This column first appeared in the Cook County News-Herald Saturday April 13, 2019.
Millions of Christians around the world will observe Palm Sunday on April 14, 2019. Children will march into sanctuaries waving palm branches, some real, some paper, some plastic. They will sing as they proceed. In some places the donkey that carried “Mary” in the Christmas play will hire on again and enter stage right bearing “Jesus” before the rejoicing crowd. There will be songs and words and efforts to recreate the significance of Christ’s final, prophetic entrance into the city of God, Jerusalem.
For others, the celebration will be muted, sober, even somber as the reality of the ancient fickle-hearted mob sinks in for the modern worshipers. One day they welcomed the “King” with shouts of joy, allowing the beast of burden to plant its dusty hooves on their cloaks laid festively on the ground before the people’s long--expected royalty. A few days later, provoked by a few, en masse they crowned him with thorns, mocked and robed him, stripped him naked, beat him, and nailed him to a cross, crucified, left to die accompanied not by courtiers but criminals.
It is easy, hindsight being 20/20, to cast a condemning eye from 21 centuries away, to think that the people who crowded the roadway that descended Olivet should have known better. It is easy to think they should have known the King they celebrated that day was no earthly potentate come to reassert authority over provincial sociopolitical entities in favor of his own sovereignty. It is easy to think they should have realized the significance of Christ, the radiance of God’s glory, returning to the city and the temple of God after more than 400 years of divine silence. But they didn’t. They didn’t understand. Why? Because it was hidden from them.
There are two encounters that bookcase the gospel report of Jesus’ triumphal entry to the city of Jerusalem just days before his crucifixion. One event occurs as Jesus travels from Galilee in the north of Israel south through the borders of Samaria along the Jordan River on the road to Jericho. Everywhere he goes people press questions upon him, they bring children for his blessing, they oppose him with faithless logic traps meant to justify the plans the leaders have for his destruction. He pulls his disciples aside from the melee and tells them in no uncertain terms where they are headed and what will happen:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.
You just can’t get more verbally clear than that. But they didn’t understand Jesus. His own disciples, men and women into whom he had poured three years of his life, still didn’t understand what he was all about. Luke the historian tells us, “This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34.)
The second event occurred on the Olivet road overlooking Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, after the impromptu royal parade. Luke tells us:
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
The people did not understand the bigger picture of the events they were caught up in because it was hidden from them. The disciples did not understand the clear revelation Jesus gave them about his immediate future because it was hidden from them. Why? Why were these things hidden from those who might seem to have benefited greatly from clarity?
There may be more reasons than this, but I think the most important reason reality was hidden that day, the reason of first importance, was that God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin-deserved death required that the perfect, innocent Son of God die on the cross as the infinitely qualified satisfaction for divine justice. If his disciples, or the people so enthused by his teaching and mercy, had understood what was happening, they might have stepped in to stop his death, a death God planned from before the world began as the means by which He would demonstrate to all creation, physical and spiritual, the depth and wonder of His glory and love.
God meant for Jesus to die on the cross. God meant for Jesus to take upon himself the sins of the whole world, to suffer in his body the death deserved by every man, woman, and child who ever lived, the one representative of us all. God meant for human sin and rebellion to be rightly and justly judged in the undeserved death of His sinless Son. The big picture was hidden from them so you, seeing the big picture, could find peace with God through faith in Christ.
Paul proclaims it of first importance that Christ died for our sins. But that is not all Paul offers as of first importance. More next week.