I’ve decided to post today’s sermon transcript up on 1Lifetale. It is with some fear and trepidation that I do this. Part of me thinks that it will do well to double as a blog post, however the other part of me is a bit hesitant to post it because it will have to stand up to public scrutiny. I think it can, so feel free to scrutinise it. But for those interested in reading my take on Palm Sunday enjoy.
I encourage/recommend that you read Luke 19:1-44 before going any further, it’s the passage of Scripture I focus on and so it will give you a lot of context.
I am reading a book at the moment written by Tom Wright called ‘Simply Jesus’. The premise which forms the foundation of the book is this, “The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are telling the story of Israel’s God, YHWH, becoming king of the Cosmos through the person of Jesus the Messiah.” Wright in this book goes as far to say that this proclamation about Israel’s God becoming king is the main theme and reason for writing the Gospel accounts. And as you read this book Wright’s arguments mount quite a formidable case.
Now using this as my premise, that the Gospels tell the story of Israel’s God, YHWH, becoming king of the Cosmos through the person of Jesus the Messiah, we now turn our attention to a significant point in the Gospel story. This is the point where Jesus triumphantly enters into Jerusalem as Israel’s new king, the King of the Cosmos. Today is Palm Sunday, and Palm Sunday exists to celebrate this very event. And so it is fitting that we reflect on, and celebrate this event too.
Now, while the triumphant entry is a feature in all of the Gospels, I’m preaching from Luke because there is an anomaly within Luke’s account that sets it apart from all the others. In Luke 19 Jesus’ triumphant entry is shadowed by the subtle but still poignant addition of Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem in verse 41. As I read this account, Jesus’ tears are what I want to understand more than anything. I want to ask, why on this joyous triumphant occasion is Jesus weeping? What is he sad about? Isn’t this occasion meant to be a happy one, the long awaited king has finally arrived, all is going to be well, and yet Jesus is crying. why? What for? It’s a mystery, or is it? Luke has added it for a reason, has he not? If it’s not significant, and there is no reason behind it then why is it there? The only thing I can come up with is that it is significant, very significant. And by adding Jesus’ tears to the story there is a powerful message for us to understand and apply.
But we can’t understand it, or apply it, or even begin to make sense of it by just reading about the triumphant entry as a stand alone story (verses 28-41). The triumphant entry by it’s self is a happy story, albeit with a sad addition of three verses (verses 39-41) tacked on to the end. So if the tears make no sense in this isolated, stand alone story, it seems then that we may have better luck taking a step back and looking at the broader story. And so I want to suggest that we see Chapter 19 as one complete story. A story with three parts that are all tightly reliant on each other, and relevant to each other, as opposed to looking at this triumphant entry with blinkers on, completely oblivious to the stories that stand before and after it. And so by looking at Chapter 19 in it’s entirety, at least up to verse 44, we can begin to understand and make sense of the message that Luke is telling through Jesus’ tears.
Now there is a few things that Luke is wanting to do in chapter 19. But firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, Luke wants to make it absolutely clear that Israel’s God is becoming King through the person of Jesus the Messiah. Now it had been a long wait. Almost 900 years had passed since David was king, and since then things were never quite the same. Israel had many kings after David; Herod after all was Israel’s king. But Herod like all the rest before him, since the time of David, never quite gave Israel the peace and prosperity and joy that David gave. Herod was a corrupt puppet king installed by the Romans to keep the peace. He wasn’t a real king, he wasn’t even from the kingly line of David. And so throughout Israel’s last 900 years the prophets proclaimed God’s message to his people, that one day God would become King himself through a son of David, and restore peace to Israel, and he would save them from their sins. No other King had done that, nor could do that. It was up to God alone. And so every Jew, from the time of David on, anticipated the arrival of God’s chosen King. They were waiting for him to finally make himself known. So with the arrival of Jesus the Messiah as Mark says in Chapter 1 verse 15 of his Gospel Account, “The time is fulfilled, God’s kingdom is arriving!” Here comes the King, Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham, son of the Covenant, Son of God. The king is here.
Jesus’ ascent up to Jerusalem was not just a journey that one has to make in order to get from A to B. Rather it was a procession, just like Caesar after being away from his beloved Rome, returning in triumph. Here was God, after being away from his city and his people, now returning, triumphantly coming home, to dwell amongst his people, albeit in a very different way (see Mark 10:41-45). And so the question I want to ask is, how did his people receive him, how did they welcome their God returning to them? Now I want to suggest that Jesus’ weeping has something to do with this question. Not only is his weeping related to this question but so too are the two stories before the triumphant entry and the short dialogue with the Pharisees after. I want to suggest then that these stories before paint a picture of two groups of people receiving God, through Jesus, as King.
The First Story: Zacchaeus
In verses 1-10 we have the story of Zacchaeus. He belongs to the first group of people that come in contact with the King. This story right at the beginning sets the scene, and right at the beginning puts the Jewish noses right out. Zacchaeus is a short, corrupt, tax-collector, an enemy of the Jewish people, rich off of the poor. We need to remember that Zacchaeus was collecting taxes from the Jews for the Roman oppressors.
