Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Part Two)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

Legalism is an attempt to hide behind the law or manipulate its details to force your will on others.  There are some peculiar laws on the books around the country, so pick your hiding spot carefully.  Here are a few humorous examples.

In Huntington, West Virginia, firemen may not whistle or flirt at any woman passing a firehouse.

In the entire state of Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a corpse lying in a funeral home or in a coroner’s office.

In Boston, Massachusetts, no one may take a bath without a prescription.  I wonder who polices that law?

In Norco, CA, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must first obtain a $100 license.

This one is true too: in Wichita, Kansas, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is to get out of their vehicle and fire three shotgun rounds into the air.  I’m looking for a volunteer to try that one out!

Owners of flamingos in Juneau, Alaska, may not let their pet into barber shops.  How does anybody in Juneau GET a flamingo?

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.  Based on what little I know about San Francisco, I’d guess politicians are allowed to stack it as high as they want.

I’m sure there is an interesting story behind all these laws, explaining how they got on the books.  But the point simply is this: man-made laws are vulnerable to misuse.  They are not the ultimate authority in the life of believers.  Our allegiance is primarily to the laws of love that were instituted in the Old Covenant and affirmed by Jesus in the New.

REVIEW from Part One

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (lawyers) were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abused the Law to further their own ends and in the unusual sense that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

As per the usual meaning of this expression, the Pharisees and lawyers were attempting to convince Jesus and everyone within earshot they were handling a serious problem.  Jesus exposed their hypocrisy instead of accepting their definition of “serious.”

NEW for Part Two

  1. Prodding the People (10+11).

Sometime in this brief conversation a CROWD had formed. What Jesus intended to be a private rebuke became a “teachable moment” when He turned to address the CROWD as well as the disciples and the religious leaders.

He used the religious professionals’ complaint about hand-washing to teach the people about true discipleship.  For our sake, here’s what the Law of Moses taught.

One, “defilement” was a condition of spiritual and moral impurity (aka “uncleanliness”).  The word literally meant “to make something common.”  That means that something that had previously been sacred (devoted exclusively to God; special), was now just “ordinary.”

Two, the Law penalized the unclean/ defiled sinner by putting the offender out of the temple and sometimes outside the community too.  In the most serious situation, the Law required the offender put out of LIFE.  (Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 21:17 in verse four is an example of the ultimate penalty.)

Three, there were detailed laws about how an unclean/defiled person could become clean again.

The Law made an abstract concept like “sin” concrete & costly by requiring an animal sacrifice to cleanse the guilty party.  This is one appeal of legalism; it’s easier to think concretely than abstractly.

In contrast, here’s what Jesus said: “Food eaten with unwashed hands does not make the eater a sinner.  Instead, the things that come out of the mouth (i.e., our words) are things that make us sinners.”

  1. The Parable (12-14).

The scene changes again between vs. 11+12.  Jesus and His disciples went into a private home where they could question Jesus.

We forget that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a begrudging respect for the Pharisees: they were seen as “super religious” in a culture where religion was still seen as a good thing.  Even so, people didn’t to follow their example: it was just too demanding.

This explains the deference of the disciples in verse twelve, where they asked, “Do you realize what you’re saying is making these guys mad?”  They were also curious about this new, more assertive attitude Jesus showed.  Otherwise, who cares?  After all, you can’t live your life worrying about all the opinions of all the people.  Making decisions to avoid offense is one of the worst bases for making decisions.

Jesus needed to relieve them of the assumption that these people were reliable spiritual guides.  That’s why His reply in vs. 13+14 is so unequivocal.  It is as if Jesus replied, “You think that was offensive?  Check THIS out!”  What followed was a two-part parable (as Peter identified it in verse fifteen).

