April 7, 2017 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for April 9, 2017. Passion Sunday. From an ongoing series, “Luke and Acts: The Good News of God’s Salvation.”
Resources used for this sermon included:
Justo L. Gonzalez. Luke. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 225-28.
Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 682-91.
Beth Kreitzer, ed. New Testament III: Luke. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, ed. Timothy George and Scott M. Manetsch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 374-81.
Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 608-09.
For my sermon on this text from last year, focusing more on the social-historical setting of the story, see The Two Parades (Luke 19.28-40).
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen:
The original Good News of God’s Salvation
Ten chapters ago in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus began his journey toward Jerusalem. As our Gospel lesson for today began, he is finally entering the city: he continued on ahead, Luke tells us, going up to Jerusalem.
It’s Passover time—time for the big pilgrimage. The great festival, when each year over a million Jews from all over the world would cram themselves into Jerusalem. A city that, back then, only took up about a square mile.
Passover, when God’s people remembered how God had set them free from slavery in Egypt, and led them on their Exodus to the land he’d promised their ancestors.
We’ve been listening to how Luke tells the Good News of God’s salvation in his story of Jesus. The Passover was the original Good News of God’s salvation. Good news to poor slaves. A new vision for those who couldn’t see a future beyond the brutality they endured daily. God letting the oppressed go free. Recognize that from Luke’s Gospel?
As Luke’s story has unfolded, we’ve been told what will happen with Jesus in Jerusalem this Passover.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—spoke with him about the Exodus he would fulfill in Jerusalem (9.31). The very next day, he told his disciples: Let these words go right down into your ears: the son of man is to be given over into human hands. But the disciples had no idea what he was talking about. It was hidden from them (9.44-45).
Last week, as they approached Jerusalem, we heard Jesus again remind his disciples: we’re going up to Jerusalem. Everything that’s written in the prophets about the son of man will be fulfilled. Yes: he will be handed over to the pagans; he’ll be mocked, abused and spat upon. They will beat him and kill him; and on the third day he’ll be raised. But still, Luke tells us: They didn’t understand any of this. The word was hidden from them, and they didn’t know what he meant (19.31-34).
The first Passover, God had saved the lives of the firstborn sons of Israel when the people smeared the blood of a lamb around their doors. This Passover, God’s firstborn Son Jesus will give his life to save others. His blood will save not only the sons and daughters of Israel; but the sons and daughters of every nation; and rescue all creation from its slavery to sin and death.
Jesus isn’t just going to Jerusalem this year as a pilgrim celebrating God’s salvation through the Passover. He’s going to Jerusalem to be the Passover lamb. To be the way of God’s salvation.
But he’s the only one on earth who knows it.
The Lord of the colt, and all creation
Luke has said Jesus went up toward Jerusalem ahead of his disciples. Jesus is always the one who prepares the way for his people.
He sent two of his disciples to one of the villages on the Mount of Olives. Told them they’d find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’ And wouldn’t you know—they sure did find a donkey colt tied up there. And its owners did ask: Why are you untying the colt? And so they answered: Its master needs it. And so they got the colt.
Some folks think Jesus had actually worked all this out with the donkey’s owners beforehand. So the whole deal with the question and the answer was like a secret code or password they’d say to get the donkey. Maybe, but Luke doesn’t go there. Luke seems to want us to see all the pieces falling into place to fulfill God’s plan. In this case, English translations tend to hide what’s going on in the conversation between the disciples and the owners of the donkey colt. Luke literally said the lords of the colt asked the disciples why they were untying it. And the disciples literally answered: The Lord needs it.
After all, Jesus is the Lord of the colt. Because, as Paul would later write: all things were created through him and for him (Col. 1.16). But of course, no one on earth knew that yet, besides Jesus.
Johannes Brenz, a sixteenth century German preacher, suggested that the donkey’s owners were disarmed by Jesus’ words spoken by the disciples. And this demonstrates the power of the words of Christ. He said:
This passage shows with what power and weapons the kingdom of Christ is to be defended and preserved in the world. When Christ commanded the disciples to bring the donkey, he did not tell them to berate the owners, to beat them or by force of arms to take the animal away, but only to answer them with his word, and by his word to do what they were commanded … This sword and these weapons are ours to use.
The lesson for the church in this story is Jesus makes a way for his disciples. Through his words—yes—but also through his life. Because as John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is the Word of God, who became flesh and dwelled among us. We live by his words and his life. The saints are not victorious because we are powerful and flex our muscles. Our victory is to follow Jesus and live by his word. Then we will share in his victory.
