Series: The Greatest Week in History
Today, I want invite you to take a three month journey with me on the greatest week in history. This series is devoted to the most important person who’s ever lived on His most important week. This is the week of Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem as well as His death, burial, and resurrection. Bracketed by Palm Sunday on one end and Easter Sunday on the other, this is the most important week in history.
Before we read our passage, allow me to set the scene for day one, Palm Sunday. It’s early Sunday morning some 120 hours before Jesus will be crucified. And while He’s predicted His death numerous times, only He feels the countdown to His death at this point. It is the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, either April 2, AD 30 or March 29 AD 33 on our calendars. And Scripture records Jesus doing three items on this day:
1) Jesus triumphantly enters into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday; 2) He enters Jerusalem to look around the Temple late in the day; 3) And He returns back to Bethany. And so begins the greatest week in history…
Today’s Scripture Passage
And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, ”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. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.”’ 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ”Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, ”The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As 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, 38 saying, ”Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ”Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, ”I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, ”Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:28-44).
It’s the palm branches that make this day unique in so many ways. For centuries, the church has memorialized today, the first day of Holy Week, as Palm Sunday because of the palm branches and cloaks that the people spread out before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. The Gospel writers tell us a crowd gathered, gushing with excitement, and lined the road in front of Jesus as he slowly rode into the city. As He made his way, one step at a time by the beast of burden on which he sat, a sort of carpet was being sewn together ahead of him. Fresh, green palm branches, presumably picked from nearby trees, and thick, worn clothing, likely from the backs of the crowd, formed a tapestry of endearment toward Israel’s long-awaited messiah.
1. Jesus’ Final Week
All four of the gospels throw the brakes on when they arrive at the final week of Jesus’ life. About forty percent of the gospels focus on this one-week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. When we consider the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, many of us think of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday but everything else gets a little fuzzy. In fact, the four gospels record some forty events over the course of these eight days.
Passover isn’t for several more days but all of Israel is preparing for it. While the city of Jerusalem was normally around 40,000 in population at this time it would swell up for the Passover celebration. Yet, as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jerusalem would have as many as three times it’s normal size. Think of a miniaturized version of Super Bowl time at Jerry’s World in Arlington and you get the picture. The city was alive with people and excitement as Jesus entered the city for it was the time of the Passover celebration. The great crowd is made up of pilgrims have come to Jerusalem for the Feast for Passover. It was an exciting place. It was a crowded place. And it was a busy place.
Jesus enters Jerusalem from the east on this day. In the few days before He’s journey from the ancient city of Jericho, spent the night in Bethany just 1.8 miles from Jerusalem. In all likelihood, Jesus traveled back and forth all week from nearby Bethany and Bethphage. With the high number of visitors inside and around the city of Jerusalem, the poor would have to travel further out to find lodging. Being poor all of His life, Jesus found a place to stay with His friends in Bethany. The Mount of Olives is Jerusalem’s highest peak and it lies to the east of Jerusalem, some 2,650 feet above sea level. Covered with olive trees, the Mount of Olives is perched high over the Kidron Valley and just beyond that is the city walls of Jerusalem. Jesus rode along the ridge of some two miles in length and witnessed an unrivalled look into the Old City of Jerusalem.
1.3 An Interesting Find in Farmersville, TX
Brenda Anderson lost her husband, Harold, of fifty-five years to Alzheimer’s this past August. On the Saturday after Christmas, Brenda leapt into her panty just before the winds slammed her door shut. When she emerged a few seconds later, her panty was the only part of the house that still had an intact ceiling and four walls. The house that was full of memories and thirty-six years of marriage was gone, including her wedding ring. But five days later volunteers found her wedding ring that was missing and presumed lost forever.
More seriously but just as ”coincidental,” was the location of the Mount of Olives is a rich and fertile place for both agriculture but also for biblical events. Jesus sees the Temple in front of Him as well as the Garden of Gethsemane just to His right. He knows what lies ahead of Him that in just a few days, He’ll ponder His fate at this Garden. In little less than a few months, Jesus will return here to ascend to heaven from this very place (Acts 1:9-12). And the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, predicted the Messiah would return one day in the not so distant future for the Second Coming at the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4-5). Now, Nisan 10 is when families would choose their lambs for sacrifice: ”Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3). Just as Jesus enters the ancient city, thousands of lambs were being driven to the city for sacrifice later in the week. A foreshadowing of His eventual sacrifice, the perfect lamb will be slain (John 1:29).
2. A Glorious Charade
You have seen parades before but this isn’t another parade. In fact, this parade is little more than a charade for many in the crowd that day. Despite the small mob of people gathered around him in today’s story, when Jesus died, His tiny failed movement appeared clearly at an end.The scene in front of you doesn’t resemble the kind of triumphal entries the Roman general practiced. There you’d find trophies of war, captives and a white horse. But Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem has none of these things – the parade was a charade in contrast.
2.1 Why a Charade?
When Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, He arrived to the adulation of many and the cheering approval of the crowd. Yet, the Triumphal Entry, as it is called, served a deeper purpose than simply a parade in His honor, however. His coming in this manner had been revealed clearly in the Old Testament: the method, the timing, and the meaning.
Look with me briefly at two Old Testament and one New Testament passages. Zechariah 9:9 had told of the King’s coming on the colt of a donkey so that Israel would recognize Him: ”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). And Psalms 118:21-29 had announced the meaning of Christ’s arrival, which the crowd realized in their shouts: ”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). But this event also fulfilled Jesus’ promise. Several weeks earlier, some Pharisees came to lure Him back to Judea (Luke 13:31-35). ”At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ And he said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”’ (Luke 13:31-35)
His entry was right on time and just as both He and the prophets predicted.
