It’s almost time for Palm Sunday. We remember Christ’s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem … and the people’s cries of “Hosanna!” “Lord, save us!” The phrase erupted over and over from the passionate Passover crowds.
Since joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), we might assume that a joyful crowd – especially an ecstatic crowd shouting out to Jesus as “Lord” – is a crowd filled with the Spirit of God. After all, God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we belong to Him – what could produce more joy than knowing that?
But here’s the rub. What looks like joy to us is not always the joy of the Lord. After that first Palm Sunday came Monday morning. The better-known account of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple – one of Christ’s most significant works – is recorded in Luke 19:45-46. That was the day after Palm Sunday.
The temple area – about a 10-acre space – had become an animal market. We know from Josephus and others that the family of the high priest was running a commercial operation: a cattle and banking business. Animals (needed for sacrifices) were sold at high prices, plus heavy transaction fees for currency exchange were tacked on to drive up the profits. What was supposed to be a place of prayer and quiet reflection was now a place of shouting, bickering, bartering, and utter chaos. So Jesus was moved to anger, and He violently – we deduce that from the force of the original language – turned over the tables.
Jesus displayed His righteousness. His strength. His zeal for truth and justice. By His own announcement (see Mark 11:17), Christ also opened the door of His kingdom to Gentiles. This was no ordinary day by any estimation. We know from Luke 19:47 (one verse after the temple cleansing in Luke’s account) that Jesus went on to teach “daily in the temple.” That’s why the temple had needed to be cleansed in the first place – so that it might be used for Christ’s holy purposes.
Daily Christ taught. But not for long. Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion would come at the end of that very same week. As you likely already know, the unbelieving priests, scribes, elders, and the populace in general did not (and would not) tolerate what Jesus taught. They questioned Christ’s authority and stirred up trouble. Within just a few days the tide of popular opinion would turn entirely against our precious Lord, and Jesus would choose to lay down His life for us.
We must come to terms with the fact that the Palm Sunday “joyful” exuberance was but a blip on the radar screen of human history. In large measure, it was nothing but short-lived religious, nationalistic, and patriotic emotionalism … which transitioned within hours to hateful shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
If we are to serve Christ faithfully, we must be anchored in more than emotion. We need a new heart, and then – again and again – we need a renewed heart. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit! Surely you and I who are Christ’s temple (First Corinthians 6:19) need a thorough temple-cleansing from time to time. That, my friends, is the marvelous work of the Spirit of grace (Titus 3:5) on which we desperately depend.
For not entirely giving up on you and me – who are far, far more spiritually half-hearted than we prefer ever to admit – we give Christ all our thanks and praise! Hosanna!