File this one under “The decline of decency in our culture”. There was a follow up news story this past week about the survivors of the U.S. Air flight that crash landed in the Hudson River – miraculously without a single casualty. It seems that a few of the people on that flight were not content to have survived a commercial jetliner crash, nor content with the $5,000 U.S. Air paid out to each passenger to cover the loss of whatever they had in their suitcases. An article in USA Today asked the question: “Is $5,000 Enough?” One of the survivors has already retained an attorney, claiming that he wants “to be made whole”. After all, he suffered a bloody nose, and now he’s a little apprehensive about flying (though he’s managed to fly six more times since that day).
I was livid when I heard about these people who are thinking about suing U.S. Air. What ingrates! So now let me tell you why I’m even worse than that. Three days ago I’m once again shoveling the snow off our sidewalks. So I begin talking to the Lord about it. No – scratch that. I’m kvetching to the Lord about it. And then I was oh so gently reminded that in light of what I’ve been rescued from – eternal judgment, death and Hell – I really have no business complaining about shoveling a little more snow.
Over the past several weeks we’ve been going through the Gospel According to Luke, watching peoples’ various reactions to Yeshua. Some of the unlikeliest people believed, while others who by all rights ought to have been the first to believe were skeptical, and some even adopted a hostile, adversarial posture toward the righteous, miracle-working Rabbi. Let’s resume our study of Luke’s account in chapter 19, beginning at verse 28.
After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
He’s just told a very pointed and troubling parable to an audience of Jewish people who had a serious flaw in their view about when and how the Kingdom of God was coming. Messiah Yeshua never sought to widen His audience by soft-pedaling the truth. Unlike those who seek to gain a huge following, the Master often taught very difficult truths, knowing full well it would turn some people off. But He was okay with that. Yeshua knew that some people are unwilling to repent and are unfit for His Kingdom. So as He leaves Jericho for Jerusalem, we can imagine there might have been fewer people following Him than when He arrived there. Of course, those who are truly His loyal subjects will endure to the end.
When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’”
Messiah Yeshua approached the villages whose names mean “House of unripe figs” and “House of Affliction” or “House of Poverty”. There is some question about the proper translation of Bethany, as its root is probably either Syriac or Aramaic. In any case, the village of Bethany still exists today, but by the Arabic name Al–Eizariya (from the name Lazarus, Yeshua’s very good friend whose family lived there).
More significant than the names of the two villages is the fact that Yeshua is approaching Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is very important real estate. It was the very last place His feet touched before ascending to Heaven, and likewise the very first place His feet will touch again upon His glorious and powerful return to Earth.
Let’s talk about the colt – the young male donkey Yeshua sent for. What did He want with a young donkey? It’s really quite straightforward: The Son of David was about to ride into the City of David, and offer Himself as the rightful King, the One who will sit on the throne of David. About that very day the prophet Zechariah (9:9) had announced over 500 years earlier:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
We have come to refer to this incident as “The Triumphal Entry” but many regard it as a misnomer, and I’m inclined to agree. First of all, the acclaim that surrounded Him that day was short-lived. Messiah Yeshua knew He would soon be rejected by His own nation, handed over to the Gentiles and put to death in a most horrible fashion. How is that triumphal? Neither did the righteous young rabbi presume to ride in on a white stallion.
Riding in on a donkey sent a certain message. Donkeys are humble animals. To most people they are, to put it mildly, unimpressive. But humility and outward simplicity was the hallmark of Yeshua’s entire ministry on Earth. Read through the Gospels and you will see He made no particular effort to engage the scholarly elite, nor the aristocracy, nor the politically powerful and well-connected. For that matter, He didn’t even hobnob with the pious rabbis. In fact, most of His time was spent outside of Jerusalem, including in some places nobody else would set foot – such as in Samaria and throughout Galilee, and in the company of those that society either considered complete losers (such as Bartimaeus the blind beggar); traitors (such as Zaccheus the tax-collector), or just plain people of ill-repute.
His riding in on a young donkey was unexpected to those who were looking for a warrior-messiah. You see, in the ancient world, when a new king rode into a capitol city on a horse, it was a signal that he intended to rule with an iron fist. Horses were animals of war. But to ride in on a donkey signaled the intention to rule peaceably. Picture Ben Stein riding in on a little Vespa as opposed to Arnold Schwartzenegger on a Harley Davidson Road King.
