A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:8,9
“What shall I do then with the one you call king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted.” – Mark 15:12,13
The story is familiar to Christians. The crowds who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles had been recipients of His blessings, from the food miraculously provided to deliverance from demons, to healing, even being raised from the dead. And now He was entering Jerusalem and what they presumed to be the climax of His ministry. Their joy was overflowing, and they praised Him with abandon.
Five days later they were calling for His execution.
Stupid, fickle people! we might say to ourselves. What happened? (And what didn’t happen?)
- The Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day was one who would lead a military revolution, overthrow their Roman oppressors, and set up an eternal kingdom on earth. Surely, they thought, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem meant all their hopes were about to be fulfilled! When this didn’t happen, they turned on Jesus.
2. Besides the people’s crushing disappointment, there was the envy of the religious leaders, who saw their influence waning. Desperate to hold onto their power, fearful of what Rome would do to them in the event of an uprising, and taking advantage of the fickleness of the people, these leaders stirred up the crowd to turn on Jesus and ask for Barabbas, a notorious criminal, to be released instead.
3. Since Barabbas was an insurrectionist, perhaps the people thought, if Jesus wouldn’t overthrow the Romans, …
4. Ironically, Pilate, the Roman governor, wanted to release Jesus. But he let himself be swayed by the screaming people.
But the Number One reason for the unpleasant outcome of the week in Jerusalem, is:
This was God’s will.
Jesus had come into the world for one reason: to die for our sins. As much as we would have liked to see Him released back to His family, to the ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding, His release would have left us unforgiven, condemned to die in our sins and lost for all eternity.
A few weeks later the same crowd heard Peter preach his first sermon about the resurrected Jesus – the One they had crucified. “Cut to the heart,” they repented and put their faith in the One whose death they had called for weeks before. Roughly three thousand were baptized that day!
As much as we’d like to believe we wouldn’t be as fickle as those people, none of us can claim that we never go along with the crowd.
The fact is, we are all conformists.
The question is: to whom are we conforming?
We all know people who jump onto every bandwagon that comes to town. They’ll be passionately outspoken about that person or cause. Until the next one comes. (Maybe you’ve been one of those people.) The temptation to follow is especially strong these days, as various internet celebrities present either the latest revelation or conspiracy theory, depending on whether the thing turns out to be true (Who really knows?).
There is nothing wrong with changing one’s position, when what is first believed turns out to be false or misunderstood information. But if we’re careful to do our homework, these shifts in position should be rare. Serious commitment to a belief system or cause should come slowly, after researching reliable sources, digging, and listening to both sides, and most of all, prayer for wisdom, discernment, and strength to resist the pressure from opponents.
(We should also make sure the cause is important enough to be worth committing our time and efforts to.)
Luke, the historian who wrote the book of Acts, commends the Bereans for their response to Paul’s preaching: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
The Bereans were eager and enthusiastic. But their zeal came with careful attention to truth and faithfulness to the revealed Word of God.
As a college student I hung out with “Jesus freaks,” and I became one of them. My enthusiasm was not accompanied by much knowledge, and I spent way too much time talking about God and not enough time talking to Him or studying His Word. I cringe at some of the memories of those days, and I’m grateful Jesus had the patience to grow me into a more mature faith over the past five decades. I no doubt took a few detours in my younger days, and I still have a long way to go, but I’m going there steadily and (God willing) without being sidetracked by doctrinal fads and internet rabbit trails.
In a few weeks I will be going to my 50-year high school reunion. Every five years I see these people, and it’s always interesting to see where they are spiritually. Some have come to Christ (Glory!), some are more open to hear about Him, and some who were passionate about Him last time I saw them, are now … not so much. I’ve been deeply disappointed to see some of the people I knew in past years who were “on fire” for Jesus, now dwindling in their faith, abandoning their faith altogether, even becoming outspoken opponents of the truth. It hurts me, because I know how much it’s hurting them.
It’s also sobering, knowing that I could have been one of them.
It’s my prayer for my brothers and sisters who are reading this that you will remain steadily faithful to Christ, committed to the truth of Scripture, and very prayerful about joining any cause. Passionate devotion should belong to Jesus alone.
Prayer: Lord, we confess we can be fickle, but we don’t want to be. Give us hearts that are steadfast, patient, and willing to grow steadily in the right direction. Help us to finish well. In Jesus’ name, amen.