A huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet [Jesus]. They shouted, “Praise God! Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”
“The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” —John 12:13; John 12:23,24 (NLT)
You’re up, and then you’re down. Life is great, and then, in the blink of an eye, something unexpected happens, and everything changes.
Just a week earlier, Jesus had performed his greatest miracle, calling life back into the dead body of his friend Lazarus. The man had been in the tomb for 4 days when Jesus brought him back to life. The mourners were astonished—rightfully so—and word of this miracle flashed like lightning a few miles away to Jerusalem where preparations were underway for the Jewish Passover. Suddenly, everyone was talking about Jesus. Everyone wanted to see this Jesus. Would he come to Jerusalem for Passover?
A few days later he did, and a spontaneous celebration broke out. He entered the city riding on a donkey, implying that he was the king prophesied by Zechariah, a “righteous” and “humble” king. The surging crowd laid their coats in the road to smooth his path, waved palm branches and shouted praises to God.
Imagine the sort of frenzy the Pope creates when he visits a foreign city and you’ll get the picture.
Then, in the blink of an eye everything changed.
Within hours, Jesus was talking to his disciples about dying.
Within days, Jesus had been arrested, tried (railroaded is more like it) and sentenced to be executed.
Within days, he was hanging in the hot Judean sun from a Roman cross, bleeding, in agony, derided and mocked by the very people who had praised him just days before.
Within days, his lifeless body was hastily laid in a borrowed tomb. His proud disciples hid themselves behind locked doors, afraid for their lives, and the horrific shock of the execution of their beloved rabbi began draining them of all hope.
The man who had raised Lazarus had not been able to save himself.
This is the story Christianity is founded on. It’s unusual. When one looks at other religions and their own venerated leaders, it’s odd that we Christians have built our faith on a man who was executed for a capital offense.
But even if we stop right there, with a dead body carried away from Calvary and sealed in a cold, stone tomb, there are a few valuable lessons we might learn.
Lesson One: Humans are fickle. Our hearts are adulterous. We can pledge our eternal love one day and take it back the next. Just ask George Bush: his approval rating is in the basement because the very people who went to the polls for him in 2004 have turned on him in 2006. Faithfulness is not one of our strong points.
Lesson Two: Don’t believe your press. If everyone calls you a genius, if they say you walk on water, don’t be foolish enough to actually believe them. Arrogance and a false moral superiority is what put Martha Stewart in an orange jump suit and plastic sandals.
Lesson Three: Life is unfair. We don’t often get what we deserve. The innocent are sometimes punished with the guilty. Human justice is only at best an approximation of God’s perfect justice.
Lesson Four: The majority isn’t always right. The crowd may be loud, but it isn’t often wise. When the throng of witnesses demanded that Pontius Pilate pardon Barabbas the terrorist and execute Jesus the righteous, we got yet another lesson in mob “justice.”
But, the Christian story doesn’t end with death. The Christian story is about the execution of an innocent man, but that isn’t the full story, not by a long shot. When everything seemed darkest, when all seemed lost, God wasn’t finished. Though the disciples had lost all hope, God was busy doing something so remarkable that it never entered their grief-soaked minds.
Lesson Five: Beyond what we can see with our own eyes and touch with our own fingers, there is much more. Beyond the awful truth of this material life is another truth, a truth full of life, hope, and perfect justice. God’s truth. God’s justice. God’s sovereign and perfect plan. And the first rule in God’s book is this: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
(Thanks to Pastor John Reed for inspiring this post.)