A number of years ago our family visited the Brisbane Exhibition on People's Day. What a crowd! I still recall having a small boy who needed to fulfil the need of nature, but the facilities we were attempting to reach were on the other side of the walkway under the railway line. The stream of people was thick and constant and took nearly thirty minutes to cross! Knowing what we know now - and aren't we all wise in hindsight? - we would plan our day to avoid the need to cross such bottle necks or would avoid People's Day itself, especially when taking young children.
Sometimes a crowd seems to have a mind of its own. Some people have talked about mass psychology and the things that people do in a crowd that they would never do individually. Even a celebrating football team may get up to things together they wouldn't do as individuals.
While the Al Qaeda terrorists may be called to fulfil individual "martyrdom missions", their training and deployment involves a great deal of group pressure.
The powerful effect of a crowd can also be positive. Having consciously chosen to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, our regular meeting together for worship helps to reinforce us in both Christian conviction and life-style - over against the strong pressures of media and peer opinion. People who are individually persuaded and committed to the Lord can receive strength and encouragement together which will help them in their daily and individual expression of the faith.
The Passover feast was drawing near. Pilgrims from all over Palestine were coming to Jerusalem. Pilgrims from other parts of the Roman Empire were coming too.
Some of those pilgrims were coming this year with added expectation - Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. Perhaps this would be the time of declaration that many of them had been waiting for - the public disclosure and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Surely that would be a time of great joy for the Jews and terror for the Romans!
Feeding this expectant excitement was the recent news that Jesus had raised to life Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus had been dead for four days. The whole incident was well known to all the people of Bethany, and Bethany was less than two miles from the city. An event like this soon became common knowledge in Jerusalem as well.
A small crowd of pilgrims clustered around Jesus and his twelve disciples. As they drew near to the village of Bethphage, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jesus asked two of his disciples to fetch a colt that they would find tethered with its mother near the entrance to the village.
This may have been a surprise to disciples and crowd alike. Surely a horse would be more fitting for the one coming as conqueror and king! But as he declared himself, Jesus was deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9-10 -
Mark and Luke tell us that the colt had never been ridden before, Matthew that the mother was brought along too. It was a unique occasion, though not quite what the crowd had expected.
As the pilgrims approached Jerusalem they began calling out, according to the usual practice, the words of what are known as the Hallel Psalms - Psalms 113 to 118 which were sung at the Feast of Passover. With Jesus there riding the colt, they could see an added significance to the traditional words.
The shout of "Hosanna!" simply comes from the Hebrew of v. 25 - "Save us, we pray!" It became a particular shout of the crowd as they believed themselves to be at the great moment of fulfilment. The traditional words were just so appropriate as they escorted Jesus into the holy city. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Excitedly they cut down palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road. As the crowd entered Jerusalem, the whole city was thrown into an uproar. People were asking, "Who is this?" Some of them were visitors, of course. Up to this point they hadn't heard of Jesus. "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." For others, the question may have meant, "This Jesus whom we have heard about - perhaps even seen and heard - who is he really?"
There wouldn't have been the least bit of surprise that Jesus and the crowd moved into the Temple. Surely here was the place where he would be publicly declared as Messiah. Perhaps it would also be the appropriate place for rallying support for an uprising against Rome and a re-establishment of an independent kingdom of Israel. After all, Jesus had said a great deal about the Kingdom of heaven and the embodiment of this in an earthly state wouldn't be unexpected in the least. True the Jewish leaders weren't exactly "on side". But surely as they considered Jesus' credentials and the measure of his popular support, they would be won over. Hosanna to the Son of David!
But to everyone's surprise Jesus boldly and directly confronted the buying and selling that went on in the Temple. He made himself a whip and started to drive out all who were trading there - overturning the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. He said, "It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of robbers!"
In Isaiah 56 we hear the Lord saying to the foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord, serve him, love his name, worship him, keep the Sabbath and hold fast to the covenant, "these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (v. 7).
The part of the Temple where people of other nations were permitted to come was called the Court of the Gentiles. It was here that the buying and selling was taking place. No place for prayer!
And Jesus began healing the blind and the crippled in the Temple. This Court of the Gentiles became the place where he taught over the next few days and the burning anger of the Jewish leadership was becoming steadily confirmed in its resolve to stop all this before it goes too far.
There has been a lot of speculation whether the same crowd that called out "Hosanna!" later called out "Crucify him!" There were many people in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. We need not assume that the same people were involved, though we are aware of the fickleness of crowds. Certainly, he is portrayed as having only a very small band of open supporters at the end.
What were the expectations of the crowd? What had Jesus come to do?
Was the "Hosanna! Save us!" too much caught up in the nationalistic desires of the people? Had the actions and words of Jesus in cleansing the Temple exposed for the leaders and too many of the people their very low priority for prayer and praise?
And what are our expectations? They went to the Temple. We go to church. What do we expect him to do?
"Hosanna! Save us!" What are we hoping for? Some changes in government policy? A bit of a break? Some alteration in "them"?
Jesus has come to save us! He has come to deal with the wrongs in us, rather than in "them"! Not the Roman garrison whose watch-tower overlooked the Temple, but the Temple itself! In 70AD the Roman armies would destroy the Temple, but already it had been destroyed as a house of prayer for all nations!
The basic problems are not "out there" but "in here"! Hosanna! Save us, Lord! Forgive us that our words and actions have destroyed the place of prayer and praise! Hosanna! Save us, Lord! Help us truly to welcome you!
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