The King Comes to Jerusalem
I am so excited to be preaching this text this morning, for several reasons. The first is just that I love this passage, and have since I was little: seeing Jesus go all John Wick on the religious authorities always gives me a perverse kind of thrill (even if that’s not really what he’s doing).
Mainly I love this passage because it marks a transition—for many chapters (and many months) now, we have been following Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. In today’s passage, he gets there. Everyone was expecting a great upheaval when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, and that definitely happens…but it happens in a totally unexpected way.
I’ll give you fair warning: this is a big text. Not in terms of length, but in terms of historical and theological weight. So before we get into it, I’d like to take a step back to give a kind of wide-angle view of how the Bible has brought us to this point. (I’m bouncing off of a great summary from J. T. English here.)
In Genesis 1 and 2, at the very beginning of the Bible, God creates a perfect world, a perfect kingdom; and he creates human beings to inhabit that world. But they rebel against him (when we talk about “sin,” that’s what it means—rebellion against God).
Because of their sin, human beings are expelled from this perfect kingdom, and the world is plunged into chaos, infected by their sin.
But the Bible takes great pains (starting in Genesis 3.15) to show us that God is bringing his kingdom back; he is restoring what has been broken. And he sets his plan to do that in motion through the covenants he makes with his people.
In the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22), God creates a people for himself, with whom he dwells and rules, and through whom he promises to extend his grace to the nations of the world.
In the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 19-24), God refines his people, creating a nation of priests, to reign and rule with them, to extend his holiness to the nations.
In the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7, Psalm 89), God reigns and rules amongst his people in Israel, and sets up a king for himself, King David. God’s presence is with his people and his king.
So we have all the elements of God’s kingdom being established in Jerusalem: David is reigning on the throne in Jerusalem, his presence is with them in the tabernacle, and the people are (for the most part) living obediently to God.
So at this point, David asks a question (2 Samuel 7): “I want to build a house for you. I want to make your kingdom permanent here. I want to reign and rule as your king, and I want your presence to dwell with us permanently.”
But God responds by saying, “You aren’t going to build my temple; your son will. You won’t be king forever; he will.”
So David’s son Solomon succeeds to the throne, and does indeed build a temple for God in Jerusalem; but we quickly see that he isn’t the “son” God was referring to; Solomon doesn’t reign forever. His son Rehoboam, who becomes king after him, reigns poorly, and as a consequence divides the kingdom in two: into the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah.
Soon after this, God’s people suffer the consequences of their rebellion: the Assyrian kingdom destroys the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17); the Babylonian king destroys the southern kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 25). The people are sent into exile (much like we see in Genesis 3, they are driven out of the land God has made for them).
After 70 years in exile they’re brought back into the land, through the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. But the kingdom is not restored: there is no king ruling, and God’s presence is not restored in the temple.
And during this time, through the prophets, we see that there needs to be a king who reigns and rules forever. And God promises to send that King—the anointed one, the Messiah, who will be what Israel’s kings could never be.
So when we finally arrive at the New Testament, the question the gospel writers are trying to answer is this: How is God going to do that? How is he going to bring his kingdom and his presence back into the world?
And what we’ve seen so far in Luke’s gospel is that he is going to do it through Jesus.
Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, the King whom God had promised and whom the people needed.
And here, at the end of Luke 19, the King comes home to Jerusalem, to claim the throne.
The Triumphal Entry (v. 28-40)
28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
I love this passage for so many reasons, the first of which is the simple oddity of what Jesus tells his disciples to do before he enters Jerusalem. He brings two disciples aside, and tells them, “Go into the village, and find a donkey.” (Matthew actually includes that they bring the colt’s mother—Mama Donkey—along with it.)
So he tells them to get the donkey, and he tells them what to say if anyone objects.
And the crazy thing is, it works—they go in, they find the colt, and the owner says, “Why are you taking my donkey?” They say, “The Lord needs it.” And apparently, the owner goes, “Alright then,” and lets them have it.
But why a donkey? This is called “the triumphal entry”—what’s so triumphant about a donkey?
We need to remember that the gospel writers were excellent theologians. They are careful to include details which will show that Jesus is fulfilling things God had said would happen around this Messiah figure.
