Last Sunday, every church throughout the world celebrated Palm Sunday in sermon, music and pageantry. Allow me to use what I consider to be the first of the Synoptic Gospels, Mark, and read about the man Jesus, who many thought just might be the long-awaited Messiah. First off, let's try to envision Jesus' entry into Jerusalem from a point of view that most likely existed with at least three succinct and different groups: There were those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, those who were the locals and who may have recalled an event which took place nearly 200 years prior to Jesus and those authorities who saw Jesus as a troublemaker who had a suspicious bunch of followers.
Let me concentrate on the last two groups. Around 165 B.C., a heroic Jewish rebel called Judas Maccabeus, "the Sledgehammer," was pounding the forces of old Antiochus Epiphanes who had defiled the Temple and tried to forbid all Jewish religious activities. In short, the Hammer's success allowed the purification of the Temple and a resumption of the sacrificial system and instituted a permanent holiday, Hanukkah. According to some scholars, Judas Maccabeus was welcomed into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna, garments on the path and even palm branches. That strongly suggests that more than a few in the crowd saw Jesus as an almost-reincarnated Maccabeus. "Here's a leader that just might help us defeat Rome!"
The last group, most likely made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, saw a bunch of malcontents who just might start a riot and that would bring down the wrath of Rome and many citizens as well as the Jewish leaders would be killed as examples of what happens to anyone who might challenge Roman authority. After all, one of Jesus' followers was known by the name of Judas Iscariot. Iscariot could be translated from the Hebrew as Ish Keriot, or the man from the city of Keriot in Judea, or Ish Sicarii, one of the Jewish assassins who were out to slaughter as many Romans as possible.
Historically, no one would have cared about a man who might claim to be the Messiah or preach anything messianic. However, any man who might aspire to a role that even remotely resembled being a king and a leader of men who were ready to revolt against Rome, would immediately be targeted as a seditionist. And, folks, that's exactly what the Jewish authorities used to have Jesus arrested and ultimately crucified! When we read Mark 14:61, Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the Christ, the Anointed One, to the High Priest. However, in Mark 15, Pilate's question, "Are you the King of the Jews?" absolutely identifies Jesus as a seditionist. Pilate would not tolerate any threat to Rome or his ability to control this minor outpost in a foreign land, so his decision was justified by his position and applauded by his Jewish subjects. "Crucify this man!"
Continuing with Mark — and accepting most scholarship that suggests that the original Mark manuscript ends with 16:8 — everyone ran away in total confusion. End of story? I don't think so!
I think we all need just a bit of homework this week. After all, we have a history of church, theology and family who know the story of Jesus from the Nativity to the Resurrection, and there is always the tendency to see Easter as a holiday bonanza for department stores, the time when Florida snowbirds drive back North, a day for a new outfit to wear to church, Easter baskets full of candy and a long hot summer.
Let's go back to the Scriptures and prepare. Start with Matthew 28:11-15 and ask, "Why a conspiracy and not a celebration?" Read Mark 16:8.
There is no question that even the most faithful and devoted of Jesus' followers were devastated, confused, fearful, because, as the Gospel of John writes in 20:9, "... for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead."
As a pastor for most of my life, I have to read the account in Luke about the Road to Emma'us. That's me on the road! Yes, I heard all about what went on in Jerusalem, and I always hoped the stories were true, and, yet, I haven't seen Jesus in the flesh. Then, Jesus taught me, and my heart and my mind opened, and He gave me bread, and I knew!
It's time for Easter Sunday and hear the news we have waited for and must hear again and again! The key to the gospels can be found in John 20:29, "Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen Me and yet believe!" Follow this reading with John 21:15-17.
I can't wait for Easter morning! Thanks, God!