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.
COME TO THE TABLE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 17, 2013
12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover? 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us. 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. 17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me. 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, Is it I? 20 He said to them, It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born. 22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, Take; this is my body. 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
-- Mark 14:12-26, ESV
Three of my favorite words in the English language are: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love coming to the table. I love sharing food and fellowship with family and friends. Apparently, these things are important to God, too.
Food was a major part of God’s Old Covenant with Israel. He provided food for them, He regulated what foods were good for them and which ones were not. He ordained three major festivals or feasts for their calendar year. God called the Israelites to come to the table.
Then, our Lord Jesus Christ, took the two most common elements of any table meal, bread and wine, and used them to set the most beautiful and meaningful table of all. The Old Testament Passover is fulfilled in the New Testament Lord’s Supper, and God’s people need to hear afresh and anew God’s inviting commandment to come to the table.
God calls His people to come to the table.
The setting for the last days of Jesus’ earthly life was the Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread (it is referred to by both names in vs. 12). This was one of the three major festivals or feasts of the Jewish year. In the first month of the old Israel calendar, they celebrated the Passover. In the third month, Pentecost; and, in the seventh month, the Feast of Tabernacles. And like any time when a big family gets together, there was always lots of food.
During the Passover Feast, on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, a very special memorial meal was shared. It consisted of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. All God-fearing Jews observed the Passover. All who were able traveled to the city of Jerusalem to observe the holy days. All who participated obeyed God’s call to come to the table to enjoy the lamb, the herbs, the bread, and the wine.
Now that the Old Covenant has made way for the New, food and fellowship are still vital parts of God’s plan for His people. From the first days of Christianity, Christians met in one another’s houses to “break bread,” a term for regular meals and the New Covenant memorial meal served in sacred times of worship. The sacred meal, now known as The Lord’s Supper, uses the simple staples of even a poor man’s table, bread and wine, and packs them with spiritual meaning.
On this fateful evening, Jesus and His disciples shared a meal that was Old and New. They gathered as a family of faith. Their menu fit the requirements for the annual Passover Feast. And, at the end of the meal, the Lord took break and broke it, filled a cup and passed it, and the Lord’s Supper was born.
Still today, God calls His people to come to the table, and, remember.
God calls His people to remember.
What were the Israelites supposed to remember as they partook of the Passover meal?
The lamb was, of course, a sacrificial lamb used repeatedly and consistently in Old Covenant rituals as a symbol of sacrifice, blood sacrifice, as an atonement for sin. This particular lamb was significant because it signaled the beginning of The Exodus, the deliverance of God’s people from the bondage of Egyptian slavery to the freedom of the promised land. On the night of the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, God commanded Moses to command the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood on the top and sides of the entrance to their doors, just like three points of a cross. When the death angels arrived to carry out the curse, the angel passed over (hence, “Passover”) every house covered by the blood.
The bitter herbs served called to mind the bitter bondage of slavery, of feeling separated from God, of not fulfilling the purpose for which God created and recreated us. The bread was unleavened to remember haste and holiness; haste, in the quick flight from bondage to freedom, and holiness, the call to live life overcoming sin and temptation. And the wine, always a symbol of the regenerate power of God, was enjoyed by all of God’s people, since almost none of them were fundamentalists or Baptists.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper after the Passover meal, He did not serve lamb or herbs. His predecessor, John the Baptist, had already identified Him as “The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). And, He was, is, and always will be the Lamb! Jesus did not bring back the bitter herbs, for the geographical boundaries of Egypt and Israel would not matter any more in the New Covenant. Besides, if Simon Peter and the rest ate lamb and herbs like church people today eat fried chicken and salt, then I’m sure there was none left over after the regular meal!
The Lord Jesus Christ, on that Passover evening the night He was betrayed and about to be arrested, took two elements to inaugurate the Lord’s Supper: bread and wine. Remember, sometimes this was all a poor Jewish family would have to bring to a meal; and, Jesus knew that poverty would always be part and parcel of the New Covenant community. With the bread He said, “This is My body” and with the wine He said, “This is My blood.” Most obviously and seriously, this is what Christ wants us to remember when we come to His table.
