Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus is praised and sheds tears. Both expressions should be fully embraced by we who follow him.
On Praises and Tears
As Jesus goes down the Mount of Olives, his disciples praise him loudly to the point that they annoy the Pharisees who call out to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Jesus sees that the praise is a necessary response to all they have seen and heard through out his ministry. The Lord answered back to the Pharisees, “I tell you that if these should keep silent the stones would immediately cry out.”
As Jesus gets nearer to Jerusalem, he is in no mood to enjoy the praise being offered to him. A bitter pill is in front of him. Those in the city will crowd around him and listen to his every word. They will marvel at his wisdom, and because of their high regard for him, the chief priest and scribes will not be able to publicly arrest him. Except for the religious hierarchs, Jesus was warmly and popularly received by the crowds in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And these same crowds would cry out for his crucifixion and mock him as he would hang on the cross on Friday.
Indeed, the multitude of disciples, the very ones who believed firmly in Jesus and followed him in every miracle and lesson would also prove unreliable. For while all of their praising was good, except for John, they would all leave him and go into hiding at the time of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Even Peter, the most vocal and alert of his inner circle, failed this test of loyalty. So Jesus wept over the city whose support was superficial and no amount of sincere praise could change the somber struggle he would face.
Now, it is common for ministers and ministries to bring a congregation to praise the Lord as we do not want rocks doing our job for us. That if Jesus had ever exalted your valleys, made low your mountains, straightened out your crooked places, smoothed out your rough spaces; you ought to get up to your feet every now and then. You ought to put your hands together from time to time. You ought to lift up your hands in praise and shout like you have lost your mind. Because if you don’t do it, the gravel in the driveway to the stones on a mountain byway will not be ashamed to say, “Hallelujah! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But the praise is not enough to keep Jesus from weeping. The sincerity of the worship, the honest of the disciples does not negate the fact that Jesus will be stabbed in the back by people who will smile in his face and abandoned by the ones who supposedly have his back. He weeps for Jerusalem and the disciples cannot offer any comfort.
In our world today, Jesus is popular. Major record labels that wouldn’t carry Gospel music artist are signing them left and right. Advertisers don’t mind marketing their products on Christian radio and TV. There were no Grammy Awards for Thomas Dorsey or Mahalia Jackson years ago. It is no surprise these days to see religious and secular music stars at the same awards ceremonies.
Of course we want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to the hedgerows and highways to whosoever will listen and come to Him. But we must also be cautious of an empty popularity that is more concerned with pre-conceived expectations more than discipleship. When the crowd saw Jesus at the mercy of Pilate and not the other way around, they knew he wasn’t the Messiah they wanted. They wanted someone who was going to lead a revolt against the Roman occupiers. They wanted someone who was going to restore their earthly kingdom. When crowds don’t get what they want, they can be persuaded to reject the very thing they need.
I remember Brenda and I attended the National Baptist Student Union Conference in Atlanta back in 1989. When the various choirs came to sing, the conference hall was packed. But when the singing was over and it was Bible Study time, the choirs and half of the conference hall left. I still remember the national director mocking them saying to us seated for the lesson, “Look at them. Don’t say anything to them. Just look at them.” Every year I attended the Hampton Minister’s Conference, something similar would happen. When it was time to hear the Conference Preacher, Afternoon Preacher, or Morning Preacher; the house would be packed as everyone wanted to shout and praise at a “sho-nuff” good sermon. But when the lecturers came to speak and would not try to “put a little something” in their talk, there were plenty of empty seats. In fact, my late grandfather in law noted that the lecturers would sometimes preach instead of lecture just to have people listen to them.
And when we reduce our walk with Jesus to, “I only want the singing, I only like the preaching, I only like this one or that one, I only like worship when it is my way” and do not pursue the wholeness of Christ in our lives, we are no different from the fickle crowds that shouted, “Crucify Him!” Such faith is superficial, throwing away the spiritual life that gives us life for the sake of religious entertainment that may make us feel good for a moment. But will fail us in our quest for salvation. Thus, let our walk with the Lord not be based on the latest hits on Praise 104 FM, Bishop TV Preacher’s nice suits, nor the Christian motivational catch phrases that are so freely tossed about. But, let our faith be built on a constant commitment to follow Jesus, be attentive to his words, witness his miracles, and grow in his grace over the years. Let us put aside pre-conceived notions and follow Him as He leads us according to His will and His way. Even though His way is to be obedient to the Father. Even though the obedience leads to death on a cross.
And though our praises may be good and right, let us also walk with the Lord in soberness of thought. Let us commit ourselves to follow Christ even in times of anguish and bitter tears. Any good actor can join the crowd of the faithful and clap, praise, put a hand up in the air, and do things to seem like they got the Holy Ghost. But, when Gethsemane comes, can we stay awake and watch with Jesus while he prays? Can we admit that we follow him, much less tell others about him before the rooster crows? Can we stand at his sight as he hangs on the cross while others mock and insult him? To lift our hands and voices in a triumphal entry is only right as we sing in our hymn: “But children of the heavenly king may speak their joys abroad. We are marching to Zion, that beautiful city of God.” But, we are also marching to an olive press. We are marching to a fire of admission. We are marching up Calvary’s mountain. These things don’t bring immediate triumph. They bring tears.
But, embrace these tears. For there is a greater triumph next Sunday. Today it is palm leaves, next Sunday a stone will be rolled away. Today Pharisees want him silenced, next Sunday Roman tomb guards fall down before his glory. Today multitudes shout out praises, next Sunday a few women disciples will come with spices. Today he rides into town on a borrowed donkey, next Sunday he rises from a borrowed tomb. Today people with shallow, pre-conceived notions think he will rule an earthly nation. Next Sunday, he rises as the ruler of the eternal and everlasting kingdom forever!