The Crowds of Palm Sunday


A commonplace in Christian circles understands the events surrounding the first Palm Sunday to be a clear demonstration of the “fickleness of crowds.” But there are good reasons for questioning this common assumption.

The Text:

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord (John 12:12-13).

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified (Matt. 27:20-23).


When Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, in fulfillment of prophecy, a great multitude gathered around and received Him as their king, as one who was coming in the name of the Lord. There is nothing in the account to suggest that the acclaim and joy were not genuine.

And yet, a very short time later, a multitude before Pilate was persuaded by the chief priests and elders to clamor for the destruction of Jesus. There is nothing in this to suggest that the composition of the crowd was largely the same as before, or that the crucifixion of Jesus was the result of everybody suddenly changing their minds. Rather, the facts recorded for us appear to suggest that Jerusalem was divided over the identity of Christ, and that those who loved Him were (temporarily) out-maneuvered.

Jesus was arrested at night, and was examined by Annas in a secret proceeding at night, in full contradiction to Jewish law. By the time they showed up before Pilate, it was still early (John 18:28). From the time of the Lord’s arrest to the time when the first nails went in, about nine hours elapsed. The whole thing was an iniquitous rush job. For about half that time, while all this was going on, the godly from the Triumphal Entry, those yearning for the redemption of Israel, were sound asleep in their beds.

True Nonetheless

As a proclamation of the gospel, this meal represents the great exchange. We were dead in our sins, and in Christ God exchanges us His life for our death. We were in abject poverty, and so in Christ God exchanges us His riches for our rags. We were slaves, chained to the dungeon walls of our own selfishness and pride, and so in Christ God exchanges us His liberty for our slavery.

He took our curses, and we walked away with His blessings. He took our iniquity, and we walked away with His righteousness. He took our guilt, and so we walked away with a song in our hearts and on our lips. He took our shame, and we walked away with His glory.

God made the one who had never known sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. That is what this meal declares, embodies, and enacts. As often as we partake of this meal, we declare the Lord’s death until He comes, and that is what our declaration is talking about. That is what His death, burial and resurrection mean.

So the Lord Jesus is at the head of the Table, and the lowliest Christian seated at the foot of the Table is in full possession of all the riches of this great house. Another way of saying this is that there is no foot to this Table. In Christ, we are all seated at the head. In Christ, nothing is withheld. In Christ, we do not lack for any good thing.

In Christ, we have far more than the blessing of what He took from us. He never takes anything from us, however tawdry, without replacing it with something glorious.

So this is the Table of the great transaction. This is glory through vicarious substitution. This is staggering wealth through sheer and infinite grace. This is too good to be true . . . but it is true nonetheless.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

A Choice Triangle

One of the things our elders learned from our architect is what might be called a choice triangle. For any new construction, there are three basic elements to the project. Take the square footage, take the quality of design and materials, and take the dollar amount to be spent. Those are the three corners of your triangle. As you look at those three elements, you may pick any two, and the two you pick will determine the third.

If you have this amount of money and no more, and you want this square footage, then that will determine the quality of construction. If you want this quality of construction, and to spend this amount of money, that will determine how big it is going to be. You get the picture.

The two you pick determine your priorities, and the one that remains for you is the cost you must pay for your priorities. If costs must be limited, but high quality is essential, then the cost you must pay is in size. Any one of the three of them can be the cost you pay, and any two of them can represent your priorities.

As we look to build a sanctuary, our task is to seek to have our priorities reflect God’s priorities, and God’s task is provide in the third area. This is because we usually bump up against a cost for our standards that is a cost we do not want to pay. That we where we seek the Lord for provision. So we have certain architectural standards, and good for us. Are those standards biblically grounded, biblically responsible, historically informed, and theologically aware?

In other words, in the two areas we pick, are we being biblically responsible, such that it is not presumption when we look to the Lord to provide for us in the third category? Hudson Taylor once said that God’s work done God’s way will not lack for God’s supply. The psalmist said that God promises us this—open your mouth and I will fill it. But that opening must be in true and intelligent faith.

So let the stones cry out.

Predestination in a Cheap Tux

A friend pointed me to this article by Roger Olson on the monster God of Calvinism, which, if logical demonstration were a verdant jungle in the Amazon, would be as bare as hell’s back yard. There are enough non sequiturs here to roll out to an appropriate thickness, in order to cut them up to use for awnings. But it is important to note at the outset that I would rather dip a right hand covered with paper cuts into a basin of verjuice than to overheat my rhetoric on a point such as this. This issue is far too important to distract the reader with a verbal tapioca that has three eggs too many in it. So to speak.

