Parades are usually a lot of fun. It’s a time of celebration, music and laughter. Rain during a parade makes things pretty miserable. The tops go up on convertibles, floats turn to mush, participants grumble and spectators scatter.
There are people who are good at raining on parades. I don’t mean literal parades. If you go on a nice vacation and someone feels compelled to say, “It must be nice . . .” they are “raining on your parade”. If you get a promotion or a new job and you want to share your joy but someone else feels compelled to observe that “all promotions are based on favorites, rather than skill”, these people are raining on your parade. If your favorite team does well during a season and someone feels compelled to diminish your joy (because it is not their favorite team) they are, in effect, raining on your parade. People who rain on the parades of other cannot seem to endure when someone else is happy. They seem to feel that when one person receives something good, it is somehow being taken from them.
The Palm Sunday story is pretty familiar to most of us. Jesus was involved in a parade of his own. He rode on a donkey, a symbol of kingship. The road was lined with people who cheered for Him with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This phrase “Hosanna” is the Greek form or spelling of two Hebrew words, Hoshiah-na, which means, Save now, or, Save, I pray, the phrase “na” adds emphsis to the entreaty.
They people along the road waved Palm Branches (the equivalent of waving flags, pennants or maybe those huge pointing fingers today.) Some threw their cloaks on the ground as a sign of respect and honor. This was a common practice before those who were thought worthy of the highest honor.
It was certainly the most exalted moment of the life of Christ to date. It appeared that Jesus was positioned to take His role as leader of the Jewish nation. However, in the midst of this parade, there were those who couldn’t stand the joy.
As the people in the crowds cheered, there was a group of people who watched with scowls on their faces. While others celebrated, these men plotted. While the crowds sang, these men grumbled with their arms folded. Our text tells us what they said.
“Rebuke them!” (v. 39) When Jesus was within earshot, these Jewish big-shots told Jesus to rebuke the people. They spoke with a sense of exasperation. They were like the dad who had his little girl on his shoulders. The girl kept pulling his hair and he kept asking her nicely, not to do that. Finally, he had enough. He said, “Stop pulling my hair or I am going to spank your bottom!” The little girl responded, “I’m sorry daddy, I was trying to get all of my gum.”
Jesus’ response is somewhat similar. He said, “I could tell the crowds to be quiet, but it wouldn’t do any good because if they were quiet, the rocks would cry out.” This was such a momentous occasion (the Creator and King coming into Jerusalem) that the inanimate objects (stones etc.) would begin crying out if they people did not adore Him.
The second thing these leaders said was “Kill Him!” (v. 47) These chief priests, teachers of the law and other leaders wanted Jesus dead! They don’t actually say, “Kill him!” but that is their intention. They had a dilemma; on the one hand, they wanted Him out of the picture. On the other hand, the people were attentive and seemed to love Him. They felt helpless.
During the next week these men would work hard to test and question Jesus in the hope of turning the crowd against Him. Ultimately, they resorted to bribing a disciple. They had Jesus arrested and tried illegally at night so they could sidestep the popularity of the Savior with the common people. Jesus was condemned to death before most people even knew what was going on.
THE REASONS FOR THEIR CRIES
It is right and fitting that we ask a simple question: Why didn’t these people like Jesus? Why didn’t they see what everyone else saw? These leaders knew the law and the prophets better than the people did. They professed to be eagerly waiting for the Messiah. Why didn’t they recognize Him when He arrived?
His Popularity. The crowd cheered for Jesus and somehow that made these leaders feel less significant. In John 11: 45-49 (right after the raising of Lazarus) we read,
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our placeand our nation.”
Supposedly, the leaders were concerned that Jesus was going to compromise the safety of Israel before the Romans. I don’t believe that was their main concern. Their main concern was “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.” In other words, “If we let Jesus continue to grow in popularity, no one is going to be left for us to lead!”
People rain on other people’s parades out of jealousy. The Pharisees and their company were upset because their “market share” was being eroded.
Think about it like this: suppose you live in a community that leans strongly in one political direction. Someone comes to town and starts winning people to the other side of the political spectrum. Your fund-raising efforts are hampered. Your message is met with criticism and resistance. Your power base is eroding. Would this upset you? Of course it would. You would find yourself becoming more aggressive. You would feel that this person’s success was at your expense. That’s how these leaders felt, I think.
His Teaching The leaders didn’t like Jesus because of His teaching. They didn’t like His message for at least four reasons.
First, He claimed He was the Messiah/God. He said, “I and the Father, are one” (John 10:30) and “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). Jesus claimed the authority to forgive sins and claimed an authority that was superior to that of the teachers of the Law. (“You have heard that it was said . . . but I say unto you.”)
When Jesus said these things the people understood exactly what He was saying. Many of the devout took up rocks to stone Him because they believed He was making a claim of deity. This is a devastatingly wicked sin . . .unless of course, He was telling the truth!
