Luke 19:28-44 (spring AD 30: Palm Sunday)
In the ancient world, when the leader or a city or a nation had won a notable battle, they held have a triumphal parade. The victorious leader would be out in front in a chariot pulled by a team of horses, and behind him would be his army, and behind them would be the prisoners of war.
Nowadays the closest we tend to get is sports teams on open-top buses through city centres after they’ve won a championship. If wanted to recreate the flavour of the ancient celebration, they’d need to bring along the team they’d just beaten and have them walk behind the victory bus in humiliation.
With his ‘triumphal’ entry into Jerusalem, Jesus, in the most apt yet counter-cultural way possible, made his point. He was the true King, symbolised by entering the capital city riding on a four-legged animal, but was a servant king, symbolised by that animal being the most lowly creature that could possibly carry him. And with no prisoners trailing behind. And with no orchestrated, paid-for fanfare. What he had was the adulation of the many who had heard about the wonderful good he had been doing. And adulation isn’t too strong a word – they spread their clothes on the road to avoid dirt on the feet of the donkey Jesus was riding. It was a gesture not of mere curiosity but great respect, and a gesture of obeisance, declaring through the act that Jesus was a great man worthy to be followed. And that was before Jesus even got to Jerusalem itself, even though traditionally we think about it all having taken place inside the city.
And what was on Jesus’s mind at this time of recognition and adulation?
Grief that his people, the Jews, were by and large rejecting him completely.
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you pace – but now it is hidden from your eyes” (v.42), followed by a dire prophecy.
The rejection of God and godliness, of fellowship and forgiveness, of redemption and reconciliation, by the majority of the Jews was emotionally devastating to Jesus.
As we think about our King, the one who rules over all yet humbled himself, remember also that the idea of people enduring an eternity without God made him cry. He is not our model primarily in action – his ministry was unique. But he is our model in attitude, and this is an overlooked aspect of that attitude: grief over the consequences of other people’s sin.
Ask yourself what the consequences of your unconverted friends, family, community, colleagues and country mean to you. And if the answer is, ‘Not very much’, think again about what sin is and why Jesus was crying about it.