For centuries, the Jews had awaited the day when Messiah would come. They talked about it, groaned for it and prayed diligently to see that day come. False messiahs rose up and led many astray to destruction. But finally, the Christ came. Just as the prophet Zechariah had foretold, he came riding in on a donkey, a humble beast of burden.
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” Matthew 21:5 (citing Zechariah 9:9)
And Jerusalem exploded with excitement. They knew the stories of this one who performed such amazing miracles. He cast demons out, made the lame walk, the blind see, and he seemed to break up every funeral he attended by raising the honoree! The ancient city was abuzz with the exploits of this enigmatic teacher. And now, just as prophesied, he was riding into town as the Messiah, the true king of Israel – the desire of the ages.
The king had finally come.
And the joy could not be contained. His humble entry soon became a parade as crowds surrounded him and went ahead, laying their cloaks before him and covering the streets with branches. You can only imagine how the sleepy streets came alive! The crowds were shouting and chanting words of praise to the long-awaited Christ.
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Matthew 21:9 (from Psalm 118:25-26)
Hosanna is a transliteration of the Hebrew (or Aramaic) and means “Save us!” or “Save indeed.” It was both a plea for help and an expression of praise. Psalm 118, from which these words of exultation were taken, is a psalm of festival pilgrimage. As Israelites drew near to the temple for their festivals, they would often speak these words. But it also is a psalm filled with messianic references. The crowds are exalting Jesus as the Promised One, the messiah! It was quite a moment.
But that moment did not last long. As the Triumphal Entry took place, Jesus was glorified as the hope of the ages, the king of Israel. But within a few days public opinion had been swayed and the hoi polloi of Jerusalem was shouting very different words.
As Jesus was arrested, they turned on him. When Pilate tried, in his cowardice, to free Jesus, the crowds screamed for his head. All the joy, all the hope, all the sense of prophetic fulfillment that had warmed Jerusalem earlier in the week had turned to a cold hate and a lust for blood.
How could things have turned so wrong so fast? Seldom has a man lost public favor so quickly. What changed? What was the problem with Jesus?
The Problem with Jesus
The crowds turned on Jesus for a simple reason: they began to realize that he was not the Messiah they had been expecting.
During his ministry, Jesus spoke often of his kingdom, but the disciples never seemed to understand it. Do you think that when James and John were disputing over who would be at the right hand and who would be at the left when Jesus came into his kingdom, they were envisioning some kind of millennial glory? Of course not. They all thought they had signed on to become key cogs in the earthly victory of Jesus over Rome. He was going to gather an army, empowered by God like Gideon of old, and defeat the cursed oppressors, chasing them from Israel. He would restore the Davidic line, defeat all their enemies, and in the process, elevate the disciples to places of honor and glory.
Even after his death and resurrection, and after the forty days of post-resurrection instruction from Jesus, the disciples still didn’t get it. They were confused by his death, amazed by his resurrection and baffled by his teachings. Just before the ascension, one of them asked a question; one that gave the lie to the old saw that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.” This one was.
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6
Even after three years of public teaching, witnessing his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection, and after hearing him teach for 40 days, they still didn’t get it.
And if the disciples didn’t get it, the people of Jerusalem really didn’t understand. This man came riding in as the messiah and they were full of expectation. When would the revolution begin? How bloody would the war be? How long until the Romans were gone and a song of David sat again on the throne? The problem was simple.
The messiah who came into Jerusalem was not the messiah Jerusalem expected!
He did not ride on a war horse to gather the armies of Israel to do battle, but on a humble beast of burden. He did not come to fight Rome, but to battle the power of sin and the work of Satan. He came to seek and to save, not to fight and to conquer. Jesus came to fulfill the eternal plan devised within the Godhead in eternity past and to bear the full weight of God’s wrath against sin. His kingdom, at that time, was not a worldly kingdom, but a kingdom within.
The Heart of the Matter
Boiled to the bones, here was the problem with Jesus – the reason the crowds turned on him so quickly. They were expecting a Jesus who would give them their hearts’ desires. They wanted a messiah who would bring them victory, help them fulfill their ambitions, and lead them to prominence.
Jesus did not come to give them their hearts’ desires, but to give them new hearts and to replace their desires. He did not come to help them fulfill their ambitions, but to call them to die to self, take up their cross and follow Jesus. He was not there to elevate them to prominence but to call them to be servants, just as he was.
And they hated him for it!
Little has changed today. Modern America has created a false religion of self-fulfillment and called it Christianity. God will help you reach your dreams and find happiness, the deceivers promise. They skip over the ugly parts of the New Testament, the parts that form the heart and soul of the faith. We do not come to God like a genie to have our wishes fulfilled, but to abandon our hopes, dreams and ambitions to serve his agenda in this world. We come to die, to deny self, and to seek Jesus. One of the reasons the church struggles so much in America today is that we have cut the heart out of the faith and expected it to continue growing and thriving!
It’s a Matter of Timing
One day, Jesus will come again and be everything the disciples hoped for. He will descend from heaven with armies trailing. He will strike down those who oppose him and set up his earthly kingdom and will rule this world and we, the redeemed, will reign with him. That awaits the days of the end and I say with John, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
But today we must live as Jesus did. We must die to self and live to God. We must deny self and serve him. And we must proclaim the whole counsel of God’s gospel.
Jesus will never be the messiah the world expects. He will never be the Great Therapist who comes to make us feel good about ourselves and to empower us to reach our life’s goals. No, that is an idol created in the image of modern America. People will still reject the real Jesus, the confusing Jesus, today as they did then. But we cannot alter the Jesus of scripture to meet the expectations of culture.
The Way of the Cross may be a “stumblingblock to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”, but it remains today “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It remains the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Let us not alter that gospel to meet the false expectations of the people, but proclaim it in all its offensive glory!