In the Old Testament book of Zechariah, we have the Lord speaking through his prophet about the Messiah, this king God would send to his people, to establish his reign among them. The prophet said (Zechariah 9.9):
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So that’s what Jesus is doing—he is taking pains to come to Jerusalem as this promised king, in the way God had said he would.
And the royal imagery doesn’t stop there. V. 36:
36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
So we have Jesus, riding into the city, with cloaks spread onto the road like a makeshift red carpet, and this group of disciples gathered around him, literally proclaiming him God’s King.
It’s a picture that reminds us a good deal of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the monarchy in England: crowds gathered around, celebrating the royal family. When we think of kingship, this is this imagery we think of.
And that’s essentially what’s happening—the crowd of disciples are gathered around Jesus, inviting him into the city, celebrating him as King.
These proclamations from his disciples, and the manner in which Jesus enters the city, infuriates the religious authorities. In v. 39 we read:
39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
In other words, “You’re not who they say you are; make them tell the truth!” But Jesus says (v. 40),
40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
He says, “They know something you don’t know; for all your knowledge, these commoners—and the very earth itself—know more about me than you do.”
So we have this incredible entrance of Jesus as King in Jerusalem; it is one of the first instances, in all of the synoptic gospels, of Jesus approaching his kingdom as a king taking up his throne. And yet this royal imagery is juxtaposed with things that seem to clash with the occasion.
Kings ride horses, not donkeys.
Kings welcomed by the whole kingdom, not only by those close to them.
Kings ride on a ground covered by royal-colored carpets, not the cloaks the commoners have taken off and spread on the ground.
And this odd juxtaposition will continue all throughout Jesus’s time in Jerusalem...
Jesus’s royal garb is a blanket taken from a horse, and placed on the open wounds on his back.
His crown is a crown of thorns.
His throne is the cross to which is nailed.
The kingdom of God is fundamentally different than the kingdom of men. In God’s kingdom, what seems to indicate poverty actually indicates royalty. What seems to indicate weakness actually shows superiority. What seems to indicate defeat actually indicates victory.
Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a totally unexpected way.
Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem (v. 41-44)
And this theme of a strange kingly entrance continues in what follows, though it takes a dark turn.
Normally when a king enters the royal city for the first time, he is happy; but when Jesus nears the city and sees it, he weeps. V. 41:
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it...
This is not the first time Jesus has wept over Jerusalem; we saw him do the same thing in Luke 13.31-35, and for the same reason: the city that should have recognized its King was largely rejecting him (except for the handful of disciples gathered around him now).
But he goes a good deal further here in what he says. The full meaning of what he says would have seemed ominous and mysterious at the time—but those who heard it would understand exactly what he meant a little less than four decades later.
...he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Jesus the King of Israel, the Son of David, has come to claim his throne in Jerusalem…but the people of Jerusalem does not recognize him as their king. They do not see that it is through him that they could have peace; that it is through him that they could find salvation.
And because they do not recognize their King, disaster will come upon them, and that disaster will not only be spiritual.
At this point in time, Israel was under Roman occupation. In A.D. 66—thirty-three years after this moment—the Jews would rebel against Rome. In response, the Emperor Nero would send an army to restore order. They subjugated the northern parts of Israel first, and by A.D. 70, the only city left to sack was Jerusalem.
In A.D. 70, under the reign of the Emperor Titus, the Romans breached the outer walls, began systematically assaulting the city, and the confrontation finally ended in the Temple itself being completely destroyed. Thousands of Jews were deported to Egypt to work in the mines; thousands more were slaughtered outright.
What Jesus said would happen did happen.
It is a terribly dire pronouncement of woe and judgment; and it is a just judgment against those who would reject the King.
But it’s absolutely vital to see that when Jesus says this, he is not smug; he is not proud of his power to subjugate his enemies.
He weeps. He weeps over sin, and he weeps over the consequences of that sin, no matter how just those consequences may be.
Jesus in the Temple (v. 45-48)
So now, Jesus has entered the city as King; through him, God is bringing his kingdom back to Israel. But God wasn’t only bringing his kingdom; he also needed to bring back his presence among his people.
