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Chapter 13

Entry to Jerusalem - To Die

There was never any laziness in the young Rabbi prophet of Galilee. Prodigious was his zeal to carry his gospel, his good news, to needy people everywhere; and in a supreme manner he sensed the people’s needs. From village to village, wherever he could be of greatest help, he went, The accounts indicate that the crowds seeking his help were sometimes very great:

‘When Jesus saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then said he unto his disciples, the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.’ (Matt. ix. 36-37.)

His work must often have been very exhausting. Self-giving contact with people, especially in crowds, takes a great deal out of a sensitively organised person. A man of the open, Jesus sought quiet and rest and recuperation in the open; and outdoors he experienced those refreshing periods of prayer and communion by which he kept intact his sense of union with the Father. Time after time the accounts relate these occurrences:

‘In the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth,’ (Mark i. 35-38·)

When he had finished in one village, down the road he went to another, sometimes alone, sometimes with one or two, sometimes with more of his disciples. Eager he was always to fulfil his promise: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free — the truth of the life, the Kingdom of God, within; the truth not only to be accepted and believed, but also to be lived :

‘By their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father.’ (Matt. vii. 20-21.)

Not only was he ever ready to share his truth with the people, but he was ever eager to free them and save them from the enervating and deadly dogma which was ceaselessly put about by the priests and scribes and Pharisees. The world has per-naps never seen a greater enemy of dogma than this herald of truth. He knew that truth, his truth, and dogma could never exist together; and he never hesitated to denounce its upholders and purveyors.

He knew how self-seeking and deadly they were both as individuals and as representatives of institutions. He knew how they lived as parasites upon the people. ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (Matt. v. 20.) Inevitably he aroused the enmity of those he so frequently denounced — at times to their very faces. He was interfering with their authority, their business, their living.

More than once they had sent spies even from Jerusalem to watch him, to catch him in a snare. They never succeeded, however, in doing this. So good a reader was he of human nature and human motives, so clear in his in-seeing, that instead he almost always confounded them. He had a growing sense of their determination, as we say, to ‘get’ him. It did not appear to bother him, and gradually he seemed to arrive at a point where he actually without fear courted an open conflict with them.

‘From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.’ (Matt. xvi. 21.)

This was no idle statement on his part as it turned out. His face was set toward Jerusalem and his disciples were to go with him. The coming conflict might certainly mean his death, and he planned it for a time when it might most reasonably occur. The great annual festival ceremony of the Jews, the Passover, was soon to be celebrated. He knew it was at Jerusalem that he would be killed, and that there would be no better time or occasion. He alone knew that he was actually courting death.

His friends and followers in various localities warned him that the temple authorities were seeking him, and advised him not to go that year. Already the chief priests and the Pharisees, hearing how boldly he had denounced them, how he was teaching the people not in their established religious code, and at times quite contrary to it, and how great was the number of people now following him, had called a council at which Caiaphas, the chief priest, spoke: ‘If we let him alone,’ he said, ‘all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away our place and nation.’. . .’Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. . . .And they watched him and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.’

This became quite generally known. There was also considerable talk and speculation throughout the countryside in many directions, just as there was at Jerusalem. Of one group which had already gone up in preparation for the feast the account reads: ‘Then sought they for Jesus, and spoke among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?’

Six days then before the Passover we find Jesus and his disciples at Bethany, the home of his friends Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Bethany is just outside Jerusalem whither they are bound, but a short walk away. Jesus knows then that at any time he is likely to be captured, to be tried, and to be put to death. He evidently has his own thoughts and plans about it, too; in fact he will see to it that he is arrested. He will do such things that the authorities cannot ignore him, even if they would.

They would probably find an easy ally to sanction their decree in the ruling Roman goverror of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who not only detested Jews, but took pleasure in acts of violence and sometimes in executions without form of trial. It was Pilate who made his legions enter Jerusalem with figures of the God-Emperor emblazoned on their standards, not withstanding his knowledge of how the Jews abhorred idolatry and graven images of any type.

But Tiberius Caesar, the God-Emperor, ‘born of a virgin,’ must have homage above every living man. It is interesting to note that the fiction of Tiberius being born of a virgin was known to Jesus and his followers and to the people of Jerusalem and Judaea, but that Jesus and his followers and all of the people knew nothing of the fiction that he, Jesus, was born of a virgin. This was due to the fact that the fiction connected with Jesus did not take form until a system of belief concerning him began to take definite form a number of years later.

It is the spring of the year in Judea, the month of Adar, and the festival spirit is in the air everywhere. All Jewry is on its way to the Holy City — in pilgrimage to celebrate the feast which takes their minds back to their people’s escape from Egypt so many years ago.

