Matthew 21:1-11

Question: Is the crowd always right?

Answer: No! You know that. I know that.
Question: Then, why do you and I take the crowd so seriously?
Answer: Because the crowd has great power.
The crowd has the power for good–for the crowd shouts, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). The crowd has the power for evil–they shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Give us Barabbas.”
You see, crowds have a way of making heroes and fortunes for those heroes. And crowds also have a way of destroying heroes and grabbing back those fortunes it has entrusted to those heroes.
During the past fifteen years, I’ve gotten to know four National Football League quarterbacks quite well. I’ve watched Bob Griese suffer during those early years with the Miami Dolphins. Oh how they booed him. That team just couldn’t win. Bob had been a star during his college years. He was still a great ball player. But the crowds, small as they were, wouldn’t get off his back. I remember the low point that year when they won only two games.
Then came Don Shula. The fortunes turned. Griese, overnight, became a hero, and the crowds cheered. Miami became euphoric. I watched as my friend was given free cars, huge contracts, both for playing football and for giving endorsements. He’d become the toast of the town and a national celebrity as he led the Dolphins to those various Super Bowls. And now, retired, you don’t hear too much about Bob Griese any more.
Then there was Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Terry had a way of being a hero one day and a heel the next and then a hero once again. He fell in and out of favor with the Pittsburgh sportswriters and the national television commentators. They called him stupid and dumb. It always puzzles me as to how someone so stupid and dumb can lead a team to multiple Super Bowl championships. He, too, had his salad days. The heel became the hero, the darling of the sports-writers and the crowds. He, too, jetted all over the country in the off season to make personal appearances, to make movies, to give speeches, to record records, and to write autobiographies.
He told me one day how fickle the whole business was. He described the attitude of the girl who ran the cash register at the garage where he parked his car. At times she would greet him with a big smile. And if he hadn’t done too well in a game, she would accost him with a sneer. He told about one day when he stopped at a filling station in Pittsburgh. He had just had his car filled up and paid the bill. As he was beginning to drive out onto the street, two teenagers came running up to his car and began to energetically knock on his window. He stopped, rolled down the window, prepared to graciously give them the autographs he thought they wanted, when suddenly they both spit in his face.
Since I’ve been here at St. Andrews, it’s been my privilege to preside at the weddings of both Paul McDonald, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, and Jeff Kemp of the Rams. I find it fascinating to watch their ups and downs. Both are superb athletes. Both know their business. Both know the fickleness of the crowds who shower them at times with undue praise and at other times with unmerited critique. To survive, these men must be undaunted by the crowd. But it isn’t easy.
My thesis statement this morning is: It is difficult, yet it is possible, to be undaunted by the crowd! Jesus was, and so can you.
Question: Just what is the power of the crowd?
Answer: The big crowd has the power to bestow celebrity status. The crowd determines whether or not you are popular.
How silly is that sequinned glove on that curly-haired kid with that shy effeminate voice. Granted, he might be a great dancer and a fairly good singer. But there are greater dancers and better singers, aren’t there? As long as the crowd buys his tickets, records, videos, and memorabilia, Michael Jackson will be a hero, a star, and a multimillionaire. Then when the crowd stops buying, Michael Jackson will be “has-been.”
Didn’t you think that purple-hooded Prince looked sort of strange the other night at the Academy Awards? But it sells, doesn’t it? For a while.
Yes, the crowd bestows celebrity status. And the same crowd can take it away. That’s its power.
Hollywood Henderson. Who is he? And where is he now? That once-football star of the Dallas Cowboys used to so eloquently spike those balls in the end zones to the roaring approval of the crowd. Today the cheering is over. Hollywood Henderson has anything but star status, as this talented, young man in his early thirties fights his way back from his cocaine habit and is serving his term in prison for sexual crimes.
George Romney. Who is he? And where is he now? That automotive superstar steered American Motors through its best years and his own career on to the governor’s mansion of Michigan and to a prime candidacy for the presidency of the United States. He found his career coming to a screeching halt when he admitted to being “brainwashed” by Lyndon Johnson’s public relations on the Viet Nam War. “Move over, George Romney, wherever you are. You may still be a nice man, but you are no longer a superstar. We don’t need you any more.”
Watch out Sally Field. Hold tightly to that Oscar. We heard you say, “I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time, I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, you like me!” Remember, Sally, we’re the crowd, and we’re fickle. We may like you today, but that promises nothing for tomorrow. Hold on tight to that Oscar, and enjoy this moment!
It’s a fine line between a “hero” and a “has-been.” And the crowd determines that line.
Question: And just who determines the crowd?
Answer: You and me. Well, sort of. And sort of not! We are, and we aren’t. Right? We are and we aren’t because crowds give no power to individuals, do they?
So even those of us in the crowd are pushed and pulled. Do you know the feeling? Yesterday it was granny dresses, white buck shoes, greased-back and duck-tail haircuts, double martinis, Ford Thunder-birds, and Mustangs, along with Beatlemania, and votes for Jack and Teddy Kennedy.
