[April 5, 2009] This morning we celebrate Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first day of the week (Sunday) before He celebrated His last Passover with His disciples on Thursday.
The People Welcome Their King (Luke 19:29-40)
Millions of pilgrims had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. They found places to stay, or they camped, in the city and the surrounding countryside. Many of them were from other lands, and many from Jesus’ home region of Galilee. Luke tells us that the crowd who welcomed Jesus was a “multitude of disciples,” some from Jerusalem and Judea but mostly pilgrims from Galilee. Jesus stayed in the little village of Bethany, in the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, on the other side of the Mount of Olives.
Jesus planned to make His arrival into the city of Jerusalem something special. The people expected the kingdom of God to come immediately (19:11). Perhaps Jesus had created that impression, not deliberately but as a result of His own expectation that His stay in the city this time was going to be momentous. Moses and Elijah had spoken to Him of “His exodus which He was about to complete in Jerusalem” (9:31), and He had already foretold of His coming death and resurrection three times. The people did not understand but they could feel that the mounting “drama” was about to reach the climax. When Jesus organized a parade in which He would ride into the city on a colt, they were exuberant.
But, unlike Matthew, Luke—who wrote with a cosmopolitan audience in mind—did not report that the crowds shouted the political “Hosanna” (i.e., O God, please save) “Son of David! Hosanna” (O God, please give Him help) “in the highest!” but instead the more innocent, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Jesus welcomes their praise. When the Pharisees tell Him to rebuke His disciples, He tells them that if they were silent, the stones would cry out. He recognizes Himself as the King who is arriving in His own city. This is the city of His ancestor David, Zion, the place where David had his throne. When Jesus enters the gate of the city, He would be on the grounds of the Temple, the place that He called “His Father’s House” when He was twelve years old.
We celebrate Palm Sunday by processing with palms in remembrance of that day. We are not Israel and Jerusalem is not our city, but while the King is away in a “distant country” (verse 12), we welcome Him into our midst. He is our King here and now and we honor Him.
The Stewards of the City Rejects Its King (19:11-12, 13, 15a, 27)
Jesus, however, was not so happy when He entered the city. While the multitude of the disciples and the crowds of pilgrims from Galilee welcomed Him, and some of the people of Jerusalem too, He also made others in the city unhappy. The city’s economy depended on the Temple and the millions of pilgrims who came there to worship, and the people in charge of the Temple were the high priest and his family, the chief priests, and the Sadducean establishment. They were aristocrats who relied on the Romans for their security. They were the stewards of the city, and they did not like Jesus.
Nor did many of the Pharisees (19:39). The Pharisees were much more popular with the people, and some of them envied Jesus’ influence. Luke however says no more about them while Jesus is in Jerusalem.
After Jesus had left Jericho and was getting close to Jerusalem, He told a parable. He told the people that the kingdom of God was not going to appear immediately, but that the One born King—the Son of David—would have to first go to a distant country to take for Himself the kingdom and return. The outward manifestation of the kingdom was not ready to begin. He would have to go away—He would ascend to heaven—and there He would stay until the kingdom was ready. In the meantime, He would entrust His wealth to His slaves.
“But His citizens hated Him,” Jesus says. He is referring to the citizens of Jerusalem. They would send an envoy after Him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” We think of Christ in heaven receiving Stephen’s witness when they stoned him to death.
This parable and the story of Jesus’ entering Jerusalem to claim the throne of David is continued in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, in the preaching of Peter. There Peter pleaded with the people of Jerusalem to repent and receive Jesus. Many of them did.
But Jesus also warned that when He returned He would slay His enemies (19:27). The picture He had in mind combined the apocalyptic images of the later prophets (like Zechariah) with the predictions (for example, by Jeremiah) of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The judgment of Jerusalem would coincide with His return (21:20-27).
Jerusalem’s Historic Judgment (19:38-44)
The people proclaimed, “Peace in heaven!” but Jesus, when He saw the city as He came around the Mount of Olives, wept. There was to be no peace for the City of Peace (the meaning of Jeru-shalom). “If you knew in this day, even you, the things that are for your peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Because the city rejected the King of Peace, He was to leave them for the distant country—heaven—where He would win the peace by His death and resurrection and the spiritual warfare of His church. His disciples would know His peace, but Jerusalem would not know peace until the warfare in heaven was over (Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-12).