Okay, so if I had a gizzard, this line of argument would be down in it. But I don’t have a gizzard and so I can say all this in a spirit of mild composure, and am gazing over the terrain of this argument with the equanimity and serenity of a somnambulant Buddha.

The argument! What’s the argument? There are a bunch of things here that I will likely address in a few additional installments, so let me begin with just one, the one with a “kick me” sign taped on its back. Actually, there is more than one like that, so let me be more specific. Let me start with a brief, but very pointed observation about divine foreknowledge.

Now that I have gotten all that out of my system, let us turn to the question at hand. Enough with my squirreling around. I am sure that Roger Olson is a very nice man, and we puppets of fate have very little opportunity for normal humor. Being oppressed as we are by the immense weight of divine sovereignty, sometimes the humor just squirts out sideways, much like the way it goes when you drop a cinder block on a chocolate eclair.

Seriously, people, time to be serious. In an afterthought, Olson attempts to head off a Calvinistic comeback that says that Arminianism has the same problem, just not acknowledged. He says that “this is not the place for it.”

Furthermore, in support of this dismissal, he says, “Divine foreknowledge is no more causative than human foreknowledge.”

This misunderstands the objection entirely. If we could isolate divine foreknowledge, detaching it from God’s other attributes and actions, then this could be a reasonable point. If God’s foreknowledge were just like mine, only vast, then what is true of my foreknowledge at a given instant would be true of God’s foreknowledge at all those other instants. Fair enough. If I see a bicyclist hurtling toward a tree, I can have certain foreknowledge that he will hit that tree, and yet, because I am fifty feet away, my knowledge is in no way responsible for the collision. Why would this be different just because God can see ten bicyclists, or a thousand of them?

The answer is that He is the Creator of these bicyclists, and His foreknowledge includes all contingent foreknowledge. Contingent upon what? Upon His decision to create. That means that He knows what will happen on Planet Xtar if He decides to create it. The decision to create is therefore causative. The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation.

This means that divine foreknowledge is not — as mine is — the knowledge of a mere observer. You cannot grapple with the implications of this point unless you combine two points together. God knows exhaustively what will happen in this world if He creates, and because He created it, that act of creation was a decision that willed everything contained within the bundle.

God knows what will happen if He creates the tree and if He creates the bicyclist, and therefore the decision to create is nothing more nor less than predestination in a cheap tux.

And this is why Roger Olson has promised us that he will convert to atheism, which we will address in our next segment.

The After Deck of the Pirate Ship

Whenever I write on things like liberty and taxes, it is easy for some to try to stuff me into the wrong box. And upon my making this objection, some might expect me to go on to say that I hate labels. But actually I love labels, which are the precondition of all honest discourse. Con artists hate labels.

But the label should be accurate. I am no anarchist, and I actually am in favor of both liberty and taxes. I’m against parodies of either, and because these parodies are currently dominating the landscape, they are the problem which must be addressed.

The parody of liberty is found in the libertarian image of the fornicating pot smoker – but you can get high and get laid in a 6′ x 8′ prison cell. There is one who defiantly cries out that he wants more liberty – so that he can enslave himself ever more tightly in chains he has forged himself. But no tyrant has ever been successfully resisted by cluster of lotus eaters, however big the cluster might be. Virtuous people cannot be kept as slaves, and an effete and self indulgent people are made for slavery. It is their native habitat.

But the parody of taxes is the idea that general and indiscriminate confiscation is somehow in accordance with the rule of law. People who are subject to such treatment are not a free people, but rather are a huddled band of prisoners on the after deck of the pirate ship. In case you were wondering, that’s you right now.

Christ or Cocaine

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #186

And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:30–32).

Paul then advances another argument for the resurrection of Jesus. The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, and they understood that resurrection to be a guarantee of their own resurrection. It would therefore make no sense for them to establish a fraudulent faith that did nothing but jeopardize their health and safety if they knew that the dead were not raised.

By putting this argument forward, Paul is confirming a standard argument for the resurrection of Jesus, which is the fearlessness of the apostles—in contrast to their behavior prior to the crucifixion—in proclaiming that resurrection. The apostles had all seen the resurrected Jesus, and their subsequent behavior makes no sense unless they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

Paul is in danger every hour. Every knock on the door could be a raid. Paul avows, with his right hand on his pride in the Corinthians, that he dies every day. This is the meaning of taking up your cross daily, and following Jesus. Why would Paul have fought the way he did at Ephesus if the dead are not raised. He is very blunt about it. If there is no resurrection, then the only sensible option is to party on the lip of the abyss. In the Pauline logic, it is either Christ or cocaine.