The PARABLE promised that God will set things right.  In this world, hypocrites may be allowed to prosper, but sooner or later, God Himself will uproot them.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus gave an extended parable about a wheat field where that was later sown with weed seed.  He explained that the wheat represents the true children of God and the weeds the false and evil people who reject God.  Making a point very similar to v. 13, Jesus promised God Himself will separate the wheat from the weeds and make everything right.  As God did not write their TRADITION, anyone guided by it was NOT His planting.

Jesus commanded, “LEAVE THEM.”  He meant, “Don’t be fooled by their legalism.”  Those who followed their teaching were “the blind being lead by the blind.”  This is irony with a sharp point, folks.  These religious authorities would puff themselves up by putting others down, calling themselves “leaders of the blind.”  Jesus turns their egotism against them and says that they blinded themselves to the truth.

  1. Peter in a Pickle (15-20).

He was often the first to ask questions everyone wondered about but didn’t dare ask (as happened in verse fifteen).  Peter wondered how God would “uproot” them and/or how they would fall into a pit.

The problem with being the first to ask is that he bore the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke (16): “ARE YOU [also] STILL SO DULL?”  This sounds harsh, but this kind of language fit Jesus’ role as a rabbi: bringing rebuke/correction was part of their job.

But these statements contradict our watered-down, wimpy version of Jesus.  The Gentle Shepherd is just one side of His character.  We need to also see Jesus as a radical man who was dangerous, dragging His disciples into all kinds of troubling situations.

In vs. 17-19 Jesus drew an analogy from the obvious function of the human body in regard to eating.  Food and water are introduced to the body by the mouth, are used by the body, and then disposed of by the body.  It was ridiculous to assert this process resulted in an immoral state.

The things that DO have a moral effect are a person’s words and deeds.  For example, MURDER, ADULTERY, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and THEFT are all sinful acts.  FALSE TESTIMONY and SLANDER are examples of sinful words.

These are the BAD FRUIT of which Jesus spoke in chapter seven.  They identify a “bad tree,” regardless of mere appearances may say.

Jesus’ teaching was that hand-washing is not a moral act.   Anyone who attempts to make their self look good by observing a legalism like hand-washing rituals is a hypocrite.  What makes and marks a person as godly or ungodly is what’s in their heart, not what’s under their fingernails.  Real faith changes us to the core; it does not settle on the skin and it does not allow evil and selfishness to be excused or exercised by something as petty as legalism.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go by without telling a lawyer joke or two.  Here’s some gleaned from the Reader’s Digest.

First, a bit of actual courtroom dialogue: Attorney: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
Witness: “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Next, a favorite diversion of ours: jury duty.  When an 88-year-old mother was called for jury duty, she had to submit to questioning by the opposing lawyers.

“Have you ever dealt with an attorney?” asked the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“Yes. I had an attorney write my living trust,” she responded.

“And how did that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask me when I’m dead.”

Finally, do you know who invented copper wire?  Two attorneys fighting over a penny.

<Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/jokes/lawyer/ on 6/29/17.>

We can laugh about these things and should.  Quality of life is diminished when we allow petty people to wind our crank.  Its safer to just laugh at them.

But we need to be deadly serious about legalism.  Legalism is a sin.  It is a disguise that hypocrites wear to mask their true identity.  It is a means to abuse others and/or benefit self.  It is false.  It is not of God.

Let us be done with legalism.  Let us take seriously the condemnation Jesus leveled at hypocrites and avoid being one.  Have this Scripture in mind and take an honest look in the mirror.  It begins there.

 

 

 

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Pt. One)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your Bible.  Then examine the following to see if your spirit agrees.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

“Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of ‘correction,’ where it is ‘explained’ that this line is intended as a praise of lawyers.

“Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.  The line is actually uttered by a character ‘Dick the Butcher.’ While he’s a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements.

“The “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The build-up is a long portion where Cade makes vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

JACK CADE
I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

“The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this.  Far from being ‘out of context’ the usage is more true to the original than most people know.

“In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions.

