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MESSAGE FOR PALM SUNDAY 2009 FROM LUKE 19 AND REVELATION 19

"Balance in Worship Personified."

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Seventh in a brief series on corporate worship

          A few weeks ago, in our series on corporate worship, we saw that one of the important issues in our worship is to maintain a tone that reflects a Biblical balance between our intimacy with God and our reverence for God.  We saw many Biblical texts calling us to express our love and adoration for God in very intimate terms.  We also saw the appropriateness of expressing our awe and reverence for God in worship.  The Bible teaches that God is immanent—he is near and accessible to us as our Father and intimacy with him is therefore a thoroughly Biblical response to him.  But God is also transcendent—he is holy and quite unlike us and therefore our reverent awe in our worship is also Biblical. 

The Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God.  As fully human, he is in many ways very accessible to us.  He experienced all the temptations we face.  He knows human suffering and what it is to be an outcast—we can relate to him in ways that the Jews could never relate to the God of the Old Testament.  Yet, Jesus is also fully God, absolutely holy and very different than us.  This morning, as we have done in the past, we want to present a Biblically balanced picture of Jesus in the hopes of knowing him better and loving and revering him more.  We hope to do that by God’s grace by looking at Luke’s “Triumphal Entry” text as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  We also want to see another, very different royal entrance of Christ that is recorded in Revelation 19 to help see both his immanence and his transcendence.

Luke writes of Jesus in chapter 19, “And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29When he drew near to Bethphage 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 rode 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.”

          As you read this story of “the Triumphal Entry” in Luke 19, you might be tempted to think this is the one moment in Jesus’ Passion Week, marked by humiliating events, where the authors of Scripture show him as the exalted King.  As much as it might first appear that way, that is not the case.  In fact, Luke presents this opening scene in Christ’s final as an acted out parable our Lord carefully orchestrates.  Jesus oversees every significant detail of his entrance into Jerusalem to manifest his identity as the HUMBLE, self-sacrificing, Servant.  Let’s briefly unpack the elements of this acted out parable to see how this powerfully communicates Christ’s humility.

First, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, Luke tells us that he is on a donkey—a donkey that has never been ridden.  In the Ancient Near East, kings rode on donkeys that had never been ridden so it was truly a king’s mount.  However, in the case of Jesus no one except a couple of his disciples knew the animal had never been ridden, so the fact that this was the mount of a king was intentionally not revealed to the people.  Matthew’s account of this event quotes Zechariah 9:9 and says, “Say to the daughter of Zion,’ Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”  It’s important to know that the Jews did not understand these verses in Zechariah to be referring to the Messiah until the fourth century AFTER Christ.  Jesus knew they were Messianic and Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew this, but these people lining the road leading into Jerusalem would not have associated this donkey with the Messiah.  That was kept from them.

Christ’s humility is manifest here in that, though this was clearly the mount of the Messianic King and was intentionally chosen by Jesus to be so, no one knew it because it was kept hidden from the people.  The reason we call this story an “acted out parable” is because we know from Mark’s gospel that one of the main reasons Jesus spoke in parables was to conceal or obscure the truth.  Mark 4:12 tells us Jesus taught in parables so that the people hearing them would “…see but NOT perceive…hear but NOT understand lest they should turn and be forgiven.” This was an acted out parable in part because Jesus’ royalty was kept hidden from the people.

You might ask, “but what about the people who said, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord?”  John’s gospel helps us out here because in his account of this event the people along the road also cried out, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”[v.13] But three verses later John records in 12:16, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”  The surrounding context in John’s gospel clearly shows the crowds that paid tribute to a king were NOT doing so because they witnessed the easily recognizable trappings signaling the entrance of royalty.  In truth, they were there because they were impressed with his raising of Lazarus from the dead and were prophetically screaming far more than they really knew.  This is much like what Caiaphas, the High Priest who said of Jesus in John 18, “It is expedient for one man to die for his people.  He had no idea that this was a prophecy—he spoke far more than he knew. 

