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Celebration and Sorrow: an interpretive eyewitness account of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem by Pastor Jim Murphy (April 8, 2001)

Today I watched Jesus weeping. It was the second time I watched him weeping, and I won’t forget either time.

Let me take a few minutes to tell you what I’m talking about. My name is James. My wife Margaret and I live in a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, called Bethphage. We’ve lived there since we were married, nearly 28 years ago. Our village has usually been a sleepy little place, with its quiet periodically interrupted by bands of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for our religious feasts.

But lately it has been anything but sleepy. A little over a week ago, a most amazing thing happened near our town. It has to do with a friend of ours named Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, live right down the road from me and Margaret, in the town of Bethany. We’ve become good friends over the years. As long as we’ve known him, Lazarus has had more than his share of sickness—he always seemed to get whatever was going around. But a while back he got really sick. We were all worried about him, but we figured that he’d get over it, just like he had done so many times before. But this time he didn’t.

 

I walked through Bethany one day and heard the sound of wailing coming from our friends’ house, and when I got home, Margaret told me that Lazarus was dead. “Dead? Lazarus dead? No, it can’t be! You must have heard it wrong!” So I ran back to Bethany, hoping to find that Margaret had misunderstood. She misunderstands me from time to time, so I figured this was just another of those misunderstandings.

As I got closer and closer to Lazarus’ house, the wailing became stronger and stronger. Out of breath, I rushed inside, to have my fears realized: They told me Lazarus had died. I could go on and on about all the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside me at that moment, but I’d better move along in my story.

Margaret and I joined the mourners—most of whom were family and friends—along with a few professional grievers, those who go from death to death, funeral to funeral, expressing the grief that for some lies too deep to tell. A Jewish funeral is no quiet affair. As we were crying and carrying on, Martha ran out, and came back a few minutes later to tell her sister that Jesus—the prophet and teacher from Galilee—had come to see them. I had met Jesus before, and had a growing curiosity about him. He was rumored to be a miracle worker. I thought, if ever a miracle was needed, Jesus, it’s now.

Before we all quite knew what was happening, we were walking behind Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus. We hoped we didn’t have to get too close; the body would be smelling bad by now. And then I saw Jesus weeping, weeping for his dead friend Lazarus. I can’t explain it, but something about those tears told me that he wasn’t weeping only for Lazarus, but for much more than Lazarus. Like I said, I can’t explain it. I just have a hunch that there was more to those tears than I’ll ever really understand. I suppose that’s true about most tears, but especially about those that ran into Jesus’ beard that day on the way to that tomb.

And then, as Jesus walked past me on the way to the tomb, I saw something in his eyes besides sorrow. It was anger—like a mad stallion. That anger seemed to grow more intense the closer we got to the tomb. And then he turned to me and some of my friends, and told us to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance. Martha objected because of the stench, now after four days. But Jesus wouldn’t hear of it. So I helped move the stone, then stood back, holding my nose. Jesus said a prayer and shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

And he did. And he did.

Stunned and speechless, I did what Jesus said next, and took the grave clothes off my friend. And then stood wondering about this Jesus. I walked home with Margaret, with her jabbering away, beside herself with excitement about what we had just seen. I,on the other hand, was quiet, like I usually am when I’m touched to my core. Margaret interrupted my thoughts with, “Are you sure Lazarus was really dead?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I smelled him when I moved the stone.”

“Then that means we just saw a miracle - a miracle! A dead man brought back to life!”

“Yes, Margaret, we just saw a miracle. Lazarus was dead, and now he’s alive, and that’s a miracle.”

We talked that night as we lay in bed, about this Jesus, a miracle worker. That was the first time I watched Jesus weeping.

 

Today was the second.

