Luke 19:35-40 “They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’
We have been looking at the life of Jesus and its climax is his trial, death and resurrection around Jerusalem. In the passage of Scripture before us today we finally see the Lord Christ entering Jerusalem four or five days before his crucifixion. Our Lord sent two of his disciples into Bethphage where they took the colt of a donkey and the donkey itself and brought it to their Master. It was by this mode of transport he had decided he was going to enter Jerusalem, on the back of a young donkey that had never been ridden before. The donkey would not have been fully grown, but strong enough to bear him, and by our assessment the Lord was not a tall man. So here is this spectacle of Jesus riding on the back of a little donkey through the city gates and into Jerusalem. That was the perfect way; so Jesus had decided.
So if Jesus our Lord decided to make a public entry into our town then we who followed him would have to watch carefully how he entered the town, and we would want to be like him in his attire, not wear our wedding clothes that would humble him if he decided to come in his working clothes. We would not go to the local livery stables and order fine stallions and mares if he chose to ride into the town on a donkey. He would dictate to us how we should appear to the citizens of our town as his followers. He always does that. There can be nothing triumphalistic or splashy or intimidating about us if we are following the example of the Lord Jesus. That is why this entry is important to the church
1. JESUS’ ENTRY COMPARED TO PAGAN TRIUMPHANT ENTRIES.
We mustn’t think that just the poorest classes of society would be the people travelling on donkeys, the peasants and artisans. In the East the donkey was considered a noble animal. Jair, the Judge, had thirty sons who rode on asses’ colts (Judges 10:4). Mephibosheth, the royal prince, the son of Saul, came to David riding upon a donkey (2 Samuel 19:26). The good Samaritan who had money to pay for a wounded man to stay in an inn possessed his own donkey. The point of Jesus choosing to ride on a donkey into Jerusalem was not to emphasise his poverty, though we know that he had nowhere to lay his head. It was rather different; a king would come into a city riding upon a horse when he was bent on conquest, but he would come riding on a mule when he was coming in peace. This action of Jesus choosing a young donkey is a sign that he was not the warrior figure men dreamed of, but he was the Prince of Peace.
Let’s look at the most famous example of this in the Old Testament when David proclaimed his son Solomon the king. It possesses many overtones of what Luke records here, and it would be one of the many strands of Messiahship and kingship in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We read that, “Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and put Solomon on King David’s mule and escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him, playing flutes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound” (I Kings 1:38-40).
No doubt there would have been some disappointed disciples who considered Jesus’ choice of a donkey to be a sign of weakness. They would have thought, “These are extreme days . . . violent days . . . days when you answer fire with fire.” There was Passover hysteria and revolution in the air. They were slaves to Rome and they were celebrating their ancient deliverance from Egyptian slavery at the time of the first Passover, now riding into Jerusalem was the long promised Messiah. Most of the people in Jerusalem were looking for a Messiah of their own dreams and of their own wishful thinking. They wanted structural freedom rather than personal deliverance from the law of the spirit of death; above all they wanted political deliverance from Rome. “Look at him,” they sighed, “he’s chosen to ride on a donkey!” It seemed to make him a smaller man than he already was. He was nearer the ground on this little donkey than when he stood erect.
What a contrast the sight of a victorious Roman general returning to Rome to meet his Emperor riding the tallest, proudest stallion. He would receive an official ‘triumph’ parade. Only those could be eligible for this who’d won a campaign in which 5000 of the enemy had been killed; the unfortunate commander who had also won but with less slaughter received merely an ovation. For him they wouldn’t sacrifice an ox, just a sheep. So the conqueror’s triumphant procession would assembly in a carefully planned order outside the city, but before they entered the city gates all the troops were required to lay down their arms. Then they entered through a specially erected triumphal arch. Trumpeters led the march; after them came towers on wheels or floats representing the captured cities. There were mobile murals which showed the exploits of the victors. Wagons rumbled by, heavy with gold, silver, works of art, and other spoils. The entry of a certain general named Marcellus in 212 was memorable for hundreds of carts carrying all the statues that he’d stolen from Syracuse. Another general named Scipio Africanus in the year 202 paraded before the people of Rome tons of silver that he had taken from Spain and Carthage. Seventy white oxen followed the silver carts, walking to their death; then came the captured chiefs of the enemy; and then came harpists, and pipers, and incense-bearers.
