Why the change in the crowd?

I have been posting on Eclectic Christian now for just over a year. This post is the amalgamation of two of my very earliest posts and is revisited now as Easter is just about upon us.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:8-9

22″What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23″Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Matthew 27:22-23

What a difference a week makes! In one week, the people have gone from shouting “Hosanna” to shouting “Crucify him!” Unfortunately, in almost every sermon I have heard on the topic, the pastor gets it wrong. (Not picking on any particular pastor here, I have heard this preached badly six or seven times.) The Pastor assumes that the crowd in Matthew 21 is the same as the crowd in Matthew 27. But this is not the case.

In Matthew 19 we find Jesus way north of Jerusalem, in Galilee, his home turf so to speak. This was where Jesus had grown up, based his ministry, and performed most of his miracles. Like most others he starts to make his way south to celebrate the passover in Jerusalem.

First he heads down to Judea, to the far side of the Jordan (possibly on the route that skirted Samaria.) He crosses back over the Jordan into Jericho, which we find him leaving in Matthew 20. He arrives at Bethpage and Bethany which he makes as his headquarters for Passover week (Matthew 21 & 26). Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims, and Jesus did what many others did who lived outside the immediate area, they slept in the towns surrounding Jerusalem, and then came into Jerusalem for the events of each day.

So when Jesus has his triumphal entry that we read about in Matthew 21, he is surrounded by his supporters from the north. They had also camped outside the city and were also coming in for the day.

In Jerusalem awaits the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who are quite happy with their lifestyle and the degree of autonomy that they have under Roman rule. Someone who might upset their applecart would need to be dealt with quickly.

So what does Jesus do? He drives the money changers and sellers from the temple, directly challenging the leadership of the temple. Then he heads back to Bethany for the night.

He comes back in the next morning, curses the fig tree on the way in, and then spends the day telling parables that insult the chief priests and pharisees. It is then that they decide to arrest him (Matthew 21:45-46). Note that the passage says that they were afraid to arrest him because of the crowd.

Christ continues to clash with the teachers of the law and the pharisees in Mattew 22 & 23. Jesus continues to teach in Matthew 24 & 25 and heads back to Bethany where we find him again in Mattew 26.

Meanwhile the chief priests and elders meet to plot against Jesus.

3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of
the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4and they plotted to arrest Jesus in
some sly way and kill him. 5″But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may
be a riot among the people.” Matthew 26: 3-5

Notice that the plot involved getting Jesus away from his followers. That is the ones who camped outside the city.

Jesus comes back into town to pray on the Mount of Olives at night. It is at the Garden of Gethsemene that he is arrested at night (Matthew 26:47). Jesus himself comments (verse 55) that he was in the temple all day, why didn’t they arrest him then? Why, because his supporters were all in the temple area during the day!

He is immediately taken before the sanhedrin for his first trial. Again, this was still in the middle of the night, and the sanhedrin had gathered for the express purpose of getting rid of Jesus.

Matthew 27 opens by saying that “early in the morning” he was taken before Pilate. It is when he is before Pilate that the crowd shouts “crucify him”.

This is not the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna”. The “Hosanna” crowd are still camped outside the city or making their way in. The “Crucify crowd” is made up of the priests, elders, and pharisees, and those that they have assembled, who wanted nothing to do with Jesus and just want him out of the way.

So why the change in the crowd? Two different crowds. The second crowd planted at a time when the first crowd could not be there.

So why does this matter?

What struck me about this story is that the chief priests, temple leaders, and pharisees represented what society would have considered to be among the most spiritual people in society. Yet these people were the ones that were most threatened by the new wave of the Spirit that had come in the form of Jesus Christ. It is a natural inclination to be suspicious of change, to be resistant to ideas that might threaten your place in society, and to be wary of a new religious movement.

Then I thought of us today in our churches. Are we suspicious, resistant, and wary of new things. Do we like things just the way they are? “If it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.” Over the last couple of years I have heard a couple of astute church leaders suggest that if the congregation is quite happy with the status quo, then some faith stretching exercises are in order. What happens when a new Pastor comes into our church (I am speaking generically here) and suggests that significant change is necessary in order for the church to move beyond its plateaued state? Are we part of the crowd that shouts “Hosanna!”, or are we part of the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”

Examine yourself, and make sure that you are responding with the right motivations. Making sure that you have the right reaction to change will have a major impact on the future ministry of your church.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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10 Responses to Why the change in the crowd?

  1. Cynthia says:

    I loved this! Once again this shows the importance of knowing textual context and giving time for serious study (vs reading) of scripture. You are right. So many times pastors use this particular story to point out the fickleness of human beings. Thank you for re-posting this.It was a blessing.

  2. Hey Cynthia,

    Too funny, I was commenting on your blog at virtually the same time you were commenting on mine.

  3. Cynthia says:

    I truly appreciate your comments Mike! You have interesting insights and often spur me off in a direction I had not thought of!

  4. willohroots says:

    Thanks, Mike, great post. We simplify the past too much, all jews, all scribes. yesterday was as complicated and fractional as today. i keep meaning to ask, can I put a link at willohroots to you? I would appreciate it.

  5. mikelioso says:

    Good post! I have nothing to add and nothing to subtract.

  6. Matt says:

    Thanks so much for this insight on this passage. It will definitely help with my sermon tomorrow. One thing that I would note is that in John 12:42-43, some of the authorities did believe Jesus but chose to give into the political benefits rather than the spiritual benefits of following him. This does give a shade of fickleness on the side of some of the authorities who ultimately succumb to the whims of the world. Keep in mind that many who shouted Hosanna were hoping for a revolt against Rome, not the Savior on the cross. In light of different crowds, there were probably still some in the second crowd who were palm wavers before that did not leave the city for the night.

  7. Ron says:

    Good insight here. I have thought before about this, but not as clearly as you expressed. One thing you said at the end bothers me a little and you aren’t alone in doing this. I hear people who want to make changes in the Church try to put all opposition on the side of the Pharisees and all those who want the change on Jesus side. It depends what the change is. Jesus was challenging the very core of the Pharisees belief and their existence. He is replacing the Law with all it’s ordinances and life style basically with the radical change of being redeemed by grace through faith. Most of the change people try to effect in the present day church are changes of methods, style or tools. Sure there is always resistance to change, but I think we are off base to call the Elders or whoever, pharisees just because they don’t agree with us. Also how many of us when they are trying to get a change act like Jesus?


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