We all watched this past week the amazing sight of the United States Marines rolling into the big circle in the middle of Baghdad. Maybe you saw some of the reports as that was unfolding and you saw maybe some of these young men who had the arms of some of the citizens of that city around their shoulders and pictures were being taken, etc. All kinds of comments were made about the entry into that part of that city which had been sort of the focus of all of those cameras apparently from the rooftop of some hotel in that city. It was an impressive sight and it, by now I'm sure, is famous. But in comparison to the sight that Shannon read about a moment ago, it was nothing. Compared to the profound meaning of this triumphal entry, compared to the lessons that are here and the power of what was accomplished here for us, there is no real comparison.
In this story that we find in Luke 19, which is also recorded in the other three gospel records - Matthew 21, Mark 11, and John 12 - there is the story not so much of an entry as really an approach to the city of Jerusalem. His entering in is not exactly described here. And it happens somewhat in the manner of a triumphal entry as maybe a king might have had in those days when he returned from some glorious victory and his people would welcome him into his capitol. But there are still some differences that make this an amazing scene that has deep meaning in the Bible story, both Old Testament and New.
We would like to ask you today to notice with us the story that is described here and then some of the details that become important lessons for us as Christians in our time, even now.
First, look at the story that is described. It is a situation which is bound to demand the most possible attention. John tells us in John 12 that the crowds were deeply interested in whether Jesus was going to be coming because there were some in those crowds who had seen Lazarus come forth from the tomb. And the news of that astonishing miracle by the power of Jesus had spread through the crowd to the point that his enemies had already determined, "we've got to get rid of this man. If we don't, everybody is going to be following after him." They have already decided that at their first opportune moment, maybe not during the feast because of the commotion it would bring, they are going to tend to this man and get him out of the way.
On the other hand there are great crowds of people around Jerusalem at this season for the approaching Passover Feast celebration. Many people gathered from all over. Multitudes of them came even from Galilee where they knew of Jesus as the prophet. In fact, that is how he is described in the accounts of this story. Their enthusiasm for his mighty works has already been established. At this season of the year as these pilgrims from various places came to Jerusalem and as the crowd continued to enlarge as the Passover became closer, those who were already there would use some of the psalms (especially between Psalm 112 and 118) to sing in welcoming the newcomers as they arrived at the city. Especially Psalm 118, the last of that collection, would be sung and they would bless those who came in the name of the Lord. That was already something that these crowds of people were expecting and were familiar with.
There are some things that happened here that are initiated by Jesus. He is the one who sends two disciples to find a colt and bring to him. This Jesus, who up till now, had said "my hour has not yet come" and who had asked people who even were enthusiastic about him to not go and tell what he had done for them. This Jesus, who is the object of almost a manhunt already by enemies who are determined to get rid of him -- he now initiates the activity in a way that is going to gain attention widely from the huge crowds of people who are there.
It is almost as if the Lord had prearranged some of these details. When he sent disciples to go and bring a colt that they would tied in a certain place in the village opposite them, he told them that if anyone asked "what are you doing in untying this animal," they were simply to say "the Lord has need of him." I suppose it might be that he had prearranged that but I know for sure that there are some other things here that are happening that he couldn't have prearranged and I suspicion that he didn't this either. I believe that he knew by his foreknowledge what was going to happen. And that in the unfolding of God's plan already in progress these events fit perfectly. Jesus couldn't have prearranged what the crowds would do. He couldn't have prearranged how his enemies would respond, and yet he knows the plan of his Father and it is all happening in exactly the right time for the king and the Passover all to be presented by the Father at the same instance.
The Bible says that these disciples went into one of the villages, whether it was Bethany or Bethphage, we are not sure. Those two villages were nearby Jerusalem just over the peak of the Mount of Olives. Bethany was about two miles from the city and Bethphage was thought to have been a little village about half way between Bethany and Jerusalem. I tell you that so that you will see that there has to be a meaning here beyond just needing a ride. The Lord who had traveled all over walking would not have needed a ride to make that short journey from Bethany on into town. He means something more by that. He is about to claim or to illustrate something more by the manner in which this entry will be accomplished.
The two disciples who went into the village found it just as Jesus had said. That is how people who do what Jesus says always find it - just as he had said. They brought the colt that no one had ever sat on. Some of you here may have tried to ride a colt or a horse at some point that no one has ever sat on. It doesn't usually work like it did here - at least that is my observation. Matthew says that they brought the mother of the colt also, the donkey and her colt, and they put their garments on that colt and sat Jesus on it, Luke said.