From every hamlet and village and city, devoted bands are on their way, the great bulk are a-foot, the rich in litters, the bankers and merchants on camels. From the uttamost partsof the then known earth, they come. From nearer by comes Hcrod; and Pontius Pilate from his official seat at Caesarea-by-the- sea; and minor and new Roman officials, eager to see this strange festival.

There are caravans fetching all kinds of goods for market with the hosts that will be in Jerusalem. Great loads of palm branches are brought from the growths along the Jordan, for decorations and the building of booths. The lanes and at places the highways are almost choked with lambs to be sold for the Pascal rite, heifers for sacrifice, and vendors of doves with their great towering crates. Music is in the air. A million and a half of pilgrims will eventually be in Jerusalem.

On the road leading down into the city from Olivet, Jesus comes with his disciples, heading a considerable band of his Galilean followers, among whom are a number of devoted women.

An interesting if not a strange thing now happens. Jesus sends back to the little village which they have just passed and where they have seen a colt standing, tied for hire as was common at this festival time, with instructions that it be brought to them. One account says an ass, one a donkey, one a colt — anyway, there is sufficient agreement to show that it was a four-footed creature and one that might be ridden.

Why did he do this ? Did something come to his mind there that he had read in the scroll of the law and prophets, the scripture of the time, and did he half-venture himself as a fulfilment of prophecy? Or did he think it might please his followers? Or did he see that it would help him to achieve his end, his set purpose, of causing an annoying occurrence of which the authorities would hear, which they would perhaps witness, and of which in any event they would have to take cognisance? We do not know. It would not seem in the genius of the Master to do it for show.

At any rate, some of his followers threw clothes on the colt and sat him on it. The little procession then moved forward, some of the disciples and others of the more enthusiastic casting their garments before him and bursting into song, As they were crossing the Valley of Hedron on their way to the city gates, they were met by another little band of Galilean followers who had already come to Jerusalem. These came out waving palm branches and singing. Some of the men and women who had accompanied him from Bethany sang as they came:

‘Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good!’’

From the band that had come out to meet them from the city gates came the response:

‘For his mercy endureth for ever.’

And again from the oncoming pilgrim band:

‘Hosanna, hosanna, the Son of David! The Mighty One! The Mighty One! Son of David! . . . Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord!’

This, with various types of song and response, was a common way of greeting pilgrim bands as they came up to the great festival. The procession of which Jesus was the centre began to be considerably augmented; ardent friends, towns people, curiosity-seekers, boys with their shrill voices who so quickly gather on such occasions.

Some of his disciples and friends began to take alarm. They were pleased at the reception, but they saw he was not entering the city as a conqueror. Those high in authority were not there to receive him — no, not one. As his following grew it became mostly a shouting rabble. ‘Master, see what you are doing. Be careful. Be careful for your safety and for ours.’ They feared that it might take on the appearance of a nationalist demonstration — for the Roman authorities had their legionaries everywhere, and they might with ruthless force quickly check it, as they had many others. They knew also that the chief priests and the Pharisees and their council had their spies posted, and that they might move with quick vengeance against such a demonstration flouting their authority, especially when they knew who the leader was. There was danger from both sides.

The enthusiastic admirers and staunch supporters of the Master fancied that he was actually to ascend the throne of David — he, son of David — and to become their King. Others in suppressed excitement thought only that something most unusual — they knew not exactly what — was about to occur. This we infer from Luke’s account: ‘They thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear.’

But in the eyes of the more respectable and aristocratic Jews, Jesus and his band of disciples and elated followers were nothing more than an ill-clad group of ignorant countrymen and hangers-on, no different from thousands of others drawn on this occasion to the Holy City. They had seen many such groups in other years.

Now, however, it began to be noised about that the prophet of Galilee and his following were come.

Nothing immediately happened. The genius of the Master again asserted itself. He dismounted from the colt, and the procession disbanded, threading itself in




little groups here and there as they entered the city gate and made their way to the temple. Whatever was in the mind of the prophet of Galilee, whatever his purpose, he felt that it had been fulfilled. Everything was carefully planned on his part during these final six days at Jerusalem, and in all things he seems to have acted with a very definite precision.

We of today, partly because of the majestic music which has since been written and which is sung in the churches, get the impression that there was a great triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Evidently there was not. The occasion, however, served some purpose in the mind and the plan of the Master. Might he have fulfilled, for those who then and even more today set store by such things, the strained letter of some prophecy — Zechariah, for example: ‘Thy King shall come to thee, lowly, and riding upon an ass’? Yet we can rest assured that the genius of the Master, in his great message of life, was far greater than this.

It was approaching evening when he and his disciples reached the temple, about the time of the evening sacrifice, and with all other activities ceased. The city was thronged with people. There was no place to stay, so Jesus and his little band made their way across to nearby Bethany — perhaps to the home of their friends with whom they had so often tarried.


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