Faces at the Cross – #6 – The Crowds

Thesis: The people greeting Jesus at His Triumphal Entry weren’t the ones who cheered His crucifixion.

             “News from AMES, Iowa, on April 10, 2014 — The president of Iowa State University canceled a 92-year-old weeklong spring celebration Wednesday after the student-run event turned violent overnight.

            “On Tuesday, thousands of people gathered around 11:30 p.m., flipping over at least two cars, tearing down two light poles, ripping out four stop signs and pelting police officers with rocks and full beer cans, officials said. One student, who has not been identified, sustained severe head injuries when one of the light poles struck him; he was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon at a Des Moines hospital.

            “The name of the annual celebration  — Veishea — is an acronym of the Veterinary Medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics and Agriculture; the colleges at the university at the time of its inception. Officially, Veishea is a weeklong promotional showcase — an open house of sorts to highlight the campus. Events include both education and entertainment programs. But violent acts among drunken young adults have been a problem numerous times in the past 30 years. In 2004, an overnight riot caused tens of thousands of dollars of property damage and led to dozens of arrests.

            “The crowd appeared to get out of control after officers broke up a large party. A second crowd gathered a block away. The two groups converged and that’s when officers moved in, were pelted with beer cans and rocks and saw others start to pull down light poles.”

(Contributing: Regina Zilbermints and Sharyn Jackson, The Des Moines Register. Abridged from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/09/student-celebration-riot-iowa-state-university/7497989/ on 411/14.)

          The difference between a crowd and a mob can be very slight.  This gathering in Ames, for example, was intended to generate a crowd but it became a mob.  Today we’ll take a look at both in Matthew’s Gospel and see how they impacted the ministry of Jesus.

The CROWD at Jerusalem’s gates (MTW 21:1-11).

          The situation is important to note.  The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was 17 miles long and rose 3000 feet.  This entrance to Jerusalem stood about 100 feet higher than the others; it had a great view of the city. It was THE ideal place for a parade. The Passover feast was THE time to be seen in Jerusalem; the population swelled to 2.5 million.

          This was the one time Jesus allowed the masses of people to worship Him. The message Jesus was sending can be discerned in the details.

          The DONKEY AND HER COLT, for example, fulfill the messianic prophecies of Zecariah 9:9 & Isaiah 62:11. The colt had never been ridden; sacred animals had to be previously unused.  Kings rode donkeys when they came in peace (Judges 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33), a horse when they came to make war. Also, the title LORD is one Jesus had not yet used to refer to Himself.

          There are at least purposes we can see in Jesus’ making this demonstration.  One, to demonstrate His true identity; He was their Messiah and King. Second, to give the Jewish people one last chance to receive Him as Messiah and King. Three, to force the hand of the Jewish clergy; to get them to arrest and crucify Him.  After all, there’s nothing more influential to a politician than a crowd: Jesus put the pressure on.  Timing is everything; Jesus set these events in motion to be killed before the Passover.  It worked!  JHN 12:19 records the Pharisees’ reaction; “THIS IS GETTING US NOWHERE.  LOOK HOW THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER HIM!”

          Who was this CROWD? These faces wore joyous expressions; they were delighted to see Jesus and worshiped Him. Their belief in His kingship is evident in what they did.  Spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the road – as for King Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13 – demonstrates this belief.

          Their belief in His messiahship is evident in what they said. “HOSANNA” means “save.”  It is crying out to the Messiah for deliverance from trials. “SON OF DAVID” refers to Jesus’ royal lineage and God’s promise that the dynasty of David would reign forever. “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was the way pilgrims typically greeted one another. “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST” = Praising God for sending the Messiah.

          NOW – the crucial difference that is the key to our understanding these three groups as being distinct from one another.  Vs. 10+11 show that the locals and the pilgrims (the “religious tourists” come to observe the Passover) did not see Jesus in the same light. The WHOLE CITY asks, “WHO IS THIS?”  They hadn’t seen anything like this in hundreds of years. THE CROWD answered them, “THIS IS JESUS, THE PROPHET FROM NAZARETH IN GALILEE.”  Obviously, this is not a real conversation, but an exercise of artistic license to summarize countless conversations in Jerusalem that day and to characterize the difference between Jerusalem residents and Jerusalem visitors.

The MOB at Pilate’s court (MTW 27:11-26).

          These faces wore looks of anger.  Why?

          Because their religious leaders had persuaded them to demand Barabbas’ release & Jesus’ crucifixion (see verse 20). These faces not only wear a different expression; they are different faces.  As we’ve already noted, the visitors to Jerusalem tended to favor Jesus; the residents of Jerusalem did not.

