A Big Crowd Meets a King

Luke 19:28-44

April 16, 2000 | Brian Bill

I don’t know about you, but I like watching movie bloopers.  There’s something funny about watching other people mess up.  Many times these bloopers make it through the final cuts and show up on the screen.

In a movie starring Jack Nicholson, he walks past an automatic teller machine — the only problem is that the movie is set in 1948 — decades before ATMs!

In Days of Thunder, Tom Cruise suffers a racing injury with an interesting symptom.  When he first goes to the hospital, he has a red ring around his right eye.  Later, the circle is seen around the left, and then moves back to the right eye.

And, in another movie, the characters take a ferry ride from Detroit to Racine, Wisconsin.  The trouble with this is, no such ferry exists.  And even if it did, you would practically have to be Magellan to navigate the Detroit River, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan!

I think some of the people in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday thought that they were witnessing a blooper.  This wasn’t exactly how they thought it was going to work out.  In their minds, the script wasn’t followed the way they thought it should have been.  As we will see, however, Jesus followed the script perfectly.

Let me summarize where we’ve been so far in this series as we’re walking to the cross with Jesus.  Two weeks ago we were introduced to Bartimaeus, who was sitting alongside the road as Jesus approached Jericho.  Bart went through four stages in his spiritual journey: 

  • His blindness – He knew he was physically and spiritually blind
  • His belief – He knew Jesus was the Son of God
  • His boldness – He was not afraid to put his desire to be healed into words
  • His blessing – He was blessed in order to bless others

Last week, we focused on what happened as Jesus made his way through Jericho and encountered Zacchaeus.  Zack went through four similar, yet different steps in his faith development:

  • He was curious – he wanted to get to know who Jesus was
  • He considered – he investigated the claims of Christ
  • He was converted – The Searching Savior saved him and forgave his sins
  • He was changed – Zack’s life was radically redirected after his conversion

And so, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem.  Luke makes it clear that there is nothing that will get in His way.  Even though He has stopped and ministered to people, he has never lost sight of His final goal.  In order to understand what is about to take place in our passage today, it’s important to grasp at least three background details.


First, everyone in Israel knew that the Messiah would be enthroned as King in Jerusalem.  The Old Testament makes it very clear that the coming King would do His main work in the city of David.  Since the Garden of Eden, all of heaven and earth have been waiting for that moment when Messiah would enter Jerusalem for the last time.  The scarlet thread of redemption weaves its way throughout Scripture and will culminate on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Second, the Passover feast was just about to begin.  This celebration brought many spiritual pilgrims to Jerusalem and fueled the fires of spiritual and messianic expectations.  Historians tell us that it was not unusual to have between two and three million people in Jerusalem for the Passover.

On the Passover, the paschal lamb is slain, just as it was at the beginning of the exodus.  This yearly reminder served to help the Israelites never forget that it was the blood of the lamb that provided their deliverance.  Now, Jesus the Lamb of God is about to be slain once-for-all, for the remission of sins.

Third, Jesus had recently performed a number of spectacular miracles that attracted the crowds and further fueled their messianic enthusiasm.  In particular, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, John 11:45-46 tells us that many of the Jews put their faith in Christ.  Others went away and told the Pharisees what had happened.  The growing popularity of Jesus alarmed the religious leaders.  They met together after Lazarus was raised from the dead, and from that day on, they were intent on killing Jesus.  In fact, they were also planning to kill Lazarus.

It’s difficult for us 2000 years removed from this event to grasp the mood of that time.  The people were looking for the Messiah, and Jesus was a likely candidate.  The moment was right as He headed to the capital city.  The people were excited and pumped.  They couldn’t wait for a King to come and free them from Roman rule.  In contrast, the religious leaders were intent on putting Jesus to death and were just waiting for the right opportunity.

As we come to this passage, I see four ways in which we can welcome the King this morning.

  • Welcome Him with Obedience (19:28-35a)
  • Welcome Him with Gifts (19:35b-36)
  • Welcome Him with Praise (19:37-40)
  • Welcome Him with Faith (19:41-44)

1 – Welcome Him With Obedience

I want you to notice in Luke 19:28 that the text says, “…He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”  I picture Jesus walking ahead of the disciples, more determined than ever to enter the city of David.  This is why He had come.  It’s almost as if He couldn’t wait to complete His job.  The disciples may have been following rather reluctantly; perhaps they were even dragging their sandals.  They knew very well that their Master was already under the sentence of death by the Jewish leaders.

