Worship Fit for a King

Luke 19:28-44

April 1, 2012 | Brian Bill

A young boy was home sick on Palm Sunday with his mom.  His dad returned from church with a palm branch which made the boy very curious, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?”  The dad took advantage of this teachable moment and explained, “When Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him, so we each got a palm branch today.”  To which the boy responded, “Oh sure, the one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!”

Today is Palm Sunday, also called the Triumphal Entry.  Jesus has been traveling south from Galilee, and is headed to Jerusalem to begin the final week of His ministry.  It’s really the greatest week in human history.   In order to understand what it means that Jesus showed up in Jerusalem, it’s important to understand at least two 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.  

Second, Passover was about to begin.  This celebration, which was Israel’s greatest feast, 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 the capital for the Passover.  As they remembered God delivering them from a foreign power, they anticipated that God would do the same again.  On the Passover, each family would sacrifice a lamb.  This yearly reminder helped 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. 

It’s difficult for us 2000 years removed from this event to grasp the mood of that time.  In this election year, perhaps the closest illustration we have is what happens when a political candidate is officially selected and presented to the delegates at a political convention.  The people were looking for the Messiah, and Jesus was a likely candidate.  They 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.

This section of Scripture is saturated with spiritual symbolism.  As we walk through it, let’s see four ways we can welcome Jesus so we don’t miss Him when He shows up.

  • Welcome Him with what we do (19:28-35a)
  • Welcome Him with what we have (19:35b-36)
  • Welcome Him with what we say (19:37-40)
  • Welcome Him with how we believe (19:41-44)

1 – Welcome Him With What We Do

Luke 19:29 tells us that Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethany, which was just two miles east of 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, last week we learned that this is where He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and it will also be the spot from which He will ascend 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.’”

He has all the details worked out, including their exact sequence, which actually should help us trust Him when He gives us an assignment to do or when we go through some affliction

Jesus spells it out for them very specifically and things were “just as He had told them.”  He has all the details worked out, including their exact sequence, which actually should help us trust Him when He gives us an assignment to do or when we go through some affliction.  There are no surprises with God.  He knew all about the colt that would be tied up and He knew how the owners would respond.  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 valuable.  In our culture today, it would be like someone coming up to a cherry red Mustang, opening the door, starting the car and driving away.  When the owner comes running outside you would simply 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 borrow your Buick.

Another important point to make is this.  When the disciples were sent to get a colt, Jesus was putting into place another 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.  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 filleted the Philistines.  You can imagine the confusion in their minds when they heard their Messiah ask for a baby donkey.

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 what you do.  John 14:15 reminds us that if we say we love Jesus, then we will obey what He commands.

2 – Welcome Him With What We Have

The first way we can make sure we don’t miss Jesus when He shows up is by doing what God wants us to do.  The second way is by welcoming Him with what we give.  

There were at least three gifts given that day.  The first 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 help.  They gladly gave Him what rightfully belonged to Him anyway.  As the Creator, Jesus has every right to possess what is ultimately His.  While technically the Lord doesn’t “need” anything, when we understand that the Lord wants something that we have, we better be quick to give it.  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!

There’s actually spiritual significance to a colt that was never ridden before.  In the Old Testament when an animal was used for sacred purposes, it had to be one which had not already been used for common purposes.  The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey also brought back memories of King Solomon’s procession 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…”

Check out this prayer written in 1948: “O God, be Thou exalted over my possessions.  Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only Thou are glorified in my life…let me decrease that Thou mayest increase, let me sink that Thou mayest rise above.  Ride forth upon me as Thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal…and let me hear the children cry to Thee, ‘Hosanna in the highest.’” 

Verse 35 tells us about the second gift that was given to Jesus.  The disciples put their cloaks on the colt.   Verse 36 adds that, “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.”  They willingly took off their outer garments and laid some on the colt and others were placed on the road in front of 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, demonstrating that they recognized and received Him as king.  Many of 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.  In Judaism, palms represented peace and plenty, and in some branches (pun intended) of their religion, palms had revolutionary and nationalistic overtones.  They were almost like a Jewish flag, and would be perceived as a threat to the Romans.  

