For me, this passage asks us a question … who is Jesus? This is a question we have to be able to answer, with: good biblical knowledge, personal experience and (life) integrity.
There are people lauding him, but also people wanting to kill him. There are those Jesus is happy to spend time with and lead, but there are others he needs to drive right out of the temple. Who is Jesus?
When Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, this reveals a lot about who he is. This passage also helps to resolve … what sort of mission today’s church should embrace – refer verse 41 … “the things that make for peace”, and what sort of community the church should be – refer verse 46 … “a house of prayer”.
The Palm Sunday scene is one of enthusiasm – just like some sort of inauguration of a king or president, or maybe like a royal wedding. Like all such events, people come to this with a variety of reactions and motivations. When some cry out, “Hosanna – blessed is the king”, they really mean it. Despite their uncertainty about many things, we’d imagine that the disciples meant it. Others in the crowd were likely sincere, but there would have been others who were probably just simply following the crowd. There would have been quiet observers; and certainly the Pharisees and the like were set in their opposition.
In all this adoration, there is certainly something unsettling with this scene, because this is NOT a ‘king’ who will take up ‘rule’ or a position of authority, but rather die on a cross. This will actually be Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem, his last days of life – in less than a week … Jesus will be crucified. This crowd, despite their readiness to worship, can’t be truly clued in! Clearly there was some misunderstandings here. They were missing the point! Especially so, as we consider that the pervading theme of this day “Blessed is the king”, would, in just a few days turn into “Crucify him”; and that the mega-popular figure of Jesus this day, would soon die isolated and quite alone. Maybe this really is a case of: ‘Hosanna – praise the Lord’ … as long as this works out for me, or otherwise …’Crucify him’. Who is Jesus?
Jesus was most popular when there was a possibility of personal needs being met or national agendas being addressed – when he seemed to be who people wanted him to be – the possibility that he was an all-powerful conquering Messiah and convenient miracle-worker. However, perhaps, not so much, not so popular, when weeping over the state of the city and driving unjust traders out of the temple area. Not so much when teaching about compassion, humility and service being the keys to God’s Kingdom.
For this Messiah was not a conqueror on a big white horse, but rather a humble servant on a small young donkey. When would the crowd that day notice this! And the miracles of healing that Jesus did, were not primarily acts of power, but rather signs of the possibilities of spiritual salvation and the coming new creation. When would they see that? And when would they see God in Jesus – that Jesus would be acting like the prophets had foretold – wonderful counsellor, prince of peace, suffering servant? Given time, many would come to understand who Jesus really was; but in certain people, certain people who had a particular axe to grind, and a particular agenda to protect, with closed minds, there was this callous desire to manipulate events and see Jesus killed.
Greg Laurie wrote a great article on this topic, from which I now draw. The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “If God made us in his own image, we have well returned him the compliment”. That is often what our world wants: a god in our own image, a god who will conform to our wishes and desires, a god who will fulfil our agendas. We want a user-friendly god, whom we can adapt to our chosen lifestyles. We want to stroll up to a salad bar and pick and choose the attributes of God that appeal to us, but leave behind the salad items not to our taste. Repentance is not the most popular type of lettuce. Some people of Jesus’ day wanted a ‘deliverer’ to conform to their plans instead of his. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome, but not the cherished sins of their hypocritical superficial religious practices. Would it be fair to say, that some people today sing the praises of a Jesus who brings one success, but recoil from the Jesus who requires obedience and commitment.
Observations and Actions
Despite the cheering of Palm Sunday, Jesus looked upon the public life of Jerusalem and wept. The Greek word used indicates bitter anguish as though one were mourning the dead. Other Gospels go into more detail about what happened when Jesus reached the temple, and saw what was going on there. He actually began overturning tables – such was his disappointment, frustration and probably anger … we might call it 'righteous indignation' – this direct action being an attempt to disrupt the corruption that was going on there.
The city’s problems are clearly evidenced in the place … the temple … the spiritual heart of the city … where you would have hoped to find something much better – “(the things that make for) peace”. When Jesus wept over the state of Jerusalem, and when he tossed the traders out of the temple, Jesus was dramatically reminding his disciples (and all those with an eye to see), that the coming of Jesus was all about a change of heart and a change of mind, repentance if you like, a determination to go in a different, new and better direction. If only people would be prepared to live and work for the betterment of the society around them, rather than only themselves!