Gospel scholar Robert Stein is right I think when he says about this entrance into Jerusalem, “In the minds of most of Jesus’ audience that day, this was essentially a pilgrim’s welcome of Jesus of Nazareth.”  It must have been that because if this had been an overt tribute to a king by his followers, Rome would have reacted decisively and…violently.  This entrance communicates the humility and gentleness of this then-veiled King.  That’s the essential message Jesus seeks to communicate in orchestrating his triumphal entry.  As we said a few weeks ago, if we want our worship of Christ to be thoroughly Biblical in tone, we must see this donkey-riding immanence of Christ and worship in him ways that are consistent with whom he reveals himself to be here.  But we must not go to the extreme that is so common today in the careless and ultra casual approach to corporate worship that so many evangelicals appreciate today.  We must not divorce Christ in his immanence from the transcendent and holy Jesus also revealed in the New Testament.  Any serious attempt to appreciate the humility of Christ and what he did for us in his passion, must place it against the backdrop of his majesty. You simply cannot rightly prize the humiliation of Christ until you see it in the light of the exaltation of Christ. 

In the case of this Triumphal entry, the immanence conveyed in how Jesus makes this first royal entrance is most appreciated when it is compared to the transcendence of Jesus’ second entrance into this world as King.  As we contrast this first humble entrance with the King’s future entrance, then by God’s grace we can begin to more fully love and worship Christ in response to what he did for us in his humiliation.  That is our goal this morning, by God’s grace.  So let’s do that by looking at a SECOND entrance of this King in the 19th chapter of the Revelation and as we read this, think about the vivid contrasts between this entrance with what Luke has written of Christ’s first kingly entrance.

Let’s begin reading in verse 11.  John is recounting his vision of the second coming of Christ and says, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God,  18to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great."  19And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.  20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.  21And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”

In this account, we have a dramatically different set of kingly attributes put on display.  Here, the emphasis is decidedly NOT on the humility and gentleness of a veiled, Servant King, but on the terrifying majesty and fierce and holy wrath of the Warrior King.  There are some striking parallels in these two accounts—so much so that it seems God put them here so we could examine these two entrances side by side.  Let’s compare first, the animals that serve as our Lord’s mount in each entrance and what they communicate about him.  In Revelation 19, Christ is pictured on a white horse exploding out of heaven.  The white horse is the blatantly majestic mount of kings and more specifically in the Ancient Near East, the white horse was the mount of kings who had gone to war and had conquered (!) their enemies.  This is THE conquering King. While the never-ridden donkey in Luke 19 whispers gentleness and a muted majesty, the white horse of Revelation 19 trumpets raw power and conquest.  Paul describes this same event in Second Thessalonians 1:7-8 and says at his second coming Jesus will be “... revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  Here is the glorious and triumphant Warrior King erupting out of heaven with His mighty host in blazing fire. On this entrance, instead of being escorted by uninformed and fickle followers who have no real clue about what is happening, he will be escorted by fully informed warrior angels who burn with his zeal for justice.

A second contrast between these two accounts is seen in the disposition of Jesus toward those who witness his entrance.  Remember Jesus’ attitude toward those in Jerusalem in Luke 19.  In verse 41, He looks over the city and weeps over it.  Jerusalem, the city of David, home of God’s temple—a city near to His heart will be pillaged and defiled at the hands of blasphemous Roman soldiers.  It is filled with wickedness and unrighteousness.  Jesus in Luke 13:33, looking toward his own death, indicts this city saying “…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”  This city had slaughtered so many prophets it became known as “the city that kills the prophets” and it would soon claim its greatest prize—THE Prophet.  In verse 42, we see Christ’s compassion for this prophet-slaying city.  He says, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”  He longs for the PEACE of Jerusalem and for its inhabitants.  Knowing this would not happen, he weeps over this city.

