Giving Up Popularity

Matthew 21:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”[a]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]

“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”


  1. We are coming to the end of Lent. We can look back with gratitude on this wonderful opportunity we have had to have a time of reflection and prayer, preparing for Holy Week and Easter. 
  2. We have been looking at the spiritual discipline of giving something up for Lent  suggesting things we can give up not just for Lent but for good.
    1. First, it was giving up control.  Then expectations.  After that it was giving up superiority.  Then, it was giving up our enemies.   
    1. (Each of these sermons, by the way, is archived on our website.)
  3. Today: Give up popularity.
  4. If you can remember your adolescent years, you will recall that being popular with your friends was a very big deal. 
    1. It was something that we thought about constantly and fretted about it every day;
    1. it was something that we wanted maybe more than anything else. 
    1. We wanted to be popular and well-liked.  And there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be popular.
  5. And to read today’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we can certainly see that he was apparently a very popular guy.
  6. Jesus was so popular that the people waved palm branches as he came in.
    1. We waved palm branches this morning.
  7. Let’s take a brief detour to see why palm branches are so important today.
    1. Why in the world did the crowd throw palm branches at his feet? Is it a sign of honor, respect and hope?
    1. It is!
  8. 150 years prior to Jesus, the Jews were conquered and oppressed by the Syrians. — sound familiar! Nothing is new is it?
    1. This occupation of Jerusalem was marked by abuse, violence and slavery; the Syrians even publicly disrespected and desecrated the Jew’s most valued religious symbol: the temple in Jerusalem.
    1. Just when things were as bad as can be, a hero arose from the Jews and he led a revolt that ultimately culminated in the defeat of the Syrians and the restoration and re-dedication of the Temple.
  9. This hero’s name was Judas Maccabeus, and he gave the Jews their desires, happiness and success they longed for.
    1. Judas Maccabeus became their warrior king! 
    1. He was very popular!
    1. Maccabeus is in the Apocrypha which the weekly adult Bible class is reading right now.
    1. Therefore, he was received by the crowds celebrating his victory by waving palm branches.
  10. Now, fast-forward 150 years. The Jews are being once again under someone else’s control: Rome.
    1. Though not as bad as the Syrians, the Jews, under the domination of the Romans, were still limited as to how much of their political and religious identity they could express –not to mention the forced tax burden by the Roman government.
  11. Along comes Jesus who seems to have power from God,
    1. who claims to be the long awaited Messiah,
    1. who reportedly has fed thousands at a time, the ever promised liberator of Israel who would come –once for all and as promised in the scriptures, to defeat Israel’s enemies and set the Jews free as an independent powerful kingdom of which Jesus would be the king forever.
  12. Jesus appeared to be the one who would give them their freedom, their desires, happiness and success they had longed for. Obviously, Jesus was very popular as he was viewed as a kingly savior.
    1. What’s the people’s reaction? To receive Jesus in the same way they had received their previous hero Judas Macabees: waiving palm branches
  13. However, to know Jesus is to know that he never did anything accidently.
    1. Every move he made, every place he went, every word that came out of his mouth, was carefully planned with a purpose in mind. 
    1. It was no accident that Jesus came into Jerusalem the way he did on the day he did.  It was all carefully planned. He was walking towards the cross.
  14. For one thing, Jesus knew that Jerusalem would be crowded with religious pilgrims. 
    1. It was the Passover, the Jewish holy days which commemorated the release of the children of God from captivity in Egypt.
    1. The Jewish law required that all Jewish males within twenty miles of Jerusalem must come to the Passover celebration.
  15. But not only the Jewish people from near Jerusalem were there. 
    1. Pilgrims would travel many miles to celebrate Passover in the Temple in Jerusalem.
  16. Jesus could not have picked a more dramatic moment, coming into the city filled with pilgrims who were “keyed up with religious expectations”
  17. Even the choice of the donkey was deliberate, coming from Zechariah’s prophesy of the messiah, in chapter 9 of Zechariah we read of this prophecy.
    1. It was an event that was part of the Restoration of Israel, when Israel’s enemies would be defeated, and her King would triumphantly return to his City.
    1. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
    1. The crowds no doubt saw the donkey, knew the significance. They knew this was the one whom Zechariah had prophesied about.
    1. And seeing the great event they gave the festal shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  18. It was a carefully calculated and orchestrated event to elicit a maximum effect.
    1. And it worked marvelously!  The people were excited and put branches and cloaks in the roadway.  They shouted that ancient greeting, “Hosanna”, which meant “Save us now”. 
    1. Maybe this one, this Jesus, was the one to defeat the Romans and throw off the yoke of bondage under which they had lived for so many years.
  19. At that moment, Jesus was the most popular person in the whole city.  He would have easily been elected king and he could probably have gotten just about anything he wanted. 
  20. But that is not why he did this.  Of all things, popularity was the least thing Jesus wanted.
  21. In Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, and seeing the city, he wept over it. 
    1. This was Jerusalem, the holy city. 
    1. It was built on Abraham’s Mount Moriah and David’s Mount Zion. 
    1. It was made the capital of God’s nation during the reign of King David until it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
