Palm Sunday. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus riding in on the donkey, crowds cheering, laying down coats and palm leaves, proclaiming Him as King. The whole city was talking about it (Matthew 21:10). For the disciples, this was the dream. They had abandoned everything to follow Jesus in the belief that He was the Messiah who would save them from the Romans, and now here they were, right beside Him as he received a rapturous welcome into Jerusalem. They had no problem being seen with Him as the crowd was cheering Him.
When all is going good, when the crowd is on our side, when everyone is being welcoming and accepting of our faith, it is easy to be associated with Jesus. We don’t mind expressing our faith when surrounded by other Christians. It’s when people aren’t cheering that letting our faith show is hard.
By the middle of the week, things had changed. The Pharisees already weren’t that fussed on Jesus, but then He did some stuff that majorly peeved them off. He clears the temple of the merchants who were making a fortune out of people innocently coming to worship (Matthew 21:12-13). And then He explicitly outs the Pharisees as hypocrites who are careful to follow the Law, but ignore the important things – justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23-36). The Pharisees can see that Jesus is going to cause problems for them as they go about controlling the people and focusing on looking holy. They can see that He has what they lack – an authentic connection with God. And they can see that if He is allowed to carry on, soon the people will try to make Him their leader. Which would be bad for the Pharisees, and bad for the Romans. So they attempt to squash Him before He can get fully established.
With the help of Judas they arrest Jesus on trumped up charges of blasphemy (Matthew 26:47-66). And then they stir up a mob to demand Pilate crucifies Him (Matthew 27:20). And so less than a week after being triumphantly welcomed into Jerusalem, it all ends with the crowd going by the cross, hurling abuse, jeering, taunting Him (Matthew 27:38-44).
There’s something you notice as you read the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion. The disciples, who had followed Jesus everywhere up until now, who had had no problem being seen with Him as the crowd was ecstatically welcoming Him into Jerusalem, are suddenly missing. They’ve gone AWOL. It says in Matthew 26:56 that when Jesus was arrested “all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Peter takes every opportunity he can to deny having anything to do with Jesus. And of all the disciples, it seems only John (or ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ as he liked to call himself – not that he would be boastful or anything…) was present at Jesus’ death. (John 19:26).
See the thing is, it can be easy to follow Jesus when there’s no resistance. When everyone around you is following Him, it is easy to go with the crowd. When you’re at that Christian conference or camp and the worship band is giving it stacks and everyone is cheering out praise it’s easy to follow Jesus. It’s easy to raise your hand and not be ashamed to say you are a Christian. But when you’re on your own, when the cheering fades and is replaced by people mocking Jesus, then it gets a lot harder. Then it can be easy to stay quite when people ask you if you follow Him. When you know being open about your faith will lead to persecution, then it can be tempting to hide it, to ‘run away’ like the disciples.
Living all for God is about being in the minority that doesn’t abandon Jesus when the going gets tough. It is about being like John (and Mary, Mary and Zebedee’s wife) and sticking it out through the bad times as well as the good. It is about refusing to be ashamed of Jesus even when public opinion is against Him. And it is about having that reassurance that even the disciples failed at times. We will let Jesus down at times. But He still loves us and welcomes us back with open arms the moment we return to Him.