It was never like this before.
I have been posted in Jerusalem for ten years now, but in all that time, I have never seen a Passover crowd like this.
It wasn’t the numbers. I had seen that before.
The Passover pilgrims always come plodding into the city in reverent caravans. Some of them chant psalms. Others are silent, looking bone-weary as they trudge, like fretful herdsmen with children in tow. Undoubtedly, many are relieved that their holy city is finally in view.
But this year it was different. There was this man—at the center of the whole procession. There had never been a central figure before. Every movement within that huge throng seemed focused on him.
Squinting in a futile attempt to get a better view, I gave Claudius a backhanded slap to the shoulder and demanded, “What are they doing?”
“They’re climbing the trees, sir.”
“I can see that!” I snapped. “But what are they doing?”
“They seem to be tearing off the palm branches, sir.”
“What is going on here?” I said it more to myself than to any of the men standing near me. An uncomfortable feeling crept into me as the procession advanced.
“They don’t usually do this?” Claudius questioned.
“No . . . They’ve never done this before.” There was worry in my voice. Claudius had been recently assigned to this place, the festering armpit of the empire, and I was at a loss to explain what was happening before us. We were standing on the wall above the gate of Jerusalem, and less than a half mile away, we could see the jubilant pilgrims surging toward us in alarming numbers.
“They’re laying the palm branches on the road in front of that man—the man on the donkey.”
Until Claudius said it, I hadn’t noticed the donkey. Its small size and the frenzy of activity round about must have obscured this detail in the picture before me. What an odd way for this man to come. I could make no sense of it.
“They’re throwing down their cloaks before him.”
The sweat- glistened bodies of several men were clearly visible. Outer garments were being cast down before this man as a sign of homage. At the same time the rhythmic chanting of their voices became more distinct.
What were they singing? Could I pick up the words?
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
That’s when it hit me like a barbarian’s club. I realized what I was witnessing. It was a triumphal entry—the entry of a king.
It was the words. The words they were now boisterously shouting. He was their Messiah. The Son of David! The one they were waiting for! The one who would rid them of the Romans. He would set up his glorious Jewish kingdom, here, in Jerusalem! This is what I had been warned about since the day I first set foot on this cursed Judean soil. And we, I and my men and the garrison in the city, were all that stood in their way.
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Here’s a journey to the cross and the open tomb you will never forget.