A longing for peace and a struggle for freedom is the history of human existence. To think that we can attain both peace and freedom apart from God by attaining self-autonomy will not produce the goal of either peace or freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in ‘Cost of Discipleship,’ related that “The demand for absolute liberty brings men to the depths of slavery.”[i] The cry and activity that demand absolute liberty does not bring peace but conflict both within the human heart and with those around. There are two aspects of God’s peace. First there is peace with God, whereby a person is reconciled to God through acceptance of God’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf in the person of Jesus Christ. The second aspect is the peace of God. A peace that comes from God that sustains our emotional balance in life’s most unsettling situations.
God’s offer of a peace that passes human understanding brings both freedom and peace within our hearts. However, when the offer is rejected it not only leaves a person empty, confused, and angry, but it also affects God. When peace is offered and is rejected, it affects God on an emotional level.
Ultimately humanity’s angry rebellion moves God to act in such a way that he allows the ultimate consequences of such folly. We see throughout history the story of human rebellion and its consequential suppression of others. So what is the answer where human freedoms are being diminished? Where is our only hope for true freedom? In discussing impending disaster, Jesus tells the disciples that when they see ‘people are in anguish, perplexity, terror and apprehension’, the response of the believer should be different. When Jesus speaks of the ultimate consequences of human rebellion against God and the disasters it creates, it should cause pause in our hearts as believers. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to lift their heads [be encouraged] because their redemption was drawing near (cf. Luke 21:28). We are living in a moment where we see much that could dismay our hearts, but as we embrace a Divine perspective may we respond with hope for the future and not despair. May we realize that what is happening to our world has not taken God unaware. Even when we may feel powerless in our current situations, may we embrace the hope that God is working out his ultimate plan.
What we think, may not be what God intends. We often get the narrative wrong in our lives. In the moment of difficulty, what we think may only be fully understood in hindsight. Often our disappointments that lead to disillusionment can occur because we have the wrong perspective and understanding of what God is doing in our lives at a precise moment.
In Luke’s gospel, Palm Sunday needs to be understood in light of the parable that Jesus told regarding the misconception that the people had regarding the Messianic expectation that his kingdom was going to be fully realized then. Jesus realized that the nation was blinded to the reality of what needed to transpire in order for the kingdom of God to actually defeat the greater threat, greater than even the reign of the totalitarian regime of Rome. Jesus came to defeat the powers of darkness, which were manifested through sin and death affecting all humanity for all time. As the king of peace, Jesus was coming to the city of peace, and was prepared to defeat the power of darkness, not through human conflict but rather through surrender to the eternal plan of God. God’s plan in Christ was to bring peace and freedom for all generations and all nations. On Palm Sunday we find three distinct movements to the drama.
THE FIRST MOVEMENT ON PALM SUNDAY IS THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF JESUS AS THE KING OF PEACE
Jesus’ actions are both prophetic and illustrative of who he is. The disciples are excited as Jesus is announcing that he is the king the scriptures foretold. Yet, Jesus is also making clear to them that their current expectation of a physical kingdom is not about to transpire. Jesus tells them a parable in order to prepare them.
While they were listening to this, [Jesus explaining his purpose in coming which was to seek and save that which was lost cf. 19:10] he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.[ii]
Jesus tells the parable about the ten minas, which is really the commissioning of using the gifts and resources that God has given to us to faithfully invest it into seeing God’s kingdom ultimately come, but the parable reminds the listener that this will be after a delay. Jesus came to inaugurate a spiritual kingdom. Whenever the church loses sight of this, it ends up addressing the political and material issues of life in the wrong spirit and manner. Often, the church loses sight of its mission in this world, which is to help others find and experience the life that Jesus offers. We end up rejecting Jesus’ offer of peace and forgiveness and instead experience brokenness, judgment, and destruction. The parable of the minas ends with this summary statement of the returning king who has been rejected and as a result judgment becomes the final outcome: “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me (Luke 19:27).” The movement of the text then immediately brings us to the city of Jerusalem where we have the story of Palm Sunday and the offer of peace that Jesus is making, but he realizes he is about to be rejected.
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them,
Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.[iii]
Jesus was about to fulfill the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” There is in the story a sense of the prescience of Jesus in the acquiring of the colt for this particular moment.
If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them.
As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them,’ Why are you untying the colt?’
They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’[iv]
Upon bringing the colt back to Jesus, the disciples do something that is significant. “They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it (Luke 19:35).” This was an act of worship. They recognized that Jesus was acting upon the Zechariah passage. Marvin Pate states: “…the disciples’ action was tantamount to proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah King.”[v]
Now as they are moving toward Jerusalem there is the marvelous declaration of who Jesus is. He is their king. Then we have the very familiar story of the disciples here in Luke’s rendition rejoicing and stating rightly that Jesus is the King, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
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![vi]
It is interesting the Luke records that there is no mention of peace on earth as is earlier recorded in Luke’s birth account of Jesus. As we are about to see, this peace is rejected.
