Faces and Places Around The Cross: Jerusalem: The Triumphant Entry
I read to you from the Gospel according to Luke, but this is the word of God.
“After Jesus had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As He approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying to them, ‘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. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” tell him the Lord needs it.’
“Those who were sent went and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’
“They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’ So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt, and put Jesus on it.
“As He went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When He came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’
“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.’
“As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes. The day will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 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.’”
May God bless you the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
It is the story that I never tire of hearing. That was true in my childhood. It is just as true even now. I refer to the story of when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. You see, by entering that city the way He did and because of the response He received when He entered the city, Jesus, in essence, was signing His own death warrant. And He knew it. Palm Sunday, understand, please, is not so much a celebration as it was a confrontation. And Jesus saw it that way. The details of the story make that abundantly clear. Let me explain.
In the first place, when Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, He was declaring that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy concerning God’s Messiah.
The prophet, Zechariah, had predicted that when the Messiah came, the Messiah would come riding on a donkey, and thus, Jesus, by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was declaring that He is God’s Messiah and by so doing, He was challenging all of the religious leaders of that time.
Also, it was the custom in those days, on occasions involving royalty, and only on occasions involving royalty, for people to spread their garments in the road as a procession unfolded.
That custom was reserved only for royalty. And thus, when we are told that the people placed their cloaks on the ground on the road in front of the parade, well, we are abundantly clear that Jesus was declaring Himself to be the king. Furthermore, when the people shouted, “Hosanna,” which literally means, save us now, they were imploring Jesus to save them, not from their sins, but from the hated Romans. And thus, as Jesus entered into the city of Jerusalem, He was entering in such a way as to challenge directly all of the authority of the great Roman Empire.
One thing more, palm branches in that time were the symbols of Jewish nationalism, very much as the Israeli flag is the symbol of Jewish nationalism today.
And thus, Jesus, by permitting the people to wave palm branches, was challenging the secular political leaders and structures of that time and place. And so get the picture, please. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday deliberately challenging all of the earthly powers and deliberately claiming that He is the king, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And Jesus knew perfectly well that by entering Jerusalem in that manner, all of the earthly powers would turn against Him, and therefore, we can say that the way Jesus entered Jerusalem, guaranteed that Jesus would die in Jerusalem. And Jesus knew it. He chose it. Palm Sunday was not a celebration as much as it was a confrontation. A confrontation of the Savior’s own choosing, and we dare not forget that.
Now, the people of Jerusalem, at first, responded with shouts of joy and acclamation, but gradually, over the next several days, that changed. They started out cheering Him, they wound up jeering Him. They started out celebrating Him, they wound up crucifying Him. In the final analysis, they rejected His royalty, they denied His dominion, they refused His rule. And the same thing actually happens even now. So many people when confronted with the sovereign claim of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, respond by saying, “Well, I can do quite well without that, thank you very much.” Why is it, do you think, that so many people today, as then, refuse the rule of Christ in the Kingdom of their hearts? Well, actually I’ve come to believe that the answer to that is found in Luke’s account of that first Palm Sunday. Luke describes how this unusual procession, when it crested the top of the Mount of Olives, the City of Jerusalem was stretched out before them, and at that point, Luke writes, “When Jesus saw the city, He wept.” Think about that. Here in the midst of the joy of shouts of celebration, suddenly, Jesus broke down in tears. Why did He weep? He wept for the people of Jerusalem. He wept for the people.
You see, the people of Jerusalem were victims of a missed opportunity. Through His tears, Jesus said to the people of Jerusalem, “You did not know the time of God’s coming to you.” A missed opportunity, and Jesus still weeps for those who will not know and will not see the moment of opportunity with God. It happens so frequently, doesn’t it? If you stop to think about it. So many times we miss those little moments of opportunity for spiritual growth in Christ. So many times we fail to notice when God comes visiting to us to show us the way. I mean, how many times have I seen the tears of parents whose children had taken a wrong path and would not know it or see it? How many times have I seen the tears of broken-hearted wives and husbands whose marriages have taken a bad turn and who have denied any appeal to turn back? How many times have I seen a person who, when the death of a loved-one has closed forever the door of opportunity and then that person cries out, “If only. If only”? How many times have I looked back in my own life to some moment of shame or regret or missed opportunity, and how many times have I said, “Why didn’t I have the eyes to see?”
One of the greatest and most popular baseball players was the great Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. On one occasion he was up at the plate at bat, and he wound up being called out on strikes. In fact, his bat was still on his shoulder when the ball hit the catcher’s mitt for the third strike, and the umpire called out, “You’re out.” And disgusted, Gehrig tossed his bat aside, muttered something to the umpire, and then headed toward the dugout. Well, that behavior was totally out of character for Lou Gehrig, and so after the game, a reporter asked him, “What in the world were you doing complaining to the umpire?” And Lou Gehrig said, “I wasn’t complaining to him, I simply said that I’d give 1,000 bucks for another chance at that last pitch.” Wouldn’t we all.
