The crowds escorting Jesus into Jerusalem were animated by various things. Some were pilgrims en route to celebrating Passover. Others were looking for a healing touch from Jesus or just plain curious about His ability to raise the dead (Jn 12:9). Still others were merely swept up in the excitement of an enthusiastic crowd and really didn't know what was going on. Each person had his own reason for walking, singing, shouting and laying down branches. The one thing they all seemed to have in common was excitement. In terms of redemptive history, it was the glorious fulfillment of messianic prophecy (Mt 21:4-5; Zech 9:9; Gen 49:11). The majestic heir of David was entering Jerusalem amid loud acclamations of praise and salutation. He didn't arrive in a chariot or on a war horse or with an army. He came as the Prince of Peace doing what rulers usually did in times of peace, viz. riding a colt (cf. 1Kgs 1:33). In terms of human psychology, this was an example of misguided expectations mingled with strong emotions. Those present were probably greatly stirred by the thrilling experience of participating in such an event. How often does one get to be part of a vast multitude escorting a prophetic miracle-worker into a capital city? The event was filled with emotion. Given their mistaken expectations, there was likely a great deal of confusion as well. Only days later, many if not all in this crowd would turn on Jesus and demand His execution. Crucify Him! They would yell, and yell it more than once (Mk 15:13-14).
Emotionalism is a very dangerous "-ism." It is the label we give that approach to faith and life which elevates feelings, moods and emotions to the top tier of guiding principles. Sadly it characterizes many modern American Christians. In and of themselves feelings and emotions are God-given gifts for which we should be thankful. They are what Robert Lewis Dabney called man's motive power. The intellect, he said, is that which directs the ship's compass, while the feelings are the elastic energy which throbs within the machinery. Without them, the ship will be motionless, regardless of how accurate the ship's rudder might guide it. In most endeavors, to be successful, we need feeling, emotion and excitement to press on and persevere, especially when circumstances get tough. Jacob's seven years' service under Laban seemed like a few days because of his deep love for Rachel (Gen 29:20). The Psalmist often expresses his passionate desire to commune with God and worship among the saints (e.g. Psalm 84:2). It is this heartfelt desire and spiritual joy that enables a believer to persevere through even the most difficult situations. But unless our emotions are harnessed by truth, they will run away with us. It is a bit like riding a wild colt which has a mind of its own! Unharnessed emotions characterize children who are tossed to and fro by the various waves and winds of doctrine (Eph 4:14). To solve this problem, Paul advises speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). This is what gives the necessary structure within which we may joyfully experience the most powerful of human emotions, those which often imbue our worship in the presence of God! Sound doctrine, good theology, biblical truth will provide the proper framework within which that glorious, throbbing energy produced by strong, spiritual feeling will infuse and motivate the Christian life.
As I said, it seems modern American Christians are overly-emotional. Better yet, they are emotional without having a proper framework within which to enjoy their feelings and emotions. We should not value good feelings, warm impressions and thrilling experiences to the exclusion of sound doctrine. Regrettably, how one feels has become the only gauge of spiritual health and well-being. If I feel good, I may conclude that everything is right with my soul. Modern worship services often cater to this approach. Whether or not one's worship is "acceptable" is for many a novel and offensive concept (cf. Heb 12:28). Strange is the "old-fashioned" notion that regardless of how I feel, I should worship the Creator, humbly bow before the King and adore the infinite perfections of Almighty God. Our generation seems to have forgotten that worship is to be a service to God, not a session for man! Like those animated crowds escorting Jesus into Jerusalem many today are sincerely enjoying the experience, but are being easily discouraged and disillusioned as difficulties arise. When Providence brings the many tribulations through which one must pass to enter God's Kingdom (Acts 14:22), the overly-emotional Christian – the rocky ground hearer! – soon withers and falls away (Mk 4:17). This is tragic and it happens too often. James is unambiguous in his declaration: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (Jas 1:12).
What we need today is what we have always needed… a sure-footed, well-rounded, biblically-founded understanding and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable… (Jas 3:17). Pure doctrine is vital to the Christian life. Believers should know and embrace and treasure the truths of Christ's incarnation, substitution, crucifixion, resurrection, intercession and ultimate exaltation. They should be familiar with creation and providence, sin and salvation, faith and repentance, the law and its usage. They need to know about man's ruin, Christ's redemption and the Spirit's regeneration. They should study the truths associated with the themes of guilt, grace and gratitude. Within this doctrinal framework, let the feelings throb and the emotions run deep! Let us rejoice in the Lord and shout His praise! Let us experience those glorious foretastes of heaven where the saints will enjoy eternal pleasures at God's right hand (Psalm 16:11).