Luke 19:29 tells us that Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethany, which was just two miles east of Jerusalem.  John 12:1 indicates that He was there six days before Passover, which would have been on a Sabbath.  According to my harmony of the gospels, after sunset he was invited to the home of Simon the leper, where he met with the risen Lazarus and was served a meal by his sisters.  After supper Mary anointed His feet with expensive burial oil.

The next day was Sunday and Jesus began his final walk to Jerusalem.  At the hill called the Mount of Olives, he called for two of his disciples to do a special assignment for him.  The Mount of Olives is a place of great significance.  According to Zechariah 14:4, the Messiah was to appear on this mountain.  Interestingly, during His last week on earth, Jesus spent His nights there.  It’s also where Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, where He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and from where He ascended into heaven (see Acts 1:12).

In verses 30-31, the two disciples are told to “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt there, which no one has ever ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Verses 32-34 tell us what happened: “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.’”

Jesus spells it out for them very specifically.  Somehow He knew all about the colt that would be tied up.  Matthew tells us that the colt was a donkey and that it was with its mother.  The disciples are instructed to bring both of them, perhaps to help the colt not be so wild.  

These animals were quite expensive, and we see in verse 32 that there were at least two people who had gone in together to buy these donkeys.  In our culture today, it would be like someone coming up to a bright red convertible Porsche, opening the door, starting the car and driving away.  When the owner comes running outside you would just say, “The Lord needs it.”

Some cultural background helps at this point.  According to a custom called angaria, a dignitary could procure use of property for personal reasons.  It would be like a president coming up to you and telling you that he needed to use your car.

Another important point to make is this.  When the disciples were sent to get a colt, Jesus was putting into place yet one more very specific prophecy about who He was.  In Zechariah 9:9, which was written some five hundred years earlier, we read, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Now, keep in mind that many of the followers of Jesus were hoping that the Messiah would come with power and overthrow the Roman government.  The one who raised Lazarus from the dead could certainly defeat the Romans.  As they bowed down to Rome, they longed for a warrior king who would come on a great white horse, like King David did one thousand years earlier when he wiped out the Philistines.  You can imagine the confusion in their minds when the people saw their Messiah ask for a baby donkey.

Jesus was about to enter the city of David not as a warrior Messiah who would physically conquer the Roman army, but as the prophetic Prince of Peace who would seek to conquer the spiritual hearts of people.  Many in the crowd would have understood the message behind the symbolism.

While the disciples obeyed without asking any questions, I wonder what was really going through their minds.  They could have been amazed, once again, that everything was just as Jesus said it would be.  Or, they could have wondered what went wrong with the script.  You may recall that shortly before this, the disciples were arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.  They were hoping Jesus was going to set up His cabinet and begin His reign in Jerusalem.  But, instead of ruling, the disciples find themselves running errands and saddling donkeys, not marching in places of honor.  Nevertheless, they obeyed.

Determine to welcome the king with an obedient heart

Friend, are you as quick to obey as the disciples were – even when you don’t understand everything that’s going on?  When you discover clear commands in the Bible, do you follow or do you falter?  Do you need to own up for any deliberate deeds of disobedience right now?  If so, do it.  Determine to welcome the king with an obedient heart.  John 14:15 reminds us that if we say we love Jesus, then we will obey what He commands.

2 – Welcome the King with Gifts

The first way we can welcome Jesus this Palm Sunday is by our obedience.  The second way is by welcoming the King with our gifts.  

There were at least three gifts given that day.  The first one was the colt.  The owners didn’t question the disciples after they were told the colt was for Jesus.  Maybe they had heard of Jesus before and were happy to give their possession away.  They gladly gave Him what rightfully belonged to Him anyway.  As the Creator, Jesus has every right to possess what is ultimately His.  Someone has suggested that the owners may have been laughing to themselves because they knew that this little colt had never been ridden before and would give the rider quite a ride!

Not only did Zechariah prophecy about the Messiah riding a colt, the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey brought back memories of King Solomon’s procession to Gihon in 1 Kings 1:38-39: “…they put Solomon on King David’s mule…the priest anointed Solomon…then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted…”

Verse 35 tells us about the second gift that was given to Jesus.  The disciples put their cloaks on the colt as a saddle for Him and helped Him get on. Verse 36 says that, “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.”  They willingly took off their outer garments and laid some of them on the colt and others were placed on the road in front of Jesus.  

