I often wonder what Jesus would say if he rolled into town today. I wonder what he would say if he rolled into our church gatherings, our communities, or our homes.
Today is Palm Sunday; the day when the church historically celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. It has always fascinated me that Palm Sunday is referred to as Jesus’ triumphal entry. A triumphal entry is something that seems to be reserved for warriors and kings returning from battle triumphant and victorious over their enemies and ready for a massive celebration.
Jesus has been out and about ministering in the communities around Jerusalem – healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, and raising people from the dead – and now he arrives in Jerusalem like a victorious warrior-king. But we know the narrative, in a week he will suffer terribly at the hands of his enemies and will die a sinner’s death upon a cross that was meant for common criminals.
What happens over the course of the coming week will appear as though the victorious warrior-king was a fraud who died like a common criminal. But we know that the apex of the story is sandwiched between next Friday evening and Sunday morning where the horror of the cross that provides salvation for sinners is ratified by Christ’s victory over Satan, Sin, and Death at the empty tomb.
So, the triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday is about so much more than his victories in his public ministry up to this point – it is a foreshadow of what is about to happen over the course of the coming week culminating in Resurrection Sunday.
With all of that in our minds, I want us to return to my original question. What would Jesus say if rolled into town today; if he rolled into our churches, our communities, or our homes? I think we might hear him say some of the same things he says in our text today. For the sake of clarity, I think Jesus would say: #1: Do not remain silent (vv. 28 – 40); #2: Understand the cost of peace (vv. 41 – 44); and #3: Drive out the thieves among you (vv. 45 – 48). Look at the text with me…
28And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he drew near to Bethpage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36And as he road along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37As 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, 38saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
41And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
45And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
#1: DO NOT REMAIN SILENT (VV. 28 – 40)
In verses 28 – 40 Luke tells us that Jesus sent two of his disciples to find a donkey (a beast that is designed to carry a burden) that had never been ridden so that he can ride it into Jerusalem as the victorious King and as he is riding down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, all of his followers are rejoicing loudly and praising God because of everything they have witnessed in Jesus’ ministry and they are crying out loudly, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (vv. 28 – 38). And as this is happening, some of the local religious leaders try to get Jesus to silence the crowd but Jesus says, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (vv. 39 – 40).
You see, what is happening here is that Jesus is riding into town as not only the current champ who has been victorious in causing the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the lame to walk, the sick to be healed, the storms to cease, and the dead to rise again just as the prophets have foretold. The reigning King of kings and Lord of lords is coming to town and his disciples are going ballistic; they cannot be silenced because of what they have witnessed. But God’s enemies want to silence God’s people and Jesus says that even if you could get them to remain silent, the stones would throw a rock concert!
Can you imagine a victorious entry in silence? Wouldn’t that feel more like a funeral procession? Seriously, can you imagine complete silence after witnessing a game winning touchdown in the final seconds of the Super Bowl? We cannot imagine silence in a scenario like this because in those moments of victory everyone gets lost in reckless abandon because the impossible has just happened in front of our eyes. The essence of worshipping Jesus is getting lost in reckless abandon because we have personally experienced the power of the cross and the empty tomb in our lives.
People who have experienced the power of Jesus in their lives do not remain silent; they speak up, they speak out, they praise, and they worship because they have witnessed Jesus at work, opening their eyes, opening their ears, helping them to walk, healing their brokenness, restoring their love for God, and setting them free from the shackles of sin and shame and guilt. If Jesus came to visit today, I think he would say: Do not remain silent!
#2: UNDERSTAND THE COST OF PEACE (VV. 41 – 44)
In verses 41 – 44 Jesus draws near to the edge of Jerusalem and when he catches a glimpse of the city, he has an emotional breakdown because he knows that his people have no clue about what it is going to take to make peace between them and God. They are spiritually blind to their sin. They are spiritually blind to the holiness of God. They have no clue about what is going to take place at the cross of Calvary in less than a week. And they also have no clue that their rejection of Jesus is going to result in future judgment of the city as it gets destroyed in a few years.
It is almost like Jesus literally says, “I wish you had known on this day the things that make for peace, and because you did not know the time of your visitation, you did not recognize me as your suffering Savior, because you did not trust and obey me, the day is coming when your enemies will surround you and destroy you right down to the last child” (my paraphrase of verses 41 – 44). It is almost as though Jesus is saying “I wish you could understand the cost of peace”.