In the past I have thought it necessary to teach the difference between the trans-substantiation, con-substantiation, and symbolic-memorial nuances to the Lord’s Supper. In the past I have thought it necessary to insist upon a weekly observance rather than an annual, quarterly, monthly, or other frequency. In the past I have thought it necessary to insist upon unleavened bread and real wine. But now, I insist on only one thing when we come to the table. Remember.
For God calls His people to remember. Remember that God became man, Christ put on flesh, and the Bread of Life offers to us the bread of life. Remember that Christ was crucified, and Christians should face our critics and confess we are indeed a bloody religion, for without the shedding of Jesus’ blood we could not be forgiven from our sins. Like the old hymn says, there is power in the blood. Please, remember.
God calls His people to the table. God calls His people to remember. God calls His people. Are you one of them?
God calls His people. Are you one of them?
That night, in an upstairs room around a table, thirteen people were present. The twelve all seemed to follow the One as their undisputed leader. They deferred to Him as to the place to go for the Passover observance. They all seemed to notice His other-worldliness, how He knew stuff that no one else could know, like how a man carrying a water jar would lead them to the right place for dinner. And they all heard Him say a shocking thing as He was calling His people to the table. One of them was not His people!
And then, some time in between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, though Mark’s account does not mention him by name, Judas Iscariot got up and left the building. No one knew at the time that he was the betrayer. No one knew that he had somehow been faking it all along. No one knew he had made a deal with the devil, a financial pact with the Pharisees, that he had planted his feet squarely in the kingdom of this present world and had no place in the kingdom of God. No one knew, but Judas.
In a room with thirteen of God’s people, one was not. I would suppose that in a room today filled with thirteen people, or one-hundred-and-thirteen people, or thirteen thousand people, or whatever the attendance of any given worship service, when God calls His people to the table to remember, there are some there who are not God’s people. Jesus Christ is not their leader. Jesus Christ is not their Lord. Jesus Christ is not sovereign nor Savior to them. But they put their hand in the bowl with us. Please, please don’t let it be that it would be better if you had never been born. Please, please don’t betray the Lord by talking the talk when you don’t walk the walk. Please, please repent right now and truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved from your sin, saved from hypocrisy and betrayal, saved from the wrath to come upon the world.
Don’t be a betrayer. Be a believer. Be one of God’s people, and ...
Come to the table and see in His eyes, The love that the Father has spoken,
And know you are welcome, whatever your crime, For every commandment you've broken;
For He's come to love you and not to condemn, And He offers a pardon of peace,
If you'll come to the table, you'll feel in your heart, The greatest forgiveness, the greatest release.
Come to the table He's prepared for you, The bread of forgiveness, the wine of release;
Come to the table and sit down beside Him, The Savior wants you to join in the feast!
-- Michael Card
ONLY WHAT’S DONE FOR CHRIST WILL LAST
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 10, 2013
1 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people. 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
-- Mark 14:1-11, ESV
“We’ve only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Jesus will last.”
Mark practically invented the Gospel genre. With Simon Peter’s guidance, he strung together a perfect collection of stories whose chronology is not always in perfect order in order to make a perfect point. Such is the case in Mark 14:1-11, as Jesus begins His walk to the cross.
On the road we meet some old characters who reveal their character in characteristically different ways. “The chief priests and the scribes” show their jealousy and hatred for Jesus by conspiring with the unbelieving traitor, “Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve.” Then, in the midst of this putrid part of the passion story, Mark inserts a flashback from a few days prior, when to show her love for the Lord, “a woman came with an alabaster flask” of perfume came forward and poured it out upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Each person had only one life, and it is now long past, but what they did for Christ now lasts, and lasts, forever.
An Abuse of Power
The trick that turned the tide against the Lord was a typical abuse of power and cravenness for popularity. Though Rome controlled the known world, the real power over the people rested with “the chief priests and the scribes.” They were the religious rulers, and religion trumped all other matters for most first century Jews. These men were supposed to lead people to God. They were supposed to teach the people the word of God. They were supposed to prepare the people for the kingdom of God. But when the King came, they conspired to kill Him, in stealth and secrecy, to protect their own turf.