Here’s what happened. I heard some shuffling outside my window this morning, and looked out to see a group of men doing something with a donkey. I realized that the group was Jesus' inner circle, who followed him around from place to place. I recognized several of them, and was curious to see what they were going to do with the donkey that two of them had in tow. As I watched, several took off their coats and put them on the young donkey’s back. I doubt that this colt had ever been ridden, judging by the way he started fidgeting with just the coats on his back. Then two of the guys, I think their names are Peter and John, hoisted Jesus up with a whoop, and put him on the donkey. The donkey started to rear (like I said, I don’t think he had ever been ridden), but quickly calmed down when Jesus whispered something into its ear.

By this time I was outside, wanting to get closer. I ran back into the house for my coat, since an early spring chill was still in the air. When I returned, Jesus and his group were starting down the road, with several of them taking off their coats and laying them like a carpet before the donkey. I didn’t understand the feeling that was creeping up on me, but something told me that I, too, should lay down my coat for Jesus. So I did, thinking about how Margaret and I had talked that night of Lazarus’ rising, about whether Jesus could be the Messiah.

No longer noticing the chill, I walked a few yards behind Jesus and the colt. By the time we reached the Mt. of Olives, we were surprised to see a crowd of people streaming out of Jerusalem, coming toward us up the hill. There had been a lot of rumors about Jesus flying around Jerusalem, so when word got out about his coming, everyone dropped everything and ran to see him. By now the friends and followers of Jesus, including me, were wildly cheering, praising God for the miracles we’d seen. I shouted louder and louder as I watched my living friend Lazarus throwing his cloak under the donkey’s hooves.

Someone started the well known refrain from the Psalms, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”, and we all joined in. “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we shouted as the ranks of our parade began to swell. By now we were surrounded by throngs of Passover pilgrims, who on this Sunday, this first day of the feast, had been picking through sheep, choosing the perfect lamb for Friday’s coming slaughter. For the moment, they had forgotten all about those lambs and the coming sacrifices, and were caught up in the crowds’ euphoria, proclaiming the hoped-for liberation of Israel. Could this Jesus be the Messiah, entering Jerusalem from the east as prophesied? Could this be the one who would finally free Israel from Rome’s tyranny? According to Passover tradition, the Temple doors stood open to receive the Messiah today, just in case he showed up. Perhaps the day of liberation had finally arrived!

So they shouted, “Hosanna!”, the word of liberation that had come to stand for our hopes for national deliverance. Over and over again, “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David!” And with the shouting, they waved palm branches—another symbol of freedom—and spread them on the road along with their cloaks. As we kept moving toward Jerusalem, it seemed like the whole city was joining us. I could hear many of them talking about the miracle of Lazarus as they came running with their palm branches, hoping to get a look at this miracle worker. As we walked, Lazarus and I repeated over and over, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

It seemed the only ones who weren’t joining in our shouts of praise were the most religious among us, the Pharisees. They seemed nervous, embarrassed, uncomfortable with all the jubilation. They tried to get us to shut up, and when that didn’t work, crowded up to Jesus and told him to rebuke us. Jesus told them, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” At that, we shouted all the more. As we walked along, we went down into a little gully, and a ridge hid Jerusalem from our view. A few minutes later we scrambled up over jagged stones, huffed and puffed up a steep incline, and then leveled off along a ledge of smooth rock. And there again, now in dazzling glory, lay Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, our beloved “City of Peace,” rising majestically out of the depths of the Kidron Valley. Lazarus and I paused to admire it; we always loved this part of our hike into town. Margaret and I often stopped for lunch here along the way, especially when we used to go on outings with our girls. The temple tower stood over the valley, dominating the city skyline, with its vast courts sprawling around its base. It has to be one of the finest buildings in all the world! And the magnificent city spread around the temple, a backdrop of gardens and terraces that ambled across the city’s western plateau.

And then it happened. It happened for the second time.

