41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
Early on a Sunday morning, as Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem, he stopped for a moment and sent two of his disciples ahead of Him into a nearby village to carry out a special errand. Here is how Luke records that event earlier in the chapter:
“When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ (Luke 19:29-31).
The two disciples must have wondered what was going on, because none of the Gospel accounts about the ministry of Christ ever mention him riding any animal to get from one place to another. Jesus must have walked hundreds of miles up and down the land we now call the "Holy Land," but he never rode anything. Well, that is not exactly true. He did ride in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. But now, Jesus gives this unusual command to go into the village to get a colt that had never been ridden, and to bring it to him. He even tells them the exact words they are to use should anyone question them. They are to say, "The Lord needs it."
Now to me this sounds like it was all prearranged. That is, Jesus had previously contacted the owner about borrowing the colt.
In any case, Jesus knew what he was going to face in Jerusalem; so his decision to go into the city must have been one of the most difficult he ever made. On top of that, to ride into the city on a colt, rather than to walk into it as he had done before, must have been an even more difficult decision, because riding a colt into the city was a public declaration that he was a king. In times of war, a conqueror would ride upon a prancing stallion followed by his army, but in times of peace, the king would ride a colt to symbolize that peace prevailed. So, for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem upon a colt followed by his “army” of disciples is to declare that he is a king of peace.
How would the people respond to this declaration? Would they recognize that his kingdom was not of this world, that it was a spiritual kingdom, and he was a spiritual king? He must have known that was not likely. He had been teaching them that same message for years, and still they had not learned the lesson.
Perhaps some of them would greet him with laughter. They were amused by what Jesus was doing. After all, it was a ridiculous picture. Here is a carpenter declaring himself to be a king. Perhaps some would think, "He is a lunatic, living in a world of fantasy, imagining himself to be a king," and they would laugh at him.
Others would greet Him with anger. They were offended, grieved because this upstart from Galilee dared to proclaim himself the holy messiah. That was blasphemy against God.
Many others would greet him with joy, welcoming Him as an earthly King, come to reestablish the throne of David, and overthrow the Roman Empire. They were ready and eager to place a crown upon his head.
In the crowds would be people he had healed. Some had been among the thousands he had fed. Many more had seen some of his miracles, and listened as "He spoke with authority." They had listened, and their lives had been changed.
Jesus knew all of this, and he knew that just over the horizon was the cross, looming like a monster ready to consume him, but Luke tells us that in spite of it all, Jesus still “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). He will not be deterred. He will not turn back.
As Jesus rides down toward the gate of the city, the crowds are growing. There is a festive air. It is Passover and pilgrims are gathering from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate this greatest of all Jewish holidays.
Even before Jesus arrives, the news has spread that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We can imagine the electric excitement of the moment.
The news flew about the city. People were saying, "Have you heard the news? Lazarus died, and was buried in a tomb so long that his body had started to decompose, and this rabbi from Nazareth shows up and says, ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ and he did.” There were witnesses proclaiming, “I saw it all. Lazarus came forth. They stripped away the grave clothing, and he actually walked and breathed. Surely only Messiah could do that!"
The news traveled from one person to another, until finally when Jesus was ready to enter the city, great crowds had collected on both sides of the road. They had cut palm branches and were shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38). Excitement surged through the city!
Then Jesus looked over His waiting audience. He must have seen the mixture of expressions on their faces. Some there loved Him. Perhaps Bartimaeus was there. He had been blind; Jesus had healed him. Perhaps Zacchaeus was there. Jesus had healed him of his sinfulness. What about the ten Lepers whom Jesus healed. One returned to thank Jesus. Perhaps that one was there on Palm Sabbath. Maybe Jairus’ daughter was there. Jesus brought her back to life. Others were there also--people like Lazarus and Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene. Their lives reflected the love that was in their hearts for this man who had taught them, and molded them and changed them.
Some there that day did not like Jesus. They looked on this Palm Sunday parade with hard hostile eyes. They were waiting for him to say one wrong word, to make one mistake. They were Sadducees and Pharisees. They were supposed to be keepers of the law, spiritual leaders, but Jesus had gained so much popularity that they felt threatened. They were jealous, full of envy and gall, and they watched and waited, like a pile of snakes ready to strike.
The Romans were there also. There had been gatherings in Jerusalem at Passover before that turned to riots against the emperor. The Romans were ready to crush any uprising.
Jesus realized, as he listened to their "Hosannas," that soon the voices of envy and strife would drown out the voices of love, that those crying for him to be king would soon be crying, "Crucify him!" or simply standing aside, saying nothing at all.