You do understand, don’t you, that now is the most important moment in our lives? Yesterday is history. We can learn from it, but that’s all. Tomorrow is uncertain. We can speculate about it, but that’s all. The only thing that really matters in life is today. This is the moment of opportunity.
Thomas Carlisle once said our main business in life is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but instead, to do what lies clearly close at hand. Yes, it’s true. Today. Right now. This very moment is the moment of our opportunity with God. Use it well, my beloved. Use it well. For you see, if we do not make the most of today for the sake of Jesus Christ, then count on it, Jesus will weep for us just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem. And the people of Jerusalem were victims of a misunderstood objective. Jesus said through His tears to the people of Jerusalem, “If only you had known the things that make for peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus still weeps for those who do not know the things that make for peace. Peace of mind, peace among people, peace with God.
Those people in Jerusalem, at first, they actually acknowledged Jesus as Lord and they should have because that is exactly who He is. And yet, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, something happened. Their faith wavered. Their doubt crept in. To be sure, they saw in Jesus characteristics which they expected in God’s Messiah. They saw those things. They were aware of His persuasive preaching and His miraculous ministry. They knew those things, but they also saw things in him that they did not expect. He seemed to be a frightfully ordinary man. He was living among the poor. He had only one robe. He made no claim of military might or political power. He expended no effort to secure for himself a throne or a territory. They saw these things in Him, and their doubt began to creep in, and their faith began to waver, and they wound up trying to cross him off the face of the Earth.
If we’re honest enough, we will admit that we do the same, in a sense. We question. We waver. We doubt. We wonder if he really is the Lord of the universe and the Lord of our lives. And we wonder, if that’s really true, if that’s who He is, then why in the world doesn’t He demonstrate clearly His power once and for all? Why doesn’t He, in one fell swoop, wipe away all that is wrong with this world of ours? We expect our Lord to ride in glory and triumph. Instead, He comes as a Helpless child in an animal’s feed box. We look for one to lead a public revolution, and He speaks instead of a private redemption. We believe that force and power produce freedom and instead, He gives liberty through crucifixion and forgiveness. We cry out, “Hosanna, save us now.” And He does come to save us, yes, but not so much to save us from something as to save us for something. Not so much to save us from the perils of this mortal life but instead, to save us for significant living in this life and in the life that is to come. See, it’s so difficult for us to understand who He really is and what He really does. And yet, it’s so important for us to do just that. That’s what Palm Sunday is all about. Delivering the message of who Jesus really is and what Jesus really does.
In the classic story, The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas, there is a slave named Demetrius who was in the Palm Sunday crowds. He managed to push his way through the multitude to see who it was who was at the center of all this attention, and He did find himself, suddenly, face-to-face with Jesus. Later on, another slave said to him, “Did you see Him?” And Demetrius answered, “Yes, I saw Him.” And the other slave said, “Well, tell me about it. Is he crazy?” Demetrius shook his head emphatically, and He said, “No, He’s not crazy.” “Well, then,” the slave said, “is He a king?” And Demetrius said, “No, He’s not a king.” And with that, the other slave said, “Well, then what is He?” And Demetrius said, “He is something far more than a king.” Oh, yes. He is the King of all kings. He is the Lord of all lords. He is God’s own Messiah. He is God’s only begotten Son. He is God’s Savior for the world. And when we understand who He is and what He does, when we take him into our lives, then we can no longer think the same about ourselves, and we can no longer think the same about the world in which we live.
George Matheson was a great blind preacher in Scotland in the late 1800s. There is a story told of a servant woman who lived in a dark, dank cellar in the slums of Edinburgh, who every Sunday morning would get up and make her way out of the slums in order to hear George Matheson preach. One Saturday, the neighbors in that poor place saw that she had piled up her few belongings right beside the front door. And they said to her, “What are you doing?” And she said, “I’m moving.” And they said, “Why?” And she said, “One cannot hear George Matheson preach Jesus Christ and live in a cellar.”
Oh, my beloved people, I know that I shall never be worthy of such an accolade, but let me tell you so that you can understand. Let me tell you that the great driving dream of my life, a dream which I shall ever pursue, the great driving dream of my life is to be that kind of preacher. The kind of preacher who preaches Jesus Christ in such a way that people are moved by the spirit of God to rise up from the darkness of their lives and to see the light of a new day and to clasp a new way of living and a new power for this world and a new hope for living in the life beyond this world. That is the great dream of my life, and that is my sole purpose in life. To help people to understand the best I can. To help people understand who Jesus really is, and what Jesus really does. For if we fail to understand that, then count on it, Jesus will weep for us, just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem.
So here it is in a single sentence. The best way to dry His tears is to give him Your life for He, and He alone, can save.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.