"Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest." (Matthew 21:9)
"Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Luke 23:20)
Knowing the way mobs work and how fickle we are as people, I'm almost certain that these different mob-driven chants were uttered by many of the same voices. Crowds are driven by an unseen force as people lose their sensibilities and scream for things and scream about things that they never would in private conversation.
What troubles me most about the last days of Jesus are not the mobs and their mercurial loyalties. No, I'm troubled by the fickleness of Jesus' friends. With the exception of a few of the women who remain loyal to Jesus through the travail of Calvary and his body's burial in a borrowed tomb, most of Jesus' closest friends completely fail him.
In the same week that Jesus' apostles experience unbelievably intimate conversation and teaching, they also all abandon their friend and run for their lives. Mark's words are a haunting reminder of their fickleness: "all his disciples deserted him and ran away." (Mark 14:15 NLT) Then there is the sell-out to Satan by Judas (John 13:2) who betrayed his friend for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16) and then handed him over to his enemies with the most intimate act of friendship — the kiss of greeting. (Luke 22:47-48) And worst of all, the hand-picked leader among Jesus' friends, Simon Peter, denied his Lord three times (Mark 14:66-72) even after Jesus had warned him that he would do so with Peter promising never to forsake Jesus even if it meant dying with him. (John 13:31-38) Jesus' death does not find his friends out encouraging his less connected followers to remain faithful to the Master's teaching, but finds them cowering together in fear, hiding from Jesus' opponents. (John 20:19)
Jesus faces the mocking crowd alone. Jesus faces his unfair trials alone. Jesus faces the scourging alone. Jesus faces the ridicule of soldiers and authorities alone. Jesus faces the hard walk to the Cross alone — until some stranger is forced to carry his cross. Jesus faces the nails of Calvary and being hung before a jeering mob alone. Only at the end of the ordeal do we hear about the beloved disciple accompanying Mary. Up until that point, those in whom he had invested the most had completely abandoned Jesus. John's words of summary about Jesus' rejection sting with the bitter truth about the frailty and fickleness of friends: "But although the world was made through him, the world didn't recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted." (John 1:10-11)
I'm sure there are many good answers to these questions, but for me the answer to this yearly reminder of fickle crowds and fickle friends seems plain. All of us will be let down by friends. We will find ourselves feeling forsaken and betrayed by them as we face our worst trials. We will look for the support of those we love and find them absent and find ourselves alone. We will be tempted to cry out in our isolation and give up in our abandonment. And even as we voice the words that speak of the crushing grip of our disappointment and heartbreak, we will hear the echo of the crowds' mixed messages and the disciples' weak promises and then remember that we are not alone. We know someone who has been here before. He knows how it feels. Yes, Jesus faced it, endured it, and was crushed by it so we could know that we would never be ... abandoned.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.") No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)