“Transformation of the Crowd”

Matthew 21:1-11 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 Matthew 21:1-11The Message (MSG)

The Royal Welcome

21 1-3 When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

4-5 This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”

6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

For the last couple of years on this day we’ve talked about how Jesus was entering one gate in Jerusalem riding on a DONKEY at the same time that Pilate and the Roman Legions were entering another gate into the same city, riding on HORSES and how these two entries were symbolic of the greater clash between the oppressor and the liberator … the powerful and the powerless … the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God.

But today I want to look – not at the focal points – not at Pilate and Jesus – but at the extras … the people in the background. We’re going to look at the crowd!  That’s us. WE’RE the crowds … we’re the crowd that followed Jesus around the countryside, learning from him. We’re the ones who were in the streets when he upended the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.

We’re the ones who stood at the gate and welcomed him on a donkey for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he would lay down his life. WE are the ones with the palm branches shouting praises to him.

And what IS that that we were shouting? What is that whole “Hosanna” thing? What does that MEAN, anyway???

Well “Hozanna” comes from “the Hebrew “hosanna” which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na. And that Hebrew phrase is found in only place in the Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, “Save [me], please!” It is a cry to God for help. Like when somebody pushes you off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: “Help … save me . . . Hoshiya na!”[i]

“But something happened to that phrase, hoshiya na. The meaning changed over the years. In the psalm it was immediately followed by the exclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The cry for help, hoshiya na, was answered almost before it came out of the psalmist’s mouth. And over the centuries the phrase hoshiya na stopped being a cry for HELP in the ordinary language of the Jews. Instead it became a shout of HOPE and exultation.

“It USED to mean, “Save, please!” But gradually, it came to mean, “Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!” It used to be what you would say when you fell off the diving board. But it came to be what you would say when you see the lifeguard coming to save you [after you jumped off the board without knowing how to swim]! It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the way and can’t keep it in.

“So, according to John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, “Hosanna!” means, “Hooray for salvation! It’s coming! It’s here! Salvation! Salvation!”[ii]

The meaning changed.

And change is EVERYWHERE. It happens to EVERYONE. Even to the crowd.

Today, we’re all singing the praises of our Jesus as he enters into Jerusalem. It’s like watching a TV show or a movie and just WAITING for the denouement … that moment when everything makes itself clear. WE have KNOWN who Jesus is … we know that God’s Glory and his true identity are about to be shown to all the world.

But the crowd THEN didn’t know.

Their hopes were pinned on him being a savior, the Messiah … but they thought that he was going to be a political, MILITARY leader. And as the events of the week unfolded it became clear to EVERYONE that the role of Jesus was NOT to stage a military rebellion to overthrow the Roman Empire.

Some of them felt VERY betrayed.

He was a leader with feet of clay to them.

And this crowd that exuberantly shouted “HONSANNA!” today … became the same crowd that cried, “CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM!” 5 days later.

That’s how crowds go. We are easily transformed from one line of thought and devotion to another.

We see that in our politics today.

We see it in the popularity of celebrities where someone is praised at the top of their field one day and a couple of weeks later, they have fallen out of favor.

Popularity is fickle – whether we’re talking about today, or 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.

So what can WE do to combat that in our own lives? How can WE keep from getting sucked into vacillating with the crowds?

We stay focused as the Disciples did. We stay focused as Mary and the core group of followers did. We stay focused on what Jesus TAUGHT us about BEING the Kingdom of God … we hold ourselves ACCOUNTABLE to recognize where he is PRESENT in every situation.

Just this week we saw lines drawn about our nation’s response to Syria … we saw lines drawn about how the Senate will confirm Supreme Court Justices … we saw lines drawn – for and against – our President. And I am here to say that ALL of those lines are drawn by fickle crowds that will change their minds like leaves blowing in the wind.

The things that are constant are the teachings of Jesus because, frankly, WE know how the story ends – or that it DOESN’T end – because the man entering the gates on the DONKEY … the man whose entourage was made up of peasants waving palm branches DID win out over the oppressor. ROME became powerless to the universal presence of the Church … the Kingdom of God DID win out over the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. And the Kingdom of God will win out over everything that’s happening today, too.

10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going ON here? Who IS this?”

11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The question for us to think about and pray over this week is NOT what did THAT crowd say, but what does THIS crowd say?

Who do WE say that Jesus is????

Let us dare to walk this week with him as we pray about our answer to that question. Amen







[i] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/hosanna

[ii] Ibid.


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