Matthew 21:1-11 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The 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 27:15-17 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
Matthew 27:20-2320 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. 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 tells us one story in two separate chapters. It’s the story of the the Palm Sunday crowd that turned into a mob. It’s the story of people who were all-in one day and all-out the next. It is the story of people who hailed Jesus King one day and chanted “nail Him” the next. What is that about? I’ll call it spiritual instability.
This crowd wasn’t unlike other crowds who followed Jesus…until they didn’t. In John 6, a crowd of at least 5,000 had come to Jesus. They were following Him because of the miraculous signs they had seen Him perform. I can see the legitimacy of that kind of decision. “I’ll follow Jesus because He can heal. I’ll follow Him because He obviously has power.” Makes sense, right? Jesus could help them. So, the crowd followed Him. And the crowd wasn’t disappointed. Using just five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus fed them all! Over 5000 people got full (for a few hours anyway). John 6:14 says, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Isn’t that the purpose of a miracle? Isn’t it to point people to the truth about Jesus, to His Messianic identity? Sounds like it was working. Curious is the very next verse that says: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” John 6:15
Make Him King by force? How could anyone think they could force Jesus to do anything at any time? That’s absurd, right? In their opinion, Jesus wasn’t going to move on. He was going to find a throne and sit down, and He was going to meet their every need. He was going to be the kind of King they wanted. He would do as He was told. I guess many are good to follow Jesus as long as He becomes the kind of King they approve of, the kind of King they desire, one who will heal them and feed them and sort of be at their beck and call.
As the story continues, the next morning the crowd found Jesus again. They were looking for Jesus to perform for them some more; to feed them some more. Jesus said in John 6:26-27, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” Jesus made it clear that they were seeking the wrong thing. They didn’t need to be focused on perishable things like food. They needed to be seeking the eternal life that Jesus could provide, something that wouldn’t spoil, something that would last forever. They needed to experience the life-giving power Jesus had that would change the way they lived every day. What they needed from Jesus was Jesus, Himself! On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval. He was already King. God had declared it so. No earthly force made Jesus King. He was and is God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He didn’t come to give people a temporary satisfaction, like the satisfaction that comes from food or even from a healing that doesn’t last forever, but He came to give us Himself.
They didn’t get it. They started talking about food again. They talked to Jesus about their forefathers and how they had miraculous manna when they were in the wilderness. Jesus tried to help them understand He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. He can fill every heart and satisfy every thirst. The crowd wasn’t happy with His response. They weren’t hearing out of Jesus what they wanted to hear. Is that why some turn away? Is it that why some follow Jesus until they no longer hear what they want to hear?
Jesus wasn’t backing down. The words He responded with were even harder to hear. “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
They were done after hearing that. That was craziness in their estimation. No good Jew would eat someone’s flesh or drink someone’s blood! That was forbidden by the law. The bottom line is they just heard what they wanted to hear, and they didn’t want to understand what Jesus was saying. They didn’t want to be challenged to go beyond their interest in Jesus for physical blessings. What Jesus was saying was simply, “Just as you take food and drink within your body and it becomes a part of you, so you must receive ME within your innermost being so that I can give you life.”
Here is the sad commentary of the next verse.
John 6:66 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
The same people who had wanted to make Jesus King by force, deserted Him. They walked away grumbling and unhappy. They hailed Him for a hot second and ditched Him when He didn’t suit their agenda.
I get that Jesus’ message was hard to hear and harder to understand, but they didn’t even try. Are we like that? When the message is unclear or difficult to understand, do we just give up on Jesus and look for something more accessible? Do we just want some external physical benefit from following Jesus or are we willing to take Him into the inner most part of our being? Here is what I know: Miracles last for a moment, but Jesus is forever. The crowd was interested in miracles, not in taking Jesus in.
And it wasn’t always a crowd that walked away from Jesus. Individuals did too. Think about the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18. He wanted eternal life. Sounds good, right? I want that, too, don’t you? It isn’t wrong to want to go to Heaven. The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus a great question in Luke 18:18: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He perceived that Jesus was someone who would know the answer to that all-important question. Hoping to impress him, The Rich Young Ruler told Jesus about his personal goodness, about how he had kept all of the commandments. Jesus explained to him, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what counted. He told the guy to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and follow Him. Then, he would have treasure in Heaven. Once Jesus and not money was his first love, the young man would have all he needed whether he had money or not.
Was Jesus against riches? Not at all. He knew that the man’s money had become a problem, a stronghold in his life. He knew the man’s money had become his first love. His money had become his idol, his god. Until that was out of the way, until that was removed from first place in his life, Jesus could never have his heart. It was too difficult for the Rich Young Ruler. Matthew’s Gospel tells us the man went away sad. He wanted his money over a relationship with Jesus. He wanted his money more than he wanted eternal life.
Do we just follow Jesus out of curiosity until the cost of following Him is more than our love for other things?
Some follow Jesus for a possible healing. Some follow Jesus for material blessings. Some follow Jesus out of curiosity because His teachings have weight and power. Some follow Jesus merely for the hope of Heaven. But those who are spiritually stable, those who will live in victory, those who will be transformed, those who will be used of God to change the world are those who follow Jesus for Jesus!
HE is the reward! HE is the treasure! HE is the “Pearl of Great Price.” Heaven is just a bonus! Does anyone know what I am talking about this morning?
