We are now in the endgame of Jesus ministry. While the first 20 chapters of Matthew cover Jesus’ birth through His early thirties, these last eight chapters detail a single, momentous week in the Lord’s life - and in the history of the human race.
The story that opens this chapter, the Triumphal Entry, marks the peak of Jesus’ popularity. The city of Jerusalem, the capital of God’s chosen people, turns out in mass to welcome Jesus. The crowds line the streets eager to hail Him as the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord.
You can imagine the excitement His disciples felt as they rode in like a king’s entourage. Finally the people get it! They have seen the Master and are accepting Him as the Messiah. In fact, it appears for one shining moment like the city was ready to crown Him as King! Surely the Kingdom of God had arrived, and their long wait was finally over!
And yet, five days later, these same people who hailed Jesus as a King would be howling ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ as a crown of thorns, not gold, was placed on His head.
In the time between Sunday and Friday, this enormous crowd had shifted from acknowledging Jesus and the prophesied Savior to demanding He be tortured to death. What happened? What caused them to change their minds? To understand the answer, we must understand what the people were expecting the Messiah to be - and how that differed from what Jesus really came to do.
By Jesus’ day, the people of Judea had spent nearly five hundred years in servitude to one empire of another. Their nation was taken into captivity by the Babylonians and then by the Persians. They had scarcely returned to their homeland before some crazy Macedonian named “Alexander” passed through, conquering the world in a frenzy of bloodshed. After his death, Alexander’s generals and their successors continued to wage war with one another - and Judea always seemed to be caught in the middle. Finally, after enduring nearly two hundred years of brutal persecution by the Greeks, Judea’s leaders had the clever idea to ally themselves with a new power that promised to end their Greek problem forever - the Romans. Pompey the Great (famous rival of Julius Caesar) himself brought the army that “liberated” Judea… only to annex it into the ever-expanding Roman Empire.
So when the people of Israel called out for a Savior, they weren’t really looking for someone who would save their souls. They were hoping for a conqueror - someone who would kick the Romans off of their land and, hopefully, let the Jews get a taste of this “empire” thing they’d heard so much about. Over the course of the week that followed that enthusiastic Triumphal Entry, however, Jerusalem quickly began to realize that this wasn’t what Jesus had come to do. He wasn’t forming a battle plan or talking about how to storm the governor’s palace. Instead He talked about how they needed to repent and return to God.
By that fateful Friday, the people had realized that Jesus didn’t come to fix their circumstances. He came to fix them - to save them from their sin, to convict them of their failings and to send them out to SAVE the very people they hated.
That wasn’t the message they wanted to hear. He wasn’t the Savior they wanted. And they killed Him for it.
But before we rush to judge that angry mob, we should remember that all-too-often we come to Jesus with the same expectations. Our prayers are filled with wish-lists of things that we want Him to change to make our lives more convenient. We are quick to grow impatient - or even angry - when our prayers aren’t “answered” on our time frame. If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that, like the people of Jerusalem, we want a Messiah that will save us from the world without expecting anything of us.
But that simply isn’t what Jesus came to do. We can accept that - accept Him, on His terms - or we can reject Him. The people of Jerusalem made their choice. What will yours be?