THE SECOND MOVEMENT ON PALM SUNDAY IS THE REJECTION OF JESUS AS THE KING OF PEACE
While the disciples are rejoicing and embracing Jesus, there is a more somber and sinister mood lying just underneath. A deeper current of hostility from the population of the city and region of Judea. What happens next according to Luke’s gospel, and is not mentioned in the other accounts is Jesus’ response, as he is approaching the city. While the followers of Jesus are rejoicing and the moment is filled with joyous anticipation of this Messianic hope, the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples! (Luke 19:39).’ This remark is reflective of the overall rejection of the nation to the ministry of Jesus. We know from John’s gospel that a confrontation was about to occur. After the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, there was great consternation among some of the leaders.
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many signs.
If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up. ‘You know nothing at all!
You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea.[vii]
This is the background of Palm Sunday. Jesus realizes that he is, in essence, a wanted fugitive. However, he comes to the city to announce through action who he is. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ criticism is instructive and significant: “‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40).’” Howard Marshall points out four possible meanings of this statement of Jesus.
1. It is not more possible for the disciples to keep silent than it is for stones to speak.
2. If the disciples keep silent, the stones will be forced to proclaim the mighty acts of God instead of them…
3. …the stones could cry out against those who do evil. This may be taken to refer to the stones crying out against the disciples who would sin by keeping silent.
4. The stones crying out against the people who rejected Jesus and silenced the disciples (the reference is not to the stones speaking, but to the testimony of their being overthrown in A.D. 70).[viii]
N.T. scholar, Marvin Pate, believes that the fourth idea is what is meant here. “It seems that the fourth view is what was intended by Luke, especially in light of the verses that immediately follow, vv. 41-44.”[ix] The stones will be in essence crying out as the city is being destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and they are being cast down from the temple mount.
THE THIRD MOVEMENT ON PALM SUNDAY IS THE CONSEQUENCES OF REJECTING JESUS AS THE KING OF PEACE
What happens when people reject Jesus’ offer of peace? We will see what happens here in the narrative, but what happens when we personally make a rejection of his offer of peace that his salvation brings? Or as believers when we reject the promise of his peace as in Philippians 4 when we are battling anxiety? Despair prevails, which leads to many other significant problems. When we reject the offer of Jesus, we are left alienated from the Father. The consequences of that divorce from God is loneliness, pain, distress, despair, and darkness. Forgiveness is rejected and sin works its destructiveness in our lives.
There is a powerful irony as Jesus enters the city. What seems to the multitudes of a triumphal entrance is a source of intense grief for Jesus. While his disciples are rejoicing, Jesus is lamenting and weeping. This is a stark contrast. Why? Because Jesus realizes what is actually happening. He sees beyond this amazing moment. Their perspectives are different than his. This is often true in our own lives as we see and hear what we want to see and believe. We also miss some very important warnings along the way, to which we often suffer for.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes.
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.
They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.[x]
The Jewish historian of the 1st Century, Flavius Josephus’ in his work, ‘The Jewish War,’ describes what happened to Jerusalem as an eyewitness.
Caesar ordered the whole city and the temple to be razed to the ground, leaving only the loftiest of the towers, Phasael, Hippicus, and the Mariamme, and the portion of the wall enclosing the city on the west: the latter as an encampment for the garrison that was to remain, and the towers to indicate to posterity the nature of the city and of the strong defenses which had yet yielded to Roman prowess. All the rest of the wall encompassing the city was so completely levelled to the ground as to leave future visitors to the spot no ground for believing that it had ever been inhabited. Such was the end to which the frenzy of revolutionaries brought Jerusalem, that splendid city of world-wide renown.[xi]
What is historically significant is that the only people spared this destruction were the Jewish followers of Jesus who remembered Jesus’ warning and fled to Pella and thereby were spared. Their belief in Jesus and his words are important to us as we also want to hear Jesus’ instructions to us in our time. Rejection of Jesus and his words, leave us facing future destruction. It is for this reason that Jesus is seen weeping. He was seeing all that they were forfeiting. His offer of peace now rejected was about to lead to incredible devastation and destruction. What is true of a city is also true in our personal lives. I even see this in the lives of non-believers who reject the gospel and forfeit the blessings that God wants to give. I also see this in the lives of believers, who in various contexts and situations are rejecting Jesus in their trials. Rather than living in peace, they are filled with apprehension, fear, and anxiety. Fred Craddock relates the significance of what is happening here.
