Faces About the Cross: The People Of Jerusalem
It’s a story I never tire of telling and I never tire of hearing.
The Passover holiday crowds were gathering in Jerusalem from all over that part of the world. John MacArthur reminds us that the historian, Josephus, estimated that a quarter million lambs would be sacrificed in Jerusalem during a typical Passover season—and since, on average, ten people would share one lamb, we can deduce that the population of Jerusalem during Passover would swell to between 2.5 and 3 million people. Ships were booked from all over the Mediterranean ports. Foot travelers converged in caravans. At Passover time, the city of Jerusalem happily took on a carnival-like atmosphere.Hawkers loudly announced their wares in the crowded bazaars along the narrow streets of the old city. Friends bumped into each other and traded the gossip of their respective villages. Hotels and boarding establishments were jammed to the rafters. The city was throbbing with activity and pulsing with excitement.
Passover was the highest and holiest of all the Jewish holidays because its celebration of God’s historical delivery of the people from the slavery of Egypt only inspired the celebrants with the hope that now God would send a king, a deliverer, to lower the boom on the hated Romans and restore the people of Israel to a place of ascendancy in the world.
Well, the Bible tells us that on the Sunday before this particular Passover, a king was indeed on His way to Jerusalem. In fact, that’s what the so-called “Palm Sunday parade” was all about. Mind you, it wasn’t much of a parade, at least by our standards. The paraders were a motley crew; a rag-tag collection of simple Galilean peasants. The parade’s sponsors were some fishermen and village folk from the hill country up north. The parade itself was poorly organized and hastily conceived. Most of the people involved had no clear purpose in mind and had no idea what the whole thing was about.
However, the One who was at the center of the parade, Jesus, He knew what it was all about. Three hundred years earlier, the prophet, Zechariah, had announced to the people of Jerusalem: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah was predicting the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus knew that, and that’s why Luke is so specific in telling us that a colt was secured for Jesus to ride on as He entered the city of Jerusalem. By entering the city that way, Jesus was declaring to the people of Jerusalem: “I am your King. I am the promised Messiah.”
At first, the people seemed to understand. At first they cheered Him, but later they jeered Him. At first they celebrated Him, but later they crucified Him. They rejected His royalty. They denied His dominion. They renounced His rule. And that is still true today. Many people today, when confronted with the sovereign claim of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, say: “Well, I can do quite well without that, thank you very much.” Why is it, do you think, that people now, as then, refuse His rule in the kingdom of their hearts?
The answer can be found right here in Luke’s account of that first Palm Sunday. As this rather unusual parade crested the top of the Mount of Olives and the city of Jerusalem stretched out before them, Luke says: “When Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.” Think about that. Here in the midst of the crowd’s joyous shouts, Jesus broke down crying. What happened? Why did He weep? He wept for the people of Jerusalem.
You see, the people of Jerusalem were victims of a missed opportunity.
Through His tears, Jesus said of the people of Jerusalem that, “You did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” And Jesus still weeps over those who do not know or will not see their moment of opportunity with God.
So often we are blind to our spiritual opportunities. So often we do not notice when God comes visiting to show us the way. How many times have I seen the tears of parents over their children who were on the wrong path and would not know it or see it? How many times I’ve seen the tears of broken-hearted wives and husbands whose marriages have taken a bad turn and who turned a deaf ear to any appeal to turn back. How many times I have seen the tears of one for whom the death of a loved one has closed forever the door of opportunity and how many times I have heard that person say: “If only…if only…” How many times have I looked back in my own life to some moment of guilt or shame or regret or missed opportunity and said: “Why didn’t I have the eyes to see?”
One of baseball’s greatest and most popular players was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. One day he was up at the plate and he was called out on strikes. His bat was on his shoulder when the ball hit the catcher’s mitt and the umpire cried: “You’re out!” Gehrig threw down his bat and muttered in disgust to the umpire as he walked away. That was totally out of character for Lou Gehrig. After the game a reporter asked Gehrig why he complained to the umpire. Gehrig replied: “I wasn’t complaining to the umpire. I simply said to him that I would give a thousand bucks for a chance at that last ball again.” Well, wouldn’t we all?