HE is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. HE is the One who loves you like no other! HE is the One who won’t ditch you in the valley of the shadow of death. HE is the One who will climb into the fire with you. HE is the One who will keep you sane when the craziness of this life hits you from all directions. HE is the One who will bail you out of the pit. HE is the One who will empower you to face your fear and overcome your enemy. HE is the One who will heal the pain in your heart and give you the grace to stand when you have been done wrong and when you have been falsely accused. HE is the One who will give you power and authority over every trial you face. HE is the One who will give you wisdom to navigate life’s challenges. HE is the One who will comfort you when you are sick, when you are lonely, and when you are distraught. HE is the One who will give you strength for life’s daily requirements. HE is the One who will listen to you when you are mad, sad and glad. He is the One who will come to your rescue because your hope is in Him. He is the One who will pick you up when you fall. He is the One who will restore to you what has been lost. He is the One who has taken what you and I deserve on Himself. He is the ONE who can change you from the inside out. He is the ONE who has a plan to work through your life to reach others for the Kingdom. He is the One who has robbed the grave of its power! He is the One who holds the keys to every prison, and HE is the One who will escort you from the temporal into the eternal when your time on this earth is through.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus! Can you just offer Him some Palm Sunday praise with me? Can you just lift up a shout, a hallelujah, a Hosanna, a “thank You, Jesus” for just being You! Thank You, Jesus for linking up with the likes of me. Thank You, Jesus for coming down and lifting me up! Thank You, Jesus for giving me daily hope! Oh, blessed assurance, Jesus is MINE! O what a foretaste of glory Divine!
Are you all-in because you want all of Jesus this morning? Or do you want to follow Jesus until He mentions that it will require you to change? When Jesus called the first disciples, He didn’t say, “Follow me, and I will give you eternal life.” He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Oh, He is the way to eternal life, no doubt, but the desire of Christ for us is that we be changed, transformed into new creations with a new identity and new purpose. He was upfront with His disciples from the get-go. He wanted their full allegiance, their full focus, their whole lives. It’s a radical message, but full surrender is the only way to truly possess the life of Jesus.
What happened to that Palm Sunday crowd? Why did so many people turn on Jesus? An answer is in Matthew 27:20: “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.”
The enemies of Jesus persuaded the crowd to crucify Jesus. The enemies of Jesus put pressure on the crowd to turn on Him and to walk away from Him. When the question comes to each of us, “What do you want to do with Jesus?” what will be our answer? How do we handle it when we come under a little pressure for being a Jesus-follower?
Peter was definitely a disciple who was “all-in.” He had signed on for life-change. He had left everything to follow Jesus. He wanted Jesus to be His leader. He was invested in learning. He had been given authority and was learning how to do the things Jesus did. He was the one who had the faith to walk on water toward Jesus, well, for a minute anyway. He was the one who told Jesus, “I will follow you to the death. I will never deny You.” I believe he meant it with his whole heart. What happened when a little pressure came his way?
Let me set the stage for us. Jesus had been arrested. He was being grilled by the high priest, the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law. Mark 14:54 tells us what Peter was doing:54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest.
Here we see evidence that Peter was already in trouble. He was already in danger of compromise. He was setting himself up for a flip flop, for denial and betrayal that followed. When we put distance between ourselves and Jesus, when we take a step back so that we don’t appear to radical or too devoted or too religious or whatever it is we think we are in danger of being labeled, when we hang back and start to follow Jesus at a distance, we are in jeopardy of doing the wrong thing when the pressure hits.
Here is the second half of verse 54: There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Not only did Peter distance himself from Jesus, but he drew closer to the enemies of Jesus, by warming himself at their campfire.
What was his motive for that? Well, he wanted to be close enough to Jesus to hear what was going on, to follow the goings on. He wanted to have a connection with Jesus, but he wanted to blend in enough with his enemies that he wouldn’t stand out as a Jesus supporter if push came to shove. If he could mingle some with those who opposed Jesus, they wouldn’t arrest him as well.
Peter’s second step was as bad as his first. We shouldn’t think we could stand for Jesus if we have distanced ourselves from him and have seated ourselves with His enemies. Nothing will make us spiritually unstable faster. Are we trying to stay in the shadows in our relationship with Jesus? Are we trying to be connected enough to make Heaven and disconnected enough so as to keep the crowds guessing where we stand? We know what happened next to Peter.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. 68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Are we comfortable with just being one of the crowd this morning? You know, you can be in a crowd on Sunday morning and not really be committed to Jesus.
Are we hanging around with Jesus out of mere curiosity? While that is a start, when will it become more?
Are we comfortable with just praying for miracles and hoping to make it to Heaven? What about the work Jesus wants to do in us and through us?
Are we merely including Jesus in our top ten important things in our lives list or is He truly first?
Are we good to be called a disciple until it requires something has to change?
Are we walking as closely as we can with Him, or are we leaving room for speculation about where we stand?
Are we praising Him on Sunday and denying Him on Monday?
Are we committed as long as there is no pressure to live otherwise?
Does Jesus just have your attention, or does He have your heart?
Don’t be like the crowds that ditched Jesus because they didn’t want more than a miracle and didn’t want to understand the truth.
Don’t be like the Palm Sunday crowd who was easily persuaded to give up on Jesus.
Don’t be like the Rich Young Ruler who chose his money over Jesus and went away sad.
Don’t be like Peter who chose in just one strategic moment to distance himself from Jesus and wound up crying bitter tears.
Don’t relegate Jesus to only being a miracle giver. Let Him be your Lord. Let Him be your ALL. Let Him be your every day obsession. Give up spiritual instability and find the power, peace, grace, strength, purpose, and transformation that comes from letting Jesus have full control of you from the inside out!