Today what is it? I am not quite sure. The fads come and go so fast. I guess it would be owning a Mercedes, sipping wine or Perrier, engaging in possibility thinking, being a Republican, debating the MX missile, and owning a PC Jr. or a Macintosh. Wait a moment. I just read that IBM has stopped making the PC Jr. Goodbye PC Jr.!
Tomorrow what will it be? God only knows.
I am a big guy. But the crowd still pushes and pulls me as I try to get through the turnstiles into life’s various events. Somehow I find myself going backwards instead of forwards, or sideways instead. But seldom am I getting where I want to be at the speed I prefer.
Sometimes the crowd hands me a palm branch and forces me to cry out, “Hosanna.” But what if I’d prefer to shout out, “Crucify Him!” The smart thing is to play it safe and shout whatever the crowd is shouting if I want to avoid those strange glances or even something worse.
And sometimes the crowd hands me a placard reading: “Down with the so-called king of the Jews.” Yell “Crucify Him. Crucify Him!” for Jesus is the biggest hoax to come around. His memory is a rip-off-But what if I prefer to shout, “Hosanna!” I am better off to play it safe and not get too excited about the Messiah. After all, that’s not the sophisticated thing to do.
The crowd doesn’t tolerate diversity–does it! It looks askance at rugged individualists unless perchance rugged individualism happens to be in vogue.
But there is One who is undaunted by the crowd!
Who can it be? His name is Jesus of Nazareth!
Take a good, close look at Him. The rumor is that there were some strange circumstances surrounding His birth in Bethlehem. His parents took Him to Egypt. They finally returned to Nazareth where He played among the wood-shavings of His father’s carpenter shop. A precocious youth was He. They say He confounded the religious leaders in the temple at Jerusalem as a twelve-year-old. Then it was back to the carpenter shop in Nazareth. He apparently had a lot of discipline and high ideals. His teenage years and early twenties were marked by balanced living. He was disciplined physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. He was baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John. He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. He was rejected by the citizens of Nazareth. Somehow He just didn’t fit. Bluntly speaking, it didn’t take a whole lot of anything to make it with the crowd in Nazareth. It wasn’t noted for many good things.
He gathered around Him a few friends for whom He dreamed some great dreams. They were a motley crowd. Some were rugged outdoor types. Others were a bit more sophisticated. None of them were noted for anything that would resemble greatness. He quietly, and not so quietly, ministered far away from the power centers of this world.
Initially, in the various towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee, he gave what some have called His Sermon on the Mount. He healed the sick. He threw out demons from those with damaged emotions. He taught. He forgave. He predicted His own death once, then twice, then a third time. He said he needed to go through Samaria when a good Jew didn’t go through Samaria. He just had to meet that woman of dubious reputation. Rabbis didn’t talk to women like that. Nor did they defend other women caught in adultery.
And, He set His face steadfast toward Jerusalem. He couldn’t be dissuaded. His friends knew there was opposition ahead. He talked about it himself. He borrowed a donkey upon which no one had ever sat and made His way with His disciples into Jerusalem on a beast of burden instead of a horse. What kind of a triumphal entry was this? But the word had spread. There were some who loved Him. There were some who were curious. There were some who hated Him. The crowds have a strange way of producing the common denominator, and that day it was hosannas. The cheers were loud. The applause was deafening. Garlands of flowers were thrown in His direction, and branches waved in His honor. Hopes sprung inside the hearts of an oppressed people living under foreign occupation. Jesus said very little. He simply made His way to the Temple.
And in the days that followed, there disrupted whatever mingled hopes the crowd had for Him. He threw the moneychangers out of the temple, alienating the religious establishment. He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and its great temple instead of the defeat of Rome. He wouldn’t let go in His attack upon the religious leaders. He taught. He told stories. Those stories were shocking, not like the stories they were used to hearing. Who in the world does He think He is?
He told us of days when children would turn upon their parents and parents would turn upon their children. He told of warfare, desolation, and human suffering. He wept. Inspirational leaders aren’t supposed to weep. Frontrunners of the presidency have lost their edge by showing such unmasculine behavior in public. He prepared for the Passover. He shared His Last Supper with the disciples. He told them of events to come that were confusing. He talked about leaving them. He told how it was necessary that He would die and then rise again. Then He would leave them and send the “Comforter.” He told of many who would believe in Him because of their faithfulness. Then he led them on a walk down the hillside of Mount Zion and Mount Moriah, through the Kidron Valley, over to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. He left them to pray. He came back and found them sleeping. Again, He prayed with enormous intensity.
Then it happened. The torches could be seen winding down that same hillside, coming their direction. They got closer. Then that blacknight procession got closer to the point they could see those faces in the flickering light–soldiers, priests, and one of their own, Judas. Then a kiss. It seemed so friendly. Followed by a barked order of arrest. A brief altercation. And the disciples fled as Jesus was jostled back along that pathway to the house of Caiaphas. His long night of abuse and religious trial. Early the next morning the political trial, followed by a crown of thorns, the sentence of death, a crude torture, and the sneers and jeering and spital of the crowd.