Then, in a flamboyant chariot, would come the general himself, wearing a purple toga and a crown of gold, and bearing an ivory sceptre and a laurel branch as emblems of victory. In the chariot with him might be his children; beside it rode his relatives; behind them were his secretaries and aides. Last of all came the soldiers, some carrying the prizes awarded them, every one wearing a crown. The general would mount the Capitol to the Temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. He laid his loot at the feet of the gods, presented an animal in sacrifice, and usually ordered the captive chieftains to be slain as an additional thank-offering. It was a display of military might. “We are great! No one can match our fire power. Let all the earth tremble at the glories of Rome!” Such choreographed entries into the city were utterly militaristic. They were designed to glorify military conquest. Flowers would be thrown over the road along which the leaders came. When Alexander entered Babylon it was on a road covered with tons of flowers. When Xerxes crossed the bridge of Hellespont it was covered in its entire length with myrtles. When the hearse carrying the coffin of Lady Diana to her final resting place was driven slowly through the streets of London people threw flowers on the road before the procession.
But look at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. There were no hired mobs like those intimidated to get out and line the streets and behave appropriately, maybe weeping and wailing, as they did in North Korea some months ago at the news that their dictator had died. There was no rentamob to applaud Jesus; no gold-braided banners waved in his honour. Roman soldiers policing the Passover must have been incredulous, laughing at the sight of one man on a little donkey entering the city through cheering crowds. They must have mocked this entry of the Jewish King. How backward! What a gang of peasants! It was all so amateur . . . so unsophisticated! They must have thought the whole spectacle was pathetic. This so-called ‘King Jesus’ of theirs wouldn’t last long! Jesus knew there would be such a reaction, yet he chose deliberately to reject a war horse, that symbol of arrogant trust in the power of man. The colt of a donkey would be his mode of entry.
We claim as Christians that it was the incarnate Creator of the universe, the God who on the sixth day created donkeys, who was riding on this mule into Jerusalem. This is how God is! There were spontaneous cries from the common people especially excited children welcoming Jesus. This entry of Christ into the city of Jerusalem was a sign of the nature of his kingdom, that it is not of this world. I wish that every Muslim in the whole world would read of the way that Jesus, the King of kings, entered Jerusalem. You remember the apostle Paul describing to the Corinthians our warfare, “Some people think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cors. 10-4). The Prince of Peace entered the city of David while riding upon a little donkey, not on a war-horse, and that tells us about the nature of true blessedness, that it is being poor in spirit, and being meek, and pure in heart and being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. It tells us about our worship, that it is accessible and modest and encourages the graces of love, joy and peace. It shows us the true and real Lord whose name is above every other name. This is God! And this is what Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
2. THE MESSIANIC ENTRY AS PREDICTED BY THE PROPHETS.
It is Matthew who in his gospel refers back to the Old Testament Scriptures; “This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet” (Matt. 21:4). Then he quotes from one of the minor prophets whose book we don’t read as often as we should, Zechariah. You see the total trust Jesus’ apostles had in the Old Testament? This event did not take place by chance or man’s choice. It was a planned and predicted event. This world operates by the purposes of the living God. Zechariah had actually prophesied that when the Mesiah came to Jerusalem he would come riding on a donkey: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Here is a fulfillment of Scripture. In other words the Scriptures are another proof of Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. The Scripture reveals who Jesus is, that is, through the Bible we change our thinking about his identity and we understand him as he wants to be understood. Our Lord wants to define himself to us. He doesn’t want theologians and philosophers and preachers to define him for us. He defines himself for us and we accept his claims. What Scripture says about Jesus Christ is what he is and no one else.