The point of the story is the disciples get the donkey colt by doing exactly what Jesus tells them to do, and saying just what he tells them to say. Their success encourages us to obey Jesus when it comes to harder things than borrowing a donkey. Like turning the other cheek when we are struck, and loving our enemies and praying for them. From these obedient disciples, we learn what it means to be faithful in a small matter. And that’s training for being faithful about the big stuff.
An ironic coronation for King David’s heir
And so Jesus rides a borrowed donkey down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem as his disciples make a pathway with their clothes and sing praises to God. This is all so full of significance it’s difficult to even know how to begin unpacking it all.
First, Jesus rode a donkey. This goes all the way back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Jesus is the heir to King David’s throne, and King David was from the tribe of Judah. From his deathbed, Judah’s father Israel—the nation’s namesake—had dubbed him a lion’s cub. A kingly creature, ruling over his brothers. King David of Judah began to fulfill this prophecy by uniting the tribes of Israel under his rule.
Father Israel also said this about Judah: The scepter shall not leave Judah; he’ll keep a firm grip on the command staff. But eventually the ruler’s staff did depart from the hands of King David’s heirs, when the people went into exile in Babylon. So God was showing old Israel someone else—someone greater than David, who would rule forever. Israel’s prophecy also mentioned something about that. From Judah’s line, the ultimate ruler comes and the nations obey him (Gen. 49.8-10 MSG).
Well, the prophecy continues—and this is oddly specific. Hear what Israel says about Judah’s heir, the ruler the nations will obey: He’ll tie up his donkey to the grapevine, his purebred prize to a sturdy branch (Gen. 49.11 MSG).
Tying a donkey colt to a grapevine is a sign of someone who is very wealthy. A donkey colt would eat all the grapes if you tied it to a vine! Israel’s prophecy is saying: The coming King will be so rich, he can afford to tie his donkey to his grapevine.
So Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy—Israel’s deathbed vision—from the very first book of the Bible. But he’s doing it in a very ironic way. He’s riding into Jerusalem as a King on a donkey. But instead of tying his own donkey colt to his own branch, his disciples had to untie it from someone else’s property. So Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the city of his ancestor King David, as a poor King on a borrowed donkey. The ironic way he fulfilled Israel’s prophecy was how he showed what kind of King he is. He is the King for the least and the lost—the poor, the sick, the excluded and forgotten. The people he has ministered to and among throughout Luke’s Gospel. Bringing them the Good News of God’s salvation.
Jesus is the heir of King David, and the heirs of King David rode donkeys for their coronations. We see David’s son Solomon doing this in 1 Kings 1.32-40. Jesus was reenacting the coronation ceremony as the heir to David’s throne.
The disciples recognized what was happening and spread their garments under Jesus’ path. This goes back to the coronation of King Jehu in 2 Kings 9.13: each man quickly took his cloak and put it beneath Jehu on the paved steps. They blew a trumpet and said, “Jehu has become king!” Jehu had liberated Jerusalem from the wicked children of Ahab and Jezebel in a total bloodbath. Jesus’ disciples may have expected he would do something similar.
There’s also deep significance to Jesus riding into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Zechariah 14.3-4 is a prophecy about how the Lord will go out and fight against the nations who oppress his people. According to the prophecy, this heavenly war will be fought from Jerusalem. And: On that day he will stand upon the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem. So when Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, his disciples would see this as the beginning of the battle that would finally free them from Roman tyranny.
They thought Jesus had come as God’s anointed King to shed the blood of their enemies. They didn’t know yet that Jesus had come to shed his own blood, even for the sake of his enemies.
At this point, Jesus is the only one on earth who knew that.
The humble king
All those things I just mentioned are in the background of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But one prophecy in particular stands in the foreground. And it’s this one:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion.
Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem.
Look, your king will come to you.
He is righteous and victorious.
He is humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the offspring of a donkey (Zech. 9.9).
That’s the one Jesus is really leaning into in our lesson today. And when they see Jesus riding into Jerusalem—their poor, humble King on a borrowed donkey—Luke says: the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen.
Ten chapters ago, Peter had blurted out that Jesus was God’s Messiah—the anointed King and heir to David’s throne (Luke 9.20). Ten chapters later, watching Jesus enter Jerusalem on a donkey colt, like a true king from David’s line should, everything they’ve seen floods their memories. Fishing nets breaking from a catch. Diseases healed. Demons evicted from people. Sins forgiven. Dead men raised. Blind eyes opened. The Good News preached to the poor. They’ve seen God working through Jesus, and now the rest of them catch up to Peter. They know Jesus is God’s Messiah—the King God sent to bring salvation.
So they began to cry out: Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens. The first part is a quote from Ps. 118.26, which says: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. They realize King Jesus is the one God has sent to bring peace. But they don’t understand yet how he will do that.