The city should have welcomed Him. His disciples did. But if the citizens of the city will not welcome Him, the stones themselves will cry out. What stones are these? The Romans would raze the city and “not leave a stone upon a stone.” The rubble of the city will cry out against them, because they did not know the time of their visitation.
They did not recognize who Jesus was, that He is the King of Israel, the Messiah. Historically, though, how could they? It was something that had to be revealed from heaven. Jesus appeared to be a popular faith healer, a teacher and an apocalyptic prophet, like others before Him and contemporary with Him. What brought about the catastrophe of 70 AD was the clash between two ideologies—both ignoring the message of the prophets in the Old Testament. On the one side were the Zealots who sought to establish the kingdom of God on their own; and on the other side were those who collaborated with the Romans who were represented by the Jerusalem priestly establishment who depended on them. Jesus sought to awaken Israel and proclaimed the kingdom of God as promised by the prophets. If they had received His message, the disaster would have been averted.
The Son of Man did not return in 70 AD, as the early church expected He would. Since then the church and Israel have been in it for the long haul, both wondering when the Messiah will come.
The King’s Servants (19:12-26)
In the meantime, the King is in a distant country and has left His wealth with His ten slaves. If we read the Gospel of Luke as an introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, the meaning is clear enough. When Christ ascended into heaven He poured out the Holy Spirit onto the church. Money needs to be put to work. Investments need to be made, risks taken. If we put it to work, it multiplies. Every business person understands this. Ten is the number for responsibility.
This parable differs from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 in several ways. There the rich man gives each of his slaves a different amount, and if they are good and faithful with it, they are rewarded equally. Here, the slaves are all given an equal amount and their reward differs according to what they do with it.
In Matthew, the talents represent how God gives different gifts to each of us according to the need and His wisdom. Though exceptional slaves are given ten talents, no one is given less than one. Those who think that their little gift is insignificant are tempted to bury it, unused. They are judged harshly.
In Luke, every believer is given an equal measure of grace, an equal measure of the Spirit. No one can claim that they have been given less grace than another, for we have all been given grace “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). No believer has more eternal life than another. If you have received the Holy Spirit, you have received the whole gift of Christ. You have the same Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus at His baptism, the same Holy Spirit that fell upon Peter on Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit that inspired and motivated the apostle Paul.
The question for each of us is what are we doing with it? Do we neglect the grace of God or are we putting it to good use? Do we avail ourselves of God’s Word? Do we avail ourselves of fellowship? Do we avail ourselves of spiritual disciplines? What are we doing with the grace of God? Are you using the means that God gives you?
It is hardly a moot question. “I have accepted Jesus; what else is there to be concerned about?” When the King returns, He will call each of us to account. We believers shall all appear before Him and He will judge us for what we have done with what He has given us (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12). The place to put the Lord’s gift to work is in the life of the church. The church is a gathering, but we continue to be the church wherever we go: at home, on the job, in the neighborhood. When we serve others, we do so as the church.
What are we doing with the grace of our salvation? If we hide it in a napkin, we will suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:15), even if only for a time: a time of weeping and gnashing the teeth. Is this what we want? When we appear before Christ, we will be all alone. We will not be able to blame anyone else. It is we ourselves who will be responsible. If we do not know what to do with God’s grace, we should put it in the “bank.” In other words, let others invest it. Submit to those who do know, and follow their advice and guidance. No one has any excuse here.
Seize the Opportunity! (19:27, 42, 44)
The span of our life is the one opportunity that the Lord gives to us. We can waste it on Christian entertainment. We can waste it on our own self-interests. We can spend it scapegoating the politicians or our parents, or whomever else we choose. We can blame the church, or blame others, and ignore Jesus’ own call to us through His Word. We can spend our time trying to impress others with our religion. Or we can just claim that we are too busy. But our opportunity will be lost. Jerusalem did not recognize the time of its visitation. Do we? Will we put it off until our heart is hardened?