Notice a number of things in Zechariah’s prophecy, how he speaks of the moral qualities of this leader. Of how few Roman generals could you say he was ‘righteous,’ and ‘gentle’ and ‘having salvation’! Their armies had had to kill 5,000 mothers’ sons in order for them to get a parade. They were the incarnation of merciless destruction, petty despots, whereas Jesus was going to lay down his own life that our lives might be spared. Then notice the phrases ‘daughter of Zion’ and ‘daughter of Jerusalem’; the city is personified as a woman – like we call our country our ‘motherland.’ Then you also meet here the word ‘Zion.’ ‘Zion’ is a reference to Jerusalem which is often called ‘Zion’ in the Old and New Testaments. Jerusalem is set on a number of hills and the highest and most important of those hills was called ‘Zion.’ “Messiah is coming one day,” said Zechariah to the people of God who had returned home from Babylon, and what a day of rejoicing that will be and so do not despair at the day of small things, and when he comes then don’t hold back! Express your emotions. Rejoice greatly! Shout! because he is coming to you. Tony Blair famously called Lady Diana, ‘the people’s princess,’ and Zechariah is calling Jesus the people’s King for he is coming to them to be their meek and righteous King and he has salvation with him. He does not come to tyrannize them, he comes to set free those captives to sin. That prediction is exactly what happened when the Lord Christ entered the city; God’s own prophetic word was being fulfilled before their eyes. They were on the spot at the fulfillment of prophecy. As Peter said at Pentecost when another prophecy was fulfilled, “This is that!” This is that which the prophet spoke of, and then he quoted Joel, while Luke is quoting Zechariah.
3. THE ENTRY IN THE EYES OF THE POPULATION.
· i] The response of his disciples. The two disciples had brought back the donkey and its colt. Then it was obvious to them why Jesus needed the beast; it was to carry him into the city. They looked at him, and the bare back of the donkey, and then looked back at him. They couldn’t bear the thought of his riding bareback into Jerusalem, no saddle and not even a blanket, and so they paused . . . and then both of them took off their cloaks. They laid them on the back of the colt even though they would smell of donkey for hours afterwards and they would need to wash them clean. Then they helped Jesus up on the back of the colt to sit on their cloaks (v.35). There was no hesitation on their part in encouraging this display of Jesus’ humility – as there would be in four days in the upper room when Peter saw Jesus kneeling down and washing the feet of the disciples one by one and coming nearer and nearer to him. When Jesus got down to wash his feet the humiliation overcame Peter and he stood and remonstrated with Jesus that he was not going to wash his feet. The Lord who had raised Lazarus from the dead, the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, washing his feet? “Never!” Peter did not want a self-humbling ord. He wanted one with style and swagger! But here, the fact of the Son of God, Jehovah Jesus riding a little donkey into the city of Jerusalem, didn’t phase two of the other apostles. They positively encouraged it and even made it possible. They made it easier for him to ride the animal by removing their own clothes for him to sit on. Soon men would tear off Jesus’ cloak and throw dice to see who would get it, but his disciples willingly gave their own clothes to him. Off he went without reins, and without a bridle, no bit and no spurs, into the noise of thousands of people shouting at the top of their voices, riding a young donkey which for the very first time in its life was carrying someone on its back.
ii] The response of the people of Jerusalem. First the men in the crowds, buzzing with excitement about the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, also took their cloaks off, but they spread them in the road, as a Messianic carpet for Jesus to ride over (v.36). Then second, we are also told in the other gospels that the crowds cut branches off trees and spread them in the road. In fact Luke is the only evangelist who is silent about that action. Branches were used in victory parades and maybe their use here showed that there were some who still thought of Jesus as one leading them on to the conquest of Rome. The spreading of the cloaks was a sign of respect for a king. We read in the Old Testament that when Elisha the prophet anointed Jehu as king, the people “hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” The symbolism is clear; you spread your cloak on the road under the king’s feet as indicating you were willing to bow before him and yield your possessions to him. That is what they were saying to Jesus. Then thirdly the people burst into song; “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (vv.37&38).
