“When He had said these things, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As He approached Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of the disciples and said, “Go into the village ahead of you. As you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it? ’ say this: ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent left and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the young donkey, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the donkey? ” “The Lord needs it,” they said. Then they brought it to Jesus, and after throwing their robes on the donkey, they helped Jesus get on it. As He was going along, they were spreading their robes on the road. Now He came near the path down the Mount of Olives, and the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen: The King who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven! Some of the Pharisees from the crowd told Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out! ” As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”” (Luke 19:28-44 HCSB)
I’m going to step away from our study in Mark this week and next as we prepare for and remember our Lord’s sacrificial death and as we celebrate and proclaim His resurrection. There are many things that are disputed regarding these events, but one thing that is undisputed is Jesus’ personal innocence and the tragedy of His death. While His death provides for our salvation, He is not crucified for His own sin – for He had none – but He is crucified for the sin of others. For even the Roman procurator Pilate noted, “I find no fault in the man.” Indeed, He wasn’t crucified for His own sin but for the sin of all mankind.
Palm Sunday catapults us into the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, death and glorious resurrection. As we’ve begun to see in our study of Mark, the Pharisees are becoming antagonistic towards Jesus, His disregard for their Sabbath rules and His authoritative teaching. In the Luke passage we are focusing on this week, we see that they are becoming more and more confrontational with Jesus regarding the actions of His disciples and it will all culminate in His arrest, trial and crucifixion. However, before we get there we need to consider the events in this story.
Jesus has returned to Jerusalem and He knows this will be the culmination of everything He has come to accomplish. As He approaches Jerusalem He is very aware of the ancient prophecies surrounding this event. He intentionally goes through Bethphage and Bethany, the home of His close friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and sends two of His disciples ahead to procure access to a young donkey colt. This harkens back to the words of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9 HCSB)
Notice, Jesus tells them to bring the young foal that has never been ridden. When the two men arrive and begin untying the donkey, they are questioned by its owner about their intent. Jesus had instructed them, “If you’re asked why, tell them the Lord needs it” and they are allowed to take it. To be honest, I could just camp out on these words for the rest of our time but I won’t. There are too many other things I want to touch on, but notice closely those words: “the Lord needs it.” Last week, we took an extended look at the practice of fasting and I fear that many of us struggle with the need to fast and similar self-denial concepts. We live in a culture that places extremely strong emphasis on personal identity and self-fulfillment and that puts us at odds with Christian beliefs and practices.
Many of you may be thinking that this trend is epitomized in the current tendency of some to question their biological gender identity and to self-identify as another gender or even no gender. However, that is simply the natural result of many, many decades of elevating ourselves above God. This modern search that seeks to find within ourselves the answer for who or what we are is not new, it is just the latest result in a centuries long process. Man didn’t begin this process in the ‘60s with the sexual revolution. This search began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent convinced Eve to question God. It has certainly ebbed and flowed over those centuries but it has always been a struggle.
So, I’d like to pose two questions to you that may seem similar but have very different implications: 1) Are you willing to let the Lord have whatever you own? 2) Are you willing to include yourself in that list? We often act as if the only thing God requires of us is an occasional hour of worship and a little financial support. In other words, if we show up to church once in a while – like once every month or two or even just Christmas and Easter – and put a few dollars in the offering then we’ve met our obligation, God is satisfied and our salvation is secure. But is that true?
First, let me start by assuring you that your salvation is NEVER based on your performance. If it were, we’d all be lost and headed for hell. Our relationship with God and the resulting salvation and forgiveness He offers are not matters of achievement or performance, thank goodness. John put it this way: “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13 HCSB) Paul says it this way: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 HCSB) God offers Himself in loving relationship to us by His grace and through faith we receive, believe and trust Him. It is not something we earn, it is God’s gift. Not of works, so that no one can boast.
