Jesus turned toward Jerusalem. On the way, He told His disciples He would be taken captive and handed to the Roman government for trial. They knew Him well and were devoted to Him, but what happened to the leader could well be the fate of His followers. That He admitted He would be captured seemed a confession of defeat. His disciples were afraid, and they wished themselves elsewhere.
The reason Jesus decided to make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem was because of His impending capture. He believed in His mission, and His disciples believed in Him: that He was God’s appointed messiah. He would give His disciples something to remember in the lonely days that lay ahead, something dramatic which they could look back on, and on which they could feast their minds with remembrance. He would make a public declaration of His messiahship, ride into the holy city as God’s Chosen One, in the traditional fashion, and He would allow the people to acclaim Him. He would give His disciples one bold moment to infuse courage into their fears.
If we were to follow the same route as Jesus, we would take the turn of the path around the hill, and great Mosque towers would suddenly rise before us; beside the towers would be the vast enclosures of the Musselman sanctuary; beyond this imposing center the city would stretch out of sight. When Jesus took that turn, the magnificent, sprawling city lay before Him, as magnificent in the first century as today. The temple was in the center, surrounded by gardens, and beyond, as far as the eye could see, were the homes of the people. The valley of Kedron met the valley of Hinnon, and Jerusalem rose from the abyss.
Jesus rode beyond the turn of the road, and the great metropolis lay before Him, the city He had loved and which was so full of history, sin, and glory. He wept. “If thou hadst known,” He said, “even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! But they are hid from thine eyes.” Jesus entered the city with triumph, but He may not have made the stir we sometimes imagine. Though of significance for us, when one thinks of the size of the city and the number of the inhabitants, it was probably a thing done in a corner. Hundreds of men, many of them fanatics, only some of them worthy, every year claimed to be prophets. As the various disciples acclaimed their leaders, the crowd, with good humor, would join in the excitement. When Jesus entered and His disciples cried, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” — the people who were in a carnival mood would take up the cry until hundreds and perhaps thousands joined the procession; but their sentiment was of good humor rather than of agreement.
The meaning of the triumphal entry was greater to the disciples who worshipped their Lord and to the evangelist who told the story than to the casual wayfarer. To us who live a long time after the event and who know what Jesus has meant in our lives and what He has meant to our civilization for two thousand years, the triumphal entry means He truly was the son of God, the savior of the world sent to announce salvation. If it be true that it was only a single, bold moment, a flash of light in a sea of tragedy, a bright flame quickly snuffed, a beautiful, delicate growth soon to be crushed by the authorities, we believe that the flame which men put out may yet be the flame to which we must repair and that the announcement made that day was by the Son of God, a divine proclamation by One who may and must conquer the world.
I saw the Conquerors riding by With trampling feet of horse and men Empire on empire like the tide Flooded the world and ebbed again. A thousand banners caught the sun, And cities smoked along the plain, And laden down with silk and gold And heaped-up spillage groaned the wain. I saw the Conquerors riding by, Splashing through loathsome floods of war — The Crescent leaning o’er its hosts, And the barbaric scimitar — And continents of moving spears, And storms of arrows in the sky, And all the instruments sought out By cunning men that men may die! I saw the Conquerors riding by With cruel lips and faces wan: Musing on kingdoms sacked and burned There rode the Mongol Genghis Khan; And Alexander, like a god, Who sought to weld the world in one; And Caesar with his laurel wreath; And like a thing from Hell, the Hun; And leading, like a star, the van, Heedless of upstretched arm and groan, Inscrutable Napoleon went, Dreaming of empire, and alone. . . . Then all they perished from the earth As fleeing shadows from a glass, And, conquering down the centuries, Came Christ, the Swordless, on an ass! Harry Kemp The Conquerors
For all that the triumphal entry was done in a corner, Jesus did gain popularity, and this caused the displeasure of the religious leaders. “You are too popular,” they said. “Silence the crowd and return to oblivion.” “I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if these people are silent, the very stones would cry out.” This was an interesting figure of speech: the very stones would cry out. Why did He not say: “The trees will talk,” or “The ass will speak”? A tree has life, which a stone does not. An animal can move, which a stone does not. A stone lies inert. If it falls, it cannot move of itself but must first be moved by something outside of itself. Though it is true there is a romance to the history of stones and geologists tell us exciting stories about their age and composition, they perform a humble service. A stone is one of the least forms of matter. On the other hand, stones have sung — even as Jesus said they would.
We measure our civilization in no small part by the temples that are built of stone, and the greatest testaments of our culture are monuments erected in the name of Jesus. I wonder if we still build them. We build many churches. But do we want the cross of Christ to be higher than the tallest building? I wonder if the picture of a perfect city is that of a church, its spire pointing to the heavens, surrounded by neat cottages — or an ugly megalopolis. When a young man in Melbourne, Australia, I recall one of the elders of our brotherhood standing in a public meeting to say “I want the cross of Christ on our church to stand higher than the roof of the Melbourne Hospital.” He was not speaking of literal height, as the Melbourne Hospital was many stories high, but he was using a rhetorical expression to indicate what he believed to be most important. If our song is not of Him, time will ensure that there will be no song.
The Scriptures speak of God Himself as a stone. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.” Jesus referred to Himself as a stone: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall.” When the apostle Peter, whose name means a stone, called Jesus the living stone of our faith, he said that the followers of Jesus were also to be living stones: “Come to him, that living stone, rejected by men, but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones by yourself built into a spiritual house.”
In the year 1827, in a small fishing village of Japan, a little waif was born whose name was Manjiro. One of his greatest loves, as he grew into a teen-age boy, was to go fishing; but one day his boat was blown out to sea and he was stranded for six months on a deserted island. He became emaciated. Sailors from an American whaling boat eventually found him and took him home with them to New London, Connecticut. Wanting to make his living in the same way as his guardians, young Manjiro studied mathematics, astronomy, and navigation. The years passed slowly, but a great day came when he had his own ship. He returned to the waters where he was found many years earlier, and he went beyond those waters into the harbors of Japan — at the peril of his life. Japan was isolated from the world, and chance callers were often killed. But Manjiro felt a mission to be a singing stone to tell his people of a good world beyond their shores of which they need not be afraid. Largely due to Manjiro, the doors of Japan were opened. He could have lived in America. He need not have endangered his life by entering the Japanese port. He could have lain inert, doing nothing, content with making a living. He became a singing stone.
The apostle Peter was a rock who learned to sing, but it took time. He was an uncouth fisherman when Jesus called him. Loud of talk and big of heart, he seemed to change in the presence of the Lord; but his change was more apparent than real. His behavior was from the inspiration and the guidance of the Master rather than from inward character. He failed at the first temptation. When the crisis came and Jesus was captured, Peter denied his Lord. In the third denial, his vehemence was so strong and his language so crude and vulgar that even the soldiers were shocked. He was not yet a singing stone but one of those inert pebbles that are bounced by the current, incapable of inward direction.
But the life of Peter did not end with denial, and he became a singing stone. He saw Jesus after the crucifixion. For each time Peter had denied Him, Jesus gave three pledges of love. Three times Jesus asked him “Simon Peter, lovest thou me. . . . Lovest thou me. . . . Lovest thou me?” Three times came the answer: “Feed my lambs. . . . Feed my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep.” Peter’s heart was broken, and because of the admittance of shame, he became the rock of history. The sinner became the saint, the saint became the witness: a pillar of strength to the brethren and the apostle of the ages.
Something like this is meant by Palm Sunday and the statement of Jesus: “Silence these people and the very stones will cry out.” We are to be singing stones.