They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" (John 12:13 TNIV).
But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!"
"Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked.
"We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered (John 19:15).
I know that this dramatic shift in loyalties seems impossible. I know that we'd like to think that we would never do that — that in less than a week our words could change so dramatically. However, many of us have shown great inconsistency in our own words — we've said something awful, profane, crude, cutting, mean-spirited, vile, blasphemous, full of gossip, or hurtful within a week of having praised God in prayer or song! No wonder Jesus' brother, James, warned us about this:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (James 3:9-12).
I know the dramatic switch in loyalties seems impossible and we'd like to think that no true follower of Jesus would ever do that. Yet, isn't this what Peter and the apostles did in just a few hours that awful night when Jesus was betrayed?
While they were reclining at the table eating, he [Jesus] said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me."
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" (Mark 14:18-19).
Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not."
"Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times."
But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same (Mark 14:29-31).
Then everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50).
Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him (Mark 14:45-46).
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean."
He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about."
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept (Mark 14:70-72).
I know the dramatic switch in loyalties seems impossible and we'd like to think that we would be different. However, many of us have been caught up in the mob mentality — or have friends who have been — and we have done or said things we never intended to say because we lost our personal sense of will. Paul warned new believers about this:
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
That's why we must honor Jesus final words in this awful situation and not the fickle words of others. We must cherish Jesus' words which redeem and heal in response to words of ugliness, unfaithfulness, cruelty, and hatred:
Words of forgiveness and grace.
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Words of salvation and mercy.
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43)
Words of compassionate care and love.
"Woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother" (John 19:26-27).
"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1-31).
Words of human longing and spiritual faithfulness.
"I am thirsty" (John 19:28).
Words of triumph and completion.
"It is finished" (John 19:30).
Words of reunion and hope.
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).
Many years before Jesus came, Jeremiah the prophet had warned God's people about the fickleness of the human heart:
We can so easily fall from our sure positions of strength and our courage can melt away like the wax of a candle under the heat of its own flame. So as we remember the ruthlessness of those who hated Jesus, the fickleness of the crowds, and the unfaithfulness of Jesus' closest followers, let's remember two truths:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).
- Sooner or later, somewhere along the way, we will likely stumble and fall, embarrassing ourselves and letting down our Lord. Satan will try to use that to destroy us, but the One who is in us is greater than the one who wants to lead us astray (1 John 4:3).
- Jesus has the last words for us, and his words are words of forgiveness, grace, salvation, mercy, care, love, yearning, trust, longing, faithfulness, triumph, completion, reunion, and hope.
During the darkness of all of our worst days, let's remember Jesus' worst day and know his resurrection is coming, even though they still seemed so far off when he first uttered them. The better promise and the greater hope of his words on the Cross become our assurance of the better and far more glorious days of resurrection that lie ahead for all who trust in the resurected Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.