The world was waiting and watching and holding its breath;
Waiting for Jesus to come up from Jericho.
See this with me. It is incredible. People have come to Jerusalem from all over the world. Tents, lean-tos, and pavilions are everywhere. Can you smell the camp fires smouldering and smoking? Listen to the bearded men gathered in groups. Can you hear them talking about what men always talk about? Watch the women pass their time cooking, chatting with neighbors, and tending their households. Look at the smooth-faced boys keep the lambs. Watch the young girls fetch water and firewood.
Amid this cacophony of barking dogs and crying babies, God’s only begotten Son, the Messiah, rides into Jerusalem on a borrowed burro! Isn’t this an incredible picture?
Some pilgrims have come to Jerusalem to celebrate their historical deliverance — the Passover. Some have come with their hearts fixed on a new deliverance. Every year there have been rumors that the Messiah was coming. Still, this year, they are reporting the rumors with more passion. From camp to camp the word has spread: The Messiah will come this time!
Like a hot iron the word has branded every heart it touched. The Messiah is coming! The promise has passed and been believed, the words of the prophets. The Messiah will set us free, again. The Messiah will come and command with power and authority. The Messiah will ride forth. Be ready!
Still, when Jesus comes up from Jericho, His command and liberation is exercised in the single, softly spoken request, “Please go and liberate an unbroken colt and bring him to me.” All the excitement, all the noise in Jerusalem, all these people waiting to celebrate their deliverance when Jesus comes up from Jericho. Isn’t this an incredible picture?
We do not know who is the first to see Him or to understand. We do not know who is first to take up the cry. When the people see Jesus coming, they become ecstatic. They feel their history is coming to climax. They are right.
Like a song in the wind, the musical sound “Hosanna” begins softly and tenderly. Soon it is echoing off every hill and mountain, a chorus of completion. A movement, which began in the region of the city of David, is now ready to find a culmination at the gates of Jerusalem. The Prince of Peace comes to the City of Peace. The prophecies fulfilled, a dream completed, prayer answered. The Messiah has come. God at the gate.
Male and female voices are singing a song, a doxology; “praise God, praise God, praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Like a song sung in the round, first one voice, then two, then three, half a beat apart they sing. Ever more voices singing in reckless joy, “Blessed be the One that comes in the name of the Lord: peace on heaven and glory in the highest. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna. Save us now, save us now, save us now!”
It is the season of the Passover, the celebration of a past liberation, a previous deliverance. A time to remember the past promise and presence of God and now the Messiah has come up from Jericho. But now, Jesus has not come to lead in battle, but to surrender Himself to the Roman cross. Isn’t that incredible?
Jesus orchestrated this day. He knows the lyrics and the score. Jesus knows that the melodious voices will soon turn discordant to be followed by tympanic hammer blows. Jesus knows the music of His life will soon reach its grand finale. The crescendo will come in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will attend the final earthly movement of the divine grand opera.
There is so much that should be said. I wonder, should we spend our few moments discovering that
Should we focus on people? Which ones? There are at least four different kinds of people in the final act: those who follow Jesus; those who are skeptical of Jesus; those who chose to hate and reject Jesus; and those who scorn Him. We can spend our time just looking at one of those four groups, but which? We can approach our task from the view point of one gospel writer. We can hear Matthew’s account of Jesus, still in Jericho, telling His disciple. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.” (
We can listen to Mark relate Pilate’s powerlessness in the face of political pressure. “And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.” (
We can taste Luke’s parsimonious account of the crucifixion. “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.” (
We can feel the change in John’s account of how those who crucified Jesus were paid. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture night be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.” (
We might pause, hear, and reflect again on the strange strained song of the crucified and dying Jesus. Listen to Him sing so softly and tenderly, “Abba, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” (
If we read the gospel, we can blame the Jews or the Gentiles (the Romans). We can become indignant with the Sanhedrin and with Pilate for their gross injustice. Jesus has six trials: three before the Council and three before Pilate the Roman Procurator, in each he is found “Innocent.” Still, yet, they crucified Him.
We can allow ourselves to be revolted and sickened by the weak-willed, bloodthirsty crowds. One day they welcome Jesus to Jerusalem with palm leaves and songs of “Hosanna, save us now!” The next day, the crowds laugh as Jesus chases those who are buying and selling out of the temple. On another day the crowds listen and marvel as Jesus teaches about faith. They watch with amusement. They cheer as Jesus defeats the Pharisees and Scribes at their word games. The crowd sings Hosanna on Sunday, but when it is Friday they sing a different song: “Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him!” They move from a season of celebration to the crescendo of crucifixion in five days.
Yes, we can take the narrative apart by day or by character. We can look at the crucifixion from the perspective of the various gospel writers, but there is one element still missing — us! Where are we? How do we feel? How are we related to the death of Jesus? What do these accounts mean for us? What song do we sing?
All of them! We are all of those who sing, who betray, slap, ridicule, accuse, judge, cry out, and drive spikes through living flesh. We have understudied every part and rehearsed every song. We sit on the bema and we scramble around in the dirt tossing dice for a dead man’s clothes. We sing Hosanna on Sunday and Crucify Him on Friday. We know the mercy and justice of Jesus, yet we, like Pilate, all too often are moved to no mercy and render no justice. We are Pharisee and Scribe, adding burdens to others while carrying few away. We are the ones who judge and misjudge to remain in power. We are Jew and Gentile. We are soldier and scoffer. We put Him to death and, still, we are the ones for whom He died!
We are guilty of His death, still, we can be the co-heirs of the Kingdom, the co-recipients of paradise. We can be the co-proclaimers of a gospel that is so magnificent that words fail, so foolish that faith alone saves.
Jesus came down from heaven, up from Jericho to Jerusalem, to the cross of Calvary. That is what we need. Jesus came down from heaven and up from Jericho to redeem with a high price that which you and I have sold cheaply. The Apostle Paul speaks from God’s heart, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (
The world was waiting and watching and holding its breath;