Why Did Palm Sunday’s Hosanna Turn Into Good Friday’s Crucify Him?

by Bobby Gilles

in Exhortations And Musings

Palm leaves in photo entitled Palm SundayPalm Sunday occurs one week before Easter. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, while crowds shouted

“Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9

Bible commentators often note that some of the people in this great throng would have undoubtedly been among the crowd screaming “Crucify Him!” just days later, and demanding that Pilate free the notorious criminal Barrabas instead of the one who came in the name of the Lord.

How? Why? It’s enough to cause a child to scratch her chin and a skeptic to shake his head. But we must reflect on the events of Christ’s Passion during Holy Week. We all know it doesn’t make sense to go straight from celebrating with “Hosannas” to singing

“Come and mourn with me awhile/ Jesus our Lord is crucified.”

Read the Passion narratives in the Gospels (Matthew 21-27, Mark 11-15, Luke 19-23, John 12-19). Taken together, these Gospel narratives show a number of ways in which Jesus confounded and disappointed Jerusalem. Let’s look briefly at what the people wanted, and then highlight just three of the things Jesus said and did. You’ll see why and how “Hosanna” became “Crucify him.”

What The People Wanted

In calling Jesus the “Son of David” and He who “comes in the name of the Lord,” Jerusalem was saying “We believe this is our deliverer — He will lead us into a great military victory over Rome and reestablish a legitimate crown in Jerusalem.”

After all, Jesus had used Kingdom language throughout His ministry. Now he would join a line of deliverers that included Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David and other men who threw off the shackles of oppressive governments or foreign invaders. Now Jesus would conquer.

Incident #1: Jesus Goes Crazy In The Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46)

The people of Jerusalem want Jesus to conquer Caesar. Instead, he strides into the temple and starts overturning tables. Then he throws a bunch of people out of the temple — notice “those who bought and those who sold.”

Some suggest that Jesus merely didn’t want people to pay exorbitant prices. He was against the “money changers” who were making money dishonestly. But Jesus also threw out “those who bought.” He wouldn’t even “allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (Mark 11:16).

Christ disrupted a way of life. He didn’t just want people to get better deals, he wanted them to stop giving in to the consumer culture that made the house of God into a den of thieves. All these people — buyers and sellers — were robbing God of worship.

So picture this: You just gave a rousing welcome to someone, and the next thing you know he is throwing you out of church.

Incident #2: Jesus Fails To Stand Up To Caesar (Matthew 22:15-21; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26)

Some Pharisees and Herodians show him a coin with Caesar’s inscription on it and ask if it is lawful for them to pay taxes to Rome. Many of those who hailed Jesus as the “Son of David” would have wanted him to say “Nope. In fact, I’m about to teach Rome a lesson they’ll never forget. Caesar is going down.”

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Mark 12:17).

The Jewish authorities don’t expect this nuanced reply, so they walk away marveling. Yet Jesus’ answer is a clear, public denial that he would confront Caesar in the way that Moses confronted Pharaoh. Jesus knows Caesar is dust. He has a larger opponent to deal with. The crowds don’t understand.

Incident #3: Jesus Says He Is NOT Restoring Israel At This Time, And Furthermore, Things Are About To Get Worse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21)

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6

Then his disciples spoke to him privately, during which he gave a much broader picture of how things were going to get much worse for Jerusalem. Whether gossip about Jesus’ words made its way to the public (through Judas or someone else) isn’t known — let’s assume that it didn’t, since the Bible doesn’t say so.

But remember that unless the Bible says that he spoke to his disciples about something privately, then many of his remarks to them were heard by others (such as in Luke 20:45-47). During Jesus’ trial, some gave false testimony (Mark 14:58) that he’d claimed he would destroy the temple himself (misrepresenting Christ’s teaching that his body would be “torn down and raised in three days”) so “temple talk” by Jesus was likely major fodder for gossip during this final week.

Talking about the destruction of the temple was serious business. Remember, many of Christ’s followers were expecting his ministry to climax in military victory, not defeat. He’d already had that crazy episode in the temple where he threw people out and overturned all the tables. Now he’s talking about the end of the temple, down to the foundation stones. Why not talk about the destruction of Herod’s palace in that way? Or Pilate’s Hall and the grand buildings in Rome?

Not What They Signed Up For

Some of Jesus’ followers remained with him to the end (even if secretly, like Joseph of Arimathea).  We know he appeared to hundreds after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6), and that the book of Acts begins with “about 120” believers (Acts 1:15). But no doubt Jesus lost many followers between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. His actions and words over the course of Holy Week demonstrated time and again that he was not who they thought he was, and he’d not come to do what they thought he would do.

Sometimes we’re a lot like them. We want:

  • Santa Claus Jesus
  • Vending Machine Jesus
  • Motivational Speaker Jesus
  • Politician Jesus

and other false gods. We don’t see the whole story. Christ offers forgiveness of sin, victory over Satan, power over the grave and eternal life as adopted sons and daughters of God.

So the question is, when we shout our “Hosannas,” in worship to Jesus, are we thinking too small? Because that is the start of a very big problem.

Palm Sunday photo above by Les Chatfield, used via Creative Commons license



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