Regardless of your Easter season traditions, it’s interesting to consider the central figure of the holiday. Jesus’ behavior was significantly odd and noteworthy that week. ♦
Like many other Jews of the day, Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, that great tradition of feasts recognizing the rescue and deliverance of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery some 1,500 years earlier.
It was to be his last week of life. It was fairly eventful.
His behavior was significantly odd and noteworthy. Makes one pause and wonder if Jesus really knew what he was doing or was just making it up as he went along. Notably, he’s been considered a fraud, a self-deluded teacher, or God in the flesh.
It’s got to be one or another.
C.S. Lewis popularized this notion in his classic book, Mere Christianity. This “trilemma” – actually coined 80 years earlier by a preacher named John Duncan – states that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or the Son of God. Specifically, Lewis writes:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
A fair deduction.
But what was Jesus thinking that last week?
Not a Normal Man
For several months prior, Jesus had left his northern hometown region of Galilee and had traveled south through Samaria toward Jerusalem. He had stayed in and around Judea, the region of which Jerusalem was the shining city on the hill.
During this time leading up to his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which today we celebrate today as Palm Sunday, Jesus did the following:
- He had large crowds following him, “and he healed them there.” (Matthew 19:2)
- He taught about marriage, quoting Genesis 2, and divorce, citing Deuteronomy 24 (Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10: 2-12)
- He blessed little children, saying “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17)
- He challenges the rich young man who seeks “eternal life.” (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30)
- He foretells his death by crucifixion at the hands of the chief priests, scribes and Romans, and his being “raised on the 3rd day.” (Matthew 20:17-19, Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34)
- He heals 2 blind men near Jericho who call out to the passing Jesus. While the crowd rebuked them, “Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight and followed him.” (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43)
- In his last miracle before entering Jerusalem, Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-57)
As Lazarus lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles outside Jerusalem, this final action is the reason that the crowds were so enthralled and singing praises for the “coming King” on “Palm Sunday.” It also was the final incident that moved the High Priest, Caiaphas, and the Jewish Sanhedrin (city ruling council) to plan to kill Jesus out of fear of trouble with Rome.
Confronting His Purpose
While those around him did not yet understand his mission, Jesus did.
- He cites the prophets Isaiah (62:11) and Zechariah (9:9) as he sends two disciples to a village near Bethphage just outside Jerusalem, “you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.” (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-44, John 12:12-19)
- He rides triumphantly on a donkey into Jerusalem while the adoring crowd praised God with a loud voice saying “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Yet he weeps for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) as they “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”
- He cleanses the temple of the greedy money changers, a second time (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48, John 2;13-22)
- He teaches very loaded parables: the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19), the Marriage Feast (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-24), the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-35, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 21:29-33), the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
- He calls out “woes” upon the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:45-47) in a brutal indictment of the ultimate hypocritical religious establishment.
- He predicts the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in a stunning foreshadowing that proved so accurate 40 years later. (Matthew 24:1-25, Mark 13, Luke 21).
What was he thinking? We only know now from the Word of God and the explosion of Christianity that burst forth on a confused and profoundly broken world.
No, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He was brilliant actually. Why should we be surprised? He certainly wasn’t a normal man. His wisdom, cunning, courage, love, and over-riding purpose as the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures does make for the greatest life ever lived.
We should all consider how we would have reacted on that first “Palm Sunday.” What would we have been thinking? What are we thinking today?
Do you acknowledge Jesus for who He was and is?
“For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” – John 12:49-50