Sunday, March 28, 2010

Luke 19:28-47

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 "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. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' say, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34 They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 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:
38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 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. 43 The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 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."
45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 "It is written," he said to them," 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

Points of Interest:
• ‘Bethphage and Bethany’—these are the suburbs of Jerusalem. Jesus has finally made it to his destination.

• ‘you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden’—just like the story of Jesus’ birth, the story of his death is dense with allusion to Old Testament prophecy. We find this colt in the prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation
lowly and riding on a donkey
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
During war, a king would ride a horse. The fact that Jesus comes on a donkey symbolizes either that he is coming in peace or that he has already won the war.

• ‘people spread their cloaks on the road’—practically, this would reduce the amount of dust thrown up as they travel over the dirt road. Symbolically, it communicates that even the hooves of Jesus’ donkey are too precious to touch the road. Only the very most wealthy and important people would have carpets. The people make a carpet for Jesus out of their coats, and they even let his donkey walk on it.

• ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’—this is from Psalm 118 (verse 26). They are welcoming Jesus as God’s representative. In fact, caught up in the exuberance of the moment, they may be calling Jesus God himself:
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever (Psalm 118:28-29).

• ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’—this is not just a great day for Jerusalem. It has heavenly significance.

• ‘rebuke your disciples!’—the disciples are either welcoming Jesus as a conquering hero (which would be unpopular with the Romans) or worshipping him (which would be blasphemous in the eyes of the Pharisees). It’s inappropriate and should be stopped—unless Jesus is a conquering hero, God, or both. Jesus responds that to stop the disciples would do no good. This is a situation that so much calls for praise that if the disciples were to be quiet, inanimate objects would start to speak.

• ‘he wept over it’—Jesus is about to be killed in Jerusalem, but he looks on Jerusalem with pity and compassion, rather than anger. His mind isn’t on his own death, but on the destruction of Jerusalem, which he foresees. Jerusalem will be destroyed in a war between the Jews and the Romans in 70 AD—about 40 years after Jesus’ death, and maybe 10 years after Luke’s writing. We’ll talk more about the impending destruction of Jerusalem next week.

• 'My house will be a house of prayer'—Jesus refers here to Isaiah 56:7: ‘for my house will be called/a house of prayer for all nations.’ What Jesus expects to see when he gets to the temple is prayer, but instead he finds shopping. The temple was always intended to be a place where people from all around the world would come to find God and have their prayers answered (2 Chronicles 6:32-34), but it’s fallen far short of its promise. The temple was a series of ever smaller and more restrictive courts; the largest court was the Court of the Nations, where all people were welcome; inside of that was the Court of Women, where all Jews were welcome; inside of that was the Court of Israel, for Jewish men; and inside of that were the Holy Place and the Holiest Place, where only priests could go. These merchants probably set up shop in the Court of Nations, meaning that the only place non-Jews were allowed to go had basically become a store instead of a place of worship.
Not only were non-Jews being robbed of a place to pray, but Jews were being robbed of money. What was being sold in the temple courts were animals for temple sacrifices. This started as a service to people who had traveled from far away, to make it easier for them to make their sacrifices. But the temple merchants were given monopolies, and thus charged exorbitant prices, sort of like for hot dogs at the ballpark. Thus, what was meant to be a house of prayer had become ‘a den of robbers’ (another quote from a prophet, Jeremiah 7:11).

• ‘the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people’—we’ve seen the teachers of the law before, but the chief priests are fairly new to our story. The chief priests are in charge of the temple, as the teachers of the law are in charge of the synagogues. Thus, between them, they control the two major institutions of Jewish society and religion. We’ve seen already the numerous run-ins between Jesus and the teachers over how to interpret the Law. Now, he has stepped on the toes—and cut into the profits—of the chief priests by driving the merchants out of the temple. So, the chief priests and the teachers join together to try to get rid of Jesus. For the time being, though, they’re daunted by Jesus’ overwhelming popularity.

Taking it home:
For you and your family: Today, for Palm Sunday (John mentions that the crowds wave palm branches as they sing), push the limits of the exuberance of your worship. Particularly if you tend to be a bit more staid, step out and do something that might make someone say, ‘That’s a little much, isn’t it?’

For your friends: Pray that your friends would find a hospitable place to meet with God. Consider inviting them to church for Easter Sunday, and pray that they would accept the invitation. Pray that, if they do come, our church would be a place where they feel like they belong and where they are able to connect with God.

For our city: Today begins Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Ask God that during this week, there would be a buzz about Jesus in our city. Pray that the usual greater attention Jesus gets would create opportunities for more people to hear his words and be drawn to him.