I have always been fascinated by the fact that on Palm Sunday, crowds of people cheered Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Then, just four days later they were mocking and jeering him, shouting “Crucify him!”
Some say they were the same people that simply turned on him. Others say they were two different crowds, one a day crowd that cheered him and the other a night crowd, stirred up by instigators. I tend to think it was the latter explanation. But regardless of the viewpoint, I think it illustrates another important point.
There are two crowds of opinions about Jesus. There is one who loves Jesus and cheers him for all he is and all he stands for, being the message of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This crowd desires to love him and follow him, serving him and representing him in the world.
The second crowd is a crowd that is angered or offended by Jesus. They don’t like him messing with their lives or their sin, and they don’t want to change the way they are living. They don’t want anyone around making them feel guilty or uneasy about their lives.
The Palm Sunday day crowd saw potential in the life Jesus could offer and the kingdom built on the love and grace of God. The Thursday night crowd saw the risk of being accountable to that kind of perfect love represented by Jesus. They saw the risk of losing control of their agendas.
What happened on Friday, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, continued to depict the different opinions about Jesus. Some mourned and wept while others taunted him; mocking who he claimed to be. “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”
What is interesting in this whole scenario is that those who faithfully followed Jesus, after he was arrested and condemned to die, denied him, abandoned him and hid away in fear. The prophet Isaiah predicted or prophesied about Jesus, the coming Messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
No surprise. What Jesus went through for us was horrible, ugly, intense and awful. But he was willing to “lay down His life” (John 10:18) for us. Why would he do that? “… that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I heard a statement from a persecuted Christian recently that gave me pause. In essence, he said, I am willing to go through suffering instead of my brother or sister in Christ, if I believe I am more capable of getting through that suffering than they. He said, maybe I am better prepared, have more endurance or more tolerance than someone else. I am willing to step up and be in their place for their sake.
I know that is what Jesus did for us. He was the only one who could bear up under the burden of sin for the whole world; past, present and future. That boggles my mind and breaks my heart. My sin was part of the burden he carried on the cross that Friday. It was my sin, in part, that caused him to suffer and die.
But Jesus was willing to do that for me and for you, because he knew we couldn’t. What love, grace and mercy he has extended to us. I want to celebrate with the day crowd for all he has done for us. Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
• Dan Wiese is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.