Over the last few weeks we have been walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem. He is heading to the city for the annual Passover celebration. Today, we will arrive at the city with Him.
Outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem (on the temple side of Jerusalem) was the Mount of Olives. This is a north-south ridge. You had to walk over this ridge heading up to Jerusalem. On the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives were the towns of Bethany and Bethpage. Bethany was about two miles outside of Jerusalem and Bethpage was nearby (though we do not know where). Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead). It is likely that Jesus stayed with this family when he came to visit Jerusalem.
As they approached these towns Jesus gave them instructions,
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” (30-31)
As you read further in the text we learn that the disciples went into town they found a colt (and its mother we learn in Matthew) and brought them to Jesus. The men who owned the animals did indeed ask where these guys were going with their animals. After being given the response “The Lord needs it” the men let the animals go with their blessing.
Bethany was not a very large town. Jesus may have known the owner of the donkey and had prearranged the use of the donkey. Then again, Jesus has shown that He knew things that no ordinary man would know.
What comes next is a familiar story and that is part of the problem. It is so familiar that we tend to not pay attention to what was happening. This morning we pray that we might hear the account with fresh ears.
The Celebration – Jesus the King
We are used to seeing big celebrations. We have seen ticker-tape parades, we have seen crowds gather to see a celebrity and we certainly have seen it at the time of elections. Recent Presidential Inaugurations in the United States have cost over $100 million dollars (when you include security costs). Even in our non-monarchical society the events involve a grand caravan down Pennsylvania Avenue, a huge and tradition-laden swearing in ceremony at the Capitol, and numerous very expensive parties around Washington.
Jesus throughout His life avoided these kinds of public “events”. He had spoken to crowds but they were never media events. Consequently, the fact that Jesus seems to orchestrate this dramatic entrance into Jerusalem is in itself quite remarkable. It is natural to ask, “So, why did He do this?”Of course we can only speculate. William Barclay has some good suggestions.
1. This public display seems designed to force the hand of the leaders so their plans would fit the Father’s timetable for Jesus to die at Passover.
2. It was an act of defiant courage. Jesus was a man with a price on His head yet he road into Jerusalem in a very public fashion.
3. It was an acknowledgement of Kingship. These acts deliberate fulfilled the picture of Zechariah 9:9. How Jesus came in Jerusalem reveals the kind of Kingship Jesus came to claim. In war a King rode a horse. When a King came in peace he rode a donkey. Jesus was coming as the King of love and peace rather than the conquering military hero most expected.
4. It seems to be one last dramatic appeal to the people before His arrest and crucifixion. Jesus was calling people to put their trust in Him for the proper reasons and in the right way.
On the surface it may seem that the invitation was enthusiastically received. The people threw their coats on the ground as an act of worship and service. The crowd (which was probably swelling as they drew closer to Jerusalem) cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
The people were crying out to Jesus as the Messiah they had been waiting for all their lives. If it had been up to them, they would have made Him King that very day. Some of those people may have truly embraced Jesus in the full Biblical sense. Most probably were hoping he would be the King that would restore their nation to prominence. They hoped He would be the King that would make their circumstances better rather than the King who would change their hearts and lives.
The Pharisees and the religious leaders were not amused by this parade toward the city. The Pharisees (the theologians of the day) saw it as trouble.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” [Luke 19:39-40]
Several things were true of the Pharisees. First, they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. They felt He was a false prophet. They were looking for an earthly King who would restore Israel to independence and prominence. Jesus did not fit the profile of what they believed this King would be.
Second, the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus. He didn’t teach what they believed. He called them (of all people) “hypocrites”. He seemed lax on the Sabbath (because He dared to heal people on the Sabbath). And He associated with people who were inappropriate. Besides all this, Jesus was bad for their business.
Third, they were concerned about creating a problem with Pilate and Herod. They hated the Romans and hated being under their rule. However, they were pragmatic. They had gained a measure of freedom under Rome and they didn’t want to lose those freedoms. The Pharisees knew that the Roman leaders were not going to tolerate someone who was being called “King” by the Jews. When the Romans weren’t happy people died.
Jesus was not intimidated by the Pharisees. He told them, “Look, I will be praised and honored today . . . either by the people or the rocks themselves.” The Lord of Creation was coming into Jerusalem and all of creation was there to honor and glorify the Lord.
The Tears – Jesus the Prophet
As Jesus hit the crest of the Mount of Olives the splendor of the city came into view. Jesus could see the temple which was the symbol of God’s presence in the city. I’m sure many when they reached this spot smiled as they marveled at the view. Today we would all stop and have our picture taken with the city in the background.
However, instead of smiling like one might in approaching a majestic mountain range, Jesus began to weep. It is as if in His mind He saw the city as it would be in forty years and it broke his heart. Jesus spoke as a prophet when He said,
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Here He was, the Savior of the world standing before Jerusalem but He knew the people of the city would largely reject Him. When one refuses the only hope of salvation, they no longer have any hope. God does not invite us to repent . . .He commands us to repent. The Pharisees may have been concerned about the wrath of Rome but they needed to be concerned about the wrath of God. God was not looking for people to celebrate Jesus….He called them (and us) to follow and trust Him. When people refuse the Lord consequences follow.
What Jesus predicted came true. In 66 AD the Jews rebelled against the Romans. Nero dispatched an army to restore order. By 68 the northern part of Israel had been destroyed and all attention turned to Jerusalem. The Roman legions surrounded the city and slowly squeezed the life out of it. In 70 AD they breached the wall and began to ransack the city. Jewish historian Josephus recorded what took place in his History of the Jewish War, books IV–VI. Here are two quotations:
“While the sanctuary was burning … neither pity for age nor respect for rank was shown. On the contrary, children and old people, laity and priests alike were massacred” (VI.271).
