspired changes will prove to be!
The people in Jesus’ day were also sick and tired of being ruled, in their case, by two different sets of people. On the one hand there was the Roman occupier, an enemy army who were despised by all who came into contact with them. On the other hand were the Scribes and Pharisees who looked down on the very people they were there supposedly to help but instead only looked after themselves. Jesus had some very strong opinions about these Pharisees which He went through in Luke 11:37-54. Included in those verses are comments such as, “you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (11:47); “you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (11:39); “you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone” (11:42). There are many other occasions when Jesus bemoaned the attitudes and behaviour of the Pharisees all of which reflected the feelings of the people. As to the Romans, they of course ruled with a rod of iron and floggings and crucifixions were a daily occurrence.
This all added up to the people being restless and looking for someone, anyone, who could get rid of these obnoxious individuals. Does that sound familiar? It seems to me that that was the prevailing mood at the time of EU Referendum and the USA Presidential election. The people in the UK and the USA were very obviously feeling enough is enough.
The people of Israel felt exactly the same and so when they heard of Jesus and the amazing things that He had been doing around the region, they felt that at last here was someone Who could possibly relieve them of their persecution and torment.
As I mentioned earlier, at this time in history there were no real methods of communication other than word of mouth. There were no mobile phones, no e-mails and most definitely no Twitter! Despite that, the news of Jesus though soon travelled the area; the grapevine is an amazing thing.
The day didn’t end with the boisterous entry though since more was to happen. Once He had arrived in Jerusalem Jesus had things to attend to and He started by going into the temple courts where He caused absolute havoc by driving out all the money changers and traders who taken up their positions to ply their trades. Jesus was disgusted at the sight that greeted Him and told everyone that Scripture was clear when it said, “My house will be called a house of prayer” and then added, “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’ “ (21:13). I’ll leave you to think about that in a 2017 context!
Whilst Jesus was in the temple Matthew tells us that the blind and the lame came up to Him and He healed them. The children observing all this were jubilant and were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (21:15b). Notice though the attitude of the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, “they were indignant” (21:15b). Perhaps once again they were feeling threatened by Jesus’ presence and activities?
The day ended according to 21:17 with Jesus, and presumably His disciples going out of Jerusalem to Bethany where they spent the night. And so ended the first day of Holy Week, the triumphant Palm Sunday. Jesus may have been the centre of attention but perhaps we can see that the day really belonged to the power of the people who hailed Him as the Son of David. Whilst we don’t see mention of the word “Messiah” I think that reading between the lines we can see that that is Who they probably believed Jesus to be. Events then unfolded throughout the week until we reach Friday and we’ll think about that day on Good Friday itself.