Jesus had threatened their power base and popularity among the people. Christ’s kingdom message was one of humility and grace. They led with pride and man-made rules and regulations. The Lord had upset their apple cart for three years running, and they were determined to stop Him in His tracks. Only they sought to do it secretly, as not to make themselves look bad in front of the people.
You really cannot live for power and popularity, and live for Christ, at the same time. They are two different paths traveled by two different types of character. “The chief priests and scribes” chose their path. I’m sure they did some good in their lives, but it does not matter now. They each had only one life, and it is now long past, and only what they did for Jesus now lasts, forever.
A Traitor from Within
It would not have been possible to topple Jesus with merely external force. It required an internal conspiracy. Someone on the inside would have to hand Him over. That someone, whose name now lives in infamy, was “Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.”
What makes a person betray another? What makes a soldier give away secrets to the enemy? What makes a spouse walk out on an otherwise faithful spouse? What makes a confessing Christian walk out of the church never more to return? Very simply, it is self-interest, or as we like to call it when we see it, selfishness. And selfishness does not have to reach Judas-like proportions to be abominable and hurtful to God and God’s people.
Selfishness is the opposite of the life of Christ, and the life of a Christian. And you cannot live a self-centered life of self-interest above all else and be a selfless follower of Jesus Christ at the same time. It is two different paths, two different characters, two different lives. I think Judas may have had good intentions in the beginning, but by the end he was out only for himself. He had his life, and it is now past, and what He did for Jesus now lasts, forever.
A Woman Who Shows Us the Way
Obviously, the priests and the scribes and the traitor do not show us the right way to do the right things for God. Men, move over, and let a woman show us the way. And what a woman she was!
In the midst of the conspiracy narrative, Mark flashes back to “a woman ... with an alabaster flask [of perfume].” She is not the sinful woman of Luke’s Gospel (ref. Luke 7). She is most certainly the same woman of Matthew’s Gospel (ref. Matthew 26). And, she is most likely the same woman in John’s Gospel (ref. John 12), Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She seems to always be found at Jesus’ feet (ref. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:31-32; and here).
Mary listened to Jesus. This beautiful part of the gospel story, of what Mary’s hands pouring the perfume, would have never happened if Mary has not first used her ears. Jesus had told his followers emphatically, especially during the final days of His ministry, that He would be killed, buried, and resurrected. I don’t think many or any of the men got it. But Mary did, that’s why Jesus pointed out, “She has anointed My body beforehand for burial.” We cannot do anything for the Lord until we first learn to listen to God. Don’t listen to the critics and the skeptics (they are in this text and they are everywhere). Listen to the Lord, His word, His true preachers and teachers, and His Spirit which lives within the heart of every true follower of Christ.
Mary loved Jesus. This perfume probably represented everything that Mary ever had or would have. It was worth a year’s wages. It was for her wedding day and married life. It was all she had to give, and she gave all she had to Jesus. Why would someone do that, instead of using what they have for power and popularity? Why would someone do that, instead of using what they have for themselves? Why would someone risk embarrassment and ridicule to do something for someone that only that someone would understand? Love, wrought from faith, inspired by grace.
Mary has a legacy for what she did for Jesus. Because she listened, and because she loved, she has a lasting legacy in God’s word and Christ’s church. “What she has done will be told in memory of her,” Jesus said. Mary had this one life, and with this life “She [did] what she could” for Jesus. Her life is now past, and, obviously, what she has done for Christ will last, forever.
What are you doing with your life? It’s your life, it’s all that you have, and you’ll only have it once. You can spend it in the pursuit of power, pleasure, money, and material things. You can spend it with people who give you these things or help you get them for yourself. You can spend it, as most people do, in your own pursuit of personal happiness at the expense of all other creatures and creeds. Or, you can do “a beautiful thing.” You can give your life, totally, to Jesus Christ. “‘Tis only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
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