Ticker-tape parades are not as common today as they once were. There was a time when our country honored our heroes and heroines with colossal spectacles. Celebrities would ride in a convertible down massive canyons of steel and glass. Bands played rousing Sousa marches. Young ladies tossed batons and swirled pom-poms. Tons of confetti, streamers, balloons, and ticker tape cascaded upon them. Everybody was there. It was a time of great excitement.
I. Jesus was given a parade
A mass of humanity was present. Perhaps as many as 2.5 million people crowded the narrow streets converging on the holy city of Jerusalem at Passover. From a distance, there came a noise - a kind of rhythmic, staccato chant that wafted in . . . now louder . . . and louder . . . from the southern gate of the city. People stopped talking to each other and turned their faces and their ears toward the sound. A recurring word could be heard: Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna. It was more like a cheer than a chant.
As the procession got closer and closer people began to see the dust rising from shuffling feet. Men pushed and shoved to get closer to the street. The Hosanna's got louder and louder, reverberating against stonewalls.
A man came running ahead of the procession. He was saying something that the people had to strain to hear: "Jesus of Nazareth is coming! The Prophet is coming! The man who raises the dead is coming! Hurry, Jesus is coming!"
The crowd began to inch closer and closer to the street. Dads hoisted their children to their shoulders. Teenagers climbed trees lining the streets for an unhindered view. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of this strange prophet they had heard about.
What they saw was strange - or, at least, totally unexpected. Jesus moved serenely on the back of a small white donkey, much like a man riding in a convertible. Jesus, the honored celebrity, was the center of attention, the eye of the hurricane. Around him chaos, but in him calmness. Rather than the sound of confetti and streamers ruffling the air, one could hear the slashing and whooshing of palm fronds as they were placed in front of the donkey's hooves. Other parade watchers took off their coats and cloaks and spread them before Jesus, much like a red carpet being rolled out for royalty. The coats made a mosaic of color. It was an incredible scene.
I would have loved to been there for that gala event. I wouldn't have wanted to be the street sweeper, though.
All segments of humanity were at the Palm Sunday procession for Jesus that day. You know how I know? I know by what was left on the streets. You can tell a lot about people by what they leave behind.
II. The passers-by - the innocent
The innocent passers-by had never seen Jesus before and did not recognize him now, found themselves caught up in the procession. Many were travelers, pilgrims with their burlap bags, in Jerusalem for Passover. Perhaps, they had come early that morning to the marketplace to shop. Or maybe they had planned a family outing to picnic on the Mount of Olives. They knew nothing of what was to come. They were at the right place at the right time. They simply got caught up in the historical moment.
I know how they felt.
A few summers ago while vacationing in Florida our family traveled to Cape Canaveral. My daughter loves the space and rocket museums and I love the tour of NASA. And after several days on the beach, we welcomed the change of pace.
We departed early anticipating arriving at the NASA visitor's center when it opened. When we turned off of I-95 onto State Road 528 headed toward the Cape we found ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My wife's parents were with us. I told them that the last time we visited NASA it was a breeze. I said, "There must be a lot of people going to visit the space flight center." For over an hour we inched and crawled our way along, wondering why there were so many people on this particular day going to the space center.
As we slowly moved closer and closer, we noticed that a lot of people were parking on the side of the road. Some were getting out of their cars. Still others had spread blankets out on grassy knolls with blankets and picnic baskets. Others had camera's hanging from their necks. A few cradled binoculars. And then in unison it hit us. A shuttle launch must be scheduled today. We asked someone and he confirmed our suspicions. It was 9:53 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. the space shuttle was scheduled to lift off. I pulled the car off to the side of the road, got out of the car. And, then, we watched as the shuttle majestically jettisoned into the heavens.
Like our serendipitous experience with the shuttle, those early vacationers in Jerusalem for Passover were passers-by. They were innocent by-standers, caught up in the moment. They had not planned for this event. They just happened to be present when the parade came by.
Like my family that summer day traveling to Cape Canaveral we were unexpectedly surprised by the chance of seeing the space shuttle blast off into outer space, these people were glad that their paths crossed Jesus' path. They were awed by the majesty of the moment. It was more than the crowds, the chanting, and the chaos. It was the man at the center of it all. It was The Christ. They see in Jesus the look of wonder, the countenance of compassion, the face of a friend. They are enthralled by his determined pace and his purposeful steps. And in that moment they want what he has. Far too long they have wandered aimlessly and traveled meaninglessly. Now, they see what they have sought in the man on the donkey. They are caught unawares. And in an instant they are changed. They drop their bags, their few possessions therein, and follow Jesus.
III. The poor - the inspired
The poor tagged alongside the Lord wherever he went. At the parade it was the penniless who sang out Hosanna the loudest. They loved Jesus. And why not? Jesus had given them the one thing that the world would never grant them - hope. The hope of a better today studded with forgiveness, grace, and mercy. The hope of a brighter tomorrow filled with an eternal home where the streets are lined with gold, leading to a mansion waiting for them.
A line in a movie states, "Hope is a good thing - maybe, the best of things."
That's what the poor of Jesus' day felt. They were outcast by their society, downtrodden by the wealthy, and despised by the ruling class. So when Jesus entered the city riding a donkey, a symbol of the lower class, they identified with him. It was the poor in the crowd that blanketed the road with their robes and coats to honor his gift of hope to them, even though they did not have a robe to spare.
They realized that one couldn't save themselves on their own merit. In lowering their worn and tattered cloaks to the ground, they humbled themselves, becoming poor in spirit, to reap the rewards of heavenly merit. They declared themselves spiritually bankrupt. Their pockets were emptied. Their options were gone. They stopped demanding justice; they begged for mercy. Only then, could they have the hope of salvation.
