The Stones Will Cry Out!
This morning we celebrate Palm Sunday—we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is a bold entry in that, by this time, orders had been issued for Jesus to be arrested (Jn. 11:57). By approaching Jerusalem, Jesus was making Himself vulnerable to those who opposed His ministry.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was also atypical in that, for the first time, He did not shy away from a public demonstration. In the past, Jesus had repeatedly withdrawn from the crowds that followed Him. On occasion, Jesus would even insist that His work be kept secret. But not this time. This occasion was special. There is no hint of hesitation on Jesus’ part. The crowd was welcome.
Not only was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem bold, and not only was His entry atypical, but it was also in step with biblical prophecy. Jesus did not arrive with a sophisticated caravan, but rather, in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9), He came riding on the back of a young donkey. By doing this, Jesus was making a profound declaration that He was the promised Messiah, the King of Israel.
We could say much more about the nature of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but for our purposes this morning, I am more interested in examining the responses of the people who witnessed the entry. And, in examining the responses of the people, we gain for ourselves a measuring tool to help us evaluate our present-day responses to the Kingship of Jesus.
The first response we find is one of deep respect. At the sight of Jesus, riding on a colt, approaching Jerusalem, the multitude spread their garments and palm branches on the road as an improvised red carpet (19:36).
The precedent for such an action comes from 2Kings 9, where Jehu is anointed king of Israel and the people respond by spreading their garments under Jehu’s feet as he walked.
The spreading of the palm branches and the garments was a sign of respect—a suitable gesture to mark the arrival of a king.
As Presbyterians, demonstrations of respect within the context of worshipping Jesus come fairly naturally to us. As we gather in the name of Jesus, our services of worship tend to be marked by a sense of seriousness and reverence for what we are doing here. Flippancy is avoided. Great care is taken in planning and executing our service. Our mantra is to do things ‘decently and in good order’.
We do this, I hope, out of a deep respect for who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us.
The second response we find from the multitude is one of joyful praise. We read in verse 37, “As (Jesus) was approaching . . . the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen.”
We see here that approaching Christ with deep respect does not preclude us from praising Him with a joyful disposition. Within the Presbyterian Church, I fear that there are times when our commitment to reverent worship comes at the expense of joyful praise.
Try to imagine the scene as it is described by Luke and the other Gospel writers. I’m picturing excitement; I’m picturing exuberance! I imagine bright eyes and smiling faces. The King is coming and the multitude cannot contain their enthusiasm.
Is that your experience of Jesus Christ? As you consider the miracle that Christ has wrought within your heart, as you consider the benefits of Christ’s death and Resurrection, to what extent are you stirred to engage in joyful praise?
And, if we do find that our manner of praise is markedly different than what we find in the biblical account, could it be said that our manner is praise is lacking something?
I realize that our upbringing and our personality play a role here. I was raised to think that less emotion was better than more emotion. As a child, being excitable was a sure way to invite a reprimand. My tendency is not to be overly demonstrative.
And yet, this scene, as Luke describes it, grabs a hold of me. The people are praising God “joyfully” and “with a loud voice” (19:37). That sounds a lot like cheering, doesn’t it?
If I can cheer loudly for the Toronto Maple Leafs—a group of men who have let me down more times than I can number—can I not be sufficiently inspired to bring cheerful praise for the One who has never failed me, and has purchased my pardon at Calvary?
It seems to me that the joyful praise of the multitude was fitting, and it seems to me that we need not restrain ourselves from engaging in the same kind joyful praise as we gather here week to week.
In addition to demonstrating deep respect for Jesus, and in addition to bringing forth joyful praise, we see, thirdly, that the multitude brought forth appropriate proclamation. I’m not speaking here so much about the manner, as I am about the content of their celebration. The praise of the multitude can be said to be appropriate in nature because the proclamation was biblical in nature.
Paraphrasing Psalm 118 (v.26), the people were shouting, “Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” The reason I say paraphrasing is because the actual verse being referenced reads, “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The multitude had inferred that Jesus was the promised King of Israel, and so they amended their cheer to reflect that.
Because the people were thinking biblically, they were saying the right things about Jesus. And because their praise was born out of a deep respect and a joyful disposition, it can be said that the multitude were saying the right things rightly.
Even still, not everything was right about the gathering around Jesus that day. Though we witness deep respect, joyful praise, and biblical proclamation, we also see prevailing jealousy.
We are told that the Pharisees were among the multitude. The Pharisees detected the sincerity of the crowd that was following Jesus and they were not happy about it. John records in his gospel their disdainful exclamation, “look the whole world has gone after Him” (Jn. 12:19). And, more explicitly, in Luke’s gospel, we are told that certain Pharisees actually approach Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” (19:39).
Yes, there was a prevailing jealousy at work that day, which was intent on disrupting the celebration around Jesus’ demonstration.
I wish I could tell you that there is no parallel to be found within the Christian Church. I wish I could tell you that jealousy is nowhere to be found within the Christian community. I am afraid that it is present. But, thankfully, we see that jealousy is not able to sufficiently interrupt the progress of God’s people as they celebrate the Kingship of Christ.
We see, in Luke 19, that there is something greater at work than the prevailing jealousy of man—we see that behind everything is God’s unyielding sovereignty.
To speak of God’s unyielding sovereignty is to simply confess that, at all times, God has everything under control. This is to say that everything is going according to God’s plan.
The entry into Jerusalem, the colt, the cheering crowd—this had been God’s ancient plan for the Messiah, and no human initiative could derail what God had determined would take place.
If we require an expression of God’s unyielding sovereignty we need not look further than Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees’ rebuke. The Pharisees implore Jesus, ‘Tell your disciples to be quiet.’ Jesus answers them and says, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (19:40).
I don’t think Jesus was kidding when He gave that reply. I hear Jesus telling the Pharisees that their will cannot trump God’s will. Even if the Pharisees were to get their way, even if the multitude were to cease their cheers, God’s unyielding sovereignty would ensure that the message was nonetheless proclaimed—the stones would be enabled to declare that the King has arrived.
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees reminds us who is in control here, but there is something else that Jesus’ reply does. Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees affirms the suitability of the people’s response to Him.
Jesus could have played the role of the diplomat. He could have responded to the Pharisees and said, ‘Yes, you are right, this is an excitable group. I agree, these palm branches and ‘blessed be the King’ cheers are a bit much. And I do realize it must be a bit awkward to hear them connect me with the Messianic prophecies. Let me see if I can calm them down a bit.’
But, of course, Jesus does nothing of the sort. Jesus’ response affirms the crowd’s gestures of deep respect. His response affirms the joyful praise and biblical proclamation brought forth by the multitude.
For this reason, there should be no question about our mandate. Our mandate is to ‘start spreading the news’. In a way that demonstrates respect for Jesus, in a way that demonstrates the immense joy we feel about Him, and in a way that matches the biblical testimony, we ought to be telling others about the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
Bear in mind the two groups of people identified in this passage—the cheering multitude and despondent Pharisees. Jesus affirms the one group and He rebukes the other group. That makes it obvious to me which group I would like to identify with.
If I want to be affirmed by Jesus, and not rebuked, my attitude and my actions need to be congruent with the attitude and actions of the crowd following Jesus that day.
In other words, my walk with Jesus, and your walk with Jesus, ought to be marked by deep respect, joyful praise, and biblical proclamation.
Let us take our cue then from the ancient multitude, and may we be ever prepared–in any context—to celebrate the presence of our King, Jesus Christ. Amen.