“Who Do You Say That I Am?”
April 5, 2012 Leave a comment
Last Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated Palm Sunday, kicking off what is known as Holy Week. The week begins with the commemoration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds waving palm branches, laying down their coats, and shouting “Hosanna!” (Matt 21:9). Other days during Holy Week have significant meanings: Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, Good Friday reflects on the trial and death of Jesus on the cross at Calvary, and Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
One of the sobering things about Holy Week is the attitude of the crowds toward Jesus. As you read from Matthew 21 to Matthew 28, the crowds of people go from enthusiastically chanting “Hosanna!” to angrily yelling “Crucify Him!” What caused this sudden change?
A Grand Entrance
Imagine the scene recounted in Matthew 21:1-11. The city of Jerusalem is a bustle of energy as Jews from all over the Mediterranean area are in town for the upcoming Passover celebration. The sound of animals can be heard all over the city as traders bring their livestock to sell in order to be sacrificed as an offering to the Lord. Vendors are crowd the streets selling their goods to all the visitors to the city. Priests and religious leaders are hustling around getting the Temple ready for the big day.
In addition, many people are talking about a man that has been traveling throughout Israel healing the blind, deaf, and lame (and even raising a few dead people) while proclaiming a coming Kingdom and encouraging people to repent of their sins. They’ve heard rumors that he might be coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. One day, the word comes “Jesus is coming! He’s going to be here later today. Let’s go out and meet him!”
People run out to meet Jesus and his disciples like they are major celebrities. They grab palm branches and start waving them. They take off their cloaks and throw them down on the ground in front of Jesus’ donkey, some probably thinking, “I hope his donkey steps on my cloak! Then I can show it to my kids and tell them the story of the day I met Jesus.”
A loud shout goes up from the crowd “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
A Change of Heart
After entering Jesus visits the Temple and starts flipping over tables and kicking people out saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” It’s at this point that some people start to change their mind about Jesus thinking, “Who is this guy? I thought he was coming to create a Jewish nation and destroy the Romans, not kick the Jews out of their own Temple…”
As the week goes on, Jesus spends the majority of his days preaching in and around the Temple in Jerusalem. People crowd around him to hear him speak over the sounds of the city. Many are probably surprised by the things that Jesus says. He calls the religious leaders of the day hypocrites, foretells the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and encourages the payment of taxes to the oppressive Roman government. The once jubilant crowds begin to have second thoughts.
Then towards the end of the week, they hear that Jesus has been arrested. They are crushed, thinking, “This was supposed to be the powerful Messiah that would throw off the yoke of the Romans and restore Israel to glory. Apparently he’s not the prophet he claims to be.”
The day of the trial comes and the crowds gather to see what will happen to Jesus. During the day, he is mocked, falsely accused, and beaten. Eventually he is delivered to Pilate who lets the people decide whether to release Jesus or a prisoner named Barabbas. He then asks them what should be done with Jesus. Many of the same people who days earlier were waving palm branches yell out, “Let him be crucified! Let him be crucified!”
For the whole account of the events of Holy Week, read Matthew 21-28.
“Who Do You Say That I Am?”
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus asked his followers, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16:13). The answers he got at that time (in addition to the actions of those who followed him throughout his ministry) expose one of the main reasons that people went from shouting “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”: a fundamental misunderstanding of why Jesus came to Earth.
Many of the Jewish people at that time were looking forward to the Jewish Messiah: a person who would come and establish his kingdom on the Earth. In the context of the first century, this meant throwing off the oppressive Roman government and restoring Israel to its former world-power status. For those that heard about Jesus claiming to be the Messiah, that was probably the first image that came to mind: a powerful warrior-king that had attributes of the prophets of old. Much to their surprise, when Jesus got to Jerusalem, he didn’t do this; in fact, he went straight to the Temple and flipped over tables, called the religious leaders hypocrites, and said it was alright to pay taxes to the Roman government. You can understand that they might be a little disillusioned. The people were thinking only in temporal, not eternal terms.
Fast forward to Holy Week 2012. Things haven’t changed too much since the days Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem. Many still misunderstand who Jesus is. If you ask someone, “To you, who is Jesus?”, you might get answers like, “a nice guy”, “a great teacher”, “an important historical figure”, “my inspiration for growing a beard”, or “the Big Guy upstairs.”
While none of these are necessarily false, they don’t capture the complete picture of who Jesus is as a Prophet, Priest, and King. He’s the Prophet that came proclaiming the repentance of sins, the fulfillment of the old covenant (ie Old Testament law), and the establishment of his spiritual kingdom. He is the Priest that came to mediate a new covenant between man and God, to impute his righteousness to those that repent of their sins and place their eternal hope in him. He’s the King that came not to rid us of earthly oppression and kingdoms (like the Roman Empire), but to free us from the sin that has bound and enslaved us, keeping us from being able to enter the presence of a holy, righteous God.
So this Easter, whether you are a Christian or not, how will you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
[image credit: Rachel Andrew on Flickr]