One of my favorite parts of Palm Sunday has long been Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they demand that He silence the crowd that was praising Him.
It’s one of the few events that are in all four gospels, and with good reason.
Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, coming from Bethany and Bethphage just north of Jerusalem. His disciples had miraculously secured the colt of a donkey, and Jesus was riding into Jerusalem. There where crowds in front of him and behind him, and they had cut palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road. And they were shouting accolades:
“Hosanna to the son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Now, all of this is in fulfillment of prophecy. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is from Psalm 118. The donkey is the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. Coming from the north, over the Mount of Olives, fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 14:1-5. That they were calling Jesus “son of David” fulfills prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. And, although the Pharisees could not have known it, “Hosanna in the highest heaven” harkens to what the angels sang on the night of Jesus’s birth.
So, to understand what is going on here, it’s helpful to realize that the crowd in front and the crowd behind started as two separate crowds. One had been following Jesus from Bethany and one had come rushing out of Jerusalem to greet him. The two crowds converged just after Jesus crested the Mount of Olives with its glorious view of all Jerusalem’s splendor. (Luke 19:37)
And, in that same verse, the Bible says they were loud. Very loud.
The crowd following had just seen Jesus raise a man from the dead who had been in a tomb for four days. And the crowd coming out had heard of this and all the other miracles. All were convinced He was the Messiah. They were right about that, but some also believed He had come to set them free from almost a hundred years of Roman oppression. Perhaps even some of His own disciples believed this.
The Pharisees, who memorized the Old Testament as part of their training, would certainly have recognized where those things the crowd was shouting had come from.
To the Pharisees, two enormous crowds had converged around a crazy carpenter’s son who was probably possessed by a demon and were shouting to him the accolades that should have been reserved for a conquering King or The Messiah. This Jesus simply could not be the Messiah. He was from Nazareth, after all—not Bethlehem where the Messiah was supposed to come from! His disciples didn’t even wash their hands before they ate (in direct disregard of their rules) and Jesus had often beaten them at their own game in front of crowds of people.
And so, they are incensed.
They must have been foaming at the mouth in anger over this deplorable scene of the ignorant masses praising this lunatic wandering preacher as if he is the Messiah for whom all of creation has been waiting since Adam and Eve left Eden.
To the Pharisees, this was absolutely scandalous.
So they rush up to Jesus and shout over the roar of the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39)
Now, the Bible does not say the crowd suddenly went silent. Nor does it record Jesus’ facial expression, but it does say, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
And the Greek word translated “cry out” here is “krazo.” It’s a word that mimics the sound of a raven’s call—a loud, piercing, emotional shriek.
And it was scandalous.
But, here’s the deal. Our word “scandalous” comes from the Greek word, “skandalon”—and that word has a couple of meanings. One is the trigger of a trap and the other is a stone that sticks up out of the ground. A skandalon is the perfect kind of rock to trip over.
Which brings us to yet more messianic prophecy, this time from Isaiah 8:14:
He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
Yes, Jesus is scandalous.
He is exactly opposite of everything the world would have written on a list as having the qualities of a King. He did not overthrow armies of Romans from the saddle of a war horse. He did not humble and humiliate his enemies with vast armies or spears or swords.
No, he humbled and humiliated Himself. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but took the form of a servant. The stone the builders rejected who is now the chief cornerstone of the Church defeated sin, death, and the devil with a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
And the man He chose to lead His church, whom He gave the name that means “rock” would write these words about us:
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2: 4-5 NIV)
So, two thousand years later, the stones do cry out. But they are not the stones that lined the road the day of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. They are the living stones of more than two billion believers who offer their spiritual sacrifices of thanks and praise and servant-hood day after day from every corner of the globe until the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that JESUS IS LORD!
For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(1 Peter 2: 6 NIV)