Matthew 21:10-11 — When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
In the last week of Jesus life, we see two very different responses to him. On Palm Sunday, he entered the city of Jerusalem like a hero. A huge crowd came out to meet him, and they enthusiastically praised him. But then five days later, on Good Friday, a huge crowd gathered in Pilate’s courtyard to cry out for Jesus’ death. What a difference!
Of course, we have no way of knowing if any of the same people were in both crowds. We don’t know if the ‘general public’ changed their mind about Jesus, or if it was two entirely different groups of people. But one thing is clear; there was wide range of reactions to Jesus.
Something we should realize is that there is a very good chance that we, two thousand years later, know more about Jesus than did most of the people in either of those crowds. They did not have newspapers and most would not have been able to read them if they did. Not only that, but Jesus had spent most of his time out in the small towns and countryside, and very little time in Jerusalem. Matthew 21:10 reveals this lack of knowledge, saying that the whole city was wondering about Jesus, asking, “Who is this?” We have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to read; but many of the people in those two crowds were probably going on first impressions, or, hearsay and gossip.
Sometimes first impressions can tell you a great deal, and sometimes hearsay and gossip are accurate. But not always. Maybe not even most of the time. People are complex, and a first impression, if at all accurate, will tell you only a little bit about that individual’s personality. And hearsay may be nothing more than someone else’s faulty first impression.
We even have some common expressions that illustrate how inaccurate first impressions can be. Perhaps you have said of someone, “Oh, she’s not so bad once you get to know her;” indicating that first impressions do not always tell the whole story. Or, on the other hand, you may have heard someone say, “You think he is so great, but you don’t REALLY know him like I know him; and if you did, you would change your mind in a hurry.” In other words, he can make a good first impression, but don’t let that fool you.
I heard someone being criticized the other day. Although I could not disagree with the criticism, I had to say, “Once you get to know him, you will find out that just like everyone else he has his good points and his bad points. You’ve been seeing mostly the bad side of him, but there are also some very admirable things about him.” He has his good points and his bad points. That is true of just about everybody.
Thus, with first impressions and hearsay being so unreliable, if the crowds were one day cheering Jesus and a few days later crying out for his death, we can guess that they may not have been all that well informed.
The ones to look to for an accurate opinion of Jesus would have to be those who knew him best, those most acquainted with his whole person, those who knew his good points and his bad points, those who were familiar with his strengths and his weaknesses. And the ones who really knew Jesus were his disciples, the ones who were with him day and night for three years. It then becomes very instructive to look at what they thought of him, since they were far beyond first impressions.
But before I get into that, let me say this. Even the greatest people have their shortcomings. I love my family and friends, but I am well aware of all their faults, as they are of mine. In my work in the church, I have been privileged to know countless wonderful people, from lay people who have diligently served in the congregations where I have been pastor, to national and even international church leaders; all doing their best to use the great gifts God had given them. But I have met no perfect people; not even in the church. And it usually doesn’t take very long to spot the imperfections. As you get to know someone, even if it is someone you have admired from afar, you soon realize that they also are all too human.
This is true even of history’s greatest people. One of my favorites is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was such a wise and great man in so many ways. But Lincoln was a politician in every sense of the word, including the very worst sense. Lincoln coveted political power, and he was more than willing to use it when he had it. He was a political conniver, and a wheeler and dealer that could out-do them all. Abraham Lincoln was far from perfect, even though his earliest biographers tried to portray him as a man without fault. William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner in Springfield, Illinois, worked side by side with him for many years, and knew Lincoln as well as anyone. Tired of the glowing, uncritical biographies being written about his old friend, Herndon wrote what became a controversial biography of the martyred president, and many people did not like it. Herndon was determined to present an honest portrait of Lincoln as the great, but flawed, man that he really was, and included many unflattering stories to make that clear.
Keeping all that in mind, consider again Jesus and his disciples. These were the men that knew Jesus like no one else, except perhaps his own mother. These were the men who would have seen Jesus not only at his best, but also at his worst; when he was tired or irritated or in a bad mood. Everyone I know has those times. The disciples were the ones who would have seen the occasional failures, the mean-spirited comments, the conniving manipulation of the people, or the power grabs. They were the ‘insiders’ that could have written the scandalous ‘tell all’ biographies of what Jesus was really like. (continued…)