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Luke 19.28-40, Exegesis

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Resources for Lectionary Preaching

Palm Sunday

Year C

April 4, 2004

NOTE:  The primary SermonWriter materials for this Sunday are based on the Passion text.  I am providing this exegesis and links to sermons, based on the Palms text, as a supplement.

SCRIPTURE:  Luke 19:28-40



Jesus has been on the road to Jerusalem and death since 9:51.  That journey came to an end at 19:27.  19:28 begins the story of his ministry in Jerusalem, which continues through 21:38, and is followed by his passion (chapters 22-23) and resurrection (chapter 24).


28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

"After he had said this" links the Triumphal Entry to the Parable of the Ten Pounds (vv. 11-27).  This parable has much in common with the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), but is tailored to introduce the Triumphal Entry, to include the following distinctive features: 

-- Jesus tells this parable "because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately" (v. 11). 

-- The nobleman goes to a distant country "to get royal power for himself and then return" (v. 12).

-- The nobleman gives ten pounds to ten slaves -- one pound each -- for which he holds them accountable.

-- The citizens hate the nobleman and do not want him ruling over them.

-- At the end, the nobleman says, "But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them -- bring them here and slaughter them in my presence" (v. 27).

The royal greeting that Jesus will receive in Jerusalem does not signify that he has obtained his royal power and is ready to establish his reign.  Instead, entering Jerusalem, Jesus is preparing his departure to a distant country where he will get royal power and then return in his Second Coming. 

"going up to Jerusalem."  Jerusalem is where Jesus will die, but is also where he will be resurrected and where the church will be born at Pentecost (Acts 2 -- also written by Luke).  Once the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, they will become Jesus' witnesses "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  In other words, Jerusalem -- the place of Jesus' death -- will also be the starting place for the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel.


29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.' " 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

We know little about Bethphage, but Bethany is important.  John 1:28 tells us that Jesus was baptized at Bethany, and Luke 24:50 tells us that the ascension will take place there.  John 11 tells us that Bethany is the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, a miracle that precipitated plans by religious authorities to kill Jesus. 

This reference to the Mount of Olives may be related to Zech. 14:4-5:  "On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east....  Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him."

"he sent two of the disciples" (v. 29).  We don't know the identity of these disciples, but Jesus will send Peter and John to prepare for the Passover meal (22:8), so it is possible that they are also the ones whom he sends for the colt.

"a colt that has never been ridden" (v. 30).  "According to Num 19:2 and Deut 21:3, an animal to be used for certain sacred purposes must be chosen from those that have never been used for ordinary labor, and according to m. Sanh. 2.5, no one else may ride the king's horse" (Tannehill, 282-283).

A colt can be a horse or donkey, but Matthew 21:2, 5, 7 and John 12:14 specify a donkey -- thus fulfilling Zech. 9:9, which says:  "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 

A donkey is a humble mount, and the colt of a donkey even more so.  Donkeys are smaller than horses -- not as fast or responsive as horses -- unsuitable as a mount in battle.  The colt of a donkey could barely carry a full-grown man. 

Kings ride neither colts nor donkeys, but full-grown horses -- well-trained, responsive horses -- horses chosen in part for strength and spirit and in part for appearance -- beautiful horses -- large, impressive mounts -- in much the same way that presidents ride limousines or private jets.  The size and beauty of the king's horse bear testimony to the king's importance.  Furthermore, a man mounted on a large, spirited horse is an intimidating presence, and potential enemies will think twice before attacking a man so mounted.

Jesus is king of the Jews (19:38; 23:2-3, 37-38), but he is a different kind of king -- the kind of king who rides a donkey colt -- comes in peace -- comes to serve -- comes to die.  Just as a king's huge, spirited war-horse sends a message about the man who rides it, so also Jesus' donkey colt sends a message about him -- who he is -- his purpose in coming.

When the two disciples go to fetch the colt, the owners ask, "Why are you untying the colt?"  The disciples respond as Jesus directed, saying, "The Lord needs it."  "They assert God's own eminent domain, his right to all that we are and have" (MacLean & Scherer).  No further discussion is needed.  The owners allow the disciples to take the colt, thus demonstrating the power of Jesus' authority.  "In the culture a major religious or political figure could request the use of livestock, a custom known as angaria" (Bock, 312, citing Derrett).

Scholars speculate whether Jesus coordinated with the owners in advance, and it is possible that he did so.  However, to insist that he did is to miss the point.  This is a lesson, not in prior coordination, but in Jesus' authority.

"after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it" (v. 35).  A king not only rides a great horse, but also sits astride an impressive saddle.  Jesus, the humble king, sits astride a saddle hastily improvised from his disciples' cloaks. 


36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,


"Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!"

"people kept spreading their cloaks on the road" (v. 36).  "Luke's record makes no mention of hosannas or branches cut from trees.  Because those belonged commonly to nationalistic demonstrations and parades, perhaps Luke wants this event to carry no such implication.  Jesus is called 'King,' to be sure (v. 38) but Luke makes it clear very soon that the term is in no sense political or military (23:2-5)" (Craddock, 166).  "The entry is regal without being revolutionary or threatening" (Bock, 312).

