The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, thenthey remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” John 12:12-19 ESV
If the Gospel story would have ended here, it would have been a happy success. The King – Jesus – has come to the Royal City – Jerusalem – and the crowds receive him with joy. He has fulfilled Zechariah’s 600 year-old prophecy and has it made in the shade. Right? Well, in a few short days his grand entrance turns to painful and humiliating rejection. The Messiah who entered the city is cast out of it. It is amazing to consider how Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem differs from his exit. How could it go from such a grand welcome to utter rejection?
There are two reflections we can have as to such a difference in such a short time:
1) The first is that even though Jesus was the promised Messiah, even though he was the King of Israel (and soon the entire world), even though he was completing his mission by arriving in style – there was something else left to be done. Jesus is King but he does more than just rule. He will rule but he also atones. He rules his people (and the entire world) but also makes atonement for his people. Because of sins, all people deserve rejection, wrath, and death from God. Because of God’s great love, His great plan was for Jesus to bear that for his people. That’s why the story doesn’t end at John 12:19 with Jesus a big winner. He has to become a loser first. His mission is not yet complete.
2) The second is that it is amazing that the same people who cheer his arrival so quickly become those who cry for his torture and death. In a few short days! I would never have done that to Jesus. People like us could never reject him. We’re too smart for that. Those fickle crowds are nothing like you and me. Right? The rejection of Jesus is often misconstrued as being anti-semitic for it shows the Jews rejecting Christ. This is a tragic mistake. We’re supposed to see ourselves in that Jerusalem mob – the same folks who wanted him at first, turn on him when he does not fit their mold. We see that they – and we – are the very people Jesus has come to complete his mission for. We are the ones needing not just good guidance from a perfect ruler, but sacrificial atonement for our rejection of God’s plans and our many sins.
This Sunday is the traditional day when we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – the height of his popularity. And we remember that his mission did not end there. We can reflect on the end of his great path of salvation for us; and on how much we need it.