The whole crowd joins in this chorus of praise. All the narrow streets of Jerusalem echoed to the hymns that the people sang loudly. The first verse came from Psalm 118, that well-known psalm, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” (Psalm 118:24-26) Notice how they had changed this slightly to say, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). They were singing a conqueror’s psalm. When Simon Maccabaeus had conquered Acra and wrested it from Syrian dominion more than a century before this event then he returned to Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome. The city exploded with praise, and this was the psalm that greeted Simon the conqueror as he rode into Jerusalem. Now they sing it again to welcome Jesus the anointed one of God, the Messiah, the Deliverer. To many of them it seemed to be only a matter of time before the trumpets would sound out and the call to arms would ring all over Jerusalem and Galilee and the Jewish nation would rise and be swept to its long delayed victory over Rome and the world. The Messiah would do that, and Jesus entering Jerusalem, and the mob singing this psalm declared their belief in him as the king leading them to triumph.
And the next stanza they sang (v.38) reminds us of the song that the angels sang at Christ’s birth; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). The people on this occasion were singing: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v. 38) Luke tells us especially that they remembered all the miracles they had seen and they joyfully praised God at the top of their voices (v.37). How many of them had friends and family whose lives had been transformed by Jesus Christ, and this was months or even a few years later and they were still well. You must appreciate that here God was honouring his Son. God was putting in their minds and on their lips a mighty chorus of praise to him. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” he was saying and God determined that Jesus would enter Jerusalem to the people’s praise.
I want you to see that the Lord Christ made no attempt whatsoever to silence them. Early on in his ministry many people had begun to say that he was the prophet sent from God, the Messiah, and as a result he abandoned them. They couldn’t find him. You remember the incident? We read this; “they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (Jn. 6:15). But now his need for secrecy was all gone. He didn’t sneak into Jerusalem a little side gate at midnight. Let all Jerusalem know that Jesus was there as the blessed king coming in the name of the Lord. He was not going to deny it. Rather, he intensified their excitement.
Matthew tells us that the whole city was stirred. People like Simeon and Anna rejoiced to see the day. Many of them went home and said, “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Wouldn’t there have been many a housebound man or woman in the back streets of Jerusalem who sat up in bed and murmured their, “Hosannas,” and wished that they could get down into the street that they might throw their old cloaks in the way of that little figure meekly riding on his little donkey? Oh that they might bow before him who is the King of the Jews. There were many weeping eyes in Jerusalem that day, many mourning believers who from that hour rejoiced with joy unspeakable. A great city is a great sin. And every great city needs a very great work of God to be done in its midst. Each city needs a visitation of the King of glory, times of refreshing from his presence, a real stirring. I remember having a small taste of this on Whit Saturday 1955 in Wembley Stadium in London. We had gone in a bus to London to hear Billy Graham preaching there. About 40,000 people had gathered in the old stadium, and Billy preached on the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And many of us were deeply stirred, and on the tube back to the place where the bus was waiting for us we sang and sang, especially the hymn that was so popular then, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.” People got on the tube to enter a carriage full of young people singing, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long” and being alarmed and stirred by what they saw and heard. What will it be like if God comes and blesses us with a major outpouring of his Spirit?
iii] The response of his enemies. The Pharisees were outraged at all they heard and they shouted at Jesus to rebuke his disciples. This is what he said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (v.40). It is a memorable and moving statement. It is saying a number of things:
A] There are occasions which demand doxology. What an impoverish life without praise to the living God. This was one such time when the long-promised Messiah was entering Jerusalem, a historic event, a redemptive historic event, when the prophecy of God made half a millennium earlier was being fulfilled, when the Christ who had humbled himself to do the will of God blamelessly was now facing the cross then what praise should come from every heart and mouth especially from his chosen people. They must praise him. No other response would honour him and the one who sent him but holy delight in the Lord. The hour called for doxology.
