Luke 19:28-34 “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no-one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” tell him, “The Lord needs it.”’ Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’
Our passage begins, “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (v.28). Do you see that it was “after Jesus had said this” parable of the ten minas? The nobleman had gone to a distant land to be made king, and then later he’d returned and then in the meantime his servants were to work and to serve. Luke says that Jesus told that parable “because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Luke 19:11) But our Lord didn’t disillusion them by disappearing, by going off for a few weeks and hiding out in the wilderness of Galilee deflating the whole Passover-Messiah-establishment of a glorious kingdom excitement. The people hoped there were going to be fireworks in Jerusalem, the millennium itself was going to begin. They were utterly muddled in their thinking. Still Jesus went to Jerusalem, and there he did something that kindled their expectations, but something that also made them all say to one another, “This wasn’t how we expected it.” It is just the response that we get from people visiting us in this church for the first time. They’ve heard about ‘evangelicals’ and they’ve seen certain programmes of evangelical people on TV. They see shots of controlled mayhem and physical enthusiasm, more like a rock concert than a worship service, and then they come to our meeting place on a Sunday to see ‘evangelicals’ in action and it’s not like that. It is all reverence and godly fear, and it is all the Bible; the climactic aspect of our worship is the preaching and hearing of Scripture. So Jesus has to present himself as the Messiah; he tells no lies about that, but he also did so in a way that they learned that the kingdom of God was not going to come in its fullness and glory at this time, on this coming to Jerusalem. He had to go to the cross before he could come to the world in glory.
1. THE ROUTE THAT THE LORD CHRIST TOOK TO JERUSALEM.
i] The date of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was significant. This was also a significant week in the Jewish calendar. This was Passover week when the Jewish people celebrated God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians under the leadership of Moses. Crowds of traveling pilgrims came to the holy city of Jerusalem for this annual event. Religious fervor was high. Think of the spirit of Welshness that grips you when you spend a day or so at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. At such a time Jerusalem and the villages round about were packed. A million slept in the open air. There was one occasion when a census was taken of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast. The number counted was 256,000. There had to be a minimum of ten people per lamb; and if that estimate is correct it means that there must have been as many as 2,700,000 people at that Passover Feast almost the population of Wales in one city. Part of the Messianic hope was that God would send another one like Moses to deliver his people. And now here comes Jesus, a prophet widely known for his miracles and teaching, walking the road to Jerusalem along with his disciples and a growing crowd of fellow pilgrims. There was already wide conjecture that Jesus might be the Messiah. Now he prepares to enter Jerusalem at the beginning of this holy week, and Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah to all the people of Jerusalem.
ii] The place of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was significant. There is the mention of the Mount of Olives. “As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives,” Jesus paused for a while and, “he sent two of his disciples ahead” (v. 29). The Mount of Olives was more than just a geographical marker. The Mount of Olives had Messianic implications. When Ezekiel prophesied to the Jewish exiles who were held captive in Babylon, he prophesied about the restoration of Israel to the land. He told them God had given him a vision of the glory of the Lord departing from the temple and then from Jerusalem. He said, “The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it” (Ezekiel 11:23). That was the Mount of Olives. That hill to which the glory of God had departed stood as a monument to a people who had grieved the Spirit. Then later in Ezekiel’s vision he sees the glory of the Lord returning to Jerusalem from the east (Ezekiel 43:1), implying that God’s glory would re-enter Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives even as it had left. You imagine the fireside after-dinner discussions in the evenings during the week-long feast of the Passover with the men debating the coming of the Messiah. “The glory went from Jerusalem when we were driven into exile in Babylon,” one man would say. “It’s not been in Jerusalem ever since.” “Yes,” another one said, “but you remember that it’s going to come back from that mountain right into the city one day. That will be when the Messiah returns. The Spirit would return from the Mount of Olives. A wonderful day! Amen!” “Amen! Amen! Amen!” They all talked of the return of the Messiah and their freedom just as when Moses had freed them.
Then there was another prophet Zechariah, and he prophesied to the group of exiles who had actually returned to Jerusalem after the 70 years exile was over, and his ministry was to encourage them in the rebuilding of the temple. In the final chapter of his vision he foretold the Day of the Lord when the Lord will return to fight for his people. We read in Zechariah 14:4: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). So the people expected that when Messiah came to deliver them, it would be from the Mount of Olives that he would come. So it was no accident that when Jesus began his entry into Jerusalem from the east it was at the beginning of the Passover and from this very location, the Mount of Olives. He was intentionally, scripturally presenting himself as Messiah.
