Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 10, 2022
Luke 19:28-40 Commentary
Comments, Questions, and Observations
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” These words are shouted by a “multitude of disciples” as Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem (v 37). The people are compelled to shout these praises because of all that they have witnessed at Christ’s hands: the miracles, the teachings, the love and power of God embodied in their midst. These are not empty words; they are full of joy and hope that this heavenly peace and glory is here on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
And as Darrell Bock highlighted for me in his commentary, their praises are words that strongly echo the praises first proclaimed by another multitude: the angels at Jesus’ birth. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (Luke 2.14)
Remembering this undertone to the gospel’s metanarrative helps us to focus in on one of the key takeaways of the Palm Sunday events: God is directing what is happening. From the Incarnation to the Cross, God is not susceptible to fate or chance, God does not suffer by accident or unwillingly, and God redeems all things into his purposes.
This is one of the takeaways to all of the instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples about the donkey. Jesus is able to predict everything that will happen, from the kind of animal to what answer will suffice to get the owner to hand it over. (Of course, there are Old Testament Messianic and Kingly images that are being communicated in these details as well, especially from Zechariah 9.9 and Psalm 118.)
But I particularly love the fact that this moment is a callback to the birth narrative: what God promised through the praises of the angels Jesus has already delivered. The multitude of disciples are praising Jesus for all that he has already done with his time on earth. How many of them witnessed first-hand Christ’s works of peace? How many of them have found physical, mental, spiritual, communal peace by his healing and teachings? How many heard the witness of others and have joined the crowd in the hope of being part of this peace?
It seems to me that we’re witnessing yet again in the Gospel of Luke one of those moments were what is true and beautiful and good is so enrapturing in the moment that people cannot help but give voice to the joy it calls forth within them. Remember in chapter 4 when the people are first amazed (in a positively “can’t help themselves” sort of way) at hearing Jesus preach for first time… and then how things go awry as they consider the personal cost and ramifications? What will come after Jesus enters Jerusalem will confound the people and their view of the way to everlasting peace on earth; but for now, they are swept up in the glory and majesty of Christ.
We see this “come down” happen almost immediately with the Pharisees, who, upon hearing the praises for King Jesus, tell Jesus to tell the people to be quiet. The Pharisees reject the praises because it puts the “peace” of Jerusalem at risk. The Pharisees recognize that the Romans have given a fair amount of leeway to the Jewish people, but if a political threat is felt by the Empire, then that “peace” will shatter. Of course, the peace the Pharisees are worried about losing is a false peace, a peace rooted in fear. It is not the kind of peace that Jesus has produced with his powerful acts, but is a peace that tries to keep things the same for the sake of “unity” and “stability.” Jesus was literally born in the shadow of this false peace and fear, and his family had to flee to Egypt because the government was murdering toddler boys after the Magi let the cat out of the bag…
But as we know from the Scripture narrative, Christ came to free humanity from false peace.
Jesus answers them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Justo González sees Christ’s answer as one that highlights what false peace truly costs us: the ability to see the work of God in our midst. Jesus implies that living things (the Pharisees) cannot recognize life, and ironically, it is the lifeless stones who will not keep quiet about the life and power they see embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Any way you look at it, God’s handiwork will worship.
Fear keeps us from being able to wonder, it can make us rigid in what is acceptable and appropriate and will ultimately keep us from being able to see the goodness of the Lord and to worship; inevitably this posture develops into the inability to join in the way of God. As González writes, “The Pharisees who have urged Jesus to stop the acclamations he is receiving are a prime example of not knowing the things that make for peace.”
It is extremely difficult for us humans to see God’s way of peace. It is perhaps even more difficult for us to be able to identify the powerful force of false peace ever present and at work in and around us. We might hear stories of people coming to faith in ways that do not seem appropriate to us, or celebrating things as good that we see as sinful and get up in our ire and try to make it stop. Could it be that in some of these situations, we are more like the Pharisees than the multitude of disciples? It’s the same sort of lesson we heard from Jesus in the parable of the two lost sons in Luke 15. The older son’s false peace came crashing down when his brother returned home—it was the Father who showed the ability to be motivated by love rather than fear.
One last word… Last week, Judas tried to get Jesus to rebuke Mary for wasting the nard oil while anointing Jesus. This week, the Pharisees try to get Jesus to rebuke the multitude of disciples for calling him a king. No two ways about it: Jesus is king, no matter if (or why or how) we reject the idea.
Did you notice that there was no mention of waving palms in Luke’s account? Exegetes posit that this is because that detail wouldn’t have meant much to Luke’s Gentile audience. Along with symbolizing victory and peace, the palms were part of the Festival of Sukkot (Booths), when the Jewish people remembered the time God protected and provided for them while wandering in the desert. Hence, some of its symbolism wouldn’t have the same value for listeners of non-Jewish heritage.
It turns out that the “rocks” are singing all the time—we just can’t hear them, which is a little like González’s point about not being able to see what God is up to, isn’t it? According to NASA, the planets, stars, etc. in our solar system literally produce sound. We might describe it as a reverberation and a constant crying out the praise of its Creator. You can hear the recordings from the Voyager mission, or visit this website, which has a number of data sonification files from images captured by Hubble Telescope.
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!