Why did Yeshua specify a young donkey upon which no one had ever sat? I believe it is because He is not to be compared with any other human being. In fact, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 2:5) stipulates that no one else may ride an animal on which the king has ridden. This sheds a little light on the ultimate irony of Mordecai the Jew being led in procession around the city on the king’s horse, wearing one of the king’s robes, and heralded by the king’s highest official. It is my opinion that that young colt, tied there next to its mother (as Matthew tells us), had been created for that very day and hour. Imagine the honor of that little colt – an otherwise humble, despised animal!
G. K. Chesterton captured the unlikelihood, the irony of it all, in a brief poem he entitled,
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Yeshua, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Yeshua on it.
In his own account, Mark fills in the details a little, indicating that the owners, upon hearing the simple words, “the Lord has need of it” gave their permission. Perhaps Yeshua had worked this out in advance with the family, who wouldn’t have recognized the two disciples, but who knew Yeshua. Or perhaps they were just godly folks who sensed the sincerity of the request. Matthew indicates that they untied the colt and its mother donkey, which makes sense – the young one would have been reluctant to go anywhere without its mother, much less with men who were completely unfamiliar.
As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!”
Matthew, Mark and John tell us in their accounts that not only were people spreading their coats on the ground, but others were cutting branches from leafy trees and palms and spreading them in the road. Why did they do this? What was the meaning of this grand procession? Those of you who have been at Shema for awhile might already have guessed. What biblical festival includes the taking of branches of leafy trees and palms? Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles! If only for a fleeting moment, the enormous crowd around Him got it; He was declaring Himself the King Messiah – Immanu-El, God among us, making His tabernacle in our midst.
Throngs of worshippers followed Him from Bethany, and the noise of it all must have caught the attention of people inside the city, because they came out in droves to join the procession. They were praising God with reckless abandon! And why not – it was the right time, and they were overjoyed, many of them having witnessed His miracles, not least of which was the raising of His friend Eliezer (Lazarus) from the dead in nearby Bethany!
Again, don’t miss the fact that this is taking place at the descent of the Mt. of Olives, toward Jerusalem. The Mt. of Olives, where our Lord and King and Messiah will return to Earth! And it is through that Eastern Gate facing the Mt. of Olives that Israel’s King is to come to Jerusalem. During the reign of the Muslim leader Suleiman, the Ottoman Turks cemented that gate closed in the 1600’s, thinking to prevent any such Jewish expectation from being realized. Right… as if cement is going to stop God from accomplishing what He has already declared will take place!!
And the people shouted “Baruch Melech HaBa b’shem Adonai – Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” Words similar to those shouted out at Jewish weddings when the Groom makes his appearance, but even grander, since our Bridegroom-to-come is also our Sovereign King. And the crowd there got it! He really was and is the King of the Jews. They also shouted, “Shalom baShamayim u’kavod b’elyon – Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” Can you just imagine the joy and exhilaration in those moments? Wouldn’t you love to have seen that? Perhaps we will be shown these things in review when we’re in Heaven.
But meanwhile, not everyone there was joyful and exuberant.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Yeshua answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
I still get a kick of out people who reject Yeshua’s claim to be the King Messiah, but insist He was a good man. Here the religious leaders are urging Him to restrain His followers, because as far as they are concerned, the crowd is very nearly blaspheming – hailing Yeshua as King and Messiah. Instead of rebuking His disciples, Yeshua rebukes the Pharisees, saying that the very creation itself was on the verge of crying out in praise of Him! Those are not the words of merely a “good man”. They are either the words of the God of the Universe or they are the words of a madman.
Years back some of us on the Jews For Jesus staff in New York used to go into the subways with our guitars and sing. One of the songs we loved most started this way: “Ain’t no rock gonna cry in my place as long as I’m alive I’ll glorify His holy name.” You see, we were created to give God praise. And if we won’t do it, the rocks and the trees will be more than happy to stand in for us; but not if I can help it. And make no mistake about it, one day the creation itself will be set free and offer praise to the Father and the Son. For now the creation groans from the effects of the Fall, waiting and yearning for that coming Day (Romans 8:22).
But as Yeshua came near the city; the City of David; Jerusalem; the Holy City; the Spiritual Center of Planet Earth; the joy gave way to bewildered quiet, as Messiah began to weep. They were not tears of joy.