2.2 The Significance of a Dead Man
Pause and see the significance of this one Man in ways you haven’t considered before. If you were new to our nation and wondered why Abraham Lincoln was recently featured in a movie. If you had asked me about his significance in being featured on the penny and the five dollar bill, I would respond by telling you of his role in the Civil War, I would talk about the tragedy of slavery and how he held the country together when real threats work to rip it apart. You wouldn’t understand the scope of Lincoln’s significance if you didn’t understand his the events of his day and how they affect us today. But I wouldn’t tell you that most impactful thing Lincoln did was to die. Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede.
On December 31, 2016 Grammy winner Natalie Cole died in Los Angeles. I remember her song Unforgettable from the early 1990s. It was her father’s hit so many years before and technology allowed her voice to be spliced with her dad’s on the duet. Traci and I would listen to her music while we dated. If someone’s legacy will outlast their life, it usually becomes apparent when they die. Her influence as with her dad’s will wane over time. The influence of those who have died will usually lessen over time, rather than rise.
Yet, Jesus inverted this normal human trajectory. Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life. It was greater still after five hundred years. After a thousand years his legacy laid the foundation for much of Europe. After two thousand years He has more followers in more places than ever. Again, if someone’s legacy will outlast their life, it usually becomes apparent when they die.
On the day when Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus or Napoleon or Socrates or Mohammed died, their reputations were immense. The empire of Rome, where Jesus was born and was murdered, long ago crumbled to ruins. Yet, the number of people who swear allegiance to Jesus and call him Lord has grown through the centuries. This one solitary life has done more to inspire hope and love in our world than anyone.
Mark this story for it tells us that Jesus is an actual king. He’s riding a little horse and people throw their cloaks down, which is what people did for a king. They’re not just saying you are A king but they’re saying He is the ultimate King.
2.3 He’s in Control
The passage is full of irony. ”…he sent two of the disciples, saying, ”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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it”’ (Luke 19:29b-31). Jesus is confident the animal will be there. And it isn’t just that He knows an animal will be there but He knows specific details about the kind of animal that will be there. He knows that no one will have ridden the animal as well. Jesus tells the disciples that men will ask why you are taking the animal.
Although His life will be taken in a matter of days, He hasn’t relinquished control of things. You simply tell them, ”’The Lord has need of it”’ (Luke 10:31). Jesus has planned for all contingences. And He knows everything about the situation:
1. He knows the animal’s location;
2. He knows the animal will be tied up;
3. He knows the animal hasn’t been ridden;
4. He tells His followers how to secure the animal.
”No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). It’s the greatest week not only because of what happened and but what it accomplished. This is the greatest week in history because it is the epicenter of life change.
3. The Fate of a City
”And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, ”Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
Some four decades after Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday, the Roman general Titus assembled troops both along the western edges of the old city but also along the very same Mount of Olives to ransack the city. Titus has assembled some four legions to attack the city supported by twenty cohorts of infantry and another group of cavalry. The Romans employed new war machines to hurl boulders against the city walls including battering rams that assaulted the walls. Jewish defenders fought all day and struggled to rebuild the walls at night. Eventually the Romans broke through the outer wall, then the second wall, and finally the third wall. Still the Jews fought, scurrying to the temple as their last line of defense.
The rejection of Jesus is still costly.
Notice carefully that God doesn’t delight in seeking vengeance on those who reject Him. Jesus cries. God hates this more than us.
Father, as your Son entered the city so long ago, enter our lives today. Cause our eyes to see your Son’s true worth and beauty. May we rise and celebrate your Son’s true worth. Cause our voices to join with the pilgrims from Galilee from that fateful day to praise you continually.
Give us genuine insight into Who you truly are. Give our hearts sincerity as we pursue the study of your Son’s last week on earth. May our minds and hearts be united in seeing around corners and remove the blinders for so many in our city so they will join in worship of you!
Thank you for sending Jesus Christ to die for us. You have healed us from our addictions and our sinful habits. You have changed us for good. Amen
What happens to you if you jump up on a horse that has never been ridden? Do you know what happens? Does the horse say, ”Where to?” Absolutely not. It jumps and it bucks. Why? Because a horse has to be broken before a normal human being can ride it. But not only do we see Jesus get up on a colt that has never been ridden before, but he rides it right through a screaming crowd. How could this be happening? Why do animals not like it when human beings jump up on them? Why do they need to be ”broken” to human beings? They’re afraid of us. Why are animals naturally in their normal state afraid of us? Because they’re smart. Because they should be afraid of us. Look at how we treat them. If you’ve ever gotten yourself into a relationship with an animal where the animal absolutely and completely trusts you that relationship is far more satisfying than you will be able to understand or explain. They’re afraid.
But Jesus gets up on this little colt, and what happens? Does He break it? He doesn’t break it. He heals it of its fear. This little colt is absolutely fearless in the face of a screaming crowd when Jesus is in its saddle, when Jesus is in the saddle of its life. When Jesus Christ gets on top, when Jesus becomes the ruler, when Jesus gets into the driver’s seat, His power doesn’t break you. He doesn’t coerce you; he heals you. In the midst of this excited crowd, an unbroken animal remains calm under the hands of the one who also calmed the sea. He’s the only one in the universe who can control you with destroying you. This the event points to the peace that is one day coming.
Next week: Join me as we look at Monday of the Greatest Week in History.