The King Approaches

August 22, 2021 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 19:28–48

The King Approaches

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That was how Luke described things back in chapter 9, as Jesus began his Jerusalem Journey. And today’s passage brings that journey to an end. At long last, Jesus reaches Jerusalem. In the ancient world, you could say that all roads led to Rome, but here in Luke’s Gospel, all roads lead to this point – to Jerusalem and the culmination of God’s plan for his Son. Here we find both the conclusion to Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of his passion. The miracles are now complete, save one – the resurrection of the Son of God. At long last, Jesus reaches Jerusalem.At first glance, we find this passage familiar. Luke narrates what is traditionally called the Triumphal Entry, and this is followed by one of Jesus’ most well-known public acts – the cleansing of the Temple. All of this is the prelude to the passion, which again reminds us that we are familiar with this text. This is the part of the story we know the best.

But friends, that conclusion may overlook the uniqueness of Luke’s presentation. Both Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in similar ways as Luke, but only Luke follows that up with Jesus’ lament for the city. Only Luke puts those two things back-to-back. And that gets to the significance of Luke’s presentation. For Luke, this is as much a tearful entry as it is triumphal. There is as much judgment as there is joy. There is as much reason to be sobered as there is to celebrate. It’s true that these verses are climactic – they bridge Jesus’ ministry and his passion. But that is precisely what Luke setting up. The cross is now all that’s left for Jesus. Jerusalem, the city of the King, will be the sight of Israel’s greatest tragedy – the rejection of the Son of God. So, yes, this is the triumphal entry, but it’s a tearful one too. At long last, Jesus reaches the Jerusalem, which means the cross is straight ahead.

How, then, should we approach this familiar but striking passage? What should be our focus? Well, our focus ought to remain where it has been for our entire study – on Jesus. What do these somewhat familiar scenes reveal about Jesus’ identity and his work? What insight do these verses give us regarding who Jesus is and what he has come to do? That’s what we need to focus on this morning, and when we do, we see three pictures of Jesus that both encourage us and challenge us to respond to him. Specifically, these pictures focus on Jesus as King, Jesus as Prophet, and Jesus as the Word. So, let’s consider each picture more closely from the text.

Jesus is the True and Greater King Who Fulfills God's Word

The first picture is the longest, from vv28-40 – Jesus is the True and Greater King who fulfills God’s Word. Jerusalem, as you know, was the capital city of Israel. This was the city of the King, the place where David’s sons reigned over God’s people. And while the Romans are now in charge of the area, Jerusalem has not lost any of its royal overtones. It remains the city of the king.

And as Jesus approaches the city, those royal overtones begin to focus more and more on him. The events of his entry richly portray Jesus as the King. It starts even with the preparations, which reveal Jesus’ royal authority. Notice the specific instructions Jesus gives, beginning in v29 – “When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent of his disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever set.” Friends, it should get your attention that Jesus has not left anything to chance. With remarkable specificity, he tells the disciples precisely where to go and what they will find. Jesus even tells them what to say, v31 – “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it? You shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” From the location to the conversation, Jesus is in control. And that control is confirmed in v32 – “So those who were sent went away and found it just as [Jesus] had told them.”

“How does this happen”, we ask. Is it because Jesus possesses divine foreknowledge and, therefore, he can see what is and what will be? Or it is because Jesus made preparations ahead of time, anticipating and planning what needed to happen? Those options are not mutually exclusive, to be honest, but either way, the point is the same – Jesus is in control. As the procession approaches the King’s city, Jesus is the one with authority.

Before we move, friends, we ought to briefly note what this means for the remainder of Jesus’ life. Certainly, Jerusalem will be the site of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, but before any of those things happen, what does Luke establish? The authority of Jesus. As he approaches Jerusalem, Jesus is in control, even of the little details. And therefore, everything that follows, including the betrayal and arrest and crucifixion, is also under Jesus’ control. Even in death, Jesus is King.

The approach continues, and so does the theme of kingship. Along with authority, the procession to the city pictures Jesus’ royal fulfillment. In v35, Jesus is mounted on the colt, like a king – “And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” A royal carpet is then laid, v36 – “And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.” 

Now, what is happening here? It seems very deliberate, so what is going on? Well, this is the enactment – the fulfillment, actually – of an OT promise. In Zechariah 9, the prophet predicted that the Messianic King would ride into Jerusalem mounted on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And that arrival would declare that salvation had come. “On that day,” Zechariah prophesied, “the LORD their God will save them, the flock of his people.” So, there is a self-conscious fulfillment at work here in Luke 19. The colt was not selected by accident. The approach was not a coincidence. This is fulfillment. God’s Word is coming to pass, the King approaches, and that King is Jesus.