Can you imagine what all this commotion would have done to the colt?  Remember, it had never been ridden before and now Jesus was on its back, the crowd was shouting, and cloaks and palm branches were being laid in front of it as it walked down the hill toward Jerusalem.  Earlier this week, I read this passage to our family as part of our devotions and then asked our girls what kind of insight they had.  One of them mentioned that the colt was probably afraid.  I then asked them why the colt didn’t buck Jesus off and just run away.  Becky, our five-year-old, gave a profoundly theological answer: “Because the donkey knew it was Jesus.”

The laying of cloaks on the road would be like rolling out the red carpet for someone today.  In 2 Kings 9:13, people spread cloaks under King Jehu as he walked on the bare stairs.  The people recognized Jesus as royalty and gave Him the honor afforded a King.

That leads to the third gift – the laying of palm branches on the road.  Luke doesn’t mention this detail but Matthew 21:8 tells us “…others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.”  This was a common way to welcome a victorious King when he would return from battle.  These palm branches were also a symbol of joy and victory and were placed on graves as a sign of eternal life.  Since they often grew out in the desert near water, palm trees were a sign that life-giving activity was near.  By laying palm branches on the road, the people were signifying that Jesus was the victorious King who gives eternal life to those out wandering in the desert of life.

The gifts of the colt, the cloaks, and the branches all point to who Jesus is.  What started out as a Jewish feast is now turning into a Messiah celebration.  The colt was expensive, the cloaks were essential, and the branches were an expression of joy.  Friend, what can you give to welcome the King today?  Is He asking you to give something that is expensive?  Is He longing for you to give something that you consider essential?  Or, have you been holding out on an expression of joy?  If you want to welcome the King, you can do so with your gifts.  While there is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven, or nothing we can give to impress Jesus, our giving does demonstrate our love and devotion.

3 – Welcome the King With Praise

The followers of the King welcome Him with obedience and with their gifts.  We see next that they welcome the King with their praise.  If they started with preparation they now break out into celebration.  In verse 37, we read: “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:”

The language suggests that it was more than just the 12 disciples who were praising God.  At this point, there were many followers of Christ, and as they move down the mountain, the city of Jerusalem comes into view, causing them to get even more excited.  

The people broke out into a great spontaneous outpouring of praise.  Sadly, however, these same vocal cords with which they praised God for the Messiah’s entry would be used just a few days later to scream, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

But for now, they shout out in verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  This is a quotation from Psalm 118, which was read earlier.  The phrase comes in the name of the Lord means that Jesus is coming according to the promise of God.  This Psalm speaks of the coming Messiah and was sung out loud during the Passover meal.  By singing this Psalm, the followers of Christ are declaring that Jesus is the sent King who comes with the very authority of God.  Matthew 21:9 tells us that they included the word, “Hosanna” which means save now.  There was a feeling of celebration, exaltation, and adoration for what they were anticipating would come to pass.

As the crowd is praising God loudly, the Pharisees come up to Jesus in verse 39 and say, “…Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  They knew that the crowd was declaring Jesus as the Messiah and so they tell Jesus to reject the claim and to rebuke his followers.  These claims are offensive to the religious leaders.  

I love the answer Jesus gives in verse 40: “I tell you…if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  If the disciples do not speak, creation will.  Just as Jesus calmed the wild colt, so too He can command an inanimate object like a rock to praise Him because He is the creator of all things.  Or, to put it another way, Jesus is saying, “If I stop my disciples from singing Psalm 118, then you’re going to hear a literal ‘rock concert!’” 

Instead of rebuking the disciples, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by implying that the rocks know more about what is taking place than they do!  By the way, in effect this was literally fulfilled when we read in Matthew 27:51, that after Jesus died, “…the earth shook and the rocks split.”  The rocks responded to Jesus even though the Pharisees didn’t.

How are you doing at welcoming the King with praise?  Do you have moments in your schedule in which you stop and break out into adoration?  Do you start and end your day with praise and worship?  When you come here on Sundays to worship collectively with others is it the culmination of a week of personal worship experiences or is it your only time of praise?  Friends, God can make the stones cry out — but He’d rather have men and women and boys and girls who worship Him in spirit and in truth, spontaneously, loudly, and regularly!  

