Crash Course 9
Students in my Bible classes picture themselves as stand up comics when they ask if their next memory verse can be John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” I tell them the first time I heard that one I laughed so hard I pushed my stylus clear through my clay tablet.
Thanks to the strange verse assignments in the Bible—I’ve heard the story that verses were created by a circuit-riding preacher who marked a new verse each time he bumped off the saddle—“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the New Testament.
All meager attempts at humor aside, the tears of the Lord are no laughing matter. His tears in John 11 were shed outside the tomb of Lazarus, a dear friend. On another occasion, Jesus wept during an exhilarating celebration.
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,” sang Lesley Gore in 1965.
Jesus’ party was on what we call Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry, celebrated today in our churches. Due to a sleepless night, I didn’t make it to the party today, but truth be told, Palm Sunday bothers me more each year. It’s like going to a wedding reception when you know the couple is already having problems and the marriage isn’t going to last.
Yet the story appears in all four Gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12.
Matthew mentions no weeping, but includes an angry confrontation at the Temple. Mark includes nothing negative in his account. John’s account is likewise positive. So it’s Luke the physician—not an eyewitness, but a thorough investigative journalist—who records Jesus’ sorrow during the festivity.
When the city [Jerusalem] came into view, he wept over it. “If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They’ll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact. All this because you didn’t recognize and welcome God’s personal visit.” Luke 19:41 – 44, The Message
In Crash Course 2, I wondered, “When did the man Jesus know he was the Messiah, the Son of God?” Today I ask, “What did Jesus know on Palm Sunday that his disciples, the large crowd of fans, the mostly antagonistic Sanhedrin, and the Roman procurator didn’t know?”
What did they think they knew?
The disciples and fans thought they knew Jesus was entering Jerusalem to claim the city and become King David’s heir on the throne, and Goodbye, Rome! After all, when Judas Maccabee rode into Jerusalem—also on a donkey—to waving palm branches, Israel became a free nation for over a hundred hears. James Nienhuis writes on his blog,
When Judas Maccabeus led the Israeli victory over …(the syrian dynasty which followed Alexander the Great), the crowds celebrated his victory by waving palm branches, and to commemorate the victory, Judas “The Hammer” stamped an image of palm branches into their coins, thenceforth symbolizing victory for the Jews over their oppressors. (www.dancingfromgenesis.wordpress.com/)
But what did Jesus know?
He knew he was reporting to Jerusalem to die.
Mark records several conversations when Jesus bluntly told this to his disciples. (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33) And Luke records Christ’s words—a little dark humor, maybe?—as he traveled to Jerusalem, “In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (13:33, NIV)
I believe Jesus used Palm Sunday to provoke the antagonistic authorities to set in motion the events that would lead to his sacrificial death on the cross.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, NKJV) That was always the purpose of the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8)
Jesus had clearly stated his authority over his own coming death. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:17 – 18, NKJV)
Jesus went to his party, and knowing what lay ahead, he wept, not for himself, but for the city and people he loved.