“The emperor ordered the entire city and the temple to be razed to the ground, leaving only the loftiest of the towers … and the portion of the wall enclosing the city on the west.… All the rest of the wall that surrounded the city was so completely razed to the ground as to leave future visitors to the spot no reason to believe that the city had ever been inhabited” (VII.1–3).
What Jesus predicted came true with startling accuracy. He was so accurate that skeptics contend that these words must have been added to the text after Jerusalem had already been destroyed. These people refuse to consider that Jesus might actually be who He said He was. If these words were after the fact, they would have been much more specific. Jesus was predicting the future.
Take Home Points
What are we to make of this account that is so familiar to us? I think we need to look at two different things. First we need to look at our own heart. The message is sobering. Jesus plainly declared who He was and the people rejected Him. The same story can be told today. Jesus continues to declare Himself to be God through the Bible. People still seem to respond to Him in one of three ways.
There are those who welcome Jesus. They see Him as the true Savior and they follow Him with every ounce of strength they have. These people know that without Christ they would continue to wander aimlessly in life and be lost forever. These people bow before Christ as their Lord and King and do so gratefully and enthusiastically.
There are others who are hostile like the religious leaders outside Jerusalem. Some are openly hostile. They do everything possible to undermine His reputation and discredit those who seek to follow Him. Others are passively hostile. These people don’t say much, they simply refuse to submit to the Lord in any area of their lives. They are going to do their own thing and don’t care a whit about what the Bible says. They view the Bible as a bunch of nice stories that some find inspiring but have no authority. They see Jesus as a nice man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s it.
Still others are fickle. They cheer for Jesus as long as it is the popular thing to do. They attend church as long as it is cool to do so. They claim to be a follower of Christ because it is the good and acceptable thing to do. However, when it is unpopular, when they are with a crowd that views Jesus differently, they walk the other direction from Christ. These people have not surrendered to Christ; they are only playing the angles. They are interested in public relations, not discipleship. The question this morning is simple: which are you? Are you among the committed, the hostile or the fickle?
It is politically unpopular to say this but I believe with my all my heart and mind (because the Bible clearly declares), that anyone who has not truly put their trust in Christ for forgiveness and followed Him as their Lord will face eternal judgment. We do all kinds of things to try to put off death. We exercise, take vitamins and drugs, go through painful medical procedures and live as carefully as possible so we can delay death. However, we will all die.
Open your mind for a second and ask a simple question: what if there is a Day of Judgment as the Lord has declared? Have you given any thought to what comes after death? Jesus was accurate in His predictions about what was going to happen to Jerusalem. What makes you think He is not just as accurate about what will happen to those who ignore and refuse Him throughout their lives?
Jesus calls you to put your hope and trust in Him. He wants you to praise Him, honor Him, and live for Him not because it is the popular thing to do but because He is worthy of such honor and devotion. If you have never done so I encourage you to begin that journey of discipleship and new life today.
In this place, at this time, declare to the Lord
Father, I know I need your forgiveness. I know I need a new heart and a new direction for my life. Today I turn to Jesus as the one who can begin this process in me. Lord, I turn to Christ as my Savior, my rescuer. I believe His death can pay for my sin. Lord, I don’t want to merely mouth the words . . . I want to live the life. I want to follow you. Please help me that end.
Second, we need to look in our head. Where is the focus of our lives? There were people in that crowd who were so focused on the earthly Kingdom that they missed something greater . . . the Kingdom of peace and new life that Jesus came to bring to us.
Many of us do the same thing today. All our focus is on building a kingdom here on earth. It is hard not to look at this passage and think about the words of the Book of Revelation. In that book Jesus predicts a day of persecution and judgment unlike anything we have seen in the movies. We are told the people of the earth will surrender their values for the trinkets that are offered by a world leader. At one time these things seemed far-fetched. They don’t seem so far-fetched today. This world will pass away and it may be sooner than we think.
There is a time coming when Jesus will come back as a King. This time there will be horses. He will not come in peace but He will come ready to do battle. Our Lord will be vindicated by Heaven’s armies. He will come in power. At this time those who have truly loved Him and served Him will praise Him. We will sing Him songs and honor Him above all. At that time we will be joined by the angels, the believers who have died over the years, and maybe even by the rocks and trees and all He has created.
We are given this wonderful picture in Revelation 21,
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
No more crying, no more pain, no more sadness. In that day there will be a joy that will make the greatest joys of this world seem like only a mist. This New Jerusalem will not bring tears it will bring shouts of joy. This is the Kingdom we must pursue this is the day for which we should live.
In the very first book of the Bible we are told the story of Esau and Jacob. Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. As the firstborn Esau was entitled to twice the inheritance and other benefits. One day he was hungry. Jacob was making some great smelling stew. Esau wanted the stew because he was “starving”. Jacob said he would give him some stew if Esau would sell him his birthright.
As we read the account, we assume that Esau realized this was a dumb move. But he doesn’t. He sold what was of lasting value for that which would satisfy temporarily.
People are still doing the same today, people are selling their souls to be able to do their own thing. We borrow money without any thought of paying back the debt. We give up our moral standards for a moment of pleasure. We surrender freedoms to have superficial benefits. And, in the end we surrender eternal life for a momentary indulgence right now.
This passage calls us to change our ways. We need to change our focus. We must learn to think differently. We must work hard to keep our eyes on what is of ultimate importance. We must live our lives longing for the New Jerusalem and for the One who will be recognized by all as the Lord and Master of life. Our desire to be there for that celebration needs to impact everything else we do.
It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.