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

(Posted in 1997 by Seth Finkelstein at http://www.spectacle.org/797/finkel.html, retrieved on 06/19/17.)

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees & lawyers were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abusing the Law to further their own ends. Everyone knew the hand-washing regulations were not part of the Law given to Moses but were only a tradition started by rabbis.  In Jesus’ time these rules were not widely enforced, so these guys were trying too hard to find fault with Jesus.

Here is one example of their tradition regarding hand-washing: “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean: but if over both hands with a single rinsing, Rabbi Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more.” (M Yadaim 2:1)

The Pharisees and lawyers were also “picky” in that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.  They wanted to make Him look like a bad Jew. Note that these religious professionals were from Jerusalem.   They went all the way up to Galilee to find Jesus and “put Him in His place.”  In spite of their effort, all they could find to confront Him about was the behavior of his disciples at dinner time.

This sounds petty to us and it was petty, but not in the minds of these religious leaders.  When people are being legalistic, petty matters are molehills made to sound like mountains.  This is a word of warning to us about legalism; it is used because it provides a cover for pettiness.  Complaints that may be true in principle but not practicality are being used this way.  Be wary of this practice.

THE TRADITION OF THE ELDERS was a body of rules written by religious leaders over several generations called the “Halakah.”  The Pharisees attached a great deal of importance to this document and attempted to meet its requirements every day.  It was so complicated that a new profession arose to help people navigate its requirements: these are the TEACHERS OF THE LAW mentioned here.  We might call them “temple lawyers.”

Literacy was still not a common skill, so these TRADITIONS were largely maintained orally; the rabbi would train his students in them by having them recite them aloud.  This rote method of teaching was the main way these TRADITIONS were preserved in succeeding generations.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

Continuing our earlier connection with English literature, we understand the expression “buying a pig in a poke” to be an old English phrase that refers to buying something without seeing or knowing anything about it first.  A “poke” is another word for sack.  (The word “pocket” is derived from it – a “pokette” is a small sack.) It is not wise to buy without first opening the sack to check the condition of the pig!

The Pharisees attempted to sell Jesus a “pig in a poke” in their criticism of His disciples’ lack of hand washing etiquette.  However, Jesus wasn’t buying it.  He opened the sack and exposed the contents.  Jesus exposed their legalism as hypocrisy – choosing their own traditions over God’s Law

God’s Law was clearly stated: children are to honor (obey) their parents.  Exodus 20:12 is the 5th Commandment; “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GIVING YOU.”  Jesus also quoted Exodus 21:17 which gave the penalty for violating this commandment: death.  Think God takes this seriously?  Yes, He does.

Jesus said this clear command had been nullified by a tradition created by the kind of people who were accusing Him.  Leviticus 27:9+16 allowed for property and real estate to be designated as “Corban,” a state of dedication to the Lord (see Mark 7:11).  This was to last until the next Year of Jubilee.  Perhaps on this basis, they created a rule that a man could dedicate assets to the temple.  If so, when his parents appealed to him for help, he could say to them, “I’d love to help you out, but my property is given over to the temple and I’m strapped for cash.”

With that kind of clear self-interest, the religious leaders created a way to make money and an excuse for the living to refuse all requests for philanthropy.  In our time, it would be a combination tax shelter and charitable trust.  Or it might be “fraud.”  Jesus’ point is simple; hypocrites will attempt to wallpaper their crimes in pages from law books in order to excuse their violations of God’s Law and/or make themselves appear godly when their hearts are nowhere near God.

In case you’re not yet seeing it, let me assure you this is a full-bore rebuke by Jesus.  It is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus referred to the Pharisees and lawyers – or anyone – as HYPOCRITES.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 using the Word of God to expose the true intent of their hearts.  In effect, He rebuked them saying, “You believe you’re preserving traditions, but in reality, you’re guilty of the same hypocrisy the prophet Isaiah exposed.”

