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Luke 19:28-48

Palm Sunday 2022

Luke 19:28-48

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Sermon Text

 

Introduction

 

One of the difficulties in focusing on specific passages from Scripture each year is the danger of them becoming too familiar. What I mean by that is we can easily find ourselves glossing over them because we know them so well. Every year on Palm Sunday, or Easter, or Christmas, we look at one of the same passages, right? And we are going to do the same this year, don’t worry. But I hope we can see it with fresh eyes and hearts, and from perhaps a different angle. And I will admit this is a difficult angle from which to view this passage, it is not fun or celebratory in the usual sense. I have always been drawn to this passage in Luke, particularly Jesus’ statement about the stones crying out. I love that image which is what led me to want to dive into this passage for us this Palm Sunday. And the more I studied and thought about the passage the more I came to see Luke’s focus on Jesus’ proclamations of judgement. He frames the triumphal entry not as a celebration, in fact he only records a little bit of the actual crowd scene on the road into Jerusalem. No, he has a much different purpose in his writing.

 

What I pray we will all see from Luke’s description of the first Palm Sunday is that

 

The Triumphal Entry was a resounding proclamation of judgement that has eternal implications for us still today.

 

We are going to focus exclusively on some of those Jesus’ words of judgement in these verses and I pray the Spirit may work in our hearts to keep us from tuning out things we don’t want to hear or are too hard or overly familiar. But would instead show us the connection we have with the original hearers of Jesus’ words.

 

  1. Three Statements of Judgement

 

What we will do is look at three specific statements of judgement. If you look at the whole chapter, the events leading up to the triumphal entry, you will see there are more so this is not an isolated moment in history. No, this is a building up of denouncement from Jesus.

 

Who were the people that Jesus spoke such strong words against in this passage? We see them mentioned in verses 39 and 47: the Pharisees, the chief priests, scribes and principal men of the people. These are the Jewish rulers of the day; they were the men in religious power in Israel. Jesus has a long history with them, this being the final week of his three-year long ministry. They have continually clashed from the beginning as Jesus has challenged their teaching and lifestyles. It is important to know that these rulers were very pious, meaning they kept the law of God with an amazing exactness in most all areas. And Jesus rarely condemns them for their teaching, in fact he tells his disciples to listen to their words. The problem, he said, was in their hearts, not in what they taught.

 

They were the definition of hypocrites, they acted one way but truly were another on the inside. Elsewhere Jesus calls them, “white-washed tombs,” meaning they had all of the outward appearances of faithfulness, they looked like model followers of God. But inside they were dead, filled with all uncleanness, unrighteousness, pride, self-centeredness, greed, adultery, idolatry and on and on. That is what Jesus has condemned in them throughout his ministry and that has led to their unbridled hatred of him.

 

And it is this week, the week that starts with a celebration of Jesus coming into Jerusalem, that ends with these rulers finally getting what they have sought for several years, Jesus being brutally killed.

 

In this passage, there are three statements I want us to look at from Jesus against these religious rulers, that are proclamations of coming judgement because of their hypocritical lives.

 a. the very stones would cry out v40

 

The first is in verse 40. As Jesus is approaching the city of Jerusalem, there is a large crowd with him. He is riding on a donkey and people are spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the road. This is how you would welcome a king; this whole scene is a very clear image of how the people viewed Jesus and what they hoped he was about to do, which was set-up an earthly kingdom and rule over them, setting them free from their Roman occupiers. And the Pharisees in the crowd knew exactly what was happening, none of this is lost on them. I mean it is pretty obvious with that the people are saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” They are hoping this is God’s king for them at last! Now is the time where all will be made right, the kingdom of God is going to come down from heaven and be set-up right here in Jerusalem! This is what we have been looking, hoping and waiting for, for hundreds of years!

 

The Pharisees are angry at all of this pomp and tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples. And they aren’t just asking Jesus to tell them to quiet down. The word Luke uses here means they are demanding that he denounce them, to threaten the people harshly. They want Jesus to deny that he is their King in no uncertain terms. And Jesus does speak denunciation, not on his followers, but on the Pharisees. He says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Now what makes this a proclamation of judgement? To us this is a little veiled, since we are not as well steeped in the Old Testament as the religious rulers of that day were, but we can be sure, Jesus’ words were a sharp dagger in their blackened hearts.

 

What Jesus appears to be doing here is alluding to a passage from the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was a prophet to Jerusalem way back around 600 BC. God reveals to Habakkuk that due to their sin and rebellion, Jerusalem, the temple and all of Judah would soon be destroyed by the kingdom of Babylon which did happen around 15 years later. In chapter 2, God speaks to him and tells him that after that period of judgement on Judah, God will then destroy the Babylonians; his judgement will be turned on them. In verses 10 and 11, speaking about the Babylonians, God says, “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”

 

The Babylonians thought they were invincible; they felt they were so mighty and powerful that nothing or no one could touch them. Their house, their nest, their nation, was so high above everyone else that no harm could possibly ever come to them. But God tells them that the very stones of their house cry out in judgement against them. They have only become powerful, they have only gathered these stones, because of their sins of brutality and oppression and God would soon destroy them. They may be safe from other nations, but they are not safe from almighty God.