B] There are a people on this planet who are best fitted to declare certain truths. I will remind you of these people. I will give you their privileged titles as those bestowed on them by the apostle Peter. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Pet. 2:9). What a status he has given you, the chosen ones of God, royalty has been bestowed upon them, holiness, a people belonging to God for ever, and what is your essential response to these great privileges divinely granted to you? You declare his praises. You say to the watching world, “Do you know what God has done for me? He has called me out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And so when God works in the lives of his people there is proclamation, there is mission, there is boldness, and there is praise. You see all of that in the great evangelical awakening. Charles Wesley sings the praises of him who called him out of darkness into his marvelous light:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye defused a quickening ray; I rose; the dungeon blazed with light.
My chains fell off; my heart was free; I rose went forth and followed Thee.”
Wesley knew the truth. Wesley understood the mighty works of God. Wesley knew what God had done in his Son Jesus Christ and he was set apart by God, and thousands like him to proclaim these great truths.
C] If they refuse to sing God can make the most unlikely creatures praise him. Even stones will cry out, those creatures not designed for this purpose, not particularly prepared for it, will praise God. We are seeing it today. Let me turn it like this. In Wales the denominations largely lost the gospel and it was corrugated iron mission halls who preached the book, the blood and the blessed hope. Areas of the world which have had the gospel for almost two thousand years are today almost mute, Turkey, Greece, Rome, and so God raises up Korea and Zambia and Brazil. You remember John the Baptist preaching to the Pharisees who had come to his baptizing services in the river Jordan. He said to them “And do not think you can say to yourselves,`We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). And that is exactly what God has done. Places which were barren stony deserts as far as Christianity was concerned for 1800 years are now filled with the gospel. The stones are crying out!
Let me turn it like this. There are utterly secular, atheistic commentators on the social and political scene in the western world, journalists and politicians who are approaching life from the narrow, limited view of man, having hearts of stone, who will yet make excellent comments about such things as the horrors of abortion on demand, and the importance of the family, and the value of a day of rest each week. They will disdain sexual promiscuity. They don’t believe in God but they speak wisely on those themes. The leaders of the professing denominations are muddled or silent, chained by political correctness, but God ends the silence. He makes hearts of stone cry out.
Let me also turn it like this. Two Christian men attended a sales meeting and as far as they knew they were the only evangelical believers at the day conference. They did not think that the speaker, an expert in selling, followed the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a meeting to help those attending to sell their different products. However somewhere and somehow the speaker had been exposed to truth. At one place in his talk he said to them, “One of the things you must remember is that if you are going to affect people and lead them in the way you want them to go, you must be their servant. You must serve them. You must meet their need,” and the one Christian turned and whispered to the other, “That’s what the Saviour said. Where did he learn that?” We can do that sort of thing. We must or God will have his truth declared by others with hearts of stone. I am getting letters from a school teacher who on a few days a week speaks to his form in a morning assembly and he is always thinking how he can in a carefully humble-bold way present to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus defended the praise filling the streets of Jerusalem. He told grumbling Pharisees that it was just as impossible for the disciples to keep quiet as it would be for the stones to cry out. The Pharisees wanted the stones to stay where they were but they were coming alive. There was nothing in the Pharisees’ Talmud to tell them what to do when stones cried out, and so they said, “Master, order your disciples to shut up.” But the long-promised Messiah is in the midst of Jerusalem. How can they not rejoice? That is a vision of eternity. How does the book of Revelation end? It ends in singing, a great choir from all the nations of the world and they are praising the Lord Jesus as worthy of eternal song. The book ends with a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and there the very stars in their courses will sing for joy to their Creator. Men and women, our most urgent calling is to listen to the stones. Will we hear them, you and I, hear those who have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light who sing his praise for ever?
11th March 2012 GEOFF THOMAS