The following sermon was preached on Sunday, April 17, 2011, at Curve Baptist Church.
The Rightful, Rejected, Returning King Luke 19:28-44
The Rightful, Rejected, Returning King
April 17, 2011
In ancient Rome, the shallow, reddish-colored Rubicon River served as an important boundary between the northern territory of the Empire and “Italy proper.” Roman law held that any governor-general from an outer territory who entered Italy proper automatically forfeited his right to legally command his army. Any general entering Italy still in command of his troops automatically became an outlaw, punishable by death, because he was declaring war on the Empire. The general Julius Caesar knew all of this. And in 49 B.C., on January 10, he deliberately broke this law by leading a legion south over the Rubicon River into Italy. He went onto Rome, where he would overthrow the existing emperor and cease power. Ever since this dramatic event, the phrase, “crossing the Rubicon” has meant to cross a point of no return; to commit yourself irreversibly to a risky course of action. Before crossing, Julius was heard to say, “the die is cast;” there would be no turning back.
We read today of a far more dramatic entry today. In a sense, the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem is what the Gospel of Luke has been all about. Back in Luke 9:51, we read “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” From that moment on, Jesus’ has been determined – we might almost say ‘obsessed’ – with pressing onto Jerusalem. Repeatedly, we are told that he is “on the way” to Jerusalem, getting closer and closer with each new city or village he reaches, as the suspense builds and builds. Now, as the Passover celebration begins, Jesus arrives at the outskirts of Jerusalem. Why has reaching Jerusalem been so important to Jesus? Because again and again, Jesus has told his disciples that it is here he will be crucified and raised from the dead according to the Scriptures. One commentator called Jerusalem, “the city of his destiny.” He is crossing the Rubicon.
But not everyone understands that on this day. This is why, just before, Jesus tells a parable to helps us understand what is going on when he enters. Luke says he tells this parable because he is about to enter Jerusalem, and because many expect the Kingdom to appear immediately. The people with Jesus expect him to march into Jerusalem and establish the Kingdom of God right then through military force. So Jesus tells about a nobleman who goes away into a far country to receive a kingdom. This nobleman has enemies who oppose him, saying, “This man will not reign over us.” He also has servants he entrusts with jobs while he is away. When the nobleman returns, he rewards his faithful servants and punishes his enemies. Jesus is that nobleman: he has received a kingdom by his Father, but he will not establish it immediately. He will instead go away for a time after his resurrection. But Jesus will return with authority, calling all men to account for how they responded to him in his absence, rewarding his faithful servants and punishing his enemies.
Jesus wants us to have this parable in mind as we read of his entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is entering Jerusalem as a King . . . But not the kind of king that most people expect. What kind of king is Jesus? Our text reveals his kingship from three angles.
Jesus is the Rightful King (28-38)
Jesus and his disciples are not the only ones entering Jerusalem on this day; thousands of people would also be entering the city to celebrate the Passover. But notice that Jesus does not walk right into the city like everyone else would be doing. Instead, he stops about 2 miles out, in the little villages of Bethany and Bethpage. He then sends two of his disciples into one of the villages, where they will find a colt that has never been ridden, tied up. They are to take that colt, and if questioned, are simply to say, “The Lord has need of it.” The disciples go, and, sure enough, the scene plays out exactly as he said. Many see this as miraculous foreknowledge by Jesus. This is certainly possible. But it seems more likely, as the story unfolds, that Jesus had arranged this ahead of time with the colt’s owners. They are likely Jesus’ followers, willing to hand over all they have to the Lord’s use.
I say this is more likely, because it fits with the very deliberate way Jesus enters Jerusalem. The very fact that Jesus rides into Jerusalem for Passover would have set him apart from the other pilgrims, who would have dismounted and walked as they drew near. And here, Jesus has ensured that it will be an unridden colt that he rides. Why does Jesus deliberately enter Jerusalem this way? Like Julius crossing the Rubicon, Jesus is making an announcement, an audacious claim, tied to that OT passage Zech 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.” This prophecy, written 500 years earlier, spoke of the day when the righteous Messiah-King sent from God would ride into Jerusalem, to rescue God’s people from their enemies. He would not ride in on a warhorse, but a humble colt, coming to establish peace. And when this King arrived, Jerusalem should respond with shouts of rejoicing. By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus is making the unmistakable announcement that he is that King. We see this in the way his disciples “set him” on the colt, as Solomon’s subjects did for him in 1 K 1:33 when he was crowned, and as they spread cloaks on the road before him, as was done for Jehu when he was crowned in 2 K 9:13. There is no mistaking this announcement: the rightful King has arrived.