On the road to Jerusalem that day, they found hope and life, and all the riches of heaven.
III. The political - the incited
The political were present, too - the Zealots. They were incited. "Despicable Romans," they thought. They despised the arrogance of the ruling Roman government. They hated their pagan practices and beliefs, their gods and goddesses, and their debauchery. They had a look of rage, like one preparing for battle. They carried sharp, razor-like daggers in their belts. And, if given a chance they would slip behind a Roman and slice their throat, and disappear before anyone realized what had happened or who had completed the dastardly deed. They were the original terrorists.
The Zealots saw in Jesus the fulfillment of their desire to be free from tyranny. They saw Jesus, as a liberator whom they believed would lead them in a fight for freedom against occupiers and dominators. Jesus would be their conquering king, their ruling monarch. So they welcomed Jesus with palm fronds - an open invitation for him to be the restorer and ruler of Israel. They were ready to do battle, and with a single word from Jesus they would have fought to the death against the hated Romans.
What bothered the political component of the crowd was the fact that Jesus was riding a donkey. A conquering king would ride a stallion - a symbol of victory, not a donkey - a symbol of peace. Jesus was offering peace. They wanted war. These folks wanted a revolution, not redemption. They desired deliverance from the hated Romans, not freedom from sin.
The orders never came, but instead the realization that their destructive ways had not prompted the desired changes they sought. In an instant, they pulled their knives from their belt, falling from their hands to the hardened packed dirt street below. They entered the procession behind Jesus. They were ready to fight, but not a war of hatred and violence, but a battle for love and peaceful nonviolence.
IV. The powerful - the intolerant
The powerful Pharisees stood back with their ever-watchful eyes glaring at Jesus. They were the narrow-minded, prejudiced, intolerant religious folks with their noses stuck in the air. Jesus, by and large throughout his ministry, avoided large crowds whenever he could. He refused to take the dominant, power-orientated stance of other contemporary leaders. But on this day, he put on the symbols of the Old Testament prophetic utterances. He declared in no uncertain terms, by his posture and bearing, "I am the King." He even picked the day - The Feast of the Unleavened Bread that celebrated the Jews deliverance from bondage in Egypt and marked the beginning of the wheat harvest. The exposure was great.
Only one problem: He picked the day not so much to gain the adulation of the crowd, but to force the issue of his whole reason for coming to earth. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem sealed his doom. It was the catalytic agent that aroused the anger of the religious establishment to a frenzy, setting the stage for the greatest event in human history.
The Pharisees knew what Jesus was doing. That's why they commanded Jesus to tell his disciples to stop calling him a king. But Jesus' voice pierced the air and said, "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." The stones were the size of baseballs - the very stones that the Pharisees carried in their hands. The stones they used to stone people who did not keep the law or adhere to their doctrine. The rocks they caressed were the ones with which they wanted to stone Jesus, but didn't have the guts. The rocks they loved to hurl at anyone in whom they found fault.
Do you know any rock throwers? You know those people who loved to find mistakes in church bulletins and faults in neighbors' lives. They are the first to complain, to, and condemn. They nit-pick, point out mistakes, second guess decisions, and find a cloud in every silver lining. Rock-throwers like the Pharisees gain power through criticism.
Along the road were some stones, abandoned along the road Jesus traveled. These stones were not thrown at Jesus, though brought to the parade for that purpose. These stones had fallen gently from a few of the Pharisees as the message of Jesus pierced their hearts. They dropped their stones to follow Jesus. The stones cry out the power of Christ to change a life.
V. The passionate - the once-infirm
Dotted throughout the crowd in Jerusalem that day were people passionate about Jesus because of what he had done for them. For good reason, they cheered and screamed their praises. On one side was Bartimaeus, the blind man Jesus healed just last week at Jericho. He had no need of his dirty gauze patch. And ahead was the man who was lame for 38 years and lay by the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem, waiting for an angel to heal him. Then Jesus came. Because of Jesus' touch and wonder-working power, the formerly lame man had no need of his wooden crutches. And over there was the man who had a withered hand, until Jesus came along and touched him. Now, he had no need of his bloody and puss-filled bandages. And yonder was Lazarus, tears of joy streaming down his face, because he was dead and now is alive. And beside him are Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus.
No wonder they cry and dance, shout and sing, smile and laugh. The One who rides on the donkey before them is the Healer, the miracle worker. Their lives have been transformed forever. They cannot contain their joy, their excitement.
Have you felt the healing touch of Jesus? Has your life been changed by the wonder-working power of Jesus? If you have, you know what Bartimaeus felt, what the crippled man felt, and what the wounded man felt. If you have, by intrusting your life to Jesus, received the gift of eternal life you know what Lazarus felt. For you, too, were dead and now are alive.
Hurry! The parade is coming. Hurry! You and I have a chance to be in the parade. Hurry! He who came as a man, who overcame death, who can heal the broken, restore sight to the blind, and raise the dead is on his way.
The church is the continuing procession. The parade that started just outside of Jerusalem continues marching throughout history in the form of the church. You and I are a part of the parade. We meet Jesus each week. In fact, he is present now.
What do you bring to the parade?
Jesus will take coats . . . palm branches . . . rocks. He wants your crutches, your bandages, and your patches. He'll take the brokenness of your life and put it back together again. He'll take the trash of your sin and make you clean and pure. He'll take your spiritual poverty and make you eternally rich. He'll take your lifeless today and give you a resurrected tomorrow. He is the hope of the world, and the hope of your life.
What will you give Jesus today? He is passing by. He is looking your way. Will you look him in the eye, take him by the hand, and make him your King and Lord?