Jesus descended the road from the Mount of Olives, and crossed the brook, started up toward the gate, the crowds thronging around him. We wonder how the apostles were reacting to all of this. Judas was probably ecstatic, basking in reflected glory. Judas probably wanted an earthly Kingdom more than any of the others.
We imagine that Peter walked with chest expanded -enjoying the cheers of the crowd. Maybe he had one hand on his sword just in case something went wrong. Perhaps he was thinking, "Yes, this was why I left the fishnets and boats. At last we are going to get what we deserve."
Thomas was there, a bit skeptical about everything that was going on, wondering what is going to happen next.
Andrew was there, probably overwhelmed by it all. He had brought people to Jesus one by one, or in small groups, but he had seen nothing like this before.
What about James and John? Do you suppose they were thinking about Jesus being crowned King, so that they could be crowned princes and sit at his right and left hand in positions of authority and power?
They were all there in Jerusalem, loving faces, sinister faces, anxious apostles. People were jostling and pushing against each other trying to get a better view. Then suddenly, the whole procession stopped. I can just hear the people way back in the crowd that day saying, "What’s the holdup? What is going on? Why don’t you guys move on?"
But the people who were closest to Jesus could see. They knew that he had stopped, and thus the whole parade backed up behind him.
Then they saw his body begin to shake. Maybe at first they thought he was laughing. Laughter would seem to be natural. Many people were rejoicing.
Then they saw his face. They saw his sorrow; they saw his tears. He was crying.
The Bible tells us that Jesus reacted emotionally many times—when he saw the poor, when he saw the hungry, when he saw people sinning, when he saw the sick. The Scriptures say repeatedly that "...he had compassion on them."
But the Bible only tells us twice that Jesus cried. Once he cried at the grave of Lazarus. Mary and Martha were both weeping, and Jesus wept with them. He wept for them. He entered into their grief with compassion. He identified with their sorrow and despair.
The second time he cried was for Jerusalem. He saw all these people, this mass of humankind, and he realized the emptiness of their lives. They had not heard the message of peace. They did not understand the purpose of his coming. They had eyes, but they did not see. They had ears, but they did not hear. They missed the whole point of the message that God had given to them. The fact they waved palm branches showed that they did not understand, because that is exactly what they did when the Maccabees, some two centuries earlier, overthrew the Syrian oppressors and reestablished worship in the temple. By waving palm branches, they were showing that they expected Jesus to be another warlord, another general of armies, who would lead them to overthrow the Romans. They were saying that they were ready to pick up their swords and shields and go to war.
Jesus said, "I did not come for that purpose. I came to show you a more excellent way. I came to show you the way of love." He had said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. If someone smites you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone wants your coat, give him your shirt as well. If they command you to carry their pack a mile, go two."
Those people who listened to Him must have thought, "Well, those are beautiful words, but surely He does not mean Rome? He doesn’t expect us to love those Romans? Only a lunatic would command you to love Rome. We can’t do that."
But that was exactly what Jesus was saying? "Love even Rome, because Rome with her invincible legions knew all about the power of the sword. There was nothing Judah could teach Rome about war. So, Jesus says, Let us go another way. Rome has not seen the power of love. Show them love."
The nation of Israel had the opportunity to show Rome something new and different, but because they did not understand Jesus and did not understand his mission, they missed that opportunity, and Jesus wept over them because, like most opportunities, once lost, it would never return.
Jesus was the culmination of a whole history of God working with Israel. God had freed them from slavery in Egypt, led them across the wilderness and into the Promised Land, for a purpose, to demonstrate a new way of living to the world, the way of love. But they did not get it, and so Jesus wept.
What a contrast! As he sits upon the beast of burden, he sees the towering Temple of God silhouetted against the sky, but beyond that, in the years immediately ahead, he sees the legions of Titus surrounding the Holy City. He sees the Temple destroyed, and the whole city leveled. He sees bodies in the streets and blood running in the gutters and thousands of people crying because they are starving to death while Titus waits for Jerusalem to surrender.
All of that happened because they did not recognize Messiah when He came! How different their lives could have been. How different the history of Israel could have been, if they had only recognized the one who came into their midst, riding on a colt.
It is the gospel of Matthew which adds that as Jesus looked at the city, he said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings. But you would not come."
Today, just like the city of Jerusalem, we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus. I wonder what he finds when he looks into our faces?
Does he see people concerned about so many things—worried about income taxes, worried about job security, worried about their health, or lack of thereof? Does Jesus see people who are so busy doing things, doing this and that and t’other, that they never bother to consider those things that are eternally important? Or, does he see people who recognize him for who he is--the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God?
When he turns and looks into our lives, will Jesus weep once again because of what he sees? Will Jesus weep for you or for me? He taught a more excellent way. How are we doing along that way?
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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