This morning Britain is a land full of expectation. In a little under 48 hours, millions will celebrate Christmas. And the promise of gifts, games, peace, goodwill, eating, drinking and general merriment will come to pass. For some the promise will be fulfilled, but sadly not for all. Some will spend this Christmas alone, afraid, abused, left out. And yet despite that tragedy, right now, our land could rightly be described as a land full of hopeful expectation for the 25th December. As we step back into the book of Luke this morning, we need to know that Israel was also a land full of hopeful expectation. She too was waiting expectantly for the fulfilment of a promise, and one that tragically not all would experience.
And to set this up I'd like you to imagine that you are in a village, just outside Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago! You're with your family. A family who has had a promise passed on from generation to generation to generation: one day God will send a King to put everything right, one day a descendant of the famous King David will sit on the throne again, in fact, he will be greater than King David, because one day this King will defeat all of God's enemies. Over the past couple of years, rumours have begun to grow that this long-promised King might actually have arrived. Your family has been following the news with keen interest. This man Jesus, he's been healing the sick, raising the dead and doing all kinds of cool stuff. And now the news breaks that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem passing through your village. The excitement is palpable. The streets are buzzing with anticipation. Could it really be that at long last the promised King is on his way to Jerusalem? Could this really be it – could this be the moment that you take up arms and kick the Romans out of your country? Surely, hopefully, at last, he is the one to lead Israel and re-establish its greatness. There is no way you are going to miss that event. No way on earth. Gathering your friends and family together you set out for Jerusalem. There's no time to lose! People are everywhere. There is that feeling in the air that you only get when a large number are gathered together for the same purpose. Unified. Part of the community. Strong. Unbeatable. And then on the hot, dusty road down from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem comes into view and you catch a glimpse of Jesus. And he is riding on a donkey! The noise is immense: people are shouting, cheering, waving madly and symbolically spreading their cloaks on the dusty road in front of him. You can't help but join in. Convinced now that this is the one! He is here to save you, that he is the Messiah, that he is the fulfilment of all the prophecies you have been learning since you were a child. And so, you join in with the shouts and cheers "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
Never have you been so close to the truth, and yet so far away from it. Because he is a King, indeed he is the promised King, but not in the way you're thinking.
It was a problem then and it is a problem now – people have their own idea of who Jesus is and therefore they misunderstand him completely. From a baby in a manager who never grew up, to a myth, to a good teacher and moral leader, to a madman, from a peaceful inspiration to your higher power – all sorts of misunderstandings abound. Well this morning we walk again with Luke, and we pause, and we take the opportunity to take another look. What does Luke want us to see? I think there are three things. Firstly, this is a moment of great insight. Secondly, this is a moment of serious misunderstanding and thirdly, this is a moment of decision.
So our first observation:
1. A Moment of Great Insight: Jesus Is The Promised King
Take a look again at Luke 19.28: "And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem." It almost sounds like an insignificant aside - but it's loaded with meaning. You see for ages, Luke has been underlining the fact that Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem – and now the story is about to reach its conclusion. It's rather like saying, 'that over 73 years ago Allied forces went up to Berlin'. At the end of WW2 in 1945, the Allies did indeed 'go up' to Berlin. But it was far more symbolic than just getting closer to it – because something huge was about to happen! The Battle of Berlin was about to begin, the war was going to end and a new order of things would be established. So, as Jesus "goes up" to Jerusalem, Luke wants us to see that this scene is laden with significance – something huge/seismic is about to happen. A new order of things is about to be established – the like of which the world had never seen, and which won't be seen in completion until Jesus returns. Let's read on.
"When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 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. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this: 'The Lord has need of it.'"
Then in verses 32,33,34 they do as they had been asked and then in verse 35 they bring the colt to Jesus and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. "And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road." Now Luke doesn't explicitly make the connection to Old Testament prophecy but other gospel writers recording the same event do. This is Zechariah 9 that we heard earlier: "Behold, your king is coming to you; …humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." If Zechariah 9.9 was at your fingertips – like it would have been for any self-respecting first century Jew – the point is hard to miss, isn't it? Jesus is 'staging' his entry to Jerusalem deliberately to fulfil it. He's saying, 'I am the Messiah! I am God's promised King!' And he's not very subtle about it. Now this is interesting because it represents a significant policy shift. You may recall that throughout his earthly ministry Jesus, through his teaching and preaching, had claimed to be God's promised King, but always in a low-key manner, and often accompanied by instructions that those who had benefited from his healing should not tell others what he'd done. Now, the time is right for him to make that claim in a much more unveiled manner - the covers can come off - and the time is right for his identity to be shouted and proclaimed in the city by thousands and thousands of people.