They replaced true faith which resides in one’s heart with superficialities.  Instead of enacting the will of God, they misused the Law to force their will on others.  The result: their worship was wasted because the rules they followed were just human notions, not the will of God.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

We must understand what legalism is.  I offer the reader five views of the subject that will attempt to define this sin and enable us to avoid manifesting it in our daily living.

Legalism is a complicated attempt to create rules that make us look good while relieving us of the hard work of character.

Legalism is an attempt to cloud the condition of the heart by burying the matter in complications.  It is the old “smoke and mirrors” approach to misdirection.

Legalism mimics God’s Law, but is thoroughly man-made.  It is thereby not authoritative for all who believe.

Legalism misuses tradition by asserting that the old ways are the only right ways.

Legalism is selfishly motivated and attempts to please one’s self; where true righteousness is focused on God and desires to please Him.  We humans seem to have an infinite capacity to make excuses and manipulate words to justify self and/or condemn others.  We need a higher authority.

The Jewish religious leaders in this passage are long dead and so are some of their teachings.  But the practice of legalism is alive and well.  It has users in the Church and outside it; the dogmatism of “political correctness” is a modern manifestation of legalism.

Indeed, the practice of legalism is so common (inside and outside the Church) and its consequences are so serious, the Lord has impressed on me the necessity of studying this passage in detail.  Part Two will examine further aspects of Jesus’ condemnation of legalism.

“What’s in Your Wallet?”

(Please read Jeremiah 9:23-26.)

Samuel L. Jackson want’s to know, “What’s in Your Wallet?”  You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their wallet, but what’s in their hearts is what really counts.  What’s needed in our hearts is the humility to forsake self-sufficiency and instead embrace dependence on God.

MESSAGE: Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

CONTEXT: The previous 21 verses of the chapter have been spent in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, similar to what we heard Jesus doing a couple weeks ago.  So this set of four verses sounds a little out of place, but t point is that in desperate days we’ve an even greater need to rely on God.

COMMENT:

  1. Do not rely on any worldly thing (23, 25-26).

Why we should not rely on worldly things.

– They will not ward off trouble or tragedy.

– Trusting in worldly things is a subtle idolatry.

– It pleases God if we rely on Him & trust Him.

– The problem with all forms of worldly self-sufficiency is that they can blind us to our need for God.  In that blindness, we fail to seek God & are thereby not saved.

– The world honors its scholars, athletes, warriors, and wealthy, but their assets will not save them.

Jeremiah gives four examples of worldly things that have been proven untrustworthy.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (v. 23).  Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom – not even close (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:67; 9:10).  We have a tendency to self-deception and can be deceived by others – only God is always true.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (v. 23).  Neither physical might nor any other form of worldly power will have the spiritual and moral strength that God’s righteousness endows. Worldly STRENGTH will fail us.

Do not rely on your RICHES (v. 23).  Jesus told us that only treasure kept in heaven is safe from thievery and decay – all kinds of loss (see Matthew 6:19-21).       Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24).

Do not rely on your religious credentials (vs. 25-26).  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the ultimate religion credential.  It was the physical sign that distinguished men of God from everyone else.

But Jeremiah dismissed any notion of privilege based on circumcision: “I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED ONLY IN THE FLESH.”  While it is stated in the Old Testament, the people often missed the fact that keeping the Law was not about the letter of the Law as much as it was changing the heart.  So being circumcised only in THE FLESH was a way of describing the kind of hypocrisy that can occur with people who observe only the letter of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this same issue in Romans 2:25-29 and also observed that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit. This is a recurring them in Jeremiah:

– 4:4 calls Judah to circumcise their hearts.

– 6:10 condemns “uncircumcised ears” that fail to listen to the LORD’s commands.

