A Day to Rejoice
A Day of Applause
The most important revelation into the nature of Christ was revealed in his last week on earth.
As you study the life of Jesus on the pages of the four Gospels, you discover that one-third of the material about the life of Jesus focuses on the last week of his life. Those who wrote the stories of Jesus were saying that the most important part of the disclosure of who he was, and who he is, is revealed in the last week of his life.
The words that describe the experiences of the last week are a litany of emotions that represent the ups and downs of the week. We know them: hosanna, confrontation, betrayal, denial, trial, scourging, crucifixion, tomb. Then the most electrifying sentence ever uttered—“He is not here! He is risen!”
Let’s read Luke, chapter 19 and verses 28 through 43:
This is a week that lifts us with shouts of praise. A week that reveals the abyss of denial and betrayal, the duplicity of Judas, and the unfaithfulness of Peter. We see the weakness of all of his disciples who fled the city, the ambivalence of Pilate, the agony of death between two thieves—one who cursed him, the other who asked for his forgiveness. The bleakness of the “final things” at a borrowed tomb. Then on to the glory of Easter and his resurrection.
It all began on Palm Sunday, a day of applause. Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. I believe, and many scholars believe, that he planned his own parade. He had studiously, up until that moment, avoided public acclaim and publicity. Now, he reached out for it. It was Passover time. The city was jammed with pilgrims from all over the world. He entered Jerusalem in a way that would focus the whole city on his arrival.
He secured a beast of burden. The donkey was a noble beast in that culture. Generals and kings rode a horse only when they went to war. When a king or a general came in peace, he rode a donkey. In this case, Jesus rode on one that had never been ridden. He was not the martial figure that the populace anticipated and wanted, but one who came in peace. The simple statement to the owner of the beast was, “The Lord has need of him.” The simple. The humble. The Lord has need of. He still does!
The cheers that greeted him were tremendous. The disciples were caught up in the spirit of things to such a degree that the Pharisees rebuked them and said to Jesus, “You should really get a handle on the extravagant claims your disciples are making.”
I. His Arrival Was Greeted with Deserved Joy
Jesus had been drawing huge crowds for some time. The people heard him gladly. There is every indication that he was met by a great rush of people wherever he went. His words spoke to the heart and had the ring of truth, as they do today. The authority of his presence was commanding. The things that he did were electrifying. Blind eyes could see again. Lame legs surged with vitality and strength. And those confined to pallets of affliction were up and about! The word that surged through the hearts of everyone who pressed to touch him was the word hope! For one in his presence could dream the impossible dreams, and they came true. Jesus is still the God of hope, isn’t He?
Parents brought their children for him to bless. Relatives brought their loved ones, a veritable caravan of the needy, so that he might touch them and heal them! Depressed spirits were lifted and made whole. Hopeless hearts dared to hope again. Make no mistake about it, he was greeted with joy as he entered the city—and should have been.
II. His Arrival Preceded Betrayal
But the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday was to mark the end of the spontaneous public approval for Jesus of Nazareth. As the week unfolds, you will see that it’s downhill all the way to Good Friday. A deadly coalition of temple hierarchy, Roman government, and betrayal within the disciple band would lead to his death. The challenge that Jesus issued during the week would prompt many to abandon his cause and to forsake him. While he sweat blood in Gethsemane, his disciples snored, having promised to watch with him one hour.
He had asked them earlier when he noticed that some were slipping away, “Will you also go away?” They assured him through Peter their spokesman that though all should abandon him, “We will not go away.” But now they sensed danger in the air. They made promises that they would watch with him for one hour, but they didn’t keep the promise. They were the inner circle: Peter, James, and John. While he sweated blood, they took naps. They made all kinds of promises to Jesus by night, but by day they made tracks.
And here we are 20 centuries later still feeling the ambivalence of Palm Sunday. An electrifying moment of public entry and confrontation, and a powerful statement about what he stood for—a kingdom of the heart where men and women would be changed forever. But Palm Sunday was the end of His public ministry. The end yet the beginning!