Why now? Well Jesus knew that now, the time of his earthly ministry was drawing to a close. He knew that the hour was fast approaching when he needed to complete the mission he was sent to do – die for our sins on that cross. JC Ryle writes:
"It was not fitting that the Lamb of God should come to be slain on Calvary privately and silently: before the great sacrifice for the sin of the world was offered up, it was right that every eye should be fixed on the victim. It was suitable that the crowning act of our Lord's life should be done with as much notoriety as possible….The atoning blood of the Lamb of God was about to be shed: this deed was not to be 'done in a corner'."
And so, this 550-year-old prophecy comes to pass. What a great reminder two days before Christmas. All too often the world's view of Jesus doesn't get beyond the baby in the manager…yet here we are this morning being reminded of the moment in his life that proclaimed his true identity, Jesus is the promised King. But as well as being a moment of great insight, this was also, secondly,
2. A Moment of Serious Misunderstanding
This is our second observation. Take a look at verse 37:
"As [Jesus] 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..."
Again, this is a fascinating bit of detail here. Luke tells us that it was on their way down the Mount of Olives that they began to rejoice and praise God. Why? Because it was easier than going uphill?! No! Probably because as you descend the Mount of Olives you get your first view of Jerusalem. David's city. The nationalistic fervour increases. Here is the Kingdom's special place and here comes the promised King.
Praise God for all the mighty works the King has done and is about to do! The kingdom is about to be inaugurated. That's what they're thinking. But they're only half right – because they misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom… Jesus' Kingdom is unlike any Kingdom or empire that the world has ever known. And human history has seen many attempts to set up enduring kingdoms, hasn't it? But sooner or later they fail.
Babylonian, Assyrian, Roman, Russian, Mongol, Ottoman, British – at best they've lasted a few hundred years. They begin through conquest, are defined geographically and don't last. All the evidence points to the fact that this is what Jesus followers are thinking about his Kingdom too. But the Kingdom Jesus has been talking about is very different. So different in fact, it's almost the opposite. For a start, it's not brought about through conquest but through peace and humility. Jesus doesn't charge into Jerusalem on a warhorse to fight – but he comes on a donkey to die. This isn't what the Jews expected or wanted. Secondly, Jesus' kingdom is not to be defined geographically but spiritually as God the Holy Spirit does his work of softening hearts throughout the word. Thirdly, as we now can testify – the Kingdom has already lasted 2,000 years and is still going strong. But in addition, Luke has been making clear that the Kingdom of God will be brought about not through one coming, but two. Just think back to the parable that Jesus told immediately before this incident, we looked at two weeks ago. The Parable of the Ten Minas is basically Jesus telling his followers to live faithfully between his first and second coming. A first coming of preparation. Dying so that we could be forgiven into the Kingdom. A second coming when he will wrap up history and the Kingdom will be established in totality.
The crowds though, didn't see it. If they did – they didn't believe it - 'Jesus? Die? You must be confused!' And yet in a matter of days they would face that reality. And the cheering of thousands for Jesus would be replaced by a deafening silence as they were scattered to the four winds. Afraid… confused… disillusioned… in hiding…Their promised King slaughtered by the very ones they thought he would overthrow. Yes, as well as a moment of great insight, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is also a moment of massive misunderstanding. Which all leads to our third and final observation this morning. Luke also shows this as…
3. A Moment of Decision
Because Jesus' riding into Jerusalem claiming to be King demands a response from everyone. Will we accept or reject his claims? Luke appears to give us an example of both.
For all their misunderstanding some seem to
a. Accept Jesus
Take a look at verse 38. Jesus followers actually say: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Even if these guys spoke better than they understood, look at their response! The passion, the devotion these crowds, even with their limited understanding, show to Jesus. They're shouting and cheering and praising God; there's the symbolic act of removing their cloaks and laying them before the King…but look at their words. They are chanting the hope-filled words from Psalm 118 that we read together earlier. Words that originally were used to speak of the King leading pilgrims to the temple are here fulfilled in Jesus. He is the only one who can lead us into the very presence of God! In addition, the crowds chant the Christmassy proclamation of peace and glory? It's an echo actually of what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds following the birth of Jesus in Luke 2.14: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" So that's one response. Accept Jesus. But then there are others that appear to
b. Reject Jesus
Take a look at verse 39: "And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples.'"
Luke doesn't record their specific motivation for this. It might be that they didn't want the hubbub coming to the attention of their rulers. More likely is that they couldn't stand the increasing adulation of Jesus and the implication of what was being said and done. They saw him as a threat. But whatever their motivation. They wanted the whole thing hushed up and to go away. Jesus though is having none of it. And again, underlining that this is a moment of tremendous significance he answered I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out. Implication? Even lifeless creation would recognise who Jesus is given half a chance. So when people cannot, and will not, recognise Jesus – how shocking is that? More, how inexcusable is that?
