March 24 – Palm Sunday: Five groups of people

By Mark Potma

John 12:12-19

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out,“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;behold, your king is coming,sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.19 So the Pharisees said to one another,“You see that you are gaining nothing. Look,the world has gone after him.”

Do you remember a time when you were in the middle of a big crowd? Maybe it was a massive celebration where the crowds swelled with excitement and enthusiasm. Perhaps it was a demonstration where you could feel the tension and anger in the air.

Of all the events that we read in the four gospels about in Jesus’ life, there was really only one public “rally”, a massive demonstration calling for Jesus to become King of Israel. Jesus wasn’t really big on rallies and demonstrations or whipping up crowds; it just wasn’t his way. But this one needed to happen – it was a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy more than 500 years before the birth of Christ. So Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey and received the praise and adulation of the masses as they shouted “Hosanna!” and waved palm branches.

Jesus realized very well that such a huge crowd would have severe consequences. But Jesus knew the task that awaited him and therefore he did not avoid the huge crowds on his way into Jerusalem. Instead, he went straight through the middle of them as they laid down their cloaks before him on his way toward the gates of Jerusalem.

Let’s take a closer look at the various groups of people who made up this sea of humanity. Can you find yourself there in the crowd? Which group do you most identify with?

1. The pilgrims (v 12-13)

It was Passover, and Jews from all over were making their way to Jerusalem to commemorate their miraculous escape from Egypt centuries earlier. They truly believed that if God did it once he could do it again, and free them from the shackles of Roman oppression. So they shouted, “Hosanna!” – literally, “Save us now!” They wanted a king, and they wanted one now! But Jesus wasn’t riding on a horse as a conquering king to solve all their political woes; he was there riding on a donkey to save them from their sins and to prepare a way for them to be reconciled to God. The pilgrims didn’t get it, and we too often see Christ as the answer to our most urgent needs.

2. The disciples (v.15-16)

Oh, those poor disciples! They completely missed the unique meaning of that day. Three years they had walked and talked with Jesus, but they were still immature, slow to understand, and often fearful. They bickered and were jealous; they denied, betrayed, and doubted; they were often confused and ineffective. That’s why Jesus told them a few chapters later that it would be for their own good that he leaves them. They would receive the Holy Spirit who would fill them, lead them, counsel and help them, and strengthen their faith. How long have we been following Jesus and still we fall into the same patterns of our life without God? We need the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives!

3. The witnesses of Lazarus (v.17-18)

The third group in the crowd was there because they wanted to see a miracle even greater than the last one they saw – the raising of Lazarus from the dead! In every crowd there are those who are looking for the sensational. They saw Jesus feed the 5000, cast out demons, calm the sea and walk on water, and they started to base their faith on the miracles that Jesus did and not on Jesus himself. Their desire was not for Jesus alone, but for the experiences and adrenaline of the supernatural. We know that some of the same people in the crowd who shouted “Hosanna!” didn’t get what they wanted and a week later shouted “Crucify him!” Do we ever find ourselves turning away from God when we don’t get what we want?

4. The Pharisees and religious leaders (v.19)

The fourth group that we meet in the crowds are the Pharisees and religious leaders of the Jews. They were against Jesus from the beginning and now their hatred for him is only intensifying. They were selfish hypocrites and cowards. Wait a minute – before we criticize them some more, we need to realize that in some ways our lives may be quite similar to theirs. They realized that faith in Jesus as the Messiah would result in discomfort and sacrifice. They would have to deny themselves. They might even lose their jobs or their loved ones might make fun of them. This is why Jesus said just a few verses later that when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it bears much fruit (v.24). It’s true Jesus was speaking of himself, but he’s also talking about us. If we want to truly live, we need to die to our selfish desires and be born again – only then can we produce much fruit for eternal life.

5. The Greeks seeking Jesus (v.20-26)

Even though the Triumphal Entry is found in all four gospels, only in John’s account do we find the account of the Greeks seeking Jesus. John emphasizes that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Saviour of the whole world! Who were these Greeks? Just curious tourists who stumbled upon a crowd celebrating some Jewish festival? No, they were God-fearing Greeks who wanted to worship the one true God and they desired to see Jesus. I love their openness, their sincerity, and their desire. Others said, “We want to see a miracle!” but the Greeks said, “We want to see Jesus!” Others said, “We want to stop Jesus!” but the Greeks said, “We want to stop and talk to Jesus!”

There were five groups of people in the crowd that day. During this holy week before Easter, let’s examine our hearts and ask ourselves the question: Where am I? Which group do I belong in? Let’s pray that we would not only seek Jesus, but that we would truly find him and stay close to him.

Mark and Gretchen Potma are missionaries with TEAM in the Czech Republic, planting churches in one of the most atheistic countries in the world. They have four young adult children.

2 Replies to “March 24 – Palm Sunday: Five groups of people”

  1. Two ideas stood out for me:
    – Some of the witnesses to Lazarus’ raising from the dead, based their faith on the sensational miracles that Jesus did, not on Jesus himself.
    – Jesus wasn’t really big on rallies, demonstrations or whipping up crowds. It just wasn’t his way.

    I have observed that some televangelists use some of these focusses: promises of miracles, huge rallies, and whipping up emotional fervour.

    We need to pray for discernment that we may recognize the Truth.

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