And then a journey began to be made, with a huge crowd of people coming from the city because of their interest in Jesus and another crowd of people following Jesus because of their enthusiastic interest in him. And then a scene begins to unfold as they start making the descent of the Mount of Olives. I want you to picture this in your mind. The peak of the Mount of Olives was about 200 feet higher than the temple mountain down here below. And it was only separated by a narrow ravine between it. And that means that anyone around the temple area would have seen and heard what was taking place as the Lord began to make the descent from the Mount of Olives. Here, the people begin to lay their cloaks down on the path in front of him, the road in front of him. Some bring branches that they have cut from the fields, Mark tells us. John tells us that they are palm branches and they put them down. You and I wonder why they are doing this. It was because this is how you welcome the king who entered your city. This is how your devotion and your admiration and your praise for that king was displayed in those days. You have seen or heard numerous people in a crowd as they begin to say something. They begin to cry out Hosanna to the top of their voices. Hosanna originally was a prayer term which meant "save Lord" or "we pray, save Lord." And it apparently became a term that was used to ascribe glory and honor instead of just to ask for it.
Matthew says they welcomed him as the son of David. That would have been a Messianic term. This is the messiah! They are regarding him as the messiah. John says they referred to him as the King of Israel. Luke says they referred to him as the King. Everybody saw Jesus that day welcomed as the King of Israel, the long awaited son of David. Mark says that they said "blessed be the kingdom of our father David." Matthew and John tell us that they blessed the one who came in the name of the Lord. And again it is a quote from Psalm 118:25. And then Hosanna in the highest is proclaimed. This becomes more and more impressive. And if you had been here watching that and hearing that, it could not have been ignored. It had all publicity attached to it. And the meaning for anyone who knew the promises of the Old Testament would not have passed by without profound meaning to the people. Some of the enemies saw it and understood what it would have meant. They began to insist that Jesus tell the people to hush up. But Jesus claimed the truth of what it was saying. He said it so true that if these people were to be silent, then creation itself would cry out in recognition of the son of David, king of Israel. Praise would have been proclaimed one way or the other.
I wonder what I would have thought if I had been there. I wonder what you would have thought. In fact, I wonder what we think of this today as we look back on this event. I want to share with you some lessons that I think are here for us that we need to dwell on to strengthen our faith with.
First, this event teaches us that there was a plan of God long established which was being unfolded that very day. There was an Old Testament background to this event. Matthew says that it happened so that the prophecy might be fulfilled and he uses a phrase from Isaiah 62:11 blessing the daughter of Zion. And then he quotes from Zechariah 9:9 about the king coming into the city riding on the colt of a donkey meek or humble. Jesus was coming just as the prophet 450 years earlier would predicted he would come. God had been working a work that long. It needs to be impressed on our minds now that we are a part of the eternal purpose of God. The way in which Jesus is different from any other so called leader of a great religion of the world is that there is an Old Testament background in which God said he is coming. The very first questions that ought to be asked of any religious leader, whether he is called a prophet or whether he is called a man of God or whatever he is called, if he is going to lead something there needs to be an Old Testament foundation for his work. There needs to be something in the Scripture that prepared the way before hand. God worked hard to make sure that preparation was made for the sending of his Son. As the time got closer, he even sent John the Baptist to be able to say "behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." My faith is reinforced as I look at what God did. I know that Jesus did not just suddenly appear on the scene without any preparation or any warning and make these claims. Jesus appeared in the purpose of God with credentials. And this triumphal entry was the Son of God displaying his credentials for all the world to see. The way was prepared for the coming of the Lord. How dare anyone stand up and claim "I am a prophet, I am from God, I am like Jesus was" without the way being prepared for him!