So, our relationship with God is not earned but is received as a gift. As a result, our relationship and subsequent worship are fueled by faith, love and trust. He gave us the freedom to choose whether or not to receive His gift and our response once we receive it by grace through faith is fueled by our love and trust in Him. In other words, your salvation IS NOT the result of your response but your response IS the result of your salvation. Let that one sink in a bit. You can see in this story how Jesus’ disciples responded. The owners of the donkey gave it to Him for His use and those who gathered along the roads and recognized Him as the “King who comes in the name of the Lord” and cried out with praise and worship. While it doesn’t specifically tell us who was among those praising Him, I feel pretty confident in saying that the owner of the donkey was among them.
What’s my point? God wants us much more than He wants our donkeys, but He also wants our donkeys. Why? Because when we truly give ourselves completely to Him then nothing is held back. Everything we are, everything we have and everything we hope to be belongs to Him and is available for His use and we find our true selves in Him. In the Pixar children’s animated movie, Toy Story, the main character is a toy cowboy named Woody who belongs to a little boy named Andy. Woody’s personal identity is entirely wrapped up in the fact that Andy has written his name on the bottom of Woody’s boot. Woody recognizes that his entire existence revolves around the fact that he is Andy’s toy and he struggles when he thinks that is slipping away. One of the struggles our culture faces is that we’ve scrubbed the name of God off of our “boots” or, if you prefer, off of our existence and we wander around searching, wondering why life feels empty and meaningless.
Next, notice that the Pharisees are offended by the disciples response and they want Jesus to silence them. He replies, “…if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!” This appears to be a reference to Habakkuk 2 where those who are guilty are trying to silence the cries against their sin by violently slaughtering the innocent and they’re told: “for the stones will cry out from the wall, and the rafters will answer them from the woodwork… for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:11-14) They can reject God’s authority and righteousness and try to hide their sin with violent means, but God will let even the stones cry out in judgment against them.
People, we need to hear those words. We need to let their authority, their power and truth ring in our ears. The world may try and silence the truth, they may try and hide their sin with violence, they might doubt and question God’s justice but you can’t silence Him. Even if you threaten His children into silence, the rocks themselves will cry out with the glory of the Lord and call for His justice. The Pharisees completely miss the irony of His words as they seek to silence Him and His disciples. They even resort to the very violence Habakkuk cites, but He won’t be silenced. Listen. Listen closely… The cry is building, getting louder and louder: Death couldn’t hold Him. The grave couldn’t contain Him. He’s alive. He IS Risen!
Finally, as Jesus approached Jerusalem He saw the city and began to weep over it. “If you knew this day what would bring peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes… you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Jerusalem literally means the “foundation of peace” or the city of peace. The city of peace was turning its back on the very one who could bring peace. The hope they had sought for so long was standing in their midst and they simply failed to see Him. In just a few short years, there would not be one stone left on top of another as the city would be besieged and laid waste by the Roman armies. A response to their rebellion against God as much as it was a response to their rebellion against Rome.
We need to learn to respond to our city’s rejection of Christ in the same way – with tears and weeping. We tend to want vengeance, but vengeance belongs to our God. Our response should be weeping, weeping like our Lord. Weeping because we can foresee the outcome – destroyed lives and ruined cities. Jerusalem might reject Him but He saw other people who would receive Him, who would believe Him, who would follow Him. Sheep from other pastures who will hear and recognize His voice. We must learn to see them, too.
Perhaps you’ve never known God’s peace. Like the people of Jerusalem, you’ve wanted it, sought it, longed for it but you’ve never known it. You can know God’s peace because it comes by grace, through faith in Jesus. It isn’t something you earn or deserve, it is a gift. Jesus came and brought peace to the people of Jerusalem, but they refused to see it and most of them missed it. You don’t have to be like them. Listen carefully, that’s Jesus weeping over you. He’s calling to you to come, come receive Me, believe Me, trust Me, come walk with Me.
Let God write His name on your heart as you give yourself to Him and walk with Him. It isn’t complicated, but it is hard. Hard because we want to stay in control. Hard because we want to earn it. Hard because we want to deserve it but we can’t. Why? Because we are sinful and self-centered and it takes a transformation from God, a new heart to replace our own sinful, cold, self-centered heart. But with a new heart comes a new love, a love for God. With a new heart comes a new will, a new purpose in Him. When you realize He to give Himself for you, you’re willing to give yourself completely to Him. Come on, let’s walk with Him together….