The city is blind to its own need for repentance and forgiveness of sin (the substance of the gospel in Luke-Acts 24:47) and to the fact that in Jesus, God has visited the city with an offer of peace (v. 44). The offer is rejected and Israel chose to take up arms against Rome. Outbreaks of violence occurred intermittently until the open war which brought about the fall of the city and the destruction of the temple in the year 70 C.E.[xii]
Here we see the heart and attitude of God towards human rejection of his offer of grace. God weeps! These verses are a lament, an expression of deep sorrow, as people are rejecting God’s promise of peace and moving toward conflict, which will lead to devastation upon themselves and their children. The Greek word for ‘weep’ here is klaio, which means to weep loudly, wail. The emphasis is on the noise accompanying the weeping. While others were rejoicing, Jesus was loudly weeping over what we knew and could see happening. Jesus sees past this momentary joy to the heart of the people who have rejected him as expressed by the Pharisees’ attitude and rebuke. Jesus’ response is a lament.
A lament is a voice of love and profound caring, of vision of what could have been and of grief over its loss, of tough hope painfully releasing the object of its hope, of personal responsibility and frustration, of sorrow and anger mixed, of accepted loss, but with energy enough to go on.[xiii]
Norval Geldenhuys tragically points out the reality that rejection of God’s love in the person of Christ, leads to judgment.
In Jesus, God has proved once and for all that He is indeed the God of love. He is, however, also the God of holy righteousness, the Almighty who is not mocked. Every nation or person who rejects the opportunity offered by Him to be saved through Christ, will be inexorably visited by His judgment.[xiv]
This is certainly reflected in Psalm 2. This is a word that we need to hear in light of the deep concerns about where our world is at today and the sense that there is a world-wide conspiracy against God and his people. Let me state that the societies of this world that are apart from God and His Messiah will continually be inspired to conspire against God’s purposes. What we need to understand is that all the conspiracies in the world will not negate the plan of God.
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.[xv]
Here we see the cry of unregenerated humanity in rebellion against God’s authority, but God is not overwhelmed. The tragedy is that often believers are distraught when they see these responses and with the tyranny that is imposed on those who are followers of God. In this Psalm we see God’s response to this folly.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.[xvi]
Yet, this is the crux of the story. The Father truly establishes the son, but the extent of this kingdom is not limited to the city of Jerusalem, nor one nation alone.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron, you will dash them to pieces like pottery.
So heed the warning all leaders of the world.
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss [worship] the son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.[xvii]
Here on Palm Sunday, we see the real message that Jesus is trying to convey to the people. Michael Wilcock helps us identify the folly that we all succumb to when we turn solely to the political process as the key to social transformation. What we need to understand is that the real power lies elsewhere. We are tempted to reach for a crown, but the means to arriving there is through a cross.
…Luke is concerned to bring out the real meaning of this kingdom. He turns his readers’ eyes away from the ultimate glory to the suffering without which that glory will never be attained, the kingdom centres on the cross. He turns our attention away from political transformation of society to the spiritual transformation of the soul, which must precede it; the kingdom must first come to the human heart. He conditions us to think in terms not of immediate success and quick returns, but of long delay and protracted struggle; the kingdom must grow throughout its Kings’ extended absence.[xviii]
What is he saying? That true social transformation must first come through the work of God’s spirit changing the human heart. It must come from the inside, out. The deepest need for our nation and the nations of the world is spiritual in nature. Only then will we see true transformation in society. It begins in each heart.
Jesus comes to offer and secure peace for us through his amazing sacrifice on our behalf. To reject God’s offer of love and forgiveness leaves us left in the struggle and bondage of our sins. The ultimate consequence is that we try and flee from God.
So the candidate has entered the city. His supporters have acknowledged his role. But opposition stands in the way. A divided Israel receives the king into its capital, just as humanity is divided over Jesus today. If one listens to Jesus and to the creation, Luke says, it is obvious who is on the side of truth and right.[xix]
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer in ‘Cost of Discipleship, (Magnolia, MA: Peter Smith, 1983), as quoted by Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 106.
[ii] Luke 19:11, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Luke 19:28-30.
[iv] Luke 19:31-34.
[v] C. Marvin Pate, Luke: Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 364.
[vi] Luke 19:36-38.
[vii] John 11:47-54.
[viii] I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, TNIGTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 716 as quoted by C. Marvin Pate, Luke: Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 366.
[ix] C. Marvin Pate, Luke, 366.
[x] Luke 19:41-44.
[xi] Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, 7.1 as quoted by C. Marvin Pate, Luke, 367-68.
[xii] Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation A Bible Commentary For Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 228.
[xiii] Ibid, 229.
[xiv] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel Of Luke, The New International Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1993), 482.
[xv] Psalm 2:1-3.
[xvi] Psalm 2:4-6.
[xvii] Psalms 2:8-12.
[xviii] Michael Wilcock, Savior Of The World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel, The Bible Speaks Today, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 176.
[xix] Bock, D. L. Luke, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).