Jesus—as we saw at the angels’ announcements to Mary and the shepherds in Luke 1-2, as we saw in the transfiguration in Luke 9—is God. He is the second person of the Trinity, the Son, God made man.
So of course, when God finally comes to establish his presence on earth in bodily form, he goes to the place where God’s presence had historically dwelt with his people—he goes to the temple.
Jesus brings the presence of God back to the temple in distinct two ways—and the first is always surprising, no matter how many times you read it.
The temple is where sacrifices were offered to God; and apparently some enterprising minds had realized that instead of making people bring their animals to sacrifice with them, they could just sell animals directly in the temple. It would make life easier for the people, and the vendors could make a lot of money doing it.
So that’s the situation when Jesus enters the temple in v. 45.
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Now, we often misrepresent what is happening here. When I was a kid, my little brother Jeremy was playing in the playroom we had in our house; he was about two years old at the time, I was six. I went in to get something, and I found Jeremy sitting on the floor and holding a dead mouse. He held it up proudly, as if to say, “Look what I’ve got!” I ran and got my mother, and my mom flipped out. She screamed and scared the life out of my brother, who cried for ten minutes afterward.
She didn’t mean to scare him. Jeremy was two; he didn’t know what he was doing, and Mom knew that. But we all have moments when we see someone doing something which is so shocking, and so far outside of our expectations, that we are, almost literally, driven insane for a short period of time. We can’t think straight, we just react.
So when we read these accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple in this way, we imagine that’s what’s he’s doing.
But that’s not what he’s doing. What’s surprising here isn’t that Jesus gets angry. What’s surprising is that he hasn’t done it sooner, and more often.
Jesus is a perfectly holy God, and during his life on earth that didn’t change; in the person of Christ, God had the unique experience of being surrounded by sin, surrounded by assaults on his holy character, all the time. Every moment of every day, he suffered assaults on his holiness by the sin of the people around him, against which his righteous anger burns constantly.
And yet, with only a couple of very rare exceptions, Jesus always reacted with patience and grace and understanding.
He reacts differently here because he has come to re-establish the presence of God in the temple—and he would not do it in a temple which was being tainted by self-interest or exploitation. His presence was pure, and he would only establish his presence in a pure place.
So he gets rid of it all, and he does so aggressively. In John’s gospel (John 2.13-22) we see Jesus flipping over the tables of the money changers and driving them out—and again, here we see not only Jesus’s authority as priest, but his authority as King. He drives them out for their sin—just like God drove Adam and Eve from the garden, just like the exiled Israelites were driven out of Israel and into Assyria and Babylon.
That’s the first thing he’s doing: he cleanses the temple, so that God’s presence can dwell there again.
The second way in which he establishes God’s presence in the temple is by teaching in the temple. And we see that his goal is not simply to impart wisdom or give moral counsel to the people listening. V. 47:
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
The sovereignty of God is on clear display here; Jesus is calmly and patiently moving the chess pieces where they need to be.
Jesus has cleansed the temple, effectively rebuking the religious authorities for letting it happen, and he is teaching in the temple, displaying his superior authority over even the religious authorities.
Have you seen those clips on YouTube, where someone will start a marble rolling on a board, and that marble will hit a pencil, and that pencil will knock over a domino, and that domino will set in motion a long series of intricate movements which will end in a spectacular way? Those contraptions are called Rube Goldberg Machines (and they are some of the coolest things you can see on YouTube).
Up until now, Jesus has been setting up his Rube Goldberg Machine. He has been getting all the pieces in place.
This is the moment when he starts the first marble rolling down the board. This is the moment when the religious authorities have really had enough. They can’t do anything about it yet, because the people love what Jesus is saying, but now they are actively looking for a way to kill him.
And what we know in the follow-up to this passage is that in order to get him killed, they will do the unthinkable. The only thing the Jewish authorities hated more than Rome was Jesus. So they’ll decide to partner with Rome to get Jesus out of the way.
In cleansing the temple and teaching in the temple, Jesus gets the ball rolling on the events which will in short order bring him to the cross.
But all of this—his triumphal entry, his prophetic prediction of the sacking of Jerusalem, and his actions in the temple—is not just a means to an end, to get him to the cross. As Kyle Worley noted, this is Jesus, in a profoundly visible and visceral way, establishing his kingly authority in a way we haven’t see yet.