The contrast with Revelation 19 and Christ’s disposition toward those who will witness his second entrance could hardly be more striking.  There is no compassion here—no more weeping--the bell has tolled, the hour, struck!  In verse 13 we see His robe has been dipped in blood.  The symbolism is clear.  This time, the blood spilled will not be his own, but that of his enemies.  Verse 15 says the King, “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  This is a terrifying picture depicting Christ in a winepress trampling over and smashing--NOT grapes to be turned into wine, but rebellious people whose bodies will serve as food for birds—his enemies, whose spattered blood drenches his robe.  This is a withering picture of divine judgment. On his first royal entrance into Jerusalem, Christ humbly rides over freshly picked palm branches tossed in front of him.  In his second entrance, this same Christ mercilessly treads over his enemies like grapes in a wine press.    

Revelation 19:21 concludes the account of the gruesome end of Christ’s enemies.  It says, “And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”  At his second coming, the Messiah will not be weeping over the fallen rebels of the earth; He will be executing them with His sword, which is the word of his mouth.  The time for shedding tears is gone.  Now, speaks lethal words that bring judgment and destruction upon his enemies. Any hope for peace for these people is now gone forever. The pent up vengeance of God is unleashed in the blazing furnace of his wrath.  In his first entrance, those who refuse the Kingship of Christ are portrayed as ignorant and are wept over.  In the second entrance of the King, those who refuse his reign are his enemies and are summarily slaughtered.  The eyes that once shed tears of compassion and sorrow now appear as “flames of fire” as they glow with the searing and holy wrath of God’s judgment.

A third contrast is seen in Jesus’ level of accessibility and approachability to others. Luke shows us a King who is so human, so approachable.  We can easily relate to this man.  He is riding a donkey, enjoying the adulation of the crowd.  We can almost see ourselves standing by the side of the road, tossing out palm branches in front of this prophet from Galilee.  He knows the decimation that will come to the city of David and he weeps over it.  There is tenderness, mercy and compassion.  There is immanence.  Jesus, as we see him on Palm Sunday and the rest of Passion Week is so accessible, approachable and even vulnerable to us.  Not so, the Warrior King of Revelation 19 whose very spoken words are lethal to billions.  How dramatically different that is from his words during his Passion.  As he suffered for us, his mouth—this ultimate doomsday weapon…is silent.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” [Isa. 53:7]

The humble Servant King at Calvary wears a crown of common Judean thorns placed on him by a Roman soldier, mocking his identification with royalty.  It digs into his brow and the blood from his wounds runs down His face.  Hours earlier, the soldiers had shoved a wooden stick in his hand as a mock scepter for a caricature king.  In Revelation 19, the caricature is gone; replaced by the glorious regal splendor of King Jesus.  No one will be mocking this King!  Verse 12 tells us, “…on his head are many diadems…” or crowns.  The many crowns signify that there is no kingdom anywhere where this King does not rule—He rules over ALL of them!  He is the KING of all kings and the LORD of all lords and these crowns were placed on His head, NOT by some mocking pagan soldier, but by His omnipotent Father.  The ridiculous, demeaning wooden “scepter” is gone.  Now he brandishes in his hand an “iron rod” or “iron scepter.  This is the final fulfillment of the scepter of Judah about which Jacob first prophesied 4000 years ago in Genesis 49 when he said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah [v.10].  This is the long-awaited royal scepter signifying Christ’s eternal rule over all.

Revelation 19:12 says, “…he has a name written that no one knows but himself.”

The approachability has vanished—no one even knows his Name—it is so holy, so sacred, so divine it is hidden from common use.  There is inscrutability here.  This King is transcendent.  No created, finite being can fully grasp Him.  He is the “…the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Tim 1:17] Now Jesus has shed the self-imposed limitations of this material realm and reveals Himself to be the Creator God, the infinite and eternal One, clothed in splendor and majesty.  In His first advent, He comes as a Lamb to be slaughtered, but at His second coming, the ferocious LION of the tribe of Judah lunges out of heaven to strike his helpless prey.  At his first coming, the Lamb offers himself as a silent and submissive sacrifice for sin.  In his second coming, we see in Revelation 6:16 that those he comes to judge will be “calling to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

