I’m finding myself a bit sobered as I watch the overwhelming national excitement about the arrival of Pope Francis to our shores. He’s such a great “social justice” warrior, the crowds are saying. He’s a brave advocate for action on climate change, others say. Per USA Today, one Phoenix family even believes the pontiff miraculously healed their 3-month-old daughter, who had two holes in her heart!
And I can’t help thinking: If the Lord Jesus were to come to the United States, would He receive this kind of fawning reception? These kinds of accolades?
Some might argue He would. After all, the crowds of His own day followed Him around with great interest and excitement. They loved His healings and miracles. They even cheered Him as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But it took less than a week for everything to change. By the time of Jesus’ unjust trial, one of His own had betrayed Him, the authorities were upon Him, and those fawning crowds had abandoned Him. Instead, He was crucified at the behest of the now-bloodthirsty throngs, who cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
And Jesus knew full well the fickle nature of His ancient fans. Shortly after He fed the 5,000, He told them in John 6, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.'” The passage continues: “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”
In the end, Jesus’ crowds didn’t want Him. They wanted excitement and healings and miracles. They wanted to be in on the latest trend, and for a while, that trend was Jesus — until He fully revealed Who He was and why He had come to earth. But the crowds didn’t want a suffering savior. They didn’t want the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They didn’t want to be confronted with their sin at all, much less repent and believe the gospel. And that was why Jesus said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
It is easy for the crowds to love those who are famous, even religious leaders, who arrive with flourish and entourages, who advocate for social change (especially if that social change is exactly in line with what the world wants at the moment). Crowds love men who give them what they want physically, too: miracles or healings, or the appearance thereof. It is frighteningly easy for some of those excited multitudes to elevate such men to a godlike status, attributing to them moral or spiritual authority beyond their mortal capacities.
What the throngs never want — and never have wanted — is the true God-Man whose Kingdom is not of this world. What they never want to hear is that obeying the law, doing good works, trying hard, meaning well and being relatively better-behaved than the guy next to you will not get you into heaven. The gospel is received by faith alone. It is all of grace, through the finished work of the Lord Jesus on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead. Romans 4:5 confronts us at this point: “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Jesus certainly will come to America one day, and to the whole world at His Second Coming. But though Christians certainly will rejoice at the return of their Bridegroom, Scripture says it will not be a joyful moment for unrepentant sinners. As Revelation 1:7 tells us: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
What’s more, Jesus is coming soon, and — unlike Pope Francis or any of the other heralded religious leaders who come to our country — at an hour we do not expect. That is why for sinners, today is the day of salvation. For Christians, today is the day of preparation. Are we ready?
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)