In the gospel accounts of Palm Sunday, we learn of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was a celebrity event. Not only did the people come to see Jesus, but also Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. They waved palm fronds and called out,
Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD, the King of Israel!
This mob scene, even if it was fairly orderly, was very distressing to the Pharisees. Every day in every way Jesus was acting and looking more and more like a revolutionary leader, and that would upset the delicate status quo the authorities had with the Romans. Either the Romans would assume that Jesus was a revolutionary and call in the troops, or the people would come to that conclusion and rise up in rebellion. Either way, the result would be national disaster. How to stop Jesus’ landslide popularity? Whatever measures they had been taking were clearly ineffective and today’s demonstration was clear evidence of that.
So they plotted how to kill him. Some said they’d have to kill Lazarus as well.
A good many Pharisees were among the followers of Jesus, which wasn’t helping matters. One, however, did not follow Jesus until after all these events were over—his name was Paul. He was a Roman citizen (a legal status much to be prized), a very well educated man from a wealthy family. He had even studied the Law at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem: the equivalent of being a Rhodes scholar at the very best university. In his letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul describes his background and explains that he counts all these social and intellectual advantages as disadvantages when they are compared to the advantages of knowing Jesus Christ. So Paul gave up a life of luxury and of academic and social advantage to wander about the Roman Empire as a vagabond, sewing tents to earn his living as he faced stonings, beatings, expulsions, shipwrecks and the opposition of other Jews to preach the gospel to slaves and the merchant classes.
Paul’s priorities were breathtaking. What sort of priorities do we have?
Many people are willing to stand in the crowd and wave a palm frond to welcome Jesus, riding into town in triumph. We all want to throng around Him to cheer His victory. But where was this great crowd on the night He was betrayed? Why didn’t they stop the people who had the immense unkindness to jeer at Him and insult Him while He was in agony on the cross? We all want to be with Jesus when times are good, when things are up and cheering—but as soon as the going gets tough, the tough get going... out the door, and down the street, and somewhere else, leaving Jesus all alone.
On Good Friday, they all hid. They denied they knew Him. They forgot about the dedication they had on Palm Sunday. But Jesus’ mother and His best friend were faithful enough to see Him through to the bitter end.
How much of a friend of Jesus are you? Will you wave the palm branch on Palm Sunday? Will you attend Easter services to celebrate His glory? That’s fine, but will you watch and pray with Him on Maundy Thursday, and will you wait at the cross on Good Friday? If you find that you are Jesus’ fair-weather friend, you can take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone. The vast majority of Christians will also fail Him in His time of need, for many churches don’t even hold services on Thursday or Friday of Holy Week.
Holy Week is a good time to look at Paul’s priorities in life. It is a good time to repent and to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ. Be extra grateful this week that Jesus does not believe in reciprocating in kind. For even if you do not watch and pray with him on Maundy Thursday, or stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, Jesus will be present with you in your time of need.