That final week: the beginning of the end
Welcome to a new month and the start of a new stage in this journey through the Bible!
We’ve been looking at the four books at the beginning of the New Testament since December: Matthew, Mark Luke and John, also known as the four Gospels, because they are packed with Good News about Jesus’ life and ministry here on earth. So far, we’ve looked at how Jesus came into this world, what he said and what he did. This month, we’re focusing on that final week in Jesus’ life on earth.
The timing couldn’t be better. As we approach Easter at the end of this month, we will be studying the lead up to the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, which are the reason for our Easter celebrations.
So let’s start with the event that marks the beginning of the end in all four Gospel accounts: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus has been avoiding going to Jerusalem, because he knew that trouble was awaiting him there. He’d been making himself extremely unpopular with the Jewish religious leaders because of what he was saying and doing. They were looking for a way to silence him. They were looking to kill him. Jesus had to wait until the right time to go to Jerusalem.
And this was the right time.
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?’ say, ‘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.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19: 28-44 (also Matthew 21, Mark 11 and John 12)
There is so much in this well-known account. When a passage is well-known, it can become too familiar and we can read without really seeing. And that way, we miss the truths that are there for us to see.
Here are my thoughts…
Jesus led the way. He always leads the way. He’s always ahead of us. He never expects us to go anywhere he is not prepared to go himself.
There was a plan. There always is a plan. We may not know it or understand it, but God really does know what He is doing. Everything is part of a bigger picture.
Jesus’ followers were expected to trust and obey. We still are. They didn’t ask questions. They just got on with it. We are expected to do the same.
Jesus rode on a colt – a young donkey. He’s the king of an upside down kingdom, in which the king rides on a donkey. It’s all back to front – the first will be last etc. It’s a whole new way of thinking and being in the world where all the things we get told by the world are important really aren’t important at all.
God told his people about all this long before it happened.
‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.’ John 12:15 taken from Zechariah 9:9
None of this was a mistake. It made no sense on a human level but it was part of that bigger picture we’ve been talking about. There is nothing to fear about a king riding a donkey. He is coming in humility and peace and love. He’s not coming to crush and overpower and rule with a mighty hand. This is a totally different way.
People recognised Jesus for who he was. Why else would they spread their cloaks on the ground? (and branches from the trees and the fields – which is how we came to call it Palm Sunday). They wanted to show the world that Jesus was special. They wanted to demonstrate their respect for this man. We need to take the time and give Jesus the attention he deserves. We need to remember who Jesus is and respond with respect in our worship. Jesus is our friend, yes, but he is also our king.
People couldn’t stop themselves praising God. They couldn’t hold it in. God had done so much for them and in them. They had so much to praise God for. Is that what people see when they hear us praising God? How do we express our wonder and gratitude for all that God has done in our lives?
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’ John 12:13
No wonder the religious leaders of the day wanted to shut the people up. This was subversive and radical and revolutionary. This was sure to rock the boat. This was challenging all that they had worked to build up and maintain. This is the Jesus we follow today. This Jesus still wants to topple the institutions and challenge the traditions today.
When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he was not thinking about himself and his own fate, but about the future of his beloved city and people. He reacted from a place of compassion. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own dramas that we fail to see the bigger picture of what is happening all over the world to people and planet that Jesus is weeping about today.
The Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’ John 12:19
Jesus was irresistible. He was demonstrating a whole new way of life that the ordinary people were hungry for. They couldn’t stay away. They couldn’t keep quiet. Jesus is still offering that radical way of life today. If the whole world is not going after him today, is it because we’re telling it wrong?
It’s just over three weeks until Palm Sunday.
Plenty of time for you to familiarise yourself afresh with this revolutionary account of a king on a donkey.
Plenty of time for you to let these truths take a hold and fuel your response as you wave your palm cross and sing your worship songs.
In fact, why wait for Palm Sunday? Jesus is announcing that kingdom right here, right now, and we can be a part of it today.