"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace ! but now they are hid from thine eyes".
Luke xix. 42.
ON Friday evening, a week before the Crucifixion, our Lord arrived at Bethany, the sweet and quiet home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus whom He loved. On the evening of the next day,—the Jewish Sabbath,—the little family made in His honour that memorable feast, in which the love of Mary, glowing into sudden rapture, led her to break the vase of alabaster, and anele with precious spikenard her Saviour's feet. The presence of the risen Lazarus added to the scene a touch of awe. Many Jews from Jerusalem, who had strolled to that little village when the setting sun removed the Sabbath restriction of distance, mingled among the guests; and as they returned to the city, through the tents and booths of the thronging pilgrims, they were able to answer the eagerly-debated question, whether Jesus,— in spite of the violence with which he had been treated in His last visit to Jerusalem,—would still venture to be present at the Paschal feast. Yes! the great Prophet would indeed be there.
The rumour spread more and more widely as the morning dawned; and it was apparently towards the busy noon, that, accompanied by a vast throng of Galilean pilgrims, our Lord started on foot from the friendly home under the palms of Bethany. The main road from the village to Jerusalem wound round the southern shoulder of the Mount of Olives, and when it brought Him near the fig-gardens of Bethphage, Jesus despatched two of His disciples to fetch for His use an ass's colt which had never before been ridden. St. Mark, reflecting the vivid memories of St. Peter, tells us how they found it tied up to a door in the street; and when the owners willingly resigned it, the disciples, thrilling with intense excitement,—for surely now, at last, the great Messianic kingdom of their hopes was to be revealed—flung their garments over it to do regal honour to their Lord. Then they lifted Him upon it, and the triumphal procession started on its way. They had advanced but a short distance when there came, round the shoulder of the hill, another festal throng which had streamed forth to meet Him from Jerusalem, waving in the sunny air the green branches which they had torn from the neighbouring palms. All were full of awful expectation. The tale of the recent raising of Lazarus was on every lip. At last, swept away by uncontrollable emotion, the disciples began to raise those passionate cries of " Hosanna to the Son of David," which formed part of the great Hallel of their festal services. A scene of intense enthusiasm ensued. Breaking into involuntary acclamations, the whole multitude,—as they pealed forth the burden of the strain,—began to fling off their talliths, and spread them on the dusty road to tapestry His path ; while others kept plucking, from the roadside trees, the boughs of fig and olive to strew them on His way. And so, with ringing Hosannas and waving palms—one multitude preceding, another following, the disciples grouped around—the Saviour approached the Holy City. It was no seditious movement of political indignation; it was no insulting vanity of self-asserting pre-eminence. It was but the triumph of the poor; it was but the lowly pomp of One who rode to die. The haughty Gentiles ridiculed the very record of it and; yet, beside the tragic grandeur of its real majesty, what king's or consul's triumph has had one tithe of such power to move the heart ?
At the time, however, even the disciples did not understand it, nor did they recall till afterwards the prophecy of Zechariah about " the king meek and bringing salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass." They expected something wholly different from what occurred ; they still hankered for some material victory. Would He not, even now, restore the kingdom to Israel ? Had not the demons discerned Him, and fled His gaze ? Had not heaven recognised Him, and lit her stars? Had not earth known Him, and hushed her winds ? Had not the rough sea heard Him, and stilled his waves? Why should not the humble Prophet of the poor now burst forth as the irresistible avenger of the mighty? Why should He not, even now, change the ass's colt for the chariots of God which are twenty thousand, and, amid the rushing of congregated wings, drive down in thunder upon insulting Roman and apostate priest ? Had not the supreme moment come ? Did not the hand point to the hour on the dial-plate of heaven ?
Yes ! the moment had come : yes ! the hand pointed to the hour,—but not as they hoped. The road from Bethany slopes up the Mount of Olives, through green fields and shady trees, till, as it suddenly sweeps round towards the north, Jerusalem, which has hitherto been hidden, bursts full upon the view. Many a traveller has reined his horse upon that memorable spot with feelings too deep for speech. But the Jerusalem of that day,— as Jesus saw it under the burning flood of vernal sunshine, wrapped in its imperial mantle of proud towers,— the Jerusalem whose massive ramparts and lordly palaces made it a wonder of the world,—was a spectacle incomparably more magnificent than the decayed and crumbling city of to-day. And as there,—through the transparent atmosphere,—towering above the deep umbrageous valleys which surrounded it,— the city reared into the morning sunlight its multitudinous splendours of marble pinnacle and golden roofs,—was there no pride, no gladness, in the heart of its true King ? Far otherwise. An indescribable sorrow seized Him. He paused. The procession halted. All the tumult of acclaim was hushed. The glad cries sank into silence. And, as Jesus gazed, a rush of Divine sorrow and compassion welled up from His inmost heart. He had dropped silent tears at the grave of Lazarus; here, over fallen Jerusalem, He wept aloud. Five days afterwards, all the shame of His mockery, all the anguish of His torture, were unable to extort from Him one single sob, or to wet His eyelids with one trickling tear; but now an infinitude of yearning pity and trembling love over-mastered- His whole spirit, and He not only wept, but burst into a passion of lamentation in which the choked voice seemed to struggle for utterance.—Strange Messianic triumph ! Mournful interruption of those exultant Hosannas ! As He gazed on David's Sion,—as He stood before the Jerusalem of the prophets and the kings,—the King, the Deliverer, the Son of David, wept!