Dear friends, the most important time in our lives is today. Yesterday is history. We can learn from it, but that is all. Tomorrow is uncertain. We can speculate about it, but that is all. Today is the moment of opportunity. Thomas Carlyle put it like this: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”
How true. Today, right now, this very moment, is the most important time in your life and mine. Use it well, my beloved; use it well. For if we don’t, if we miss the opportunity to make the most of this day for God, then Jesus Christ will weep for us just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem.
And also, the people of Jerusalem were victims of a misunderstood objective.
Through His tears, Jesus said of the people of Jerusalem: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” And Jesus still weeps over people who do not understand the things that make for peace of mind and peace among people and peace with God.
On the first Palm Sunday the people of Jerusalem actually called Him “Lord”, and they were right, for so He is. However, something happened between the celebration of Palm Sunday and the crucifixion of Good Friday. Their faith wavered. Doubts began to creep in. To be sure, Jesus had demonstrated some of the characteristics they expected in their king, their Messiah. They were aware of His persuasive preaching and His miraculous ministry. But He also had characteristics they didn’t expect. He seemed a frightfully ordinary man. He lived among the poor. He owned only one robe. He made no claim to military might or political power. He exerted no effort to secure throne or territory. They didn’t understand Him, and so they wavered in their faith and they wound up trying to cross Him off the face of the earth.
You and I do the same. We waver; we question; we doubt. We wonder if He really is the Lord of the universe and the Lord of our lives. We don’t understand why He doesn’t demonstrate His power openly, wiping out in one fell swoop all that is wrong in our world. We look for a King riding in triumph and glory through life. He comes as a helpless child, resting in an animal’s feedbox. We expect Him to lead a public revolution. He speaks of a private redemption. We look for freedom through force and power. He gives liberty through crucifixion and forgiveness. We cry “Hosanna”, which literally means “Save us, we beg you!” He does come to save us, all right, but not so much to save us from something as to save us for something… not so much to save us from the perils of this mortal life, as to save us for significant living in the midst of this life and in the life that is to come.
In the classic story, The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas, a slave named Demetrius, is in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday. He pushes his way through the multitude to see who is the center of attention. He gets close enough to look squarely into the face of Jesus. Later another slave asks him: “Did you see Him up close?” Demetrius nods, yes. The other slave asks: “Is He crazy?” Demetrius shakes his head emphatically, no. “Then is He a King?” And Demetrius whispers: “No. Not a king.” The other slave demands: “What is He then?” And Demetrius replies: “He is something more than a king.” And that’s true. He’s not just a king. He’s the King of all Kings. And when He takes hold of our lives, then we cannot think the same about ourselves or about how we live or the way things are in this world of ours.
George Matheson was the great blind preacher of Scotland back in the late 1800’s. The story is told of a servant woman who lived in a dark, dank cellar in the slums of Edinburgh, but who, every Sunday morning, would make her way out of the slums to hear George Matheson preach. One Saturday morning, her neighbors in that poor place saw her handful of belongings piled up outside her door. “Where are you going?” asked one neighbor. “I’m moving”, was her quiet reply. All the neighbors then asked: “Why?” Her reply is worth remembering. She said: “One cannot hear George Matheson preach Jesus Christ and live in a cellar.”
My friends, it is been my driving dream to be that kind of preacher—the kind of preacher who preaches Jesus Christ in such a way that people are moved to rise up from the darkness of their lives, and to find the light of a new day, and a new way of seeing the world, and a new power for living in that world, and a new hope for living beyond this world. For you see, if we don’t understand that that is why Jesus came into this world, then Jesus Christ will weep for us just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem.
I guess it all comes down to this: The best way to dry His tears is to give Him your life. For He, and He alone, can save…