          Part of the reason for the differing reactions is that the people of Jerusalem saw themselves as being better than their country cousins. This caused them to be prejudiced against Jesus, a Galilean.  It also explains why the pilgrims’ “reply” in 27:11 named “NAZARETH IN GALILEE;” they were reminding the city folk that Jesus was a country boy like them.

          Another reason is that the difference existed at the convenience of the Jewish leadership. The Jewish clergy had a great deal of influence over their people.   If they needed a mob who’d do their bidding, they’d create one.

          Let’s take notice of what they said.

          In verse 21 they demanded the release of Barabbas.  This would not have been Pilate’s choice, as Barabbas was probably a Zealot, one of the political parties we talked about two weeks ago.  The Zealots resorted to violent means to overthrow Roman rule.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call Barabbas a “terrorist,” especially from the Roman point of view.  This man’s name means “son of the father.”  It’s only a last name, not a first name, and not a real last name at that.  My guess is they didn’t know his real name.

          In verses 22-23 they demanded Jesus’ death. The Jewish clergy had tried to get Pilate to condemn Jesus on their charge of treason.  When that didn’t work, they made it appear that a riot was going to happen.  This whole mob scene was staged. “Plan B” worked.  V. 24 = WHEN PILATE SAW THAT HE WAS GETTING NOWHERE, BUT THAT INSTEAD AN UPROAR WAS STARTING,” he gave in. Confrontations like this were actually common during the Roman occupation.

          In verse 25, after Pilate charged them with responsibility for Jesus’ death, they replied, “LET HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND OUR CHILDREN!  Given the seriousness with which these people usually held blessings and curses, it boggles my mind that they would make a statement like this.  And they passed their guilt along to their children.  Sometime later, the Apostle Peter held them accountable for this very act; read Acts 3:13-14.  Moreover, consider that they chose a murderous terrorist like over a peaceful preacher who commanded love for one’s enemies.

The PASSERS-BY at Golgotha (MTW 27:33-40).

          These faces wore looks of contempt.  Why?

          Unlike the contrived MOB at Pilate’s court, these people are THOSE WHO PASSED BY. They were walking by the scene of the crucifixion as they went into or out of Jerusalem.  They were not there for the executions, only to use the road that lead by them. They were more likely to be residents of the city going about their who were puzzled by Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into their beloved city, resented Jesus’ “cleansing” of their beloved temple, His opposition of their respected clergy, and the interruptions of their routine.  Not all the passers-by acted this way; the ones quoted were cruel people who added to the torment of someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t defend Himself.

          I’m attempting to explain, not excuse their behavior.  I believe Satan was behind these insults as a last-ditch effort to provoke Jesus to save Himself.

          Let’s take notice of what they said in v. 40.

          They showed their ignorance.  When Jesus talked about destroying the temple and restoring it in three days, He was talking about Himself, predicting His death and resurrection. They misunderstood this as a threat.  “SAVE YOURSELF!” is based on the mistaken assumption that Jesus was trapped on the cross.  He was not.  He refused to save Himself, so that He could instead offer His life in payment for our sins.

          They also demanded a sign, a  miracle, that Jesus was unwilling to give them.

“COME DOWN NOW FROM THE CROSS, IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.”  This is a taunt, not a promise.  They expected there was no chance Jesus would come down from the cross, so there was no chance they would have to accept Him as God’s Son.

          It must have been a constant temptation for Jesus to use divine power.  However, the salvation of humanity could only be accomplished by His death and so Jesus endured the torment of their taunts.

          A young man who was a recent college graduate decided to be a short-term missionary and went to Venezuela.  It was his first time out of the States and he struggled with the language. On his first Sunday there, he visited one of the local churches and sat in the front row.     

          So as not to make a fool of himself, he decided to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate. He settled on the man sitting next to him in the front pew.

          As the congregation sang, the man clapped his hands, so the missionary clapped his hands, too. When the man stood up to pray, the missionary stood up, too. When the man sat down, the missionary sat down.

          Later in the service, the man next to him suddenly stood up again, so the missionary hustled to get on his feet too. A hush fell over the entire congregation. A few people gasped. The missionary looked around and saw that no one else was standing. His face turned beet red and he slid back down to his seat.

          After the service ends, the missionary greeted the preacher. “I take it you don’t speak Spanish,” the preacher said.

          The missionary replied, “No, I don’t. It’s that obvious?”

          “Well yes,” the preacher said. “I announced that the Acosta family had a new-born baby boy, and I asked the proud father to please stand up.  He was seated next to you.”

          When will we learn that following the crowd will get us into trouble?  Actually, it’s a matter of knowing which crowd to join, isn’t it?  Palm Sunday sets the choice before us – we can join the mob who jeered or the crowd who cheered Jesus.  You can be one of the people who welcomes Jesus as Messiah and Lord – known today as the Church.  Join the parade!  Give yourself to Jesus and make this Holy Week celebration the very best of your life!

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