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

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 Savior-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?  

3 – Welcome Him With What We Say

Another way to make sure we don’t miss Jesus is by being careful with what we say.  If the people began 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.”  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.  

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 recited as people journeyed to Jerusalem for the feasts.   This Psalm speaks of the coming Messiah and was sung out loud during the Passover meal because it celebrated God’s perfect plan.  When they sang it, they knew that one day they would be singing it to the Savior who was to come in the name of the Lord

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.”   I heard about happened one Palm Sunday when 5-year-old Stephanie sat on her dad’s lap while they listened to the sermon together.  As the pastor described Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem and how the crowds cried, “Hosanna, Hosanna!” Stephanie perked up and began to sing, “Oh, Hosanna, now don’t you cry for me!” 

Actually, the word “Hosanna” means save now or do save.  There was a sense of celebration, exaltation, and adoration.  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.  They thought the crowd’s claims were excessive and over the top.   Some of you know what that’s like as those close to you, who are not yet followers of Christ, try to get you to tone down your faith.

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 what you say and by how you sing?  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?  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 How We Believe

Jesus is longing for us to welcome Him with what we do, with what we have, with what we say and finally, with how we believe.  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.

The brakes are put on the parade of people.  At first maybe they thought Jesus was laughing as they see His shoulders heaving but then they notice something else happening as the mood shifts from celebration to one of lamentation.  Look at verse 41: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”  

The word “wept” means “to burst into tears, to weep out loud, to sob deeply; the cry of a soul in agony.”  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, the Savior was shrieking because of the hard hearts of the people

A church member found his newly-appointed pastor standing in his office weeping as he looked out over the inner city’s tragic conditions.  Trying to console the pastor he said, “Don’t worry.  After you’ve been here for awhile, you’ll get used to it.”  The pastor looked up and said, “Yes, I know.  That’s why I’m crying.”

Jesus was not weeping because He was going to suffer and die.  No, He was lamenting for the lost.  He wants people to believe and receive 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.  This makes me think of John 1:11: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”

As Jesus looks out at Jerusalem, with deep sobbing and wailing, 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 is saying something like this: “If you don’t believe and receive me, a first-century Auschwitz awaits you.”

Jesus had offered salvation to the people, but they rejected it.  One paraphrase puts it like this: “If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you!  But now it’s too late.”  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 the Roman legion surrounded the city, built embankments around it, and attacked relentless for 143 days before turning it into a pile of rocks.  Over 600,000 adults and children were slaughtered.  The temple was decimated.

All this took place because they “did not recognize God’s coming.”  The word “coming” is also translated as visitation and means “to relieve.”  Christ came to relieve you from sin and sorrow!  Friends, can I talk straight with you this morning?  There is a very clear truth here in these words that are dripping with the tears of Jesus.  If you and I do not recognize God’s coming in the Lord Jesus by believing and receiving Him, we will face terrible 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.  We hear Him pouring his heart out in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

  • 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.  In Luke 16, a rich man dies and goes to hell.  As he deals with the torment of the eternal fire, he begs for someone to go back and warn his family members before it’s 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.

Choose Your Lamb

I’d like you to ponder something with me.  On the day that the Lamb of God arrived in Jerusalem, families were choosing the lamb that they would sacrifice for Passover.  On the exact day that a lamb was chosen to cover their sins; so too you must choose your Lamb today.  The blood of the Lamb must be applied over the door of your life…so that God’s judgment will pass-over you.  Palm Sunday is a time of great invitation.  When Jesus shows up, how will you respond?

  • Welcome Him with what you do 
  • Welcome Him with what you have 
  • Welcome Him with what you say 
  • Welcome Him with what you believe 

Jesus rode a donkey when He showed up on Palm Sunday but when shows up again He’ll be on a white war horse.  Revelation 19:11-16 describes the scene: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”


During communion we celebrate Christ’s first coming, His crucifixion and His resurrection…and we also proclaim His death until He comes again.  Let’s not miss Him when He shows up.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?