Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 4/16/00 Palm Sunday
We come today to a great moment in the life of Christ. It is Sunday. By Friday he will be dead; by the next Sunday risen again. So now he declares himself openly as Messiah by riding into Jerusalem in deliberate fulfillment of Zech. 9:9. It was a calculated act designed to provoke the final confrontation between our Lord and the Jewish establishment. It reveals the Lord as King and tells us much about the kind of king he is.
Christ knew that in the next week he was to fulfill his mission as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All history had been preparing for this moment since before the foundations of the earth. Every drop of blood from every bull or goat on every Jewish altar for the last 2,000 years had been one more tick of the clock that kept beating, beating, beating until this moment arrived. The souls of men were at stake; the salvation of all creation was on the line. It would not do for this thing to be done in a corner. It would not do for the Son of God to be beheaded in some out-of-the-way dungeon like John the Baptist. It would not do for him to be stoned by a Jewish mob in some back alley. This thing must be done publicly, etched on the pages of history by the very lackeys of Rome. Therefore, in blatant fulfillment of Zech. 9:9, the Lord road into Jerusalem in terms that could not be missed. By doing this he cast down the gauntlet, calling the bluff of the Jewish religious establishment. The King has come! The ball is in your court now, Israel. Will you bow before him or spit on him? Worship him or mock him? Serve him or betray him? Accept him or kill him? Either way, the die is cast, and the time has come to make your choice--now!
So it was a time of crisis for the people as much as for Jesus. In vs. 44, they failed to recognize the "day of their visitation." This is a technical term from the Old Testament referring to times when God moves in history for judgment and deliverance--depending on how we respond to Him. The classic example is the Exodus--deliverance for Israel, judgment for Egypt, depending on whether one was "under the blood." It is a time of God's special working when destinies are set for eternity. For every people--for every man and woman--there are such times of opportunity when God is accessible and grace for repentance is offered. So when the Church of Jesus Christ gathers to declare such a text in his Name, we must believe that such a time has come for us today. Therefore, do not resist in the day of visitation, lest not one stone of your life be left upon another--as was literally fulfilled for Jerusalem in AD 70.
As Jesus entered the city, surounded by joy and celebration, he was weeping (vs. 41-44). These were not stoic tears. The noun form of this verb means "bitter lamentation." He was sobbing in agony. If you had been close enough to perceive it, you would probably have been embarrassed. But here is the irony: surrounded by all this rejoicing and praise, Jesus knew that the people still did not understand the kind of King they were acclaiming. In less than a week, when it became apparent that he had no intention of overthrowing the Roman oppressor, most of them would be shouting for his death. He knew that most of these people he had come to save from a far greater Oppressor would be lost. And he could not stand it.
Have you ever felt unappreciated by the very people for whom you felt you had sacrificed everything? You are in good company. Cling to Jesus Christ by faith. For it is only by his compassion that we can find the strength to minister in the face of rejection ourselves. He shows us that it is ok for rejection to hurt. But these are not ultimately tears of self pity, but of compassion. If only they could have known! So what will help us keep on when our witness for Christ is rejected? Only the compassion he had for lost people. We can shout hosanna's (and he pointedly refused to rebuke them); we can thunder denunciations (and he did his share of that). But none of this will have any effect unless our hearts are broken for a lost world. When they are, then some will see his compassion, and some will accept his love.
He was consumed with the glory of God, and therefore with zeal for His house (vs. 45-46). The Triumphal Entry led to the Temple, so this was its climax. And what the Lord found there filled him with righteous anger. It was a racket. In order to contribute (and remember, tithing was mandatory under the Law), you had to exchange your regular money (which after all might have Caesar's picture on it--a graven image--abomination!) for what was called "the shekel of the Temple"--at an exchange rate that was highly favorable to the Money Changers. And of course, if you were offering an animal, it had to be an unblemished male from the flock. So there were priests to inspect your offering--as a service to the public, mind you--to make sure you had not inadvertantly brought an imperfect animal. And, what a shame! There was a tiny blemish you overlooked--see, here on the hindquarter. Oh, yes, can't you see it? Well, you're in luck--we just happen to have a perfect specimen here that you can buy (at an outrageous price). Guess who owned the exclusive franchise for these businesses? Annas--the father in law of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Does anybody smell a rat? No wonder tables went toppling, coins flying, animals fleeing, but not as fast as these "honest" merchants who felt the Lord's scourge upon their backs! Once again, prophecy was being fulfillled--this time, Malachi 3:1-3.
A King like Jesus is not going to enter such a Temple without cleaning it up. And what is the Temple now? It is the heart of the individual Christian, and it is the Church. Well, what does Jesus find in those Temples? "I am myself indifferent honest," said Hamlet, "yet I could accuse me of such crimes that it were better my mother had not borne me." We find pride, envy, bitterness, anger, laziness, apathy, greed, gluttony, impure lusts, wilfullness, unbibical priorities. And we cannot expect this King to enter these Temples without turning over a few tables. It is not that we must clean them up before he enters--that way lies futility, the impossibility of salvation by works. We simply open the door and hand over the key and get out of the way. But we must understand that if there has been no renovation, it is prima facie evidence that this King has not entered.
If we are followers of this King, then, we must be zealous as He is for the purity of God's house. But let no one misunderstand and create a self-righteous and critical Pharisaism of the flesh as an evil parody, caricature, and counterfeit of the real thing. Too often that has been the Church's response--laxity or legalism. This Zeal is tempered by the Compassion we saw earlier: intolerant of hypocrisy but tender to the repentant.
Jesus was a King facing a great crisis (and who brings one into our lives as well); who felt great compassion; and who was filled with a great cause. And for his servants, it is enough that they be like their Master.
Here endeth the lesson.