The only thing all the nations listed in v. 25 have in common is that they are going to be punished by the LORD.  (It’s easy to dismiss others as irreligious, but to truly seek God is not.)  So, in spite of the spiritual advantages God gave them, in spite of all the grace He had shown them, His people continued to trust in their worldly wisdom, strength, and riches instead of God.  Ironically, this is when God’s gifts become perverted into idols.  What He gives to empower godliness can sometimes become substitutes for Him.  When we worship the gifts and not the Giver, we sin.

As an alternative to worldly priorities, God wants us to value the following – this order:

– Dependence on God.

– Interdependence on each other.

– Independence and self-support.

In our culture we often have these backwards, don’t we?

  1. Rely on the Lord alone (24).

The LORD is the only one worth boasting about.  Our highest good is relationship with God.  Understanding Him is an intellectual experience.  Knowing Him is a spiritual, emotional, and moral experience.  From this primary relationship flows true wisdom, power, wealth, and religious relevance.

The life of faith is a matter of knowing what delights Him and DOING IT.  This is one way to demonstrate a real faith-relationship with God.  Jeremiah offers three virtues that characterize a life in which God delights:

– KINDNESS.  This Hebrew word is hard to translate into English.  It refers to an inner attitude good will to people whether it’s expected or deserved.  “Steadfast love” is an alternative translation.  It is the kind of love God has shown to us, the example He has set and we are to follow.  This is GRACE – the single most important way to demonstrate love.

– JUSTICE.  This is a far-reaching term; it describes a society where good people are protected from evil people so that they are free to continue to do good.  One of the sins condemned by the prophets is the oppression of the poor.  God rejects all forms of injustice as a violation of His will.  Those who are blessed in worldly things need to be careful to use their wealth to lift up those not as endowed in worldly things.  For examples, see how Hosea 5:4; 6:3; 8:2 called the people to know God and His justice.  See Micah 6:8 and 7:18 to find activities that please God.

– RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Similar to justice, this term describes a culture in which doing the right thing is the predominant, normal, expected behavior.  As with all God’s standards, the bar of behavior is set at its highest.  “Righteousness” involves doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  God sets His standards impossibly high to force us to rely on Him.

– We rely on His forgiveness when we fail.

– We rely on His Spirit to succeed.

– All of our life experiences are supposed to direct our attention to Him and deepen our relationship with Him.

Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (23).

THE PROBLEM: People who are intellectually self-sufficient insist on forms of evidence they can verify with their five senses.  Whether well-educated or not, they take God’s gift of intelligence and turn it into an idol.  They proudly believe they’ve got it all figured out.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for intellectual self-sufficiency begins with 1CT 3:18-20 = DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES.  IF ANY ONE OF YOU THINKS HE IS WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE, HE SHOULD BECOME A “FOOL” SO THAT HE MAY BECOME WISE.  FOR THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD IS FOOLISHNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT.  AS IT IS WRITTEN: “HE CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS” AND AGAIN, “THE LORD KNOWS THAT THE THOUGHTS OF THE WISE ARE FUTILE.”

The remedy continues by a reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This individual grows in faith by trusting the subjective, intuitive guidance of the Spirit and experiences divine wisdom as they respond immediately.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (23).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency represents all the resources that an individual has WITHIN themselves.  This power may take the form of their physical, political, economical, egotistical, or circumstantial power.  They exert their will over others based on the prideful notion they have the right to do so.  “Might makes right” leads to sin.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for strength self-sufficiency  starts with PSS 20:7-8 = SOME TRUST IN CHARIOTS AND SOME IN HORSES, BUT WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OUR GOD.  THEY ARE BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL, BUT WE RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.

The remedy deepens as the individual pays more attention to the Giver than the gifts.  They need to do the hard work of being more responsive and less reliant on their own plans.  They need to purposely seek ways to worship God and serve people that are outside their usual powers.

Do not rely on your RICHES (23).