No hosannas this day. This time it was the cry, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Give us Barabbas.” So he trudged wearily, carrying the cross beam, toward Golgotha. Racked with pain, His body was jostled into an awkward, wrenching position on that cross. How they sneered. That crowd. How awful they were. Huddled to one side was a rag-tag group of His followers, including His mother and a man named John. He said some things, not too audible. Then He died. The sword was thrust into His side as His body and two others were taken down from those crosses.
Fortunately, someone loaned Him a tomb. At least He got a decent burial. But wait. There’s more to the story, isn’t there? The resurrection. The appearance to over five hundred over the next few weeks. The giving of a great commission. The promise of the Holy Spirit. The assurance of His second coming. His ascension into heaven.
Yes, Jesus was undaunted by the crowd. He simply didn’t do it their way, did He? He marched to a different drum beat. And, as a result, our whole world is different.
And just what are the signs of a person undaunted by the crowd?
First, Jesus knew who He was.
He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He was the Messiah. He was a different kind of king. He was the One of whom the prophet Zechariah had written. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9).
His mode of transportation signaled His Messiahship. It also alerted the people to the fact that He was not taking part in some fanatical nationalism such as that which would happen in the years A.D. 66 through 70, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. He had chosen another way. He was secure in His knowledge of who He was. He was the Prince of Peace. He needed no powerful stallion on which to ride. He was the very Creator of the universe who knew that the sword only destroys. He was committed to bringing peace with God and peace with fellow human persons.
Question: Do you know who you are?
Answer: You are created in the image of God to pledge allegiance to this humble Messiah, this true Savior. If you know who you are, you, too, can be undaunted by the crowd.
Second, Jesus could accept praise without His Head being turned by it. He accepted the hosannas with humility. Why? Because He could see through the crowd. He understood crowds. He knew those who were loyal to Him. He could tell who the plotters were, who were waiting for a better day in which to get Him. He could also identify the majority who simply love the parade and will wave whatever placards, balloons, and shoot off whatever fireworks you hand to them. He knew there would be good times and bad times. He was probably most impressed by the simple trust of children. In times past He had said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Do you accept praise without your head being turned by it? Or don’t you understand how fickle crowds can be and then find yourself shocked when the people you trusted let you down?
Third, Jesus could accept abuse without being destroyed by it. Why? Because He knew He was right. He could handle on the one hand the hosannas. On the other hand, He could face the spital. In both extremes, He could look with loving eyes of pity upon people driven by their emotions, mocked by their lack of understanding. Think of what He faced. Not only was it the fickleness of the impersonal crowd. One can understand that if one takes the time for serious reflection. But the betrayal of close friends. That’s harder to take, isn’t it? You know because you’ve been there too, haven’t you?
Do you accept abuse without being destroyed by it? Are you able to stand up for what’s right no matter what it costs you simply because you know it’s right? Or when the crowd begins to turn, do you begin to turn? When the crowd’s values shift, do your values shift?
Are you a chameleon who reflects the ethical and spiritual colorings of those around you, like my dear teenage friend who knew the difference between right and wrong, but, pressured by her own little crowd, finally gave in to doing what everybody else was doing. Since they were drinking, she couldn’t say no. Since they were experimenting with drugs, she couldn’t say no. Then that night, under the influence of both, her inhibitions down, she didn’t have what it took to say no to that guy who didn’t love her like he said he did. He was only out for a cheap thrill which she barely remembers having. And her life spiraled downward, and her moral values shifted. What once seemed wrong now seemed right. And what once once seemed right now seemed wrong because she simply couldn’t accept the crowd’s abuse of what she knew was right. She allowed herself to lose ten of the best years of her life because she couldn’t stand up to the crowd. Fortunately, she’s come back to the Lord after all those wasted years and the limitations placed on her future.
Fourth, Jesus faithfully did His immediate job within the context of praise, abuse, indifference and various mixtures of both. Almost one-third of a powerful teaching which we have recorded in the four gospels was done in the several days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. He allowed himself no self-indulgent glory and no pity party.
Do you keep on keeping on no matter what is thrown at you? I know what I would have done. I would have rented a ballroom to celebrate my victory that Palm Sunday evening. I doubt if I would have gone straight to the temple and driven out the moneychangers. Why not enjoy the moment of popularity, even if you knew tough times were coming? Then, when the tide turned I probably would have gotten a few of my most trusted friends together and hunkered in, getting lost until the climate changed. Jesus just kept on keeping on. The key is faithfulness, isn’t it, until that day when God says to you, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into your eternal rest.”
Fifth, Jesus saw past the hosannas to His ultimate atoning work on your behalf. He didn’t allow the immediate applause or pain to get in the way of the cross, the empty tomb, His ascension, and His ultimate second coming.
Do you see your ultimate task and fulfill it; does the crowd orchestrate you into doing its will?
The final question is: Is there possibly another-undaunted by the crowd-and just could that other be you?
Yes, it is possible! It is possible if your most important question isn’t, “What does the crowd think?” but “What does Jesus think!” The best way to be undaunted by the crowd is to walk with the King. It’s so succinctly stated in the old gospel hymn, a bit too unsophisticated to be sung that often now.
I walk with the King, hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name!
No longer I roam, my soul faces home,
I walk and I talk with the King.

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