iii] The contacts Jesus made on his way to Jerusalem were also significant. We are told that he approached Bethphage and Bethany (v.29). Now what was significant about Bethany? It was the home of three of his greatest friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother. It was on a Friday evening that Jesus had arrived in Bethany at their home (John 12). A few weeks earlier Lazarus had been taken seriously ill and had actually died and Jesus had arrived three days after his death and had raised him from the dead. We are told that his resurrection had made a considerable impact on the community especially on those friends of the family who had come to the sisters to sympathize with them. I think it would be germane to read the fascinating response to the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. I think it helps us to understand what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem so publicly to such excitement; Lazarus having been raised from the dead, “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. ‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly” (Jn.11:45-54). It was utterly impossible for them to believe that Jesus could be the Messiah, though he was born in the right city, came from the right tribe, preached with prophetic authority, showed his power over sickness and demons and creation. They were gripped by defiant unbelief that refused to consider the evidence. They wouldn’t bow to him; they’d kill him to stop the Romans coming in and taking their valuable jobs away from them.
Now Jesus returns to Bethany. You appreciate the fact that he never returned to Nain where he had resurrected the widow’s son, and he did not return to Jephthah’s house where he had raised his daughter, but he did return to his friends in Bethany and ate and drank with Lazarus and his sisters. It was a public affirmation of the truthfulness of what had taken place there, a mighty resurrection. It was no embarrassment to Jesus and no trick. Lazarus had died. He had been buried, and on the third day he rose. Jesus arrived there in Bethany at their home for a dinner that was given in Jesus’ honour. It was six days before the Passover, before sundown on the Sabbath, and he spent the Sabbath from sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday with them. We also know that that feast was the time and place that Mary had anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair.
When the news leaked out that Jesus was there then thousands of people arrived in Bethany: “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him” (Jn 12:9-11). So there was a buzz about the arrival of Jesus in the vicinity of Jerusalem. He came by the Mount of Olvies; he came from the scenes of his recent raising of Lazarus; he came with many people believing upon him as the Messiah. Now was the time for Jesus to terminate his policy of secrecy which had given him years to train the Twelve and ‘come out!’
2. THE PREPARATIONS JESUS MADE FOR ENTERING JERUSALEM.
Notice five things in this familiar incident. I hope that they are fresh to you.
i] The Lord Christ gave a kingly command. He sends his disciples on an errand that only a king could send them on. In fact, in the process of giving that command, he also gave them a prediction as to what was going to happen when they’d carry out to the letter his words. As we study this passage I think we will also learn that we need to live our lives in light of the knowledge of Christ. We need to live our lives in the light of the fact that Christ knows us intimately; he knows our futures, the boundaries within which we can live our lives heroically and usefully, where our faith would start to collapse if we should transgress those boundaries. Our gifts and our weaknesses and our level of maturity are all known to the Lord.
So Jesus and his disciples said good-bye to Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They left Bethany and they got nearer to Jerusalem. They were passing the little village of Bethphage – a mere cluster of houses, a nowhere place, but known to Jesus (he knows nowhere places and people who are nobodies in the eyes of the world) and it was then that Christ said to two of his disciples, “Look, I want you to go into Bethphage, and you’re going to find a colt there. In fact, you’re going to find a donkey and her colt. Now I want you to bring them back to me. And if someone stops you, if the owner or one of his servants cries out, ‘What do you think you are doing with my donkey and its foal,’ you just tell them this, ‘The Lord,’ not your Lord, but ‘the Lord needs it’ (v.31), and they’ll send you on with it.” And so the disciples did just as he told them to do, and they brought back this colt and its foal to Jesus (v.35).
ii] The donkey was a tethered beast. It was tied up (v.30). Now that may not seem significant to us at first, but it would have had significance to the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, steeped in the Old Testament scriptures and discussing together during the Passover how they would know that the Messiah had definitely come. What does a tethered colt have to do with the Messiah? Well, one of the earliest prophesies about Messiah appears in the book of Genesis in chapter 49 – yes in the blessings of Jacob on his sons. You know that passage well. Jacob, the old patriarch was dying, and he gathered his sons around him and he prophesied about each one of them and his descendants in turn. Of particular interest is his prophecy about Judah. King David came from the line of Judah, and later Old Testament prophecy made it clear that the Messiah would also come from Judah in the line of David.