Zacchaeus climbs a tree, and he climbs it because in verse 3 he was trying to see who Jesus is. Which begs the question, who is Jesus? And the answer that we’ve already discovered is that he is God, on his way to Jerusalem to become King of the Cosmos. Then as Jesus walks past he spots Zacchaeus and tells him to come down because he wants to dine with him. And this is where I as a Jew would be furious, as are the Jews in this story. In verse 7 a murmur breaks out, “Jesus has gone to spend time with this wicked sinner.” Here though for the Jews, It’s not that they are furious because the King has spent time with sinners, they are furious because here is this Jesus, claiming to be king, and yet he can’t be because he is with sinners, and no King of the Jews is to do that.
As the murmur outside intensifies, Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, and as he does this Zacchaeus makes a tremendous claim. In verse 8 Zacchaeus says, “I am giving half my property to the poor, and everyone that I have defrauded I am giving back to them four times as much as I took.” WOW, this is incredible, this extremely wealthy man has practically given everything away, and we ask why? Because he has met the King of the Cosmos, and all of his past and what he has pails into insignificance compared to the wonderful salvation that has come into his life. He has met the king of the cosmos and nothing else seems to matter. It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” It seems for Zacchaeus, Jesus is that treasure, and all the money and all the riches on earth do not compare to the wonderful knowledge of knowing Jesus as King.
This first group of people, the lost as Luke calls them, are sought out by the King, His salvation is given to them, and their lives as a result are transformed. Forgiveness is matched with repentance, and knowing the king is matched with giving everything away that no longer matters.
The Second group
But there is a second group, the second group surfaces in Zacchaeus’ story, they are the Jews. The people who were waiting for the King. This second group, already fussing about Jesus spending time with sinners, is told a parable, one that should’ve cut straight to the their hearts. This parable, surprise surprise, was about a King and his servants. And already the symbolism becomes evident. The King is God, and the servants are the people of Israel. In the old testament it was a common thing for Israel to be referred to as the servant of God. And so here we are, a King and his servants.
It’s quite a complex story but the brunt of it is this. God has gone, and is now returning as king. While he was away, possibly in reference to God’s spirit being absent from the temple, he has given order to some servants, to look after his affairs. But his servants hated him, and didn’t want him to be King. And so while we have these accounts of the two servants that did handle the estate well (maybe in reference to people like Zacchaeus), the main focus is on the wicked scoundrel of a servant who kept his coin wrapped up in a handkerchief. And so when the King returns to see how his people have responded to him, he sees that the servant has done nothing, you could say the servant rested on his laurels, and for that he is to be punished, The king commands, “bring him here to be slaughtered in front of me.”
If Zacchaeus was an example of how to receive a king then this parable was an example of how not to. Receiving the King requires a change of heart and a change of life. This parable showed instead the hardness of hearts of those whose King came to rule over them. And with these words Jesus went on ahead up to Jerusalem.
The Triumphant Entry
And we come to that wonderful triumphant entry, which I’m not going to expound on any further, except to say that it wasn’t Israel that welcomed Jesus but a crowd of his disciples. They were the ones that laid palm leaves and cloaks on the path in front of him. People like Zacchaeus, people transformed by their King coming to them. And so we come to the short dialogue at the end of the triumphant entry. His disciple are singing praises to their King, in verse 38 the people were singing “Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing, Welcome to the King in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory on high!” They knew who they were singing to. And yet some of the pharisees in the crowd of onlookers, which we are to take as representative of Israel it’s self, yelled out to Jesus, not King but, “teacher tell your disciples to stop it.” Tell them to stop worshiping you, just a teacher, as king. And Jesus’ response to that , “If they stayed silent, then the stones would be shouting out.” “Jesus is King.”
Luke 19:41-44 “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 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. 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.”” (Luke 19:40–44 NIV11)
Here at this very moment, the parable of the wicked servant was being acted out. Jerusalem was the wicked servant. And the punishment that the servant endured was to be the same punishment that Israel was to endure. Why? Because as in the end of Chapter 44, [You O’ Israel] didn’t know the moment when God was visiting you.
John in his Gospel (John 1:9–14 ) sums things up well, and brings in contrast the two groups of people and the two responses to jesus the King. “9 [Jesus] The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9–14 NIV11)
How are you going to receive Jesus? We have a choice to make. We can like Zacchaeus, receive the king with changed hearts, and because of the treasure found in Jesus we can live transformed lives. How wonderful it is to live in the light of the King. But that is just one way, we can unfortunately, more times than I would like to admit, welcome Jesus as just another teacher. We can so often say to him, “Jesus you are not king of my life, nor are you king of the Cosmos, and I am not going to follow you, or live my life in the light of your throne.” And to that I say, I have failed to recognize the time when God came to visit. Forgive me Lord, Let me be like Zacchaeus. You are the lord, the king, and I want to follow you.