When he was on the way to Calvary, carrying the burden of his cross, back lacerated from scourgings, a crown of thorns on his brow, he stumbled. He needed someone to bear the weight of that cross. Surely one of his disciples would leap from the crowd and volunteer. But no, a stranger, Simon of Cyrene, had to be “volunteered” by the command of a Roman soldier. Where were those enthusiastic disciples who had proclaimed that “God has given us a King. Long live the King! Let all heaven rejoice!”
They were nowhere to be found. They once greeted him with joy. But where were they now? Note with me the reality that the applause always ends. The voice of the people cannot be relied upon; it’s a fickle voice. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s goat. Crowds have a short memory. They are usually asking the question, “What have you done for me today?”
Napoleon, traveling through Switzerland with his army, was greeted with thunderous applause and enthusiasm. One of his supporters said, “It must be delightful to be greeted with such demonstrations of enthusiastic admiration.”
“Bah,” said Napoleon, “this same unthinking crowd under a slight change of circumstances would follow me just as eagerly to the scaffold!”
That happened to Jesus. The same folks who cheered him on Sunday cried, “Crucify him” before the week was over. They greeted him with joy, but the applause ends.
III. His Arrival Was Accompanied by His Tears
He wept because he knew the condition of the people and their need. He had come to change their hearts, not their government as they so wished.
There are two instances in the New Testament when Jesus wept. The first was when he heard of the death of his friend Lazarus. He wept, but he provided life for Lazarus. The second was when he wept over Jerusalem because he saw it as a place of lost opportunity. He explained his mission over and over, but they never got the message. Even his close circle of followers, his disciples, were a hopeless muddle. Each with his own agenda, his own ambitions, jockeying for power. One would deny him, another would betray him, and all would flee the city when the chips were down, save one. It was enough to make anybody weep!
His disciples knew: “There’s danger there. You should not go.” But he persisted. He went to Jerusalem with a powerful renewing, transforming message: “Whoever reaches out to me—I love you!” He wept because he knew they would not respond. It would be rejection, an opportunity missed.
We are still missing that opportunity. He’s still weeping. The most arresting phrase in the morning lesson is the crisp sentence, “The Lord has need of it!” He sought a beast of burden to ride as he entered the city. The owner was told, “The Lord has need of it.” The needs are no less today. There are people to be reached with the message of the love of God. We are the messengers. The Lord has need of us.
IV. His Arrival Demands Our Response
The question that challenges us as this holiest of all weeks begins is this: Do we have anything that we are willing to share with him, to give to him? He doesn’t want our donkey. He wants us. The Lord has need of us. He has need of our hands. He has need of our lips. He has need of us.
Look at the inventory of the gifts of hand and heart that you’ve been given. What can you give to the one who has given you everything? All of us should be asking ourselves that question. Don’t ask, “Does he have need of my gifts?” He does. Instead ask where can I use my gifts to his glory?
It brings pleasure to the heart of God when we give to him. I’ve always loved the story of Eric Liddell. His life was immortalized for many who’d never heard his story in the movie Chariots of Fire. He had felt the call of God to go to China as a missionary with his sister.
The most gripping scene in the movie, to me, was when he told his sister that he was going to delay going to the mission field so that he could continue training for the Olympics. She was crestfallen. He sought to help her to understand by saying, “Jenny, Jenny. I know God created me for his service, but he also made me fast! When I run, I feel God’s pleasure!”
When we give to him the gifts of heart and hand, God feels pleasure, and so we are blessed.
The Lord has need of us. Have you answered that question of late? Ask Him, “Lord, what can I do for you?” Matthew 18:11 says: “"For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” We were lost, but now are found. We must stand before the cross and applaud His triumphal entry into our lives, His death on the cross to pay for our sin, and His glorious resurrection to give us hope, and new life in Him.