Nothing in human history “just happens”. There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event. Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.
There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”. However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.
The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened. But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next. They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.
One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird. I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all. All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork. Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter. It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.
I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday.
The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar. It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land. Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever. Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover. They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think? He won’t come to the festival, will He?” The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.
Jesus did come. But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.
John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.
Can you feel the tension? The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point. The Passover was coming. The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point. And then…this happened:
John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:
“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”
Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign. Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”
No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out? While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival? The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.
Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life. These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen. God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light.
His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.
But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life. Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us. And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits.
Am I more valuable than Jesus? Absolutely not. If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts? Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me? Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?
Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?