Sunday, April 13, 2014

Empty Hosannas

Kevin DeYoung writes this short but interesting bit regarding what we commonly say of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on what we regard as Palm Sunday.  DeYoung says that many preachers imply that the same crowd that shouted "Hosanna!" on Palm Sunday would go on to shout "Crucify him!" only five days later, illustrating mankind's tendency to fall away.

But, DeYoung says, a more careful look at scripture shows us that the people who shouted "Hosanna!" were a uniquely different set than those who shouted "Crucify him!" later in the week.  The gospel of Luke says that the people shouting and singing as he rode in on the donkey were "the whole multitude of his disciples."  Mark 15 says that many of his disciples were looking on as this was happening, indicating that they were a large portion of the proceedings, or at least instigators of the celebration.  John 12 says that the people waving palm branches and celebrating his arrival were those who had seen Jesus do miraculous signs and wonder, such as raising Lazarus from the dead.  Surely these people were regular followers of Jesus.

In contrast, those who shouted for Jesus' death were not his followers, but the Jews of Jerusalem, including the Pharisees and others.  These were not Jesus' regular followers or disciples.

DeYoung quotes commentator R.T. France: "There is no warrant here for the preacher's favorite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout 'Hosanna' one day and "crucify him' a few days later.  They are not the same crowd.  The Galilean pilgrims shouted 'Hosanna' as they approached the city, the Jerusalem crowd shouted, 'Crucify him.'"  

OK, the point is made: those who shouted "Hosanna!" were not the same as those who shouted "Crucify!" and so it is probably unwise to use this as an example of how easily people fall away.  But here's my question: is it really better to have been one of the ones who shouted "Hosanna" than it was to be one of those who shouted "Crucify!"?  Not much, I don't think.  Allow me to explain.

It's clear that those who shouted "Hosanna" did not have a grasp of who Jesus really was in truth.  Rather than the Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, they believed him to be a conquering Messiah who would restore the glory of Israel, setting them up as rulers on earth.  They didn't believe Jesus' kingdom to be a spiritual one built in the hearts of men, but a physical one built through rulers and powers.  This is made even more evident if, as DeYoung asserts (and I think he's correct), those who welcomed him into the city were made up of his disciples.  In fact, his disciples were the ones who were potentially most confused on this issue!

Why were the people shouting "Hosanna" when Jesus entered the city?  Many, if not most, had an inaccurate idea of who Jesus was and what he had come to do.  Did they love Jesus?  Yes, but mostly for what he could do for them, namely restoring the kingdom to Israel and reestablishing their rule of power in the world.  And because the thought of getting the goods through Jesus excited them so much, they responded in praise for their "king."

Do we not see this same level of commitment to Jesus in our day and age?  People who will ascribe their allegiance to Jesus not because they love him or have been changed by him, but because they believe that such an allegiance will be advantageous for their own personal agenda.  In other words, people love Jesus because of what he can do for them - just like those who shouted "Hosanna" as Jesus entered Jerusalem.

So it's true that those who shouted "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday were not the same who shouted "Crucify!" on Good Friday, but I'm not sure this is much better!  May my own "Hosannas!" be uttered with a true heart of love for who Jesus really is, and not just because of what he can do for me.

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