4 – Welcome Him With Faith

Jesus is longing for people to welcome Him with obedience, with gifts, with praise, and finally, with faith.  As Jesus makes His way down the mountain, he sees the entire city of Jerusalem in a panoramic view.  The city was stunning in its beauty with shining white buildings and the gleaming gold of Herod’s temple.  But Jesus saw it with a different vision.  He was coming not be respected but to be rejected.

As we try to put ourselves back in that day, we see that the disciples’ preparation led to celebration.  Now, sadly, the mood shifts to one of lamentation.  Look at verse 41: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”  

We may be tempted to rejoice in Jesus’ victory over the Pharisees.  But Jesus doesn’t gloat; He weeps.  His interest is not in winning arguments but in winning people.  The word “wept” means “to burst into tears, to weep out loud, to sob deeply.”  This was more than just a tear streaming down His cheek.  This same word is used in Mark 5:38 to describe how family members were crying over the death of a young daughter when it says they were “crying and wailing loudly.”  While everyone else was shouting joyfully, Jesus was crying because of the hard hearts of people.

Jesus was not weeping because He was going to suffer and die.  No, He was weeping for the lost.  He wants people to exhibit faith and trust Him as their Lord and Savior.  He wants this so much that He breaks out into loud wailing when people choose to go their own way.

On three separate occasions, the Bible speaks of Jesus crying:

  • At the death of Lazarus in John 11:35.  These were tears of sympathy.
  • At the sight of Jerusalem in our passage today.  These were tears of sorrow.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane in Hebrews 5:7.  These were tears of anguish.

As Jesus looks out at Jerusalem, with his deep sobbing and wailing almost choking Him up, He cries out rather abruptly in verses 42-44: “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 recognize God’s coming to you.”

Jesus had offered salvation to the people, but they rejected it.  As a result, they have lost out on real peace.  In these verses, Jesus is looking at the future and sees some really bad things in store for the City of David.  His chilling prophecy became reality in 70 A.D. when Titus and the Roman legion surrounded Jerusalem, built embankments around it so no one could escape, and besieged the city for 143 days before turning it into a pile of rocks.  Over 600,000 adults and children were slaughtered.  The temple was totally destroyed and set on fire.

If you reject Christ, you will pay the consequences

All this took place because they “did not recognize God’s coming.”  Friends, can I talk straight with you this morning?  There is a very clear principle here in these words that are dripping with the tears of Jesus.  If you and I do not recognize God’s coming in the form of the Lord Jesus and put our faith in Him, we will be exposed to judgment.  If you reject Christ, you will pay the consequences.

This does not bring Jesus any pleasure.  It breaks Him up.  It brings Him pain.  He is deeply moved and choked up when He thinks about you not responding to Him in faith.  Ezekiel 33:11 reveals God’s heart toward you: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

As Jesus breaks out into tears about the coming judgment for those who do not turn to Him in faith, I see two aspects that should motivate us to put our full faith and complete confidence in Christ for forgiveness of sins.

  • His tears reveal His heart of compassion toward you.  Romans 2:4 says that God’s kindness can lead you to repentance.  As you focus on his tears, allow His kind heart to melt away your hardness and turn to Him.
  • The coming terror reveals His holiness.  Earlier in Luke’s gospel, in chapter 16, a rich man dies and goes to hell.  As he deals with the terror and torment of the eternal fire, he begs for someone to go back and warn his family members before its too late.  If you’re not moved by the tears of compassion, maybe you’ll be motivated to repent because of the terror of the coming judgment.

Which one will spur you on to welcome the King with obedience, with gifts, with praise and with faith this morning?  

I’m told that there is Rembrandt painting of the face of Christ that is very captivating.  If you cover one of Christ’s eyes His face has a sparkle of joy and hope.  But if you cover the other eye, He looks like He is about to cry.  And if you try to look at both eyes at the same time, you will see both emotions: first one, then the other, then mingled in a beautiful yet tragic expression.  That’s the face of Christ on Palm Sunday.  In one eye we see the sparkle: “I am the one who has come in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna.”  But in the other eye we see a tear: “There will be no peace and only the terror of my holy judgment for those who miss the day of my visitation.”

Do you know what the biggest blooper of all time is?  The biggest blooper takes place when individuals decide to not put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Friend, don’t put off the decision any longer.  Welcome the King into your life today.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?