    1.  A remnant of the Jews returned from captivity and rebuilt the city. 
    1. This is a city which “had heard the voice and seen the face of the Son of God” .
  22. Jesus’ purpose was not to seek popularity but to save the people from their sins.
    1. Besides, Jesus knew about popularity.  He knew how that worked. 
  23. Pause
  24. Today you are popular, and everybody loves you.  But what about the next day?  How will they feel about you then? 
    1. And it happened just that way for Jesus. 
    1. On the day of his entry into the city they were shouting, and they welcomed him with open arms, and less than a week later they were also shouting, but that time it was to crucify him.
  25. Jesus knew what he was doing, and every move he made was calculated to bring attention to the salvation he was offering the people.
  26. I am sure that folks have often thought about how Jesus could have capitalized on his popularity that day. 
    1. Had he wanted to, Jesus probably could have rallied the masses and led a revolt against the Roman government. 
    1. He would then be able to sit on the throne of the Jewish nation.  That would be tempting to most people, wouldn’t it?
  27. But that was not his purpose. 
    1. Popularity, Jesus knew, was a very fleeting thing.  You are their friend today, but what about tomorrow? 
    1. So, is Jesus asking us to give up popularity, just as he did?
  28. The problem with popularity is that it may mean that we have to compromise our convictions in order to gain popularity and to keep it.
  29. A man walked into a Christian bookstore and saw a display of hats with the letters WWJD on them. He was unaware of what the letters stood for, so he asked the lady at the counter to enlighten him.
    1. She explained that the letters stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” and that the idea was to encourage people to ponder that question before making decisions. The man thought about this for a moment and replied, “I don’t think Jesus would spend $16.95 for that hat!”
    1. His amusing response made me laugh but it also made a really good point.
  30. The desire to be popular in their groups causes today’s generation to be under a lot of pressure to go along with the world without thinking twice about the impact that poor media choices and poor use of time are having on our relationship with God and with others.
    1. One of the oldest tricks in the book (Genesis 3:4-6) is the lie which basically says “don’t listen to what God says, this choice won’t affect you in a negative way.”
    1. We are still believing this lie and suffering the same consequences of pain, misery, loneliness, heartache and death.
    1. God has a better plan and He has given us principles for guidance so that we can experience life to its fullest.
  31. When I was in high school, I thought the most popular thing I could achieve was to be able to wear my high school jacket with a big varsity letter on it.
    1. I would be very popular with the girls! Right —- guys think like that. But I never achieved that.
    1. And I grew up remembering that there are more basic things to life than to constantly be seeking to be popular.
  32. Give it up, Jesus surely must be saying.  It isn’t worth the cost.
  33. As I pondered this matter of popularity, I kept thinking about the word “courage”.  It kept coming to me that if we are willing to follow Jesus and give up popularity,
    1. we would have to have courage to do that: courage to stand against popular opinion;
    1. courage to do the right thing when others will not; courage to live for Jesus.
  34. There is nothing wrong with being popular. 
    1. I think most of us want to be well-liked and well-respected.  But in doing so we must keep the big picture in mind, just as Jesus did that day coming into Jerusalem. 
    1. The accolades from the people were very nice, but they were fleeting, and Jesus had a larger purpose to fulfill.
  35. This morning’s Scripture begins on the Mount of Olives, which is the traditional place from which people expected the final military campaign for Jerusalem’s liberation to begin, Jesus doesn’t adorn himself with armor or mount a war horse.
    1. Jesus chooses instead to ride this traditional war path astride a colt.
    1. Jesus comes not as a military hero, but as one of the poor, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.
  36. Through this act he communicates his intent to both the political powers and those they oppress. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and personally he aligns himself with the least among us. He chooses not just to stand with the poor, but to join with them in their walk, no matter where the road leads.
  37. And he calls his disciples to join him in this march. Physically.
  38. It’s no wonder that as the week played out the disciples would desert him and deny knowing him, and then lock themselves in a room and hide in order to save themselves after his execution.
  39. Jesus’ action that we gather to remember this morning is not of a pretty parade scene with children smiling and laughing and singing and waving palm branches in a sanctuary. This action is political. It is bold. It is divisive. It is physical. And it is deadly.
  40. Politics is physical. Loving others is physical. Talking, hurting, disagreeing, shedding tears, becoming angry, putting boots on the ground to go into the military, or the mission field, or to march in protest on behalf of another—these acts involve our bodies.
    1. Loving others in the way of Jesus is embodied. It is political. It is active.
    1. Being the body of Christ is physical because Jesus is physical.
    1. Jesus is God in flesh. Emmanuel. God with us.
  41. We must follow Jesus straight through the screaming crowds as he confronts the power structures of the world that would place its treasures in the hands of a very few while leaving the majority of God’s creatures suffering.
  42. As we begin the walk of Holy Week with our Lord, let us focus on the importance of the physical: fully embodying the rituals of our faith tradition in both ancient and modernized ways.
  43. As we listen to the story of our Lord’s passion, let us enter fully into the physicality of suffering and death, that we may also enter fully into the physicality of resurrection come Easter morning.
  44. Thanks be to God