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
This was no triumphal entry. It stopped short. The multitudes shouting and praising God as they approached Jerusalem, the palm branches and the songs of worship – it would only be a faint glimmer – a brief glimpse at what might have been. That generation would not see it, in the same way that the generation that came out of Egypt, having witnessed God’s miracles through Moses, both in Egypt and in the wilderness, were doomed to die in the wilderness because of their unbelief. They rejected Moses and they rejected God who had delivered them. Now, 1,400 years, many prophets and many warnings later, the people of Jerusalem, especially the leaders of our people, rejected the very One of whom all the prophets foretold, and in so doing, invited God’s judgment.
That judgment would come 40 years later in the form of Rome’s legions under the General Vespasian and later his son Titus. Yeshua foretold that the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and destroyed, along with the Temple and all its ornate gold inlay. His words were literally fulfilled; the soldiers who sacked the Temple broke it apart stone by stone, plundering all the gold they could retrieve – even from between the stones.
And why? In Yeshua’s words, “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Please take notice that Yeshua did not say that all the suffering our Jewish people have endured across the world in all the generations since then was because we rejected Him. Yeshua said specifically that Jerusalem would be destroyed. We need to be careful not to say what the Scriptures don’t say.
But we do need to be clear about this: it was on account of rejecting the true and righteous Messiah when He presented Himself to Israel that Jerusalem was destroyed.
In the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the rabbis asked themselves why this catastrophe happened. Here is what they wrote: “Why was the first Holy Temple destroyed? Because of three wicked things: idol worship, adultery, and murder. But in the second Temple in which time the Jewish people were occupied studying the Torah and doing good deeds and acts of charity why was it then destroyed? The answer is: It was because of hatred without a cause to teach you, that hate without a cause is equal to these sins and that it is as serious a crime as the three great transgressions of idol worship, adultery, and murder”
They never specified who it was they hated without a cause, but Yeshua cited Psalm 35 (and Psalm 69) in demonstrating that He was the One they hated without a cause.
Considering that Yeshua wept deeply over Jerusalem, we should examine whether Jerusalem has priority in our own thoughts and occupies a place of prominence in our prayer life. Psalm 137:5-6 reads, If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. Psalm 122:6 enjoins us: pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may they prosper who love you.
Unfortunately most people, to this day, fail to understand that this planet has been “visited” – most human beings, including most Jewish people, continue to reject Messiah Yeshua. But that will change – soon.
Yeshua entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, saying to them, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robber’s den.”
In Malachi 3:1-3 the prophet warned Israel that the Lord Himself would come to His Temple, but that His coming would be difficult to endure; that He would chasten and purify the sons of Levi. Messiah Yeshua entered the Temple and drove out all the profiteers – for the second time. This was a clear claim to be the Messiah. It also was long overdue.
The Temple had been for many years monopolized by the priests and Saduccees, who controlled what animals were deemed “acceptable” for sacrifice. If you wanted to be sure no defect was found, you could always purchase one of their “pre-approved” animals – but at an enormously inflated price. Or you could take your chances with one of your own animals. Despite people bringing their best, these wicked priests managed to find defects on animals that were not purchased by their hand-picked merchants. And the priests and Sadducees all got a kick-back on the profit from the sales. Most Israelis were poor to begin with, and this made festivals like Passover a time of grief, as families realized they couldn’t afford the going prices at the Temple. It was wickedness, and Messiah would not have it. They really had made it “a robber’s den”.
It is a reminder that those who serve in the House of God will incur a stricter judgment. But we should also bear in mind that Yeshua was quoting from Isaiah 56:6-7, and the context is that God’s House will be a house of prayer for all the peoples. There is absolutely no room for ethnic exclusivity in God’s program. Messiah is for all people.
Let me share few closing thoughts:
- The King is indeed coming. But is He your king? In a real sense it is our choices that define us; our allegiances and the alliances we make. Every knee will bow to Messiah Yeshua, some in adoration and some in terror, but be sure that every knee will bow to Him!
- When Messiah Yeshua returns, it will not be on a donkey. It will not be in humility and gentleness. It will be on a white horse, and with all authority and power, and to do battle against those who will try to annihilate Israel.
- The big question is: Are you a willing and loyal subject of the King? If you refuse Him now, He will not receive you when He returns.
- If you claim to be a loyal subject of King Messiah Yeshua, is there any evidence that He really does reign in your life, or is it all talk? Remember, the crowd who hailed Him as King early that week shouted to have Him crucified at the end of the week. Don’t underestimate the capacity for human fickleness. Let’s be sure our allegiance is to Him, and that it is in place right now.