Think how electric this moment was for the disciples! It has been hundreds of years since a son of David has reigned in Jerusalem. They have lived all their lives in the shadow of that Roman eagle, under wicked appointed governors like Herod. But now, they find themselves caught up in the fulfillment of God’s promises, marching alongside the Messiah himself up to Jerusalem, where they expect him to lay claim to the throne. Caught up in the swell of excitement, they rejoice and praise God in a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen God do through Jesus. They take on their lips the words of Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he comes in the name of the LORD!” In Psalm 118, the priests spoke those words king of Israel as he lead God’s people into the Temple to give thanks to God for a great victory. Jewish tradition at this time taught that these words would be spoken again when the Messiah-King was enthroned: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” They echo the angels at the birth of this king: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Jesus’ disciples are absolutely right to proclaim him as the rightful King. But as we’re going to see, they do not yet fully understand what kind of king he is. They do not realize that the unridden colt, the kind of pure, untarnished animal that was offered up as a sacrifice for sin in the worship of Israel, points to the kind of King he has come to be: a pure and spotless King who will humbly bow his head as a sacrifice on behalf of his sin-stained followers so that they can enter his Kingdom with joy. But that leads us to the second angle of Jesus’ kingship that Luke shows us here . . .
Jesus is the Rejected King (39-40)
When I was young, my parents took my brother and me to Shiloh, TN, where a great Civil War battle was fought. I remember not being all that excited about it: it just seemed like another park, or wooded area, and I was soon ready to leave. But since then, I have become an enthusiastic reader about the Civil War, and would now be fascinated to wander around that battlefield for an afternoon. Knowing the background to an event or a place makes all the difference in your appreciation of it.
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem as he does, who should be most excited about it? Who should appreciate the drama and the glory of this moment more than anyone else in the world? Without question, it is the Pharisees who have spent their lives studying the OT, who knew Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118 by heart. They should be more joyful than anyone as this scene unfolds before their eyes. Instead, they call out angrily to Jesus, “Teacher!” Notice in a passage where everyone else calls him “Lord” or “King,” they merely call Jesus, “Teacher.” And they order Jesus he teacher to silence these praises. “Teacher! Rebuke your disciples!” The Pharisees are enraged that Jesus is receiving this kind of attention, and they demand he put a stop to it.
Now, by this point in the story, we halfway expect Jesus to comply with them. How many times has Jesus silenced people who want to announce him as Messiah? Have you ever wondered why Jesus tries to “hush up” people who want to tell about him? It’s because those people don’t understood what kind of Messiah, what kind of King, Jesus came to be. They expect him to march straight into Jerusalem, run out the Romans, and set up a political kingdom. Jesus did come to be King, but they don’t understand that before he receives the crown, he must go to the cross. This king has come to “to give his life as a ransom” for his rebellious subjects. So Jesus has kept his identity as Messiah quiet until this moment. But now, as he rides into meet his destiny, Jesus does not restrain the shouts. Instead, he looks down at these red-faced Pharisees and says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The psalms say that when Messiah comes, even the creation will rejoice. And even if Jesus’ disciples did not praise him, the very gravel beneath his feet would hail him as the rightful king. But though the stones know the true king, these Pharisees don’t.
This event in Jesus’ life is often called “The Triumphal Entry,” as the ESV has it. But what we see here is that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is not triumphant at all. Jerusalem does not rejoice at the arrival of her long-awaited King. It is the disciples of Jesus from Galilee who celebrate his arrival by waving palms and singing praise. The Pharisees represent Jerusalem’s response to Jesus: they reject the rightful king. Like the nobleman’s enemies in the parable, they protest his coming, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us!” As John writes, “He came unto his own, and his own people received him not (Jn 1:11).” This is why in a few verses, Jesus weeps over the spiritual blindness of Jerusalem. Jesus enters Jerusalem as a rejected king.