The second lesson that stands out here in this episode is that the King has come. The King paid a visit to Jerusalem that day. All rumors of wondering about who this is were solved that day. The people, if you read the other accounts, were asking "who is this." Matthew says the whole city was stirred up, and the word he uses refers to an earthquake. If people wondered who Jesus was claiming to be, this settled the question. He was entering as a King and even when his enemies wanted that hushed up, Jesus refused to let it be silenced. But he came as a particular kind of king. I would say that riding a colt of a donkey into town would be just about as humble a way to enter a city as possible. It is one thing for M-1 tanks to roll into town like conquerors. But it is a different message when the Son of God rides into town on the colt of a donkey, a colt no one had ever ridden on. He was coming as the king of peace. He entered town in a way to say "this is the kind of king I intend to be, meek and lowly in heart." The lesson could not have been overlooked by someone who saw this event taking place. It shouldn't be missed by us, either, should it? Our king is the prince of peace! His work is to establish peace between man and God. Whatever he rules over will be a kingdom of peace. How grateful we are. In fact the way Luke says the praise took place is "blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" verse 38 says. No wonder they shouted Hosanna to him. And they blessed the one who came in the name of the Lord. If you are looking for peace, you ought to consider our King.
A third lesson that stands out here in this episode is that a king has a kingdom. The Lord's arrival signaled the arrival of a kingdom. If you watch the news nowadays, especially with unrest in the world such as is occurring now, you will find many religious folks who believe that what is happening signals the near arrival of a kingdom, an earthly kingdom, a glorious earthly kingdom for a millennium. The idea which many such folks hold to is that Jesus came to establish that kingdom when he was here the first time, but that the people rejected him. He was not able to establish his kingdom and he went back to work on it some more. I want you to notice very carefully that these people would have accepted the kingdom of Jesus if it had been the kind of kingdom they were expecting. In John 6, when they saw him feed the 5,000, they would have taken him by force and made him king. Here, they are welcoming him into town saying blessed be the kingdom of our father David as Mark 11 puts it. They are not rejecting his kingdom! They are ready for it until they find out what kind of kingdom it is! And that is why, five days later, some of these same people apparently may have been in the crowd crying "Crucify Him, Crucify Him." Jesus established a kingdom. It was not an earthly kingdom like these folks expected. It is a glorious spiritual kingdom. He rules over it right now at the throne at the right hand of God in Heaven. It consists of people he has purchased for himself with his own blood. The same attitudes which discount the importance of that kingdom today were responsible for the rejection of the King that day, that week -- the same attitudes which would say that the church of our Lord is no kingdom at all. It is not impressive enough to have people forgiven of their sins and added to this kingdom. That attitude made people overlook what Jesus accomplished when he offered himself up for us.
The fourth lesson which unfolds in this story that we want to just touch on for a moment is that Jesus descending that Mount of Olives to these shouts of glory and Hosanna praise looked out over the city - the Bible says in Luke 19:41 - and wept over it. What a contrast to the joyous shouts of the people when Jesus said "would that you even you had known on this day the things that make for peace but now they are hidden from your eyes." And he predicts that there won't be left one stone upon another in that city, something that was literally fulfilled under the leadership of the Roman general Titus. Among the saddest words in the Bible to me are the end of verse 44 of Luke 19. In his lament over the city, Jesus said, "And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation." In other words, you missed the opportunity. Jesus was saying "you are being visited. The things that make for peace are here and you've neglected it, you've ignored it, you've let it pass by." His coming was a great opportunity. People ignoring it, refusing it made it instead a disaster.
And then I want you to notice that Jesus, when he entered the city, inspected his house. In Mark 11 as this story is told, verse 11 said, "And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple and when he had looked around at everything as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve." To follow the line of thought here: there is a plan of God at work; the king comes; his kingdom is near; he speaks of the opportunity that is there; and then he looks to see how his people are going to respond to that opportunity. The picture here is so much like the one who stands among the candlesticks in Rev. 2 and 3 and who inspects the churches, who examines his people. He comes along and he enters to shouts of glory but he ends up looking at everything to discover how his people are doing and what's the state of things in their life and how they are going to respond to his kingship.
Today this story needs to happen not just to say "here's how Jesus entered the city back then," but instead for us to look at our lives and see how we are doing before the King today. What does this glorious one see as he looks over his kingdom and everything in the lives of his people? That is where the song that we sang "He's My King" comes in. If he is not my King, then that means I have rejected his kingship. If he is my King, then those blessings and Hosannas that were sung that day, I share in. The invitation of the gospel is that all of us should and can share in the blessings of his King. He invites us to submit to his kingship by repentance, to confess our loyalty to him like the crowd did that day and to be baptized into him for the forgiveness of our sins, and then to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Are you doing that?