Which all leads to the obvious application does it not? Are you someone who is accepting Jesus, or rejecting him?
Today many people have inadequate or incomplete responses to the claims of Jesus. Maybe you're still making up your mind about him. Maybe at one time, you thought you accepted him, but now you're not sure and you doubt some of what you once believed to be true. Maybe it's just more convenient for you to think of Jesus as just a good man or a wise teacher. Let me tell you that Jesus doesn't leave that option open to you. He claimed to be far more than that...
- He claimed to live a sinless life (John 8)
- He claimed to be the only way to God (John 14)
- He claimed to be able to forgive sins (Luke 5 & 7)
- He claimed to be a Heavenly King (Luke 22)
- He claimed to be able to give everlasting life (John 6)
- He claimed that he would die and then come back to life (Luke 18)
- He claimed that he would return to judge the world (Matthew 24 & 25)
When you take these claims… when you look at the evidence of what he did… when you marry that with the prophecies that were hundreds of years old… it makes a pretty compelling case that this man was who he said he was. But you see that's not really the problem at all. My friend the problem is not really the evidence, it's your heart! You see our hearts naturally want to reject Jesus and his claims, they want to silence them because to accept them is too demanding.
I've witnessed this very powerfully over the years. Not just in my own life but in friends lives too. Debs and I had some good friends who came along to an Alpha course in a previous church we were in. They did maybe three-quarters of the sessions and all seemed to be going well and then he rang me up. "Jon, we won't be coming tonight. We've loved it. But we feel we're going too far down the road to becoming Christians than we're comfortable with." Or what about one of my best mates from university? We used to chat a lot, he came to church with me a handful of times. "Jon, I understand the claims of Jesus and I believe them, but I don't want to live my life that way." You see the issue of rejection isn't a matter of whether you just agree or even believe – it's a matter of the heart. We don't want him to be King, he makes too many demands, we want to be in charge, because we believe the lie that we know what's best for ourselves. To which Jesus says… 'No, no! You think by rejecting me you will gain life? Come to me, because I am the only way to true life – both here and now, and into eternity.' Maybe this morning, it's time to change. Maybe this morning, it's time to accept Jesus as King.
I suspect most of us here this morning, though, would describe ourselves as people who have accepted Jesus. What does this passage say to us? Well, at the very least, there is the warning to check that we haven't misunderstood what proclaiming 'Jesus as King' really means in our own lives. Are our hearts responding to his authority in all areas or just some? Where in your life do you need to obey?
For some of us, obedience to Jesus as King will mean repentance and asking for a renewed strength to follow him when he says things like:
- Abide in me…listen to me, talk to me – it's a command of the King!
- Love me…love the Lord your God with all your heart, love your neighbour as yourself, love you enemies – self last!
Some of us need to repent and ask for a renewed strength…
- Not to be anxious or to fear…they're commands of the King!
Some of us need to repent of our anger and the consequences of it for those nearest and dearest to us
- Do not be angry and let it lead you into sin…it's a command of the King!
Or maybe for some of us, obedience to Jesus as King will mean repentance and asking for a renewed strength to follow him when he says…
- Store up treasure in heaven, not on earth…give away joyfully what you can and don't store up your money for selfish worthless reasons.
What about the King's command?...
- Don't separate what God has joined together… maybe some of us need to ask for forgiveness and a renewed strength in our marriages or in our singleness.
And for some of us, obedience to Jesus as King will mean repentance and asking for a renewed strength to follow him when he says:
- Let your light shine and make disciples… the king says that whoever is ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of when he comes again in glory.
Obedience is not easy. I've been trying to follow Jesus faithfully for most of my life and there are days I stop and pause and ask myself if I've really made any progress at all. I am really growing in Christlikeness?! Even though I know the power of the living God resides within me there are days, inexplicably, that I find myself looking back at a catalogue of disobedience. And whilst we praise God for his mercy and continue to live and breathe every single day in the grace he provides, we should never take that grace lightly. So let me ask again – where in your life do you need to obey God? I suspect that as the Spirit does his work, you've come up with an answer to that question fairly quickly – be it an attitude, action, word, omission – something needs to change. Where in your life do you need to obey God?
You see, on one level we can say we've accepted Jesus – "blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" we can say or even sing on a Sunday. But, on another level, our actions and hearts we are far from him and we resist and reject his rightful place of authority in our lives. And Jesus says, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do as I say?" To accept Christ as King is to obey him. Not because we have to, to earn our salvation – but because we want to out of deep, humble and sincere gratitude for what Christ did in taking our place on that cross.
So, Luke wants us to see that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that colt,
- it was a moment of great insight,
- a moment of misunderstanding,
- but also a moment of decision.
As it was then, it still is now.