A TALE OF TWO CROWDS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 24, 2013
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once. 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, Who is this? 11 And the crowds said, This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.
-- Matthew 21:1-11, ESV
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream. 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, Which of the two do you want me to release for you? And they said, Barabbas. 22 Pilate said to them, Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? They all said, Let him be crucified! 23 And he said, Why, what evil has he done? But they shouted all the more, Let him be crucified! 24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves. 25 And all the people answered, His blood be on us and on our children! 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
-- Matthew 27:15-26, ESV
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).
Moving in the Gospels from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is much like moving from London to Paris in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. In one place, order and allegiance are exemplified. In another place, rebellion and revenge rules. Among one people there are words of love and life. Among another people there are cries of hate and death. Dickens’ story is a gospel story. And the gospel story is a tale of two crowds. Read Matthew 21:1-11 and Matthew 27:15-26.
Few things are more fickle than a crowd. Athletes are cheered one minute and booed the next. Celebrities are hailed one day and hauled out the next. Politicians inevitably watch their poll numbers rise and fall. Even Jesus Christ went from a high attendance of twenty thousand (at the miraculous feeding of fish and bread) to no crowd at all (when even His intimate disciples abandoned Him in the garden). A crowd is a loose wheel that turns on a whim. And the crowd we see in the Easter story is actually two.
The first crowd was composed of pilgrims from Galilee. They were very familiar with Jesus of Nazareth, since most of His ministry had been performed in front of them. They came to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the seder on Thursday, they arose early the next morning to return to their homes. Ordinarily, Jesus and His disciples would have done the same. But this time, Jesus was detained by betrayal, arrest, and a trial in front of another crowd.
This second crowd consisted of Judean Jews. They were steeped in the self-righteous religion of the Pharisees. They had not warmed to the kingdom teachings of the carpenter’s son from Galilee, the rural region that was above them geographically but beneath them socially. They were repulsed by the first crowd’s assertion that Jesus was the Prophet, the Messiah, the Lord of lords and King of kings. So they delighted in His arrest, participated in His mock trial, and cast their vote to cast Him off the face of the earth.
The Crowd at Jesus’ Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11)
After the first Easter, Jesus’ followers numbered only about 120. We do not know all of their names, of course, but I would wager that almost all of them came from the triumphant crowd of Galilean disciples. I want you to notice some simple but essential things about them. Remember these things, for later they will hold the key to door that allows you to walk in the kingdom of God.
This was a crowd of followers. Shunning pride and independence, they followed Jesus for the duration of His three-year public ministry. They had witnessed the miracles, listened to the parables, and anticipated the kingdom of God. Some wrongly assumed Jesus was going into the city to kill some Romans, rather than the other way around. Some, like the Apostle Thomas, were on record for saying “Let us [follow] so that we might die with Him” (ref. John 11:16). Sure, their motives were mixed, just like ours today. But they were dedicated to following the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost.
This was a crowd of worshipers. “Hosanna” literally means, “Save us, we pray.” “The Son of David” and “the prophet” were direct Jewish references to the Messiah. There is only one person worth worshiping in this world. It is God our Lord and Savior. This crowd had found Him. This crowd was following Him. This crowd was worshiping Him, without shame or hypocrisy.
This was a crowd of givers. Yes, they put their money where their mouth was. In that day, all most people really owned was the clothes on their backs. What did this crowd do with their clothes, at least their outer coats? They gave them to Jesus to be used as saddle and shock absorbers. This crowd understood that if Jesus’ works were worthy of following, if Jesus’ person was worthy of worship, then the cause of Christ was worthy of giving yourself, all of yourself, and even all you own, for the sake of the gospel.
Please, remember these things. Then look at the enormous contrast between the crowd at Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and the crowd at Jesus’ trial before Easter Sunday.
The Crowd at Jesus’ Trial (Matthew 27:15-26)
As I pointed out earlier, this was a different crowd. It had different members, a different makeup, and vastly different motives. They gathered to finish the trial which was begun by the Jewish High Priest and the Roman Governor. Political Pilate’s only compass was public opinion, and his plan was to use it to release Jesus. But the crowd called for a murderer, Barabbas, to be released according to Pilate’s custom, leaving Jesus to be murdered.
This was a crowd of fools, not followers. I know it is not nice to call someone a fool (ref. Matthew 5:22). But God said it is a fool who denies God (ref. Psalm 14:1; 53:1). To deny the deity of Jesus Christ and the exclusivity of His gospel marks you and makes you a fool in the eyes of God. You don’t want to belong to a crowd of fools, do you?
This was a crowd of selfishness, not worship. For selfish people cannot worship anyone but themselves. Members of this crowd were actually mocking and making fun of Jesus. There certainly is nothing funny about turning your back on Jesus Christ and refusing to worship Him. The worship of Almighty God is what we humans were made for, and to forsake worship is to literally waste your life. You don’t want to be in a crowd of people wasting their lives, do you?
This crowd was a taking crowd. You will find no one here giving anything to Jesus, except false accusations, flagrant injustice, and a final death sentence. Governor Pilate tried to wash his hands of the affair. But place him in this crowd too, for there is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus Christ (ref. Matthew 12:30). They greedily took from Jesus His honor, His good name, His life. You don’t want to be in a crowd who will have blood on their hands for all eternity, do you?
Do you see the dramatic difference between these two crowds? Did you know that these two crowds still exist today? Did you know that to God they are separate and distinct and will remain that way for eternity? Did you know that you belong to one of them?
A Tale of Two Crowds
I sincerely enjoy the big crowds that gather in church buildings around Easter. I also know that the crowd for the following Sundays are usually not be as large. Furthermore, when the call goes out to gather for serious Bible study, a prayer meeting, or service to others, the crowd will shrink ever smaller. But, only a small crowd can fit through the narrow gate.
Please know that the crowd you belong to now will determine the crowd with which you spend eternity. Followers, worshippers, and givers will be separated eternally from the fools, selfish, and takers. Believe me, eternity itself is a great tale of two crowds!
So please learn a lesson from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Go ahead and read the well known ending, where Sydney Carton willingly lays down his life for Charles Darnay, so that Darnay can enjoy an abundant life with his wife, Lucie, and their daughter. Read those last lines and let them mesmerize you. For in them Carton quotes the Gospel of John (ref. John 11:25), then says as he is about to die, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).
Dickens wrote of an imperfect man laying down his life for others. The gospel is written about the perfect man, the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for all those who will believe in Him. Do not run with the crowd that is running away from God. Run to Jesus. It will be a far better thing that you have ever done, and you will go to a far better rest than you have ever known.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org