Passover: Insiders and Outsiders

The tenth day of Nisan has just ended, four days before Passover, which is the day on which the Torah commanded every household to select a lamb to be sacrificed four days later on Passover. It’s also the day that Yeshua entered Jerusalem during his last Passover, riding on a donkey to fulfill the words of Zechariah the prophet: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Yeshua was making it clear what king he was. It’s often said that the Jews of his day rejected this kind of king, but there’s a crowd of Jews welcoming him on the 10th of Nisan:

And a very great crowd spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the crowds who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!”

And when he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”

So the crowds said, “This is Yeshua, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt. 21:8-11)

Matthew uses the word crowd(s) three times in this brief passage, and it will appear again later.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. . . .

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowds that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Yeshua. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Yeshua who is called Messiah?” They all said to him, “Let him be crucified!”

Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let him be crucified!”

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:15, 20-25)

 I’ve heard it preached more than once that the same crowd that welcomed Yeshua with “Hosanna to the Son of David!” cries out, “Crucify him!” a few days later. With this, the preacher pictures the fickleness of the crowds and underscores the “Jews rejected Jesus” theme. The preacher may even read the final line—“His blood be on us and on our children”—as curse that has remained upon the Jewish people ever since.

But I see two different crowds here—a crowd that gathers outside and a different crowd within the city. The outside crowd gathered in obedience to the Torah, which commands the Israelites to appear before the Lord at three festivals each year, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Ex. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16). In Yeshua’s time, during these festivals pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem, and the atmosphere was filled with rejoicing, excitement, and expectation.

Matthew contrasts this outside crowd with those inside the city: “And when he had come into Jerusalem [from outside], all the city [those inside] was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes [the outside crowd] said, “This is Yeshua, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matt. 21:10-11). Some readers (probably insiders) criticize the pilgrim crowd because they answer the question about Yeshua, “who is this?” by saying he is “the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee,” instead of saying he is Messiah. But they have already greeted him as the Son of David, and are moving in the right direction by calling him a prophet. The insiders, on the other hand, think they already know what the Messiah should look like and miss Yeshua’s identity altogether. It’s from the insiders that the religious leaders will enlist a crowd to agitate before Pilate a few days later. The outside crowd speaks words of welcome—“Baruch ha-ba.” The inside crowd speaks words of condemnation.

If we act like we’ve arrived, like we have all the answers and are charged with guarding the gates of truth, we won’t reach those outside. We become the same sort of religious types that made us uncomfortable not so long ago. One of the great snares in the spiritual journey is that we encounter God, we are rescued from our rebellion and sin, and we forget where we came from. We enter the Kingdom of God, and then we’re not so sure anyone else should be allowed in. We leave the outside crowd of pilgrims to become gatekeepers.

Yeshua modeled the opposite. He could certainly claim to have arrived, to be the ultimate insider, but he continually reaches out in welcome to the outside crowd. He knows the heart of his people, their struggles, questions and fears. We often envision outreach as getting people to come to our services and events, but that’s only part of it. We meet people wherever they may be, even if they never come through our doors.

So, as we prepare for Passover this year, we should ask ourselves, are we insiders or outsiders? Do we really mean it when we repeat the words from the Passover Hagaddah —“Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat! Whoever is needy, let him come and celebrate the Passover feast!”

Adapted from Creation to Completion, chapter 11. 

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