1When he came near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 2and told them, “Go into the village that is across from you, and as soon as you go into it, you will find a donkey tied up, on whom no human has sat. Untie it and bring it. 3And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The master needs it, and he will send it back here immediately.'” 4And they went and found the donkey tied up by the gate outside on the street, and they untied it. 5And certain persons who were standing there asked them, “What are you doing untying the donkey?” 6But they said to them just what Jesus had told them, and so they left them alone. 7And they brought the donkey to Jesus, and they threw their garments on it, and he sat on it. 8And many spread out their garments on the path, but others broke off leafy branches out of the fields. 9And they went before him and followed him, saying,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David,
Hosanna in the highest!
11And he went into Jerusalem, into the temple, and he looked over everything, and it being evening, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. — Mark 11:1-11
Christians have a very nervous love-hate relationship with crowds and popularity. On the one hand we celebrate growing churches, new members, and newly opened mission fields where Christians are popularity. On the other hand, sometimes we almost revel in opposition, finding a confirmation of our â€œrightnessâ€ when others oppose us.
A key fact about the ministry of Jesus is that he neverâ€”except onceâ€”went along with the crowd. He didn’t give them what they wanted. He didn’t just answer their questions in ways they did not understand or appreciate. He challenged the questions themselves. He didn’t do what was expected of them. In fact, he did just the opposite.
But one day, on the way into Jerusalem, he called for a donkey, mounted it, and rode into the city in an action rich in symbolism. The crowds went wild. They cheered and yelled. They loved it! This was the Jesus they had been looking at. The scene gave every appearance of a popular leader on a procession with his followers. Looking with physical eyes, it looked like Jesus and the crowd were going in the same direction.
With hindsight, we know that this was the opening move in the series of events that went to the cross. The people followed one they hoped would be a king in to his future capital. The king rode into the city to die for the sins of his followers. Looked at spiritually they were going in opposite directions!
This story can teach us many things, but I want to emphasize three lessons about crowds:
1. At times, even when the crowd is following you, you will actually be suffering rejection. I remember once preaching a sermon that was well received. At the end of the service a number of people shook my hands, telling me what a truly good message it was and how well I had presented it. Over the next week, in conversation with many of the same people I learned an important lesson. Each person had heard just what they wanted to hear, and not the message I had intended to convey. I’m not sure whether I left too many loopholes in the presentation, or whether people were just determined to hear what they wanted to hear, but the impact of the sermon was, so far as I can tell, none at all. Just because the crowd is congratulating you doesn’t mean they’re with you.
2. It’s easy to get a crowd following you if you’re doing what they want. Jesus picked up crowds all the time, often on just the hope that he would do what they wanted. The crowd that gathered to follow him in the triumphal entry was there because they thought he was doing what they wanted him to do. They thought he was proclaiming the Messianic kingdom.
3. The crowd leaves when you depart from their plan. Notice the end of the story. The crowd just seems to melt away. Their goal will not be fulfilled. They move on to other issues. You can’t build up a following that will go with you to the cross by training them to go with you in ease and approval. They’ll leave you when you leave their plan.
This is why Jesus told people to take up their cross and follow him. He knew that if you follow for the bread and fish, for the water made wine, and even for the healings, you’re likely to drop out when it comes time to face the cross.
Are you a leader? Ignore the crowd. Go for the gold, and let those who truly want to go where you’re going follow. Are you a follower? Don’t find the leader who does everything the way you want it done. Find the leader who is going for the gold.