"the whole multitude of disciples began to praise God" (v. 37).  Matthew says that it is the crowds who shout Hosanna (Matt 21:9), and Mark implies the same (Mark 11:8-9).  John also says that it is the crowd (John 12:9).  Luke, however, specifies that it is the disciples who offer praise, rather than the people of Jerusalem.  "This distinction anticipates the hostile reception of the Pharisees in v. 39 below and, perhaps, also clarifies why a crowd that so joyfully welcomes Jesus would in a few days' time cry out for his blood (23:18, 23)" (Evans, 293-294).

"for all the deeds of power that they had seen" (v. 37).  Note the abundance of Jesus' miracles that Luke the physician records -- mostly healings or exorcisms (4:31-37; 4:38-39; 5:12-16; 5:17-26; 6:6-11; 6:17-19; 7:1-10; 7:11-17; 8:22-25; 8:26-39; 8:40-56; 9:10-17; 9:37-43; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; 17:11-19; 18:35-43).

"The presence of the multitude of disciples evokes echoes of the 'multitude of the heavenly host' at the birth of Jesus (2:13), the multitude of the people Jesus taught in Galilee (6:17), the multitude from the region of Gerasa (8:37), and the multitude that will take Jesus to Pilate and follow him to the place of crucifixion (23:1, 27)" (Culpepper, 369).  The praise of the multitude of disciples echoes the praise of angels and shepherds at Jesus' birth (2:13-14, 20).

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord" (v. 38).  Psalm 118:26 says, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord," but Luke changes "the one" to "the king."  The people use Psalm 118 to welcome pilgrims to the great feasts in the Holy City, but Jesus is more than a pilgrim -- he is king. 

The issue of Jesus' kingship will soon be brought to the front, and will lead to his crucifixion (23:2-3, 37-38).  "The alert reader will recall that in Luke's narrative Jesus has always been king (cf. 1:32 f.)" (Nickle, 203). 

"Peace in heaven.  This is a strange statement, whereas 'peace on earth' (Luke 2:14) would be perfectly understandable.  Luke may have changed the wording of 2:14 to 'peace in heaven' because the peace Jesus sought to bring (10:5-6) does not find fulfillment in Jerusalem....  Only when the Son of Man returns will peace finally come to Jerusalem (13:35)" (Stein, 480). 


39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop (Greek:  epitimeson tois mathetais sou -- rebuke your disciples)." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

"Teacher, order your disciples to stop" (Greek:  epitimeson tois mathetais sou -- rebuke your disciples) (v. 39).  Thus begins the final, fatal, opposition to Jesus by some of the Pharisees.  This is the last reference to the Pharisees in this Gospel -- "the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people" will assume the leadership role in opposing Jesus (19:47).

In this Gospel, epitimao (rebuke) is typically used "when telling of a clash between the rule of God and those supernatural powers that opposed God (see 4:35, 39, 41; 8:24, 9:42, etc.).  Such lack of perception is not just myopic, it is demonic" (Nickle, 205).

All along, Pharisees have taken offense with Jesus -- with his claim to forgive sins (5:21); his friendship with tax collectors and sinners (5:30); his failure to require scrupulous observance of his disciples (5:33); and his healing on the sabbath (6:6-11).  Now they take offense at Jesus' disciples saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" -- a saying appropriate only to the messiah. 

The Pharisees have a point, of course!  Unless Jesus is the messiah, it is blasphemous for his disciples to make messianic claims for him -- and blasphemous for him to accept such claims.  The Pharisees consider themselves the arbiters of proper religious conduct.  They observe the law, and feel responsible to insure that others do the same.  Jesus is not behaving in accord with their understanding of the law, and they feel a responsibility to correct him -- or stop him.  "Here we see the commencement of an historic clash of worldviews, of profoundly different understandings of God, salvation, and religious authority" (Green, 688).

"I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out" (v. 40).  "This is the first of a series of sayings in which 'stones' (lithoi) will figure prominently (19:44; 20:17, 18; 21:5-6; 24:2; cf. Acts 4:11).  The reader hears echoes of the saying in 3:8 that God could raise up children to Abraham 'from these stones.' And the present statement will find eloquent shading in the prediction in 19:44 that Jerusalem's enemies will not 'leave stone upon a stone' within her.  The point of the saying here is that Jesus is king, and no silencing of the disciples can deflect that fact" (Johnson, 297).  The reason for this inevitability is that God stands behind Jesus' kingship.  It is God who sent the angels and shepherds to proclaim Jesus' birth (2:14, 20), and the time has come for the world to know Jesus as messiah.  God will not allow the created order to be silent, now that Jesus' time has come.


The primary SermonWriter materials this week, including the sermon, is on the Passion text -- but I am pleased to provide these links to two sermons on the Palms text.  Hopefully, you can click on these links and go directly to the respective sermons.  If not, copy the URL (the line that begins http://) into the "Address" window at the top of your browser and click the "Go" icon at the right of that window:

"What the Master Needs" by Bruce Goettsche, Union Church of LaHarpe, Illinois

"Faces in the Crowd" by Denn Guptill, Bedford Community Church, Nova Scotia, Canada


Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series:  Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)

Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C  (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)

Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge:  Trinity Press, 1994)

Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX.  (Nashville:  Abingdon , 1995)

Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary:  Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)

Gilmour, S. MacLean & Scherer, Paul, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8.  (Nashville:  Abingdon , 1952) 

Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina:  The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)

Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2000)

Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary:  Luke 18:35 -- 24:53, Vol. 35C  (Dallas:  Word Books, 1993)

Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary:  Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)

Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries:  Luke (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1996)

Wright, Stephen L., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary:  Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text.  The Third Readings:  The Gospels  (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

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