But if that weren’t enough, the fulfillment continues as the crowd of Jesus’ disciples begins to celebrate. The celebration is an expression of worship. Listen again, v37 – “As he was drawing near – already on the way down the Mount of Olives – the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” Friends, this is the right response. The only thing to do at this moment is praise God. Sure, there is still much the disciples don’t understand, but don’t overlook what they do understand – Jesus is King. God’s Word is being fulfilled. 

And this becomes all the more clear as the disciples begin to sing out in v38. Notice the content of their praise – “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Now, you should catch the echo here of the angels’ song from Luke 2. What did the angels sing to the shepherds? Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with who God is pleased!” What do the disciples sing? The same thing – “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Heaven’s song finds its echo in earthly praise. What’s the point? The Promised Savior – the King! – has come.

And that’s why the disciples cry out with a blessing. V38 is a citation of Psalm 118, which was a pilgrim song that was sung as the Israelites made the journey up to Jerusalem. Within the psalter itself, Psalm 118 anticipates a final pilgrimage where the Messianic King leads God’s covenant people into the presence of God. And so, the disciples’ praise is a picture of what ought to occur as Jesus enters Jerusalem. The right response – the Scriptural response – is praise, for God’s King is bringing God’s Word to fulfillment.

And in that sense, friends, the disciples’ praise is a testimony to the watching world. Where is true peace found? In this man Jesus who is the King. Where is God’s glory displayed? In this man Jesus who is the image of God. How is the God of glory reconciling his people to himself so that we might have peace with God? Through this man, Jesus. You see, it’s more than exuberance from the disciples. It’s proclamation. It’s testimony, and it’s all focusing our attention where it ought to be – on Jesus, the One who comes with so much royal fulfillment.

The approach continues, and there is one more indication of kingship. Royal authority, royal fulfillment, and finally Jesus’ royal reception. The reception is frosty at first. The Pharisees, no surprise, object to what is happening, v39 – “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teach, rebuke your disciples.’” Now, this actually confirms our interpretation. Why do the Pharisees’ object? Because they understand quite clearly what is being proclaimed here. They see all the notes of royalty, and they are bothered. Perhaps they’re afraid the Romans will misunderstand this and respond with a crackdown. Or, as is more likely, perhaps they understand that Jesus is a threat to their position. If he’s the King, then that means they are not in charge. So, the Pharisees object. “Make them stop,” they tell Jesus.

Jesus, however, declines. V40 – “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” Creation understands better than the Pharisees. You can stop the disciples, but you can’t stop God’s purposes. You can silence Jesus’ followers, but you can’t silence Jesus’ creation. That’s the point, friends. Creation responds to Jesus because creation belongs to Jesus. His realm is greater than Jerusalem. His realm is the entire planet because this is creation’s King. Even if the people won’t receive Jesus as King, then the cold, lifeless rocks would cry out because nothing can stop what God is doing in Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, let’s not allow creation to do the job we were created to do. It is so clear from God’s Word that Jesus is King. We’ve deliberately unfolded that truth for the past several minutes. It’s remarkably clear. And that means worship – praise – exaltation is the highest act of human life. This is the reason we exist – to testify to the truth that Jesus is King and then to devote every aspect of our lives to the praise of his Name. It’s a sad commentary on our churches that we so often reduce worship to singing songs. It’s equally sad that we so regularly denigrate praise as some spiritual activity that has little bearing on the real world. Friends, nothing could be further from the truth. We exist to do precisely what we see in this scene – to testify to who Jesus is and to use our lives to praise his Name. Nothing could be more central. Nothing is more relevant. Nothing, God’s Word is telling us, is more urgent.

In that sense, the rocks of v40 are an exhortation. Jesus is going to be praised, regardless of what you or I do. His identity is so clear, his glory so great, creation itself will sing if we won’t. But let’s not get to that point, brothers and sisters. We’ve seen the truth – Jesus is the King who fulfills God’s Word. The Scriptures are so clear. And that means our response is just this – to testify and to praise.

Jesus is the True and Greater Prophet Who Announces God's Judgment

Of course, the joy of Jesus’ entry is tinged with the criticism of the Pharisees’ in v39. Jerusalem is the King’s city, but this King is destined to get his crown through the cross. And that opposition, friends, leads us into the second picture of Christ in this text. From vv41-44 – Jesus is the True and Greater Prophet who announces God’s Judgment. When you read through the OT, one consistent evidence of God’s grace is how often God warned the nation of Israel. Time and time again, God would send his prophets, and every time, those prophets would warn the people, calling them back to God’s covenant. This is really the entire history of Israel – from Moses in the wilderness, warning the people not to forsake the Lord, all the way through Malachi, prophesying after the exile.