As Jesus gazed across the valley to Jerusalem, he started weeping. He had wept softly at Lazarus’ tomb, but now as he wept he shook with loud anguished sobs. I was surprised, to say the least, and thought, “What? Weeping? Why is Jesus weeping? The whole world is going after him, and here he sits weeping?" All of us who were around him watched with shock, and shuffled along awkwardly, wondering what to do. I was just a few steps behind the donkey, so I could see Jesus’ shoulders heave with every sob. I was close enough to see his contorted face, close enough to hear his faltering voice, when he said these awful words that I wish I could forget:

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

What was he saying? Jerusalem’s lovely children smashed on the pavement? This is a curse reserved for God’s enemies, not for us who are his people! And not one stone will be left intact? Even the mammoth immovable stones of this great City of God? I heard Jesus say those words, groaning them through his sobbing, and thought, “He must be speaking about someplace else! He can’t be talking about Jerusalem. He—or whoever Messiah is—would surely save us from such a fate! Wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he?”

As the procession continued down the hill then up again into the city, I was numb to the cheering crowds. I saw the children running toward Jesus, waving palm branches and gleefully shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna to the Son of David,” over and over again. But all I could think about was their darling little faces smashed against the rocks. I tried to shake the image, to pretend I hadn’t heard Jesus’ gruesome prediction. I tried to once again take up the chant with Lazarus, “ Peace in heaven and glory to the highest,” but neither of us felt much like shouting anymore. The images of destruction so rudely forced upon our minds by Jesus’ words wouldn’t leave us. And those images were of anything but peace and glory.

So, I guess you might say that today the tears of Jesus rained on our parade. It wasn’t fun anymore. After entering Jerusalem, Lazarus and I were curious to stay and see what would happen next, but we just had to get away from the stifling crowd. I never have been one for crowds. So we turned and walked back up the hill toward our villages, this time mostly in silence. The crowd had dispersed by now, leaving the road littered with palm fronds and an occasional cloak, soiled by donkey dung and dirty scuffs from 10,000 feet.

Then I asked Lazarus,

“Hey Laz, did you hear everything Jesus said when he started weeping, you know, when we were up on the ridge and he saw the city?”

“Yeah, I heard him, but I couldn’t believe my ears. Or at least I didn’t want to.”

“Did you understand that last part, the part after the stones?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“What did Jesus say?”

“Something like, 'They won’t leave one stone intact, because you didn’t recognize the time of God’s coming to you.'"

“That’s what I thought he said…Lazarus, do you think maybe God came to Jerusalem today, and he came riding on that donkey?”

“You might be right about that, James.”

“Do you think that maybe Jesus was weeping because today, this very Passover, was the time of God’s coming, and no one recognized it?”

“You mean that God came to Jerusalem today in Jesus, but it wasn’t the kind of coming they wanted or expected?’

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

“You might be right about that, James.”

“Laz, you know how I make up poems from time to time?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, after I saw Jesus weeping, some words came to me, and I can’t get them out of my mind. I don’t even understand them all. It’s almost like they’re words from God, kinda like Isaiah or one of the prophets would get from time to time, trying to tell us something about the Messiah. Here they are:

Why are you weeping, my King?
Why do you sob while around you we sing?
Why are you weeping, my King?

How can I not weep, my friend?
I come as their King, on a donkey and gentle, I come as the Prince of Peace.
And yet they persist to look for a warrior, a warrior on a haughty steed.
I come as their Lamb, on this Day of the Lamb; I come as their lamb for the slaughter.
And yet they persist to look for a lion who’ll devour the Roman foe.
I come as a servant who washes their feet, and touches even the leper.
Yet still I’m despised and rejected by men—so how can I not weep, my friend?

No wonder you’re weeping, my King.
No wonder you sob while around you we sing.
No wonder you’re weeping, my King.

Closing Reflections On This Story

Palm Sunday: A Day of Celebration, A Day of Sorrow

Celebration

Jesus is our Messiah, the Anointed One, sent from God to save us. We know that our prayer of “Hosanna” (Save us!) is answered by Jesus’ coming. We recognize and welcome him, though he may come in surprising ways.

Sorrow

For Jesus, who was despised, rejected and crucified; for the children of Jerusalem, who were dashed against the pavement [when Rome conquered in 70 A.D.] because Israel did not recognize the day of their King’s coming; for the temporal and eternal suffering of all those today who persist in their rejection of Jesus.