MESSAGE FOR PALM SUNDAY 2006 FROM LUKE 19 AND REVELATION 19

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MESSAGE FOR PALM SUNDAY 2006 FROM LUKE 19 AND REVELATION 19

 

This week we take a one week break from our study of First Corinthians.  The next text in chapter 15 is especially appropriate for Resurrection Sunday.  This week, as in year’s past we focus on the Palm Sunday narrative from the 19th chapter of Luke’s gospel.  Luke writes of Jesus, “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.” 

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week.  The events we celebrate this week draw to a close what theologians call the first stage of Christ’s work—his “humiliation.”  The second stage of his work begins with his resurrection and is called his “exaltation.”  This humiliation began at his birth in his incarnation and ends with his death on the cross.  The term “humiliation” is especially appropriate for the events of this week in the life of Christ.  The washing of his disciples’ (even his betrayer’s) feet, the abandonment of his closest friends at the moment of his deepest need, his standing before an earthly judge’s seat silent—not uttering a word in his own defense, the inhumane torture inflicted on him at a Roman scourging post, being mocked and spat upon by pagans and collapsing from exhaustion under the cross bar of his instrument of execution.  He was fastened to his cross alongside two common criminals.  His clothing was gambled for by Roman guards and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. 

All these circumstances would have been humiliating for anyone but for them to have been experienced by the second Person of the holy Trinity is by any measure the most humiliating series of events ever experienced by anyone at any time in human history.  The Lord of the universe was treated as a common criminal by people who owed their very existence to him.  During this final pre-resurrection week, Christ’s self-imposed weaknesses are manifest in their most graphic expression. 

          In light of that, when we read the story of what has been called “the triumphal entry” as we heard from Luke 19, you might be tempted to think this is the one moment in this Passion Week when Jesus puts his humiliation on hold.  Here is the one moment of exaltation in a week otherwise filled with humiliation.  If you think that you would be wrong.  In fact, the opening scene in this final week powerfully portrays the humility of Christ.  In order for us to see that we must understand that this beautiful event in the life of Jesus is really an acted out parable.  Jesus carefully orchestrates every significant detail of his entrance into Jerusalem to portray himself as the HUMBLE, self-sacrificing, Savior-from-sin-King—the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace.  Jesus carefully crafts this message through the details he sovereignly orchestrates in preparation for his entrance into Jerusalem.  This message of a humble, servant King is the one he sought to convey, even though as John admits in his gospel, no one understood it at the time. Let’s unpack this acted out parable in the same manner as we have in years past to see how this powerfully communicates Christ’s humility. 

First, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, 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 kept hidden from the people.  Also, the only time a king would publicly ride on a donkey was in times of peace.  Matthew’s account of this event in 21:5 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.' "  This text was not considered by the Jews to be Messianic—referring to the Messiah--until the fourth century AFTER Christ.  Jesus knew it was and Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew it was, but these people lining the road leading into Jerusalem would not have associated this donkey with the Messiah. 

What points to the humility of Christ here is 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 one of the main the purposes of the parables was to hide 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.” If we are to see the true meaning of this event, we must see it as an acted out parable.

According to John’s gospel the people along the road cry out, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”[v.13] But John also 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 prophetically screaming far more than they really knew.  This is much like what Caiphas, the High Priest 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 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.”  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 meaning of this Palm Sunday narrative.  An appropriate question in light of this stress on Christ’s humility is--—How can the humiliation of Christ seen so clearly during Passion Week be magnified so as to cause us to more deeply love and worship Christ?   How can we more fully appreciate Jesus as our Servant King?

One important answer to those questions is--any serious attempt to appreciate the humility of Christ must place it against the backdrop of his majesty. You simply don’t apprehend the humiliation of Christ until you see it in the light of the exaltation of Christ.  In the case of this event, the humility with which this King makes this entrance is most appreciated only when you compare it to the majesty and terror of Jesus’ second entrance into this world as King.  As we compare this first royal entrance with the King’s future entrance, then we can begin to appreciate something of the depth of humiliation the Suffering Servant King experienced in submitting himself to the events of his passion.  And that is what we will seek to do this morning.  We will by God’s grace seek to develop a more profound and life-changing appreciation of the events we celebrate this week.  So by God’s grace let’s do that by looking at the SECOND entrance of this King in the 19th chapter of the Revelation and as we read this, think about the vivid and intense contrasts the Holy Spirit draws 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 the 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 the 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, it was the mount of Kings who had gone to war and had conquered (!) their enemies.  This is the conquering King. While the never-ridden white donkey whispers gentleness and veiled secrecy, the white horse screams raw power and conquest.  Paul describes this same event in Second Thessalonians 1:7-8 and says Jesus at his second coming 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 flaming fire.  On this entrance He will be escorted NOT by uninformed and fickle followers who have no real clue about what is happening, but by fully informed and commissioned warrior angels.