And here in Luke 19, Jesus stands in that prophetic line. He warns Israel. Now, Jesus is certainly more than a prophet. He is the Messiah, as we just saw in the triumphal entry. But still, Jesus does fulfill a prophetic role. In fact, he is the Prophet greater than Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18. With climactic authority, Jesus warns the people of judgment. Notice the prophet-like aspects of Jesus’ message to Jerusalem.

To begin with, Jesus, like Jeremiah, laments Israel’s hardness of heart. Listen again to v41 – “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” You may remember from last week that we talked about Jesus crushing his enemies on the final day. Do you remember that? It was the end of the parable, where the king said bring my enemies here and slaughter them before me. Jesus will crush his enemies.

But at the same time, friends, don’t allow that biblical truth to distort the character of Christ. While Jesus brings judgment, he still weeps over Jerusalem’s hardness of heart. Why is he weeping? Because, by and large, the people have rejected the things that make for peace. They have rejected the good news of the kingdom. They have rejected the salvation that King Jesus comes to accomplish. And this is a reason for lament, according to Jesus. He weeps for the city.

At the same time, this does not mean that God’s purposes are being thwarted. Notice that last line in v42 – “but now these things are hidden from your eyes.” Hidden by whom? By the sovereign God, which means even Israel’s rejection is under God’s control. Even Jerusalem’s hardness of heart will, ultimately, serve God’s purposes. So, God is in control – no doubt – but this is still a moment of lament. Like Jeremiah, Jesus weeps for the city.

But this lament is quickly followed by a prediction. Like nearly every OT prophet, Jesus announces God’s judgment. Listen again to v43, and catch how specific this vision of judgment is – “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around and surround you and hem you in on every side, and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you.” Friends, that is a prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 at the hands of the Roman general Titus. If you read the history of that moment, you’ll find that Jesus’ prediction is spot on. Jerusalem is torn apart, even down to the foundations. 

Why will this happen? Jesus gives the reason. Look at the last line – “because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Do you remember back in chapter 12, when Jesus said the crowd knew how to interpret the weather, but they couldn’t interpret the present time of his ministry? Do you remember that? That’s similar to the point Jesus is making here. By and large, the people of Jerusalem miss what God is doing. They are willfully blind to the work of God in Jesus Christ. Think about it, friends. They have the OT Scriptures, so they’ve heard the promises of the Messiah. They’ve witnessed Jesus’ ministry – he hasn’t been working in secret. They’ve heard him teach – he hasn’t avoided public proclamation. They’ve seen the miracles. And yet, they don’t believe. They won’t believe.

And that’s why Jesus says they will experience God’s judgment. The time of their visitation is clearly at hand. The Messiah is here, bringing salvation with him. But Jerusalem refuses. Israel’s heart is hard. And so, Jesus says, God’s judgment will come.

Friends, one thing to remember about the OT prophets is that they were living reminders of Israel’s accountability to God. Every prophet was an embodiment of essentially the same message – you belong to God, his Word demands your allegiance, and therefore, today is the time to respond. Jesus, here in Luke 19, is making that same point, but in a much greater way. Jesus is not simply a prophet. He is the Messiah, the Son of God in human flesh. So, when he speaks God’s Word to God’s people, the urgency of response is even greater. Listen, that’s part of the reason why Jesus weeps in v41 – he knows that Jerusalem’s accountability before God is so great. Why? Because the One they’ve rejected is not simply a prophet; he’s the Messiah.

What about us, friends? Time has marched on, culture has changed, we’re not citizens of Jerusalem. But our accountability before God is also great, beyond what we probably recognize. And Jesus’ warning to Jerusalem is a call to us – to everyone in our day who hears the Word of God. Will you respond to God and to his Word? Or will you refuse, willful in your blindness to the truth God has so plainly revealed? 

Friends, the Scriptures are clear. The one way to respond to God is to repent of your sin and entrust your life to Jesus Christ. The response is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord – the King who laid down his life for salvation of his people. If you are not a Christian today, then this is where Christ’s call intersects with your life. Don’t think that the time and culture gap between you and Luke 19 makes any difference. It doesn’t. The time to respond is now, for there is a day coming when only judgment awaits. Turn to Christ, friend. Confess your sin, trust that Christ’s blood covers your sin, and by grace, you will find not judgment on the last day, but salvation. Jesus is the True and Greater Prophet who announces God’s judgment, and that means each of us is accountable to Christ today.