So far the disciples have seen Jesus’s power on full display. They have seen his kingly, cosmic authority over the most chaotic things they can imagine—water; wind; sickness; death; demons. They have experienced his authority in gut-punching, mind-blowing ways.
But he hasn’t yet displayed his authority over the human, religious establishment in Israel, on that same visceral level, until now. His actions against the religious authorities have not reached the same gut-punch level as his healings or exorcisms before. THIS is the moment when that happens.
And that moment would soon come to fruition, when Jesus, as high priest and King, would take on himself the sins of his people, and be punished in their place, and give his Spirit to his people to dwell in them.
God has sent his King, and his King has established the reign of God, and the presence of God, among the people of God.
Now…that is a big chunk of information—it’s a lot to digest, I know. And part of the reason it’s hard for us to digest is because these passages are telling us about things that happened a long time ago. But what difference does it make for us? How is God calling us to respond to these texts today?
You could talk about the answer to that question all day long. But for today, we can boil it all down to two simple imperatives.
1. Know your Old Testament.
This is simple, and it’s honestly not so much an application of this text as it is an application of the whole New Testament. But you can feel it in a particular way in this text.
I spent a long time at the beginning of this sermon talking about the backstory; the events in the Old Testament leading up to this point. Why was that backstory so important?
I recently heard an illustration that makes the point well.
Lots of people who grew up in the eighties and nineties have seen the movie Forrest Gump dozens of times. It would come on television at random hours, and we could drop in at any point in the story and enjoy it.
There is a scene towards the end of the film where Forrest meets his son for the first time. If I happen to turn on the TV and Forrest Gump is on, and it happens to be at that scene, here’s what happens: I see Jenny tell Forrest the little boy is his son…then I hear him ask her, “Is he smart?”…and I promptly burst into tears. (I get teary just writing the words down.)
Why do I have that reaction? There’s nothing in the scene itself that warrants it; the kid’s watching TV and they’re standing in the kitchen talking.
My reaction to that scene is so powerful because I know what came before it.
Christians so often read the New Testament almost exclusively, and wonder why they don’t get more out of their time reading the Bible, why they don’t feel the weight of these truths more deeply.
A big part of the reason is that they don’t know the rest of the story: they essentially watch the last ten minutes of the movie, over and over again, without having watched the rest.
They know it vaguely, but they haven’t read it with enough repetition, over a long enough time, to know it intimately.
The story of the New Testament makes very little sense without the story of the Old. All the details and information that give it its weightiness are stripped away if you remove the first two-thirds of the Bible.
On the surface, this text simply shows Jesus riding on a donkey, crying, getting angry, and teaching. If you want to know why these events are so massively significant for us, you need to know what came before.
So brothers and sisters, do not neglect the Old Testament. Patiently, slowly, over long periods and many repetitions, know your Old Testament. Do it alone, with God; and do it in community, with your brothers and sisters. Israel’s story is our story, if we belong to Christ. Israel’s folly is our folly. Israel’s King is our King.
Which brings us to our second point.
2. Keep Your Eyes on Your King.
Remember—the main question the gospel writers are trying to answer is: How is God going to bring his kingdom and his presence back into the world?
Jesus inaugurates his kingly reign in Jerusalem, and exercises his priestly authority in the temple. But very soon after this, the good news of the kingdom will not be limited to Jerusalem: Jesus will send out his apostles to all nations, giving his Holy Spirit to the church. The temple will be destroyed, but his presence will remain, through his Spirit, in the life and mission of the church.
In the person of Jesus, God has brought his kingdom, and his indwelling presence, back into the world. Jesus has established his reign as King, and his presence among his people.
And that large-scale authority of Christ as King, if we see it, will have an effect on every area of our lives.
One very practical, life-on-the-ground example: there is a terrible tendency amongst Christians in the modern West to look to come to Christianity looking for self-discovery. (Think of the songs Christians sing, filled with “I am” language—songs we claim are about God, but which are really about us. Think of how we only read books of the Bible which we feel “feed” us, and skip over the others.)