And this wasn’t just a decree from on high, but from Jesus actually engaging in the cut and thrust, good and evil, of everyday life in human community. And when it came to the crunch, Jesus would willingly die to draw a mercy-laden line-in-the-sand … that everyone could benefit from. Daily life in Jerusalem was so far removed from God’s will and any evidence of God’s peace, that Jesus could only weep. Jesus surely wasn’t weeping for himself, although he may have been thinking about whether his upcoming sacrifice was going to be wasted! We would also look at the violence, abuse and injustice in the world of today, and just weep. So much waste; so much horror! And it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Maybe we don’t weep, because if we started weeping over the tragedy in this world, when would we ever stop.
Rightly, we may choose to pray, and then try to do something about something! For there will always be consequences to bear when people live without concern for others or the well-being of the community as a whole – this has been seen before. It only takes a modicum of evil intent combined with a bit of apathy … to create the conditions for social dysfunction. If we don’t recognise our visitation from God (in Jesus), and appreciate the things that make for peace, then things can only go from bad to worse. Anytime children are abused, and that abuse is covered up, Jesus sheds tears. Back in the 1990’s, many of us Melbournians cringed in horror, and wept with regret, when then premier Jeff Kennett referred to Crown Casino as representing “the true spirit of Victoria”! How has that worked out for Melbourne!? Successive governments have become addicted to gambling revenue. Where we fail to serve the needs of our vulnerable brother and sister … heaven weeps.
Jesus’ tears speak of Jesus’ abiding love for the citizens of Jerusalem! Jesus also shows us here, in his tears, that God is not happy with the way things are, and is calling us into some sort of creative response. Speaking of creative responses! What do you do when people are being taken advantage of financially … and this is happening at a ‘temple’?
Worshippers were coming to pay the temple tax, and would need to exchange their money into the right currency to do so. Roman and Greek currency had to be exchanged into the required half-shekels. The problem was that the ‘money-changers’ had turned this into a racket, and people were being thoroughly ripped off. And people, who were seeking to fulfil their religious obligation to bring a sacrifice to the temple, and needing to purchase these upon arrival, were being blatantly cheated, some of those with little capacity to afford such added expense. And then all of this trading was happening in the only area of the temple where the Gentiles (non-Jews), who had become interested or aligned with Jewish religious practices, could pray. They sadly weren’t allowed to enter any further, and this temple courtyard was all taken up with commerce.
A place of sincere worship had been literally sold out to commercial gain (and much of it unjust)! What would you do? Well we see what Jesus did – an action recorded in all four gospels! We might not be in a position to take such direct action, but the point is, to be alert and available to do what God would want us to do according to His Will. And that is always to stand against injustice, and in the service of the vulnerable, needy and lost! Who is Jesus? Jesus was NOT a simple fix-all solution, responded to today, forgotten tomorrow; but rather One who came to transform everything – and therefore requires a total relational ‘buy-in’! Whenever we weep over things being way less than they should be – we should be caused to think about how much we contribute to the problem, and, then, how much we are contributing to the solution.
Jesus wants all of us, and all of us every day! And not just when the crowds are on our side, but also, maybe more so, when they are pitted against us. Jesus did not actually seek to reign from the centre (where he was not really wanted), but rather to transform lives through a credible serving ministry from the outside-in. Today’s church needs to have all its internal and external functioning attuned and aligned with the purposes of God under the Holy Spirit’s leading, and thereby truly be “a house of prayer”. In this way, the church can be increasingly trusted to bring value, hope and peace into their local community. Our society, largely without knowing it, is depending upon us to inject an appreciation of God (and God’s ways) into our streets and neighbourhoods.
So, who is Jesus?? God incarnate – God in human form – our visitation from God. The Saviour – our Saviour – the bringer of salvation – the pathway of salvation. The name “Jesus” means, “God is Salvation”. Jesus is also called “Immanuel – God is With Us”. The Messiah – the Suffering Servant. Jesus the peacemaker and reconciler. Jesus brings light into the darkness. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus searches for the lost. Jesus stands with the suffering and oppressed, and against greed, injustice and evil. Jesus is wholly committed to the welfare of humankind. Being all these things, Jesus both taught us how to live, and then provided the means through which we can live like that … his death for our forgiveness, his resurrection for new life / new creation, the Holy Spirit for daily presence, guidance, practical fruitfulness, active giftedness, witness and mission. Jesus is everything!
Conclusion & Blessing
As we commemorate and celebrate Easter, may we fully appreciate our visitation from God. As we reflect on the cross and the empty tomb, may we recognise the things that make for peace.