          As we said earlier, we must read Biblical texts that display the humiliation of Christ in the broader context of his exaltation.  What brings to light the wonder of this first, humble entrance is when we meditate on the truth that this gentle, peace-bringing Messiah is in fact also the invincible Warrior King who will one day explode out of heaven in the fury of divine wrath.  This One, whose homespun garment became the prize in a penny-ante craps game, will one day appear in the robe of a conquering King that has been drenched in the blood of his enemies.  Peter said in Acts chapter two that this One who was crucified is “both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36]

Paul in Philippians chapter two reveals both of these expressions of the Lord Jesus side by side.  He writes of Jesus,  “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,  8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  This week, as you read through the events of Jesus’ passion, don’t forget who it is that suffered the shame, humiliation, pain and death for you.  We must see his humiliation in the light of his exaltation—his immanence within the context of his transcendence if we are to love him rightly.

It is a travesty that so many evangelicals and evangelical churches’ worship does not combine both reverence for Christ with joy in him.  We must also Christ the Warrior King, as we treasure Christ the Servant King, beloved.  Our hearts should soar as we read the account of Christ’s judgment on the wicked.  Here are three reasons.  First, the Biblical accounts of the judgment of God remind us of what those who trust in Christ have been spared.  When we read of Christ exterminating his enemies with the sword of his mouth, we should meditate on the miracle of God’s mercy toward us.  We mustn’t ever believe that there is any spiritual difference between us and those who, in their folly will join together to war against Christ. 

I spent 20 years of my life warring against God!  My heart was every bit as deceived as those who will end up as human bird food.  There is only one thing that separates any follower of Jesus from those whose blood will soak his robe.  That is the sheer, undeserved mercy of God.  We are all at war with God until he saves us.  Only the grace of God opens our eyes to see our sin for what it is—rebellion against the King of the universe.  Only the grace of God enables us to turn from our sin to Christ in faith and repentance.  Only the grace of God enables us to know Christ as our Suffering, Servant King.  For the believer, pictures of divine judgment, especially gruesome ones like we see in Revelation 19, should stir our hearts with unending gratitude over what we have been spared through the cross. 

Second, the Biblical accounts of God’s judgment on sinners remind us that in Christ, we have the power to introduce people to Christ the Servant King so they will not have to suffer the wrath of Christ the Warrior King.  Note well the different attributes manifest between Christ as the suffering, sin-atoning Servant and Christ as the sword-bearing Warrior who conquers all his enemies.  Those who are in Christ have the one tool in the universe—the gospel--that delivers people from the Warrior and calls them to the Servant.  We have this message and are given the high honor of being called as ambassadors to bring a message of peace with God to those who are warring against him. As we picture that battlefield with its hideous carnage and the multitudes who have been mercilessly cut down by the righteous judgment of God, we should never forget that we have the message of peace that can save rebels from their sin and deliver them from something far worse than even that field of blood. 

          A final point of application is for those here today who have never placed their trust in Christ—who have never experience the life-changing power of God in Christ.  Allow the truth of God’s coming to compel you to receive his mercy through Christ.  If you don’t know him as your Lord and Savior, you must come to him in faith.  The Bible says, “…now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6:2] and the reason NOW is the time is because NOW (in this time before his second entrance) Christ weeps over those who are estranged from Him.  Now he comes to you in mercy and gentleness.  Now, that is how he relates to sinners.  But do not be deceived.  If you delay in responding to his incredible mercy until after this window of divine grace closes, He will come to you, not with an open, nail-pierced hand, but with a sword.  His words to you will bring, NOT mercy and grace, but instead, eternal death.  You will experience, NOT his love, but his unending wrath because your sin is repugnant to a holy, sin-hating God and He must and will punish you in unending wrath.  He died on the cross to bear my sin—to take my sin upon himself and receive the punishment I deserved.  NOW you have an opportunity to cry out to him in faith.  Confess that you are a needy sinner and he will forgive your sin and give you new life in him.

Those are the only two options open to you.  Now, in his grace and mercy he pursues and woos you.  But if you refuse to repent of your sin and come to him, then, from his holy justice, you will experience the consuming fire of his holy wrath.  Come to Jesus and know mercy and redemption through the cross.  May God give us the grace to know Christ in his fullness revealed in his word and worship him in a manner that reflects who he has revealed himself to be.

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