We so often speak of our subjective, personal relationship with Jesus Christ that we unwittingly neglect to consider and celebrate his objective, global relationship with the world over which he reigns.
But Jesus didn’t come as King to give us self-fulfillment or self-discovery. He came to establish the kingdom of God and the presence of God among the people of God.
As one pastor put it, “The primary disposition of a disciple of King Jesus is to ask King Jesus to bring his kingdom.” That is how he taught us to pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The disciple of King Jesus should be marked by a kind of discontentment in this world: we should desire a holy revolution, in which King Jesus will return and set all wrongs to right.
And because we know our King, we can be filled with joy and expectancy, knowing it will happen.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) accomplish his will in the world over which he has authority.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) make his gospel go out to all the nations, and raise his people to new life.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) be worshiped and recognized as King by all of creation.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) judge the sin of all mankind.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) transform his people to be conformed to his image.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) display his glory by sharing his royal privileges with his adopted brothers and sisters, in the new heavens and the new earth.
Because Christ is King, he can (and will) live amongst his holy people, manifesting his presence in their midst, for all eternity.
Christ’s reign as King is the foundation on which we stand. It is the truth which calms every fear, provides every assurance, and fills us with every joy.
So keep your eyes on your King, because he came as King once, he reigns today, and he will come back in the same way.
And if you don’t know Jesus… He is your King, whether you realize it or not, whether you accept it or not.
The question is, Will you welcome him or not? Will you celebrate his reign, or will you reject his reign?
Will you, as Jesus said, know on this day the things that make for peace? Will you see that your King desires to save you, just as he wept over Jerusalem who wouldn’t accept his salvation?
You can. You’re still here; you’re still breathing; it’s not too late. Know your King. Accept your King. Keep your eyes on your King.
COMMUNION: A look around
Over the last two weeks, we’ve said that Communion is a look back (at God’s faithfulness to Israel in the Passover, and to us in Christ); and a look forward (to the wedding feast of the Lamb).
Finally, Communion is also a look around.
Paul says in 1 Corinthiens 11.23-29:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
This text has been misinterpreted in all kinds of ways.
For example, some have suggested that it’s a warning against taking Communion without FULLY realizing what Jesus did for us on the cross (“without discerning the body”), though they never really give a way to measure exactly how full “fully realizing” actually is.
That’s why a lot of churches encourage their people to be quietly reflective during this time, to take stock of their lives. They present it as a private time, between me and God.
If you grew up in this kind of atmosphere, I don’t want to offend you, but I have to say it: that’s not what Paul is saying here.
In 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, Paul is addressing a specific problem in the church in Corinth. Basically, the Corinthians were using the Lord’s Supper as a way to make social distinctions between the rich people in the church and the poor people in the church. The rich who had food would eat before the poor people showed up to worship, so they wouldn’t have to share with them (cf. v. 33: So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another).
And Paul is infuriated by this fact: their behavior is so far from the gospel that when they come together to take the Lord’s Supper, they’re not taking the Lord’s Supper (v. 20). It’s bread and wine, sure—but it’s not the Lord’s Supper.
When Jesus says (v. 24), This is my body, broken for YOU, that “you” is plural—this is my body, broken for all of you: rich or poor. This is my body, this is my blood, by which I have established a new covenant with my people. He’s saying, “I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, YOU SHARE IN THIS WORK I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED FOR YOU.”
So in Communion, we remember this together, and we preach this to one another (v. 26): For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you PROCLAIM the Lord’s death until he comes. (This is one reason why we have you get up and take the bread and juice from someone’s hands: we want you to be able to look at least one brother or sister in the eye when you do it.)
Just like I said yesterday at the baptism service, Communion and Baptism are both an exercise in collective memory—they are the means by which the people of God rehearse the story of God collectively.
The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of the union with Christ which ALL of us share, together. We “discern the body” when we remember that we share equally in the benefits of Christ’s work. There is no longer any distinction of race or background, no distinguish between rich or poor, man or woman.
So this is a joyous event. Like I said last week, Communion is not meant to be a mournful look inward to think about our own sins (we have the time of Confession for that). Communion is a celebration of the grace that not only I, but that ALL of my brothers and sisters here with me have received.