I think it is easy for us to understand a longing for peace. We live in a world that is constantly at war, constantly divided, and constantly arguing. The polarization in our world in recent years, feels like it has shifted into overdrive. How beautiful would it be, how satisfying would it be, if all of the enemies in our world could find true peace with one another? Not just the kind of peace that sets our differences aside for a season to then take up arms again in the next season and begin to hurt one another again. I am talking about the kind of peace that completely dissolves the differences for all eternity. Would not that be amazing?
In one sense, this is the kind of peace that Jesus says he wishes his people understood; the kind of peace that has been eternally dissolved. But he is not talking about peace between humans, necessarily – though it would be a result of the peace that he is talking about – because he is talking about what it takes to make peace between humans and God. Humanity’s sin makes us enemies of God and the only thing that will make peace is the cross of Calvary.
The cross of Calvary does not just take the conflict of our sin against God and his perfect holiness and set it aside for a season so that we can enjoy one another for dinner and then go back to war again. The cross of Calvary is like a spiritual weapon that completely vaporizes the presence, the power, and penalty of our sin and then translates Christ’s perfect holiness onto us so that we can sit at the same dinner table with our Good Father in Heaven for all of eternity in an inseparable relationship of unconditional love. If Jesus rode in here today, I think he would say, “I hope you understand the cost of peace.”
#3: DRIVE OUT THE THIEVES AMONG YOU (VV. 45 – 48)
In verses 45 – 48 Luke tells us that when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he goes into the temple and finds a bunch of thieves who are selling stuff for a major profit and he drives them out and says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (v. 36), and then he proceeds to teach daily in the temple as the religious leaders look for ways to destroy him even though all the people are hanging on his every word.
What we have to understand about this part of the story is that Jesus does not drive out the thieves in the temple just because they are selling some trinkets for profit; there is nothing wrong with a ministry having a budget, collecting offerings, and even selling trinkets for profit; that is not the problem here. The problem here is wrapped up in the sacrificial system of Israel. Long story short, Israel was commanded by God to obediently offer up bloody sacrifices in faith that God would forgive their sins as they looked forward to the coming Savior. Not everyone in Israel had direct access to sheep, goats, doves, or grain to offer as a sacrifice.
So, many of them needed to purchase those items and the merchants in the temple had driven up the cost of these items so they could make exorbitant amounts of profit; they were literally living lavishly on the sacrificial system of Israel and making it hard for poor people to come close to God. They were advancing their own lavish lifestyles on the backs of the poor, the weak, and the needy; they had turned salvation into a personal get-rich-quick scheme and the poor, weak, and needy were suffering because of it. The temple was no longer a house of prayer; it was a den of thieves. And Jesus drove them out and restored faithful, biblical, preaching.
You do not have to look too far to find horror stories of the same things happening today; people turning salvation into a get-rich-quick scheme; ministers living in lavish wealth on the backs of the poor, the weak, and the needy; pastors and church leaders covering up untold amounts of sexual and spiritual abuse in their ranks while protecting their inner circle so they can continue making a buck; so-called spiritual leaders publicly excommunicating abused women and children for not reconciling with abusive men; ministry staff being given under the table hush money to cover up the insidious behavior of weak little men who love the attention they get from their pulpits and their book sales and their public platforms. If Jesus rolled in here today, I think he would say “Drive out the thieves among you and make my house a house of prayer again.”
If Jesus rolled in here today, I think he would say: Do not be silent; Understand the cost of peace; Drive out the thieves among you.
I do not know where you are at with not remaining silent. There can be a number of things that cause us to be silent in our praise and worship, but it typically revolves around not experiencing the power of Jesus in our lives.
The religious leaders in our text could not fathom praising and worshipping Jesus because they rejected his obvious power and authority over them; they refused to accept him as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Maybe God would reveal the power and authority and victory of King Jesus to you now so that you might praise and worship him with reckless abandon.
Do you understand the cost of peace between you and God or are you spiritually blind, deaf, lame, dead, and imprisoned?
My prayer is that the Spirit would reveal the depth of your sin, the vastness of God’s holiness, the horror of the cross, the victory of the empty tomb, and the hope of heaven to you so that you might truly see and understand the cost of the peace that has been offered to you and that you might lay hold of it by faith.
As you think about driving out thieves, you might find yourself wounded, cynical, bitter, angry, or hesitant to trust Jesus and his church because of some ungodly thief dressed up in the lipstick of a spiritual leader.
My prayer for you is that the Spirit would remind you that justice has been served at the cross for even the worst of abusers who repent, and that justice will ultimately be served upon the unrepentant in eternity. God is the defender of the weak, the vulnerable, the helpless, and the poor; he fights on your behalf, and he also offers healing and strength where you are wounded and weak. He will never fail you and he will never leave you or forsake you.
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).