Jesus is the True and Final Word Who Reveals God's Will

The final picture of Christ in this text comes in the Temple, vv45-48. Jesus is the True and Final Word who reveals God’s will. Friends, it is significant that the first thing Jesus does after announcing God’s judgment is to head for the Temple. If Jerusalem is hard-hearted toward God, then the Temple is ground zero of that problem. And so, with righteous authority, Jesus cleanses the Temple, v45 – “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold.” 

Who are these people that Jesus is driving out? Essentially, they are merchants who profit off the worshippers. They may have been selling sacrificial animals at a marked-up price, or they may have been operating some sort of currency exchange, again at a great profit to themselves. Whatever the specific practice, it’s clear these sellers were not honoring the purpose of the temple. They were more concerned with margins and market share than they were with praise and prayer. And so, Jesus drives them out. 

In doing so, Jesus clarifies the Temple’s problem. Look again, v46, where Jesus says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Now, Jesus is putting together two OT passages at this point – Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7. Isaiah’s point was simple enough – the temple was supposed to be about worship, not just for Israel but also for the nations. But the Jeremiah passage is the key. That phrase den of robbers comes from what is called Jeremiah’s temple sermon. It’s powerful moment in Jeremiah’s ministry where he denounced the nation’s religious life, particularly at the temple, as being faithless. Jeremiah said that it was foolish to think you could disregard God in everyday life and then make up for that by attending the temple. “Don’t be deceived,” Jeremiah said. The will of God was never about going through the motions of religion, while neglecting the reality of the heart. You can’t rob somebody on the way to the temple and think your sacrifice is going to please God. That’s not God’s will for the life of his people.

So, back to Jesus in Luke 19. By citing this passage from Jeremiah at this moment, in this place, Jesus is doing more that driving out some greedy businessmen. He’s saying the entire nation is corrupt. He’s saying that wholesale repentance and change is necessary. And nowhere is that clearer than here, in the temple. The very place where God’s presence was supposed to dwell has become the place where God is flagrantly dishonored.

But that leaves this massive question – what is to be done? Jesus drives out the merchants, but still, where do things go from here? Well, friends, notice what happens in v47. This is a transitional verse, but the very first phrase is key. V47 – “And [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple.” Simple question – Who takes the place of the money changers? Jesus does. And what replaces the heartless worship? The teaching of Jesus. Do you see the connection, friends? The only hope for a bankrupt Israel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s why he now takes center stage at the epicenter of the nation’s religious life. It’s because Jesus and his word are the only way to be reconciled to God. If spiritual fruit is going to blossom again in Jerusalem, it will only come through Jesus.

Of course, the religious leaders don’t see things this way. They conclude, v47, that opposition is not enough. They need to destroy this man. But for now, they can’t. Jesus still has some popular support that makes it unwise for the religious leaders to harm him. But that popular support won’t last for long, friends. The hostility will win, and Jesus will suffer for the salvation of his people.

But before that suffering arrives, this short scene in the Temple anticipates the way to spiritual life and peace with God. It comes through Jesus and his word. Please don’t miss it, friends. Jesus cleanses the temple, and then – very clearly, very purposefully – he puts himself center stage. Only God could make such a claim, and that’s who Jesus is – the Son of God sent for the salvation of sinners.

And that’s where we will end today, brothers and sisters. To know the will of God, we don’t need to go on some mystical quest hoping for a sign in the sky. To find spiritual life, we don’t need to look within to find our inner spirituality. No, very simply, we need Jesus and his Word. The will of God is revealed right here, in Jesus Christ and in the Word he has given to his church.

In that sense, the remedy for the fruitless temple pictures the remedy that we need in our day. We need to return to Christ and to his Word. We need to re-focus our Christian lives on the Word of God, particularly the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to submit ourselves anew to the life of Christ’s church, where his Word has authority and rules over us for our good. It’s the church, friends, that functions like an embassy of King Jesus. It’s the Word of God that gives life and leads us to fruitfulness in the will of God. The cleansing of the Temple is, in some way, a picture of what we continue to need as the church. We need Christ and his Word to be on center stage.

How about you? Is your Christian life centered on Christ and his Word? Is Scripture the heartbeat of your discipleship? Is the church central to your approach to the faith? It ought to be, friends. There is no other word from God than this one – the Scriptures, particularly the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that means there is no other way to be in the will of God than to be centered, each and every day, on what God has spoken in Christ. Jesus is the True and Final Word who reveals the will of God. Where is that you need to return to the Scriptures, and how do you plan to start? Let’s pray.

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