 

And for Jesus to use these words against his fellow Jews would have been a huge insult. Even though the kingdom of Babylon no longer existed, since God did indeed destroy it, it was still used to epitomize everything evil in the Jewish mind. So, for Jesus to compare them to Babylon would be extremely offensive; they would not have missed his point. But is it a fair comparison?

 

Well, if we combine this with his other Old Testament quotation in verse 46, we get a clear picture of what he is accusing them of and his pronouncement of coming judgement in verses 41-44 makes more sense.

 b. den of robbers, v46

 

We know from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus actually cleared the temple on the next day of the week but Luke combines them in his narrative without a blatantly stated gap in time for the purpose of showing Jesus’ thought process and continuing this theme of judgement.

 

Just as a side note: there is no contradiction here with Mark’s gospel. People like to point to things like this and say, “see the Bible is full of contradictions!” But that is just being dishonest. Luke does not say, “And Jesus entered the temple and cleared it the same day as the triumphal entry. Mark was wrong! This did not happen on Monday.” No, he just says, “and he entered the temple.”  Again, he is arranging narratives in order to make Jesus’ point clear, not to contradict or give an exact order of events.

 

Anyways, back to verse 46. Jesus enters the temple courts and clears out those who sold. What was happening here is that in what was known as the court of the Gentiles, people would sell animals for sacrifices as well as change money, currency exchange, so people could buy and sell when they came to Jerusalem. This is the time of the Passover and people are coming from all over to take part in the sacrifices that were required of all Jews and this is the only place in which those sacrifices could be offered. They didn’t have local temples, like we have local churches in different communities. There was one temple, one place where God could be worshipped. Some people had to travel great distances and would need to buy animals to offer when they got to Jerusalem. Having people there selling was not an issue in and of itself; the problem was the way in which it was being done. This had become a means by which the rulers could make a nice profit off of the religious festivities. They knew the travelers would have to buy animals so they could charge whatever they wanted; there was a real supply and demand issue here. They were using their position to oppress people and all in the name of God.

 

And here he confronts them by violently clearing them out of the temple courts and he quotes two Old Testament passages in verse 46. He says, “my house shall be a house of prayer,” which is from Isaiah 56. The second half, “but you have made it a den of robbers,” is a pronouncement of judgement which comes from Jeremiah 7 and this is what I want us to focus on. Let’s flip back there because this is important for us to see.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet around the same time as Habakkuk, and his ministry spanned more than 40 years. And like Habakkuk, God revealed to him the coming destruction of Judah because of their continued sin, rebellion and hypocrisy. And in chapter 7, God gives Jeremiah words to speak to his fellow countrymen in the temple, exactly where Jesus was when he quoted this verse. Let’s read verses 1-15.

 

The people, including the religious rulers, in Jeremiah’s day lived wickedly. They committed all kinds of sin: stealing, murdering, adultery, breaking of vows, worshiping idols. And while they did all of that, they would come to the temple and declare that they were safe. They would say, “this is the house of God, no one can touch us! I can do whatever I want because we have the temple and we are the people of God. It doesn’t matter how I live because all I have to do is offer this sacrifice and all is forgiven! I am invincible from judgement and harm! Not even God can touch me.”

 

God said that they turned his house, which is called by his name, into a den of robbers. Think about that image for a moment. What is a den of robbers? A den of robbers would be a safe place, a sanctuary for people who commit crime, right? In a house full of robbers, I don’t have to hide the fact that I am also a robber, I can live however I want and know that I have a safe space that is free of condemnation. There is no fear of judgement in a house full of criminals.

 

That is what the people did to the temple, the place of the very presence of God. The place that was built for all people to come and worship, to repent and have their sins covered over, to pray to God and praise him for his goodness, to know and experience the very God of the universe. It had become a place where people outright mocked God, where they thought they were free from any condemnation no matter how they lived because they would just offer some sacrifices, offerings and prayers and all would be right.

 

But God says through Jeremiah, “I myself have seen it.” In other words, you aren’t getting anything past me. I am not dull, God says. I know your wicked hearts and I know you think you are untouchable because you think this house protects you, but judgement is fast approaching because of your wicked hypocrisy.

 

Back in Luke 19, Jesus uses these same words to connect their situations together. Just as people lived in Jeremiah’s day, so too they lived in Jesus’ day. They come to the temple to offer sacrifices and offerings, and in so doing they oppress and defraud their neighbor. They lie, cheat, steal, break their vows, lust, murder and on and on and then say, “Oh we have the temple, the house of God! I can just offer a sacrifice and I am all set! I am untouchable before God! He will protect me, he has to because of these offerings!”

 

They were just like the Babylonians; they felt they were untouchable because of the house they had built. But God sees them, he knows their hearts, he is not fooled by outward appearances.

 c. coming destruction vs41-44

 

And just like the Babylonians, and just like the temple and people of Jeremiah’s day, they would soon be wiped out in God’s coming judgement, as Jesus reveals in verses 41-44. This house that they felt protected them from anything, would soon be torn down, with not one stone left upon another. This, we know from history, happened in the year 70 AD in what was brutal siege and battle. The Jewish historian Josephus says that over a million people died in and around Jerusalem at that time. A million people.