Luke tells us: Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
Did you catch a hint of something … desperation … panic … fear … as the Pharisees demanded Jesus tell his disciples to cut it out? History tells us, on the other side of Jerusalem, Roman security forces were also riding into Jerusalem for the Passover. On war horses, not donkeys. If they overheard a crowd of Jewish riffraff singing about some king other than Caesar, they might not hesitate to unleash swift violence in Jerusalem.
This is the last time we hear from the Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel. And as much as they’ve been a rock in Jesus’ sandal, we see them clearly for what they are: just frightened people. Afraid of change. Too hung-up to celebrate God’s salvation, because they’re too scared of any change in the status quo. They’re not bad guys. They’re just blinded by fear.
Way back in Luke 3.8, John the Baptist had said God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Just so, if Jesus’ disciples didn’t proclaim him God’s King—for the least and the lost, and over all creation—the stones of Jerusalem and the Temple would shout for joy. Their long-awaited King has come to them!
The disciples believe Jesus has brought them to Jerusalem for a show-down with the Romans, and they’re rejoicing. The Pharisees believe the same thing, and they’re terrified. But they’re both wrong.
It’s not lost on any of them that by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey colt, Jesus is acting out the words of Zech. 9.9. But Zech. 9.10, the very next verse, clarifies that the humble King who comes in the name of the Lord will speak peace to the nations.
When Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he will lament that they can’t see the things that lead to peace. His disciples believe peace comes through confronting violence and injustice on their own terms. The Pharisees think they can keep the peace by remaining silent before evil. They’re both wrong.
Jesus, the Messiah, King David’s heir is the Prince of Peace, who calls the nations to beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning-hooks. He does not slaughter his enemies to make peace. Nor does he keep the peace by staying silent. He makes peace by giving his life for peace.
That day, he was the only one on earth who knew the things that lead to peace.
The things that lead to peace
Luke says when Jesus got into Jerusalem and observed it, he wept over it.
Jerusalem means City of Peace. But earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus called it: Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! (Luke 13.34) With tears in his eyes, he now laments: If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. The City of Peace didn’t know what makes for peace. Jesus says those things were hidden from them.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because we heard the same thing in last week’s lesson. When Jesus told his disciples he would go to Jerusalem and be rejected, suffer, and die—but be raised on the third day—Luke said the meaning of this message was hidden from them (Luke 18.33). We saw last time Jesus’ word was hidden from them because their own expectations, opinions, ambitions, and fears blinded them to the truth. It will be the same for Jerusalem.
Jerusalem on that day was just as blind as the disciples, the Pharisees, and the rest of the world when it comes to peace. Many of them believed, like the disciples, that peace is achieved by destroying your enemies. Others, like the Pharisees, thought you could keep the peace by avoiding conflict—by staying silent in the face of evil. Or, if that didn’t work, by silencing those refused to be silent about injustice, corruption, and oppression. Like when they stoned the prophets. Or when they crucified Jesus.
And so they couldn’t see what peace might require, or how God was working through Christ to make peace.
But Jesus could see. And he knew what would happen to a city and a people who don’t know the things that lead to peace:
The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you.
Jesus’ prophecy would be fulfilled a little more than three decades later. When the Romans put down the Jewish Revolt by crushing Jerusalem and destroying the Temple. It’s tempting to judge them as rightly falling under the wrath of God for murdering his Son. But we live under the words of Christ, and several weeks back, we heard him say: unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did (Luke 13.3, 5).
No, this story should encourage us to ask ourselves: Two thousand years later, do we know the things that lead to peace? Of all people, God’s people should be asking ourselves that. After all, Jerusalem was God’s people, too.
Jerusalem perished because they didn’t know the things that lead to peace. Jesus didn’t gloat over that. He wept over it. As I am sure he still weeps for our nations, our cities, even our churches and our own lives. The things that lead to peace are, sadly, still often hidden from our eyes.
We learn from our story today the things that don’t lead to peace. God’s peace is not won by destroying our enemies. It isn’t kept by being silent before evil. Nor is it maintained by silencing those who dare to name evil and confront it.
Jesus was the only one that day who knew what will lead to peace. And he showed us the way. We have to follow our humble King who rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. To go into the darkness, the violence, the injustice, the sadness, and dysfunction of our time. To offer our lives to God and our neighbors—even if that means suffering with them and for them and even because of them. Even if it kills us.
But if it does kill us—and we will all die of something—we are following the King who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was killed there, but rose again on the third day. And his resurrected life is God’s promise to all who follow him that God does not let death have the final word.
But that’s next week’s sermon.