What was it the people saw on that bright day in Jerusalem? They all cheered and laid branches before the man. They shouted Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. But what was that all about? It was high expectations for the prophet from Nazareth–the celebrity people were calling the Son of Man, the Son of David. High expectations indeed, but what did they expect?
Once upon a time, the people suffered in slavery in Egypt. They cried out to God and God sent Moses to lead them out of slavery and into the promised land. And here it was, hard up against the Passover celebration that was the remembrance of those days. You can believe this was very much on the minds of the people. And here was Jesus, coming to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. How could they help but think that this celebrity was going to be the new Moses? Besides, Moses showed great power in liberating the people from Egypt, and Jesus had shown very similar power in his ministry, including raising a man from the dead!
The people were suffering, after all, under the Roman yoke; and many had become slaves without a Jubilee year on the horizon. Also, this Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. They heard the words well enough, but what they saw through earthbound eyes was a heavenly kingdom on earth. The prophets said no more tears. Wouldn’t that be nice today? They did not see through spiritual eyes that the Kingdom Jesus spoke of would be a place after this earth, not a place that was earthbound.
So here came Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, humbly on a donkey as the Scripture said. This “Son of David” came as the prophecy foretold. Once upon a time, David himself came into the city dancing before the Ark, but the parallel in the mind had to be strong. Yet, who was David?
In the time of Saul, the Philistines were pressing in on the people and threatening to overwhelm them. David took up the sword and slew his tens of thousands, or so they sang at the time. He saved them from the Philistines.
And then, not so long ago that the people needed to think about “Once upon a time,” but rather in a time they could remember–in recent history, sort of like us remembering the Continental Congress and the Revolutionary war, the Maccabees took up the sword and drove out the corrupt and terrible Seleucid Empire and set the people free. How could they not imagine the same of Jesus, seeing him as they did with earthbound eyes? I am surprised they laid plm branches rather than swords at his feet!
True, Herod claimed to be in the Hasmonean line, but he had become so corrupt himself, when he caught wind of a King of the Jews being born in Bethlehem, he slaughtered the children. He did not want the rival. His eyes were obviously earthbound as well; and in any case, given the corruption of Herod and his family, the people were ready to restore the line of David.
So here comes Jesus. The new Moses. The new David (king). The savior, in an earthbound way which was all the people could apprehend or comprehend. Jesus spoke plainly of his death and resurrection, but that was not what the people wanted!
High expectations, in truth. Like David, whose son he was believed to be, the people expected Jesus to take up arms and drive out the occupation of the Romans, and restore the line of David, or at least, like the Hasmoneans, establish a new dynasty over the people. Then also, like Moses whose Passover approached, the people expected Jesus to lead them into a promised land of no more tears and no more suffering. The prophets of old spoke all about this. But then, to be sure, earthbound eyes do not always make sense. They expected him to take up the sword and yet produce a nation of no more suffering…?
They did not have the spiritual eyes to see that Jesus came to take on far greater enemies than Rome. He came to defeat Sin, Death and the Devil, and he would do so in the only way it could be done: by taking our burden for it all completely on his shoulders: by sacrificing his life once for all.
Salvation was not an earthly thing. It was not by the sword. Indeed, when Peter cut off the ear of the temple servant, Jesus scolded him and told him to put away the sword, saying that those who live by the sword will die by it. And why did Peter have a sword but perhaps he was thinking the same thing as the people? He was still looking through earthbound eyes himself and thinking of the Hasmoneans and thinking about King David.
And the kingdom he promised? Pilate asked him plainly: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said: “Those are your words. My kingdom is not of this earth.” Jesus answered just as plainly, only Pilate did not have the spiritual eyes to see it. He had enough sense, though, to say he found no fault in the man, but by then everybody was mad angry, big time!
The people wanted hope and change, but the hope and change they got was not what they expected or wanted! Their eyes were too bound to earthly things.
I have found, by hard experience, that it isn’t just the cliché of “the woman scorned” that one has to watch out for. When people have big, unrealistic, perhaps even nonsensical expectations and find them dashed, the crowd can turn quickly into a mob—even a lynch mob. Couple that with “He hasn’t saved us. He hasn’t brought us into the new promised land. He must be a false prophet!” Well, it is easy to see how in a week the cries turned from Hosanna to “Crucify him!”