This rejection on Sunday is, of course, just a preview of the ultimate rejection Jesus will receive that Friday. One of his closest friends will betray him; the religious officials will condemn him on false charges in an illegal midnight trial; they will hand him over to pagan authorities who offer to release him, but the people of Jerusalem ask instead for a terrorist named Barrabas, and scream for Jesus to be crucified; Jesus will then be lead outside the city walls of Jerusalem to a place called the Skull, where he is crucified between two thieves, mocked and reviled by everyone who passes by. There has never been a rejection like the one he will receive. But as Jesus hangs on the cross, the sign placed above his head in mockery will actually proclaim the truth: “This is the King of the Jews (23:38).”
Why? Why is the rightful King rejected like this? Some have taught that this takes Jesus off-guard, that he expected to be received, but then God scrambles around to make the best of the cross. “Plan B.” But in fact, Jesus has been moving toward this moment throughout the Gospel of Luke. Since 9:51, Jesus has “set his face toward Jerusalem;” three times he has told his disciples he goes there to be crucified, that the Scriptures may be fulfilled. And it goes back further than this: Peter calls Jesus the “Lamb slain before the foundations of the earth.” It has been God’s sovereign plan from before time began that his Son would redeem sinners through his sin-bearing death on the cross. There, Jesus will experience the most awful rejection of all: clothed in our sin, Jesus will be rejected and forsaken by his Father, bearing his judgment, so that for all eternity, sinners who trust in him can be accepted, received, and cherished by the Father. Jesus knows every bit of this on this day: and yet he rides unflinching into the rejection of the cross. He rides to be the rejected King.
Jesus is the Returning King (41-44)
Then, Jesus tops the crest of a hill, and the city itself comes into view. The disciples would probably have let out a cheer when they saw the magnificent temple, the city of Zion they had heard and sung about all their lives. But when Jesus sees Jerusalem, he weeps. He says, “Would that you, even you, knew on this day the things that make for peace! But even now they are hidden from your eyes.” The word Jerusalem means, “city of peace,” but on the day when the true Prince of Peace rides into her midst, she does not know him. Jerusalem is blinded to her rightful king, and the things that make for peace. Jesus isn’t the first to mourn over Jerusalem’s spiritual darkness. Jesus stands at the head of a long line of prophets, particularly Jeremiah, who wept over the sin of this city and prophesied her judgment. That’s why Jesus said back in Luke 13:33-34, “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Jesus weeps over sin-hardened Jerusalem.
And then, he prophesies the consequences of her rejection of the true King, in v43-44. He is looking 40 years into the future, in 70 AD, when the city of Jerusalem will fall to a violent, bloody siege by the Rome. Not one stone will be left upon another. These are the tragic results of rejecting the rightful king. History books like Josephus record that this happened exactly as Jesus said, vindicating him as a true prophet.
But this is not the last time Jerusalem will see this king. Just as the nobleman in the parable went away to receive the kingdom and returned with the authority to judge, so Jesus after his resurrection will go away into Heaven for a time, where he is now. But he, too, will return in authority, in majesty, and in judgment. Turn with me to the true “Triumphal Entry of Jesus,” Revelation 19:11-16.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus said back in that passage in Luke 13:35, “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In other words, you will one day recognize me as king with the Messianic greeting. But that did not happen on Palm Sunday; Jerusalem does not join his disciples in greeting him as king. Jesus was looking ahead to the day of his glorious return. On that day, he will not ride in on a colt, but on a white horse. On that day, it won’t just be a handful of his followers recognizing him as king, but every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Pharisees can’t see the glory of this king on this day. Many can’t see the glory of Jesus when they meet him today. But they will. Everyone will.
The question that God’s Word is driving each of us to on this Palm Sunday is: how have you responded to this King?
Do you receive and obey his Kingly commands and instructions as the disciples did, whatever that may be, submitting all you are and all you have to him? Or like the Pharisees, do you clench your teeth and in your heart say, “This man will not reign over me. I will be my own king.”
Do you honor him with the joyful worship of your heart, praising God that he has brought you under the authority of a king like him? Or is your greatest joy found somewhere else besides him?
Do you live your life in light of his glorious return, when he will call for an accounting from his servants? Or like the third servant in the parable, have you convinced yourself that he will never return, and you will never stand before him?
Most importantly, have you seen the glory of a King who would bear the rejection of his own rebellious people, so that we can be accepted by God? Have your heart been captured by the grace of a King who lays down his life to take away all the sins of his subjects? Have you repented of your sin against him, and trusted him for salvation?
He calls you to come to him today, humble and mounted on a colt, riding in to make peace by the blood of his cross. But if you do not bow to him today, one day you will. Come to Jesus today!