Rev. Dr. Clay Smith: Man in the crowd


He was just a man in the crowd. He had come early for Passover, traveling a long way from his home near Ephesus. A devout Jew, he had always wanted to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. After saving for years, he finally made the trip.

On Sunday, he was making his way to the Temple when he heard a commotion a few streets away. He went in the direction of the noise, finding a crowd of people waving palm branches, shouting, "Hosanna, Glory to God in the highest." Others in the crowd were spreading their cloaks on the road. A man came by riding a donkey. The man had seen this before when a Roman general came to Ephesus. He had been treated the same way, except no one was quoting a Psalm. But this man on the donkey was no general. He was dressed in ordinary clothes. There was no smirk on his face, no trace of condescension in his smile. Strangely, he seemed humble yet powerful.

Intrigued, the man fell in behind the procession up the Temple Mount. The man on the donkey dismounted and went into the first courtyard of the Temple. A moment later, there were cursing voices, the sound of panicked sheep bleats and the clank of metal hitting stone. When the man in the crowd came through the gate, he saw the man who had ridden the donkey turning over the money changers' tables, their coins flying. The lambs available for purchase were running free. The humble yet powerful man on the donkey was shouting, "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers."

That night, in a boarding house near the city wall, everyone was talking about the man on the donkey. The man from Ephesus found out his name was Jesus. Everyone had an opinion about him. Some thought he was a teacher, maybe even a prophet. Some thought he was a threat to stability. A couple of people wondered out loud if this man could be the long-awaited Messiah. The rumor was he would show up at the Temple the next day to teach.

As the man from Ephesus lay down in his corner, he wondered who this man Jesus was. He decided he would go to the Temple the next day and listen to the man teach and find out for himself.

The next day, Monday, he listened to Jesus teach all day. He had never heard anyone say the things this man said. He told stories that revealed the truth. He condemned the religious leaders for their corruption. He answered all the trick questions with questions of his own. He paid attention to people everyone else overlooked, like the widow who put two small coins in the Temple treasury.

The man in the crowd came back the next day and the next. He could not get enough of this man Jesus. It wasn't just that he knew about God; he knew God from the inside out. The man in the crowd could see the crowds around Jesus grow larger. He could also see the religious leaders getting more jealous. The tension in the Temple was thick.

He did not see Jesus on Thursday. Instead, he was making his preparation for the Passover meal at the boarding house. This was to be a highlight of his life. Instead, all through the steps of the meal, he found himself thinking about the man Jesus. What if this man was the Chosen One?

Up early the next morning, grabbing a piece of bread and cheese, he was told that Jesus had been arrested late in the night and right now was on trial for his life at Pilate's palace. He left his breakfast and hustled to the courtyard where public trials were held. As he approached, he heard the cries of a crowd, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Were they about to crucify this teacher, Jesus? The man arrived in time to hear the crowd cheer and to see Jesus led off by Roman soldiers.

Bewildered, the man wandered the streets of Jerusalem, unsure what to think. He heard the stir of a crowd behind him and stepped aside. There was no cheering, merely troubled sobbing. The man Jesus was carrying a crossbeam for a cross, laboring under its heavy weight. The soldiers were leading him to "Skull Hill," where all the crucifixions took place.

The man from Ephesus followed. He saw the nails driven into Jesus' hands. He heard Jesus' screams of pain. He felt the tremor of fear as darkness fell. He watched Jesus slowly lose strength, unable to pull himself up to breathe. Then he heard, "It is finished," and he saw that Jesus was no longer breathing. The earthquake knocked him to his knees.

The man from Ephesus could stand it no more. Though darkness was coming and it would be the Sabbath when travel was forbidden, he had to get out of town now. He went back to the boarding house, gathered his things into his backpack and left Jerusalem as fast as he could.

As he left town, Jesus stayed on his mind. How could this have happened? How could the religious leaders have been so blind? How could people want such a gifted man to die? Who was this Jesus anyway?

The man in the crowd should have stayed until Sunday. Then, he would have discovered who Jesus really is.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at