Second, they hated the teaching of Jesus because it contradicted what they were teaching. The teachers of the Law told people that they could be saved by working hard, keeping the law, and following the rituals. Jesus told them they could never be saved by their works but only by God’s mercy and grace. The Teachers of the Law said anyone who struggled, was obviously being punished by God. Jesus said that wasn’t true; some difficult things in life are for the purpose of demonstrating God’s glory and others are designed to help us grow. The Pharisees were quick to condemn. Jesus was quick to extend mercy and grace. The Pharisees were quick to isolate themselves, Jesus was quick to get involved. The Pharisees taught that the Messiah would bring an earthly Kingdom. Jesus taught that the Messiah was bringing a spiritual Kingdom.
Jesus was in effect drawing a line. You could not follow the teaching of the Pharisees and the teaching of Jesus. They contradicted each other.
Third, they hated the teaching of Jesus because it exposed their sin. In Luke 11 and Matthew 23 Jesus gave a devastating list of “woes” to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He called them hypocrites. He said their faith was superficial (they tithed their mint dill and cumin but neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Mt. 23:23)) Jesus said they claimed to follow the Lord, but they and their forefathers had a history of killing God’s prophets. He said that though they claim to want to help the people, in truth they were guilty of making the burdens of the people greater.
Nobody likes this kind of public condemnation. Jesus needed to make this condemnation public so the people would see the truth and perhaps turn in a different direction. I think Jesus might have been making a “last ditch” effort to reach some of these men.
Finally, they hated the teaching of Jesus because it had a unique authority. After the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we are told, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. [Mt. 7:28,29]
Jesus made them look bad. The only way they saw to “protect the people” (understand, “to protect their own positions”) was to eliminate Jesus. They believed they were doing society a service. They were so wrapped up in their own importance that they failed to receive the One who could meet the deepest needs of their lives. At this time that should have been a time of greatest celebration, these men were filled with hatred.
On this Palm Sunday we need to realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We are living at a time when the division between those who follow Christ, and those who hate Him, is becoming more apparent and defined.
While we celebrate Jesus, others jeer. The others resent the fact that their behavior is called sin. They resist the notion that they are not “good enough” to get to Heaven. They believe they are basically good people. They blame their failures and vices on their parents, their environment, and their genetic make-up. In fact, they will blame anyone or anything if it means they don’t have to take responsibility for their own rebellion against God.
Those who celebrate Jesus understand that Jesus is their hope of salvation. Christians do not proclaim that they are good, perfect, or better than others. Christians rejoice that they are forgiven. We are people who acknowledge our struggle to do what is right. We know that we do not have the power to make ourselves good. We depend on mercy.
The standard of truth that is set forth in the Bible has become discarded and overlooked by many in our society. Those outside of Christ tell you that there is no “absolute truth”. They base their values on the whims of public opinion and the gradual acceptance of contemporary vice. Their goal is still the same as these Jewish leaders in Jerusalem: to eliminate Jesus from public discourse. The opponents today want to remove Christian influence from every segment of our society. They want to re-write history to remove all traces of the Biblical foundation on which our country was founded. They work hard to take Christian values out of the schools. They want to eliminate prayer and Biblical morality from our courts and government. They seek to rescind the tax-exempt status of churches. They even want to take the name “God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance and off the face of our currency.
Sadly, those who oppose the message of new life and forgiveness that is found in Christ believe they are helping society. They believe they are setting people free to achieve their full “personhood.” Yet, the result has been increasing self-indulgence, the loss of morality of any sort, the disintegration of the home, a growing anarchy in the legal system, a reckless disregard for the value of human life, the commercialization of the church and an increase in violence and despair. The conscience of society is becoming numb and we are on a course of self-destruction.
The issue for us is a simple one: where do you stand today? Do you stand with those who cheer and follow the Savior or with those who resent and resist His message? Do you stand among those who accept the fact of your rebellious nature and who turn to Jesus for forgiveness and a new beginning; or are you among those who feel you don’t need forgiveness because you are doing just fine on your own?
It is becoming increasingly difficult to straddle the fence. You are going to have to decide whether you are going to follow Jesus or follow the world. You have to decide whether you believe in life after death or you don’t. You must decide whether you can earn this life beyond the grave by your own efforts, or only through the gift of God of eternal life that comes through Christ alone. Today is your moment of decision.
Our hope is for a revival that is brought about by God’s own Spirit. We need a revival that will turn our society away from our selfish ways to the truth of God’s Word. We need a revival that will lead us to depend on Him, rather than on ourselves. For that revival to happen, it has to start with us.
After 2000 years, not much has changed. The message of salvation remains “on the table” and there continue to be those who oppose that message. You and I must decide whether we are going to participate in the parade, or rain on it. Choose carefully because your eternity depends on it.