Jesus Is The Hidden Messiah Still
We are used to seeing on the television news masses of people in middle eastern countries out on the streets protesting, campaigning or celebrating. Many of these street occasions seem to us to be chaotic and disorganised. There is usually great hysteria. Often they end in violence. Muslims take to the streets for many things. The Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca involves millions of people parading seven times anticlockwise round the Kaaba in circles. It is the largest gathering of human beings on the planet every year.
The present pattern of Hajj was established by Muhammad. However, according to the Quran, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham, around 2000 BCE. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagar and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hagar desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Returning in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain sprang forth underneath his foot. Later, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there. It is the most sacred Muslim site in the world. It is considered the "House of God" and has a similar role to the Tabernacle and Holy of Holies in Judaism It is said that the archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Kaaba. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba became surrounded by pagan idols. In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols, and then re-consecrated the building to Allah. In 632 CE, Muhammad performed his only and last pilgrimage with a large number of followers, and instructed them on the rites of Hajj. It was from this point that Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.
There is no record of any of this in Jewish or Christian history or Scriptures. Christianity has nothing on the scale of the Muslim Hajj. The Easter gatherings at St Peter's Church in Rome for the Papal message and blessing are some of the largest gatherings of Christians each year – but in reality there are only a few thousand present. Some Papal Masses in countries being visited have hundreds of thousands of worshippers. In Britain we are loathe to take to the streets to profess our Christian faith. At Passover time in Jerusalem in Jesus' time it was semi-organised chaos. In 59 AD a Roman Governor took a census of the number of lambs slain in the Temple at Passover time – over 250,000. Each lamb had to have a minimum of persons designated to its sacrifice, so that means that there was in the region of 2,500,000 people in and around Jerusalem at Passover. Every male Jew who lived within 20 miles in that densely populated area had to attend and Jews from all over the known world tried to go to Passover whenever they could. So – this was the environment into which Jesus pitched up.
We should not think that this was an unplanned spontaneous entry into Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples had organised it. They had arranged for a donkey to be available and they had booked a room in a large house for what became The Last Supper. Whether people and children were organised with palm branches we don't know. Jesus had a following having gathered numbers from the village of Bethany. From Jewish convention the donkey had not to have been sat upon by anyone or used for any other than this sacred purpose. The donkey was a powerful symbol which provoked crowding. Jesus had charisma and attracted audiences wherever he went. It is said that if you stop on any street pavement and look up for a time, you will gather people around who will also begin to look up. If something is happening it just gathers more interest and more viewers. Jesus also had a reputation and there was expectation among some that he was about to do something dramatic. What sparked off the cutting of palm fronds and the waving and celebration we do not know but there was precedent in Jewish history.
In 175 BC Jerusalem was captured by Antiochus Epiphanes, the King of the Seleucids who had built an empire after the death of Alexander the Great. He wanted to obliterate Judaism in favour of Greek culture. He profaned the Temple by offering pig's flesh as sacrifice and even turned it into a brothel. Judas Maccabaeus led a violent revolt and recaptured the temple. It was purified and re-consecrated. The people waved palm branches and sang Psalms of joy and liberation. So there is every likelihood that those who accompanied Jesus that day into Jerusalem, thought, hoped and expected that he might somehow be a liberator of his people from the Romans. Yet Jesus had not formed a terrorist group and had used no violence in his public ministry. Maybe then, his followers thought by his miraculous powers he would accomplish a blood free, violence free revolution.
But Jesus had already warned his disciples that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem. He had also prophesied his resurrection. He was not taken in by the seeming adulation of the welcome. Jesus was no crowd pleaser, no magic wonder worker. Maybe he enjoyed the entry to Jerusalem just the same. Don't we always want to be happy and see others happy. Unless you are a Hibernian supporter. But this was a spiritual occasion for Jesus. He was the hidden Son of God, the hidden Messiah. No-one knew who he really was or what was about to happen. As the days progressed the contrast between who Jesus was and what happened to him got even greater. On Calvary it became complete. Here was the very Son of God being crucified publicly, shamed, degraded tortured and judicially murdered. There is no greater contrast in human history than this event.
And Christians today share in this anonymity and oblivion. St Paul wrote to the Church in Colossae saying 'Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory'. Paul understood that the Christian life is not visible in itself. Christians today share in this anonymity and oblivion. You cannot take a selfie of your relationship with God. You cannot make a video of the Living Lord Jesus welcome within your heart. But we can show something of the love of God in how we conduct our lives and living. We can show the love of God to others in the way we behave and treat them. We can allow Jesus Christ to be manifested and channelled to others. We can worship and praise the Lord. We can let people see on our faces that we are blessed and saved. But – most people will not even notice. The Christian today may be regarded as something of an oddity. A quiet disposition and not using foul language may make Christians stand out in the work place. Attending worship is a strong witness of our Faith. Any good works we may do in the community reinforce our testimonies. Yet our lives are hidden in Christ just as his life was hidden in God.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not go to the Temple in Jerusalem and say 'See me'. He didn't go to Pilate and frighten the life out of him. He didn't go to the high priests and bid them worship him. Jesus appeared in resurrection to his own followers. And throughout the Christian centuries Jesus has spoken to, called, addressed and revealed himself to those who have space for him in their lives. To each of us he draws close. He walks with us by our side. He shares our meals. But no-one really sees him. Some here may have a little placard in their homes which reads. 'Christ is the Head of this house; the Unseen Guest at every meal; the Silent Listener to every conversation'.
When we look at the state of the world it is hard to claim that Jesus is the Unseen Lord over all things. Where is his presence, his influence, his teaching? If it is in the lives of the very many who love him, is it anywhere else? Does the Lord pervade general humanity? Does the Lord guide political leaders? Is he with the poor and suffering, the persecuted for his Name's sake? Can we discern in world history the hidden Messiah? Maybe we are not meant to. But Christianity has always taught that world history has a goal, direction and purpose. But it is not a smooth journey. There is conflict from within the life of a single struggling Christian soul to wars and battles for supremacy on earth and beyond that in other worlds. So much fiction, art, drama, literature and cinema is about cosmic battles with evil empires.
Jesus is the hidden Messiah still. And if you have taken him to your heart you are blessed, strengthened, forgiven, empowered. Your Christian life is hidden with him too. But we are called and chosen to witness to and for him all our days and so let us do so with joy and fulfilment. The simple point is this: Jesus is alive for us. It is all true. He triumphed. He reigns. The Lord reigns.