The “triumphal entry” of King Jesus into Jerusalem was through the back gate. Ironically, at roughly the same time, the other key player in the drama, Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, would have been arriving through the cities’ front gate on his way to the Roman palace just inside the city wall. Kings may outrank governors, but conquerors outrank the vanquished. So, while Pilate arrived in a caravan, with horses, trumpets, and armed retinue; on the back side of the city, the king of the Jews, arrived on a donkey. People bowed for both. For Jesus, though, they bowed in expectation rather than spear-point. Matthew 21:1-10 tells us, they shouted, “Hosanna!” and “spread their clothes and cut branches before him.” These people were in.
“The whole city was stirred.” They were all in.
At least they were on Sunday.
By Friday, though, they were all out.
By Friday, the crowds had abandoned Jesus. The 72 had abandoned him. Even his twelve closest friends abandoned him. By the time they nailed Jesus to a cross on skull hill, none remain save his mother and John, a teenager too young to matter.
Why did the crowd…so passionate on Sunday, jump ship so quickly?
Their disillusionment seems to have begun when Jesus entered the temple the next morning. It would have been a pregnant moment: the crowd anticipating Jesus, their long awaited political deliverer, to turn to the right, toward the Antonia fortress, built by Rome on the temple wall to stare down into the Jewish temple – Big Brother making sure Israel remembered who’s boss. Jesus would show them!
Except that Jesus entered the temple and, where everyone expected him to turn right and shake his fist at the conquering pagans, Jesus wheeled left and began overturning the tables of the moneychangers. Moneychangers had a nice little business converting secular money into special temple money to buy animals for the sacrifices. At a profit, of course.
This act must have been befuddling. “Jesus, we might be getting a C in following God, but at least we are trying. How could you go after us? The Romans are the problem here.”
Palm Sunday exposes an inconvenient truth: No matter how excited we are about God today, we are only days away from turning our back on all that is good and true. It is human nature to turn from God when things don’t make sense.
We can go from “I’m all in” to “I’m so out of here” on a dime.
I do not want to minimize your pain. It is all too real. When the wheels come off, the crash is brutal. Circumstances appear purposeless. God seems to work slowly. Or worse, God seems to give evil and injustice the nod. It was true on that first Palm Sunday, and it’s true for us – Jesus Christ is not the savior we would choose.
We can’t imagine our deliverer turning (what seems to us) the wrong way.
Jesus Christ is not the savior we want.
But he is the savior we need.
The savior we desperately need.
When you are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t get it, remember this:
Jesus knew temptation: “He was in the desert forty days…tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13).
Jesus knew poverty: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt 8:20)
Jesus knew weariness: “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” (John 4:6)
Jesus knew sorrow: “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.” (Matt 26:38)
Jesus knew loneliness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)
Jesus knew frustration: “He overturned their tables saying.…’how dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’” (John 2:15-16)
Jesus knew disappointment: “O Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)
Jesus knew ridicule: “Again and again they struck him…and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they mocked him.” (Mark 15:19)
Jesus knew rejection: “many of his disciples…no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)
The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” He gets it.
In that day when the world least makes sense, the pain seems unbearable, when confusion reigns; do not lose hope. God will redeem even this. On your worst day, I believe the Lord is grabbing your face, gazing into your wounded eyes and saying:
“I promise you my child; the magnificence that will one day be yours will so overwhelmingly repurpose and overcome the suffering and pain you are experiencing right now, that it will turn even this tragedy to indescribable joy and unsurpassed splendor.”
So, friend, don’t give up. Don’t pack up your palms and go home. Stay the course. Hang onto your Hosanna when you expect God to go right and he jukes left.
Jesus Christ is not the savior we would choose. But he will never, ever, ever…be anything other than the savior you and I need.