We read in Genesis 49 concerning Judah, “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes” (Genesis 49:10-11). For the Jewish person meditating on Messiah, the phrase ‘tethered colt’ would evoke associations with this famous prophecy in Genesis of great Judah’s greater Son, and it would be another link of Jesus and Messiahship.
iii] The donkey had never been ridden. Animals that were meant for sacred or royal use weren’t used for ordinary tasks. They were set apart for a great purpose – this young donkey had never been ridden by a sinner. Who was the one who had set it apart for this glorious privilege of carrying Christ the Messiah five days before his death? God the Father had set it apart for this sacred and royal task of carrying the Messiah into the holy city on this first Palm Sunday. That is why this colt had been born to this donkey.
iv] Christ identified himself as ‘the Lord.’ Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah in these words to the disciples through his self-identification as “Lord.” He told these anonymous disciples whom he sent on ahead of him: “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it’” (v.31). The two disciples went and they found the animals just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it” (Luke 19:31-34). The word “Lord” had several meanings in Jesus’ day. It could refer to Jehovah, or to an earthly master, or even just to the owner of something. In fact when Jesus first instructs his disciples to say, “The Lord needs it,” the meaning could have been as simple as saying, “His owner needs it.” Luke is careful to point out, though, that the donkey’s actual owners were the ones who asked the disciples why they were untying the colt. The word ‘Lord’ then takes on a deeper meaning, when they replied to the owners, “The Lord needs it.” The name ‘Lord’ was a messianic title. Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm. It begins with these words: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” (Psalm 110:1) After Jesus enters Jerusalem, he will use this very verse to engage the Pharisees concerning the title of ‘Lord’ as it applies to the person of the Messiah (Luke 20:41-44). Jesus often used the word “Lord” for himself, and he freely accepted that title from the lips of others, and here at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it was just another way that he presented himself as Messiah.
v] Christ requisitioned the animal. It is Luke who tells us that Jesus rode on the colt but it is Mark who tells us that it had never been bridled or ridden. He rode on this little foal having actually requisitioned it. Jesus is again giving another sign of his kingship to his disciples. You know that throughout history conquering kings would come in and requisition things in areas where they have total authority. The Scots to this day remember the fact that when Oliver Cromwell went north, he stabled his horses in St. Giles’ Church in Edinburgh. Don’t imagine that the Scots liked that one bit, but conquering monarchs often do that sort of thing. They’ll requisition mansions and by doing that they are saying, “I am the ultimate authority here. I can stable my horses in your housing. I can house my soldiers in your mansions.”
But notice here that Jesus, by requisitioning this donkey, does it in such a way that its master is happy to give it. So our Lord is focusing our attention on himself, on his authority and his claims, and that is our task, my vocation in particular. And as we in this congregation focus on the Lord Jesus in our gatherings around his word, week by week, then what we are seeing are the great, glorious and divine things happening in the life of Jesus; the wonderful sermons and parables; the signs – the blind seeing, the conversions in the transformation of rich crooks. We see in the Word great things and I fully expect as a result of us continuing to believe these things in Scripture that astounding things will also occur here in our midst, that they must occur here, because the Holy Spirit is glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst by his Word. He loves to do it; nothing will stop him doing it; he must do it. Great things will carry on happening here as we tell everyone of the servant-king Jesus. Let those refuse to come who don’t want to hear about Jesus Christ, but to those who come then great things must happen in our hearts individually and also collectively as a congregation today and in the future. They must happen as we magnify Christ. Attempt great things for the Lord; expect great things from the Lord. The glorious things of Christ are recorded in Luke’s gospel, and Luke is insisting that we must focus most of all on who Jesus is and what he’s done for us.
But let me turn this word in this way, to say again that this passage also reminds us that all of us are always living under the gaze of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, that is really supernatural, isn’t it? Our lives are supernatural lives. You will never understand your life until you bring it under the eyes and into the orbit of God. Jesus tells the disciples, “You go into such and such a village and there will be a donkey and a foal waiting for you. Now you just take them and bring them back to me, and oh, by the way, if one of the servants stops you, you tell them that I need them.” This is quite striking, isn’t it, Jesus knowing all that. How did he know it? Certainly I don’t dispute the possibility that Christ had been to Bethphage and that he knew he had some secret disciples there, but he also knew about a mere donkey for this reason, Jesus is God; he is the Word made flesh. He knows the name of Zacchaeus. He knows Nathanael when he was under the fig tree. He knew the woman of Samaria that she had been married five times. He knows you; he knows your name and your heart.
Are we conscious that his eyes are on us just like his eyes were on the disciples and are even upon humble beasts of burden? You know, if the Son of God, who came from his throne of glory in heaven, and knows even the exact location of domestic animals, we can be sure that he knows where we are today. How are things with you this today? Just where are you? The God who knew about this donkey and its colt knows about you. Do we judge our lives in light of that kind of knowledge? Do we live our lives in the light of that kind of knowledge of Christ? He knows everything. I’d suggest to you that sometimes we live as if we think God doesn’t know where we are, what we’re doing, what we’re saying, and what we’re thinking. But this passage reminds us again that our Lord is omniscient. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me. It is all so very elementary isn’t it? We tell the children that the Lord Jesus knows everything, and so they must live his way in order to please him.
4th March 2012 Geoff Thomas