A second contrast between these two accounts is seen in the disposition of Jesus toward those who witness his entrance.  Remember in Luke 19 Jesus’ attitude toward those in Jerusalem.  In verse 41, He looks over the city and he weeps over it.  Jerusalem, the city of David, home of the temple—the dwelling place of God—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 kill at least one more—THE Prophet.  Yet, 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.”  His longing is 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 not be more violent.  There is no compassion here—no weeping--the bell has tolled, the hour has struck!  In verse 13 we see His robe has been dipped in blood.  The symbolism is clear.  This time, the blood spilled will be NOT 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 stunning picture depicting Christ in a winepress trampling over and smashing NOT grapes to be turned into wine, but rebellious people who will be turned into food for birds—his enemies who’s spattered blood drenches the bottom of his robe.  This is a withering picture of divine judgment. On his first entrance into Jerusalem, Christ humbly rides over freshly picked palm branches tossed in front of him.  At his second entrance, this same Christ violently 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.”  One of the astonishing details of this picture of judgment is this--even though Christ comes with this mighty horde of destroying angels, he very much ALONE destroys his enemies.  In the end, this army—the most fearsome fighting force ever assembled--serves only as an honor guard for this lone Warrior.  At his second coming, the Messiah will not be weeping over the sin-soaked rebels of the earth; He will be executing them with His sword, which is the word of his mouth.  Gone is the time for shedding tears of sorrow; now is he time for speaking his lethal words bringing merciless judgment and destruction upon his enemies. Gone is any hope for peace. Now is time for the vengeance of God to be 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 kingship 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 white-hot holy wrath of God’s judgment.

A third contrast is seen in his level of accessibility and approachability by others. Luke shows us a King who is so human, so approachable.  We can so 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 him.  He sees the decimation that will come to this city and he weeps over it.  There is tenderness, mercy and compassion.  The Jesus we see on Palm Sunday and the rest of holy week is so accessible; vulnerable and approachable to us.  Not so, the Warrior King of Revelation 19 who’s very spoken words are lethal to billions.  By contrast, during the Passion Week, 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 claim of royalty.  It digs into his brow and the blood from his wounds runs down His face.  Hours earlier, the soldiers shoved a wooden stick in his hand as a mock scepter for a caricature king.  What a different picture John paints for us of the second coming!! 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 kings and the LORD of lords and these crowns were placed on His head NOT by a mocking pagan, 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 with which Christ will rule over all for all eternity.

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.  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] He has now shed the self-imposed limitations of this material realm and reveals Himself to be the Creator God, the Infinite, the Eternal, 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.

          This is a powerful set of parallels but the question is—How do we apply it to our lives?  Here are two brief applications.  First, as we have said before we should never read or study the passion narratives of Christ in a vacuum.  We must read these texts, which display the humiliation of Christ in the broader context of his exaltation.  What establishes the wonder of this first, humble entrance is 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 dressed in a robe, the train alone of which completely fills the heavenly temple of God.  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 says 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.”  The events captured in Revelation 19 portraying the wrath and judgment of God are horribly politically incorrect in our day.  But if we diminish the truths in texts like Revelation 19 and what they reveal about Jesus, we are one step away from reducing the Passion of Christ to little more than a series of noble acts done by a righteous man and we must never do that.  This week, when you read through the events of Jesus’ passion, remind yourself of just who it is that suffered the shame, humiliation, pain and death for you.  Ask God to give you at one and the same time the loving intimacy AND the humble fear we should have for our Servant King and our Warrior King.  We must love and embrace BOTH aspects of Jesus’ character if we are to love him rightly.

          A second point of application is for those here today who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.  If you don’t know him as your Lord and Savior, you must do that.  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 comes as One who weeps over people estranged from Him.  Now he comes to you in mercy and gentleness.  Now, that is how he relates to sinners.  But make no mistake.  If you delay in responding to his incredible mercy until this window of divine grace closes, He will come to you not with an open, nail-pierced hand, but with a sword.  He will speak words that bring NOT mercy and grace but instead, eternal death.  You will experience NOT his love, but his fierce wrath because your sin is repugnant to a holy, sin-hating God and He must and will punish it in the eternal fires of hell.  He died on the cross to bear your sin—to take your sin upon his innocent Person and receive the punishment you deserved.  NOW you have an opportunity to cry out to him in faith, confess you are a needy sinner and he will wash you clean with his shed blood. 

Don’t miss the only two options open to you.  You can either welcome his shed blood to cover you in mercy and forgiveness, or you can refuse him and be assured that YOUR shed blood, along with all the other rebels will spatter the hem of his robe after he has trampled upon you in the winepress of his holy wrath.  Now, he pursues and woos his bride.  But if you refuse to repent of your sin and come to him, he will hunt you down in 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.

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