 

And while there are many historical factors that led to it happening, we know from Jesus’ words here that it was ultimately caused by God because of the hypocrisy of their hearts, their mocking of God and his commands and their refusal to recognize Jesus as who he said he was. His coming was the time of their visitation, the time for peace with God by coming to him through his Messiah, Jesus Christ. But they rejected and murdered him, the very Son of God. So, instead of peace, they received judgement and destruction because their hypocritical hearts refused to turn to him despite all their pious words and actions to the contrary. They looked like faithful followers of God on the outside, but God was not fooled because he saw their hearts.

 

And this may seem really far removed from us. It is in a way; a totally different land and culture and time. But the message of Habakkuk, Jeremiah and Jesus still speak true for us today. No, we don’t have a temple in danger of being destroyed. And hopefully we don’t live as blatantly hypocritical lives as the Pharisees.

 

But it is so easy to deceive ourselves; to profess one thing, and live differently whether on the outside or inside. To look one way here on Sunday morning, and look very differently when we think no one is watching. It is very easy to be fooled into thinking we are safe because we believe we have protection from Jesus, we claim the title of “Christian,” when we have never truly known him as evidenced by the way we live.

 

Trust me I know this personally, I lived it for many years. Thinking I was a good enough Christian to be safe from judgement because I went to church every week, surely that was enough. God has just enough of my life to keep me safe. But my heart was far from God until I was confronted with a question we all have to ask ourselves: where do our hearts truly lie? What do our hearts and lives say about us? Do the very stones of our house’s cry out against us? God is not deceived and we will not escape his judgement with pious words and activities every once in a while, trying to find the line of how much of my life can I give him and what can I keep for myself to still be considered a Christian when our hearts are actually far from him.

 

We can’t afford to be like the people of Jesus’ day, with hard hearts, missing the things that make for peace with God. If we choose to stay in our sin we will be lost in eternal destruction. If we refuse to diagnose our hearts, thinking we must be safe, we may be in for a real shock when we meet God face to face and he reveals he never knew us. Don’t miss these words, don’t reject Christ today.

 

In writing about the suffering of Christ on the cross, Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, gives us this exhortation. “You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble…If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart.”

 

We cannot be like those people that surrounded our Lord Jesus and heard his words, saw his life and still had hardened hearts against him.

 

While Jesus may not have been the King some of the people were hoping for on that first Palm Sunday, we can be sure he is King over all. And as King he demands that every part of our life and heart come under his Lordship. He is not out for part of us, he did not go to the cross to just get an hour or two on Sunday with the rest of the week being like the world. He died to be Lord over all, every inch of our lives, from our hearts, feelings, thoughts, the words we speak, our marriages, our parenting, our jobs, our money, all of it. It is all his, it is all under his Kingship, his Lordship. To refuse him part, may be a sign we are refusing him all of it just like the Pharisees and we have lulled ourselves into a sense of false security.

 

Richard Baxter, a British pastor writing in the 1600’s said, “The hypocrite gives God what the flesh can spare. When you think you can divide half between God and the world, and secure both your fleshly interest of pleasure and prosperity, and your salvation, you are seeking to serve God and [money]. his is the true character of a self-deceived hypocrite. He will not lose his hold on present things, nor forsake his worldly interest for Christ as long as he can keep it. He will not be any further religious than may stand with his personal welfare. He is resolved to be as godly as will stand will a worldly, fleshly life. O sirs, take warning of this sin and danger! Jesus told you how necessary self-denial is for his disciples. Consider the cost to be followers of Christ. See that there is no secret reserve in your hearts for worldly interests and prosperity. Take God as enough for you, yea, as all, or else you do not take him as your God.”

 

These are hard things to think about and can be painful to wrestle with as we examine our hearts. But it is necessary, our very souls depend on it. Maybe you have never given your heart and life to Christ through faith. Don’t spend another minute apart from him. Confess your need for a Savior, a rescuer from the judgement to come. Maybe you have come to him in faith but you are compartmentalizing your life, where he is only Lord over some parts. Don’t spend another moment in that life. Confess and repent and ask God for a softened heart that lets him into all areas.

 

And when we come to Christ, whether for the first time in faith for salvation, or for the millionth time for forgiveness and help, we will always find a willing, grace-filled, loving Savior. How do we know that is true? Because he has proved his heart for us by willingly going to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, knowing full-well where he was going; Knowing exactly what it meant, that this would lead to a horrible, agonizing, unjust, torturous death. But he did it on behalf of his people so that we would not have to face God’s judgement for our sin.

 

He gave his life completly to the Father to pay for all the times we only give a little bit of ourselves. He took the totality of our sin on himself, all of it, all of God’s wrath, so we wouldn’t have to. And he did this willingly because of his great love for us. if we come to him by faith with all of our hearts.

 

And for those who come to him with nothing to offer but their faith, we know that we have in him a real amd lasting safe place, where nothing and no one can condemn us because we are under his loving care and grace today and forevermore.