THE PROBLEM: Money is not the problem; it’s the LOVE OF MONEY.  RICHES represents all the resources we have OUTSIDE of self.  These are the things we own that we think we’ve earned or somehow deserve.  They can easily become a point of pride and an idol.  Money is one example.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for this kind of self-sufficiency starts with LKE 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  In this parable, Jesus tells of a man blessed with wealth whose sole concern is making more wealth.  “BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, ‘YOU FOOL!  THIS VERY NIGHT YOUR LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU.  THEN WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”

The remedy continues when we take a spiritual view of things; increasingly seeing the world as God does.  For example, “Savers” need to stop relying on money in the bank for their sense of security.  It’s better to trust in God than in the FDIC.  On the other hand, “Spenders” need to stop relying on material things to bring them joy.  Give less time to your toys and more time to your relationship with God and the people around you!

Do not rely on your religious credentials (25-26).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency is based on the notion that religious acts can earn salvation or authority.  You’ve heard people suppose they’re good enough to get into heaven.  You’ve heard people recite their good works in church and/or community.  Each are equally false.  True good works begin with a heart of love for god and people and have no such strings attached.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy starts with having the attitude shown by Isaiah when he encountered the glory of God in the temple.  He said, “WOE TO ME!  I AM RUINED!  FOR I AM A MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD ALMIGHTY,” (ISH 6:6).  The Lord, in response, cleansed the prophet of his sins, preparing him for divine service.

The remedy deepens when our focus is on the Lord and not on ourselves and when our motive is love and heavenly riches, not worldly gain.  We practice the three virtues characterize a life in which God delights: KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and RIGHTEOUSNESS.

“Don’t Rain on the Parade”

(Please read Luke 19:28-44 & 23:32-34.  I quote the NIV.)

Message: At Jesus’ Triumphal Entry and crucifixion are examples of people who did and did not understand.

  1. The crowd celebrated (19:28-38).

The details of the account in vs. 28-35 are there to tell us that Jesus prepared this parade. The details of the colt and the code phrase are not meant to describe some sort of miracle. Instead, they demonstrate Jesus’ control over the situation; He prepared to enact a symbolic entry into Jerusalem that the pious pilgrims would immediately understand.  When Jesus set this parade in motion, He was doing so under the orders of God the Father.  We know that’s so because Jesus said that He did not do anything except what God told Him to (John 5:19).

Verses 36-38 tell us the people were joyous participants; they understood perfectly what Jesus was demonstrating, knew the symbolism, and responded enthusiastically.  Their part was spontaneous.

We wonder how, a week later, the crowd could turn on Jesus and demand His crucifixion.  The answer is that these were two entire different groups.  Let’s make this clear.  The group that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem we’ll call “the crowd.”  The group that shouted for His death is “the mob.”

The Crowd was made up of out-of-towners; pilgrims, religious tourists; faithful folk who had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  They came from all over the ancient world.  A faithful Jew was to return to Jerusalem once a year; most of them chose to return for the Passover.

The Mob was made up of locals; residents of Jerusalem fully allied with the priests and other leaders, ready to do as ordered.  When the religious leaders thought a mob threatening to riot would influence the Roman governor, they called upon their faithful flock to turn out and coached them on what they were to say.

  1. The complainers crabbed (19:39-40).

Their complaint was that the crowd was out of control. Luke identifies the complainers as PHARISEES.  Let’s review who these people were.

– They were the most religious people around: they had probably memorized the entire OT, and tried to keep all the details of the Law, and in addition the 600+ interpretations of the Law that teachers had added over the centuries and which they considered on a par with Scripture.  Because they were so legalistic, they could easily keep the letter of the law but neglect the weightier matters of the Spirit.

– The common people both respected and hated the Pharisees, and the Pharisees treated the people with contempt, especially “sinners.”

– They were dogged protectors of the status quo.  Thought they chafed under Roman rule as much as anyone, they defended the power, authority, prestige, and money the system provided them.

– These are the reasons the Pharisees so frequently put themselves in opposition to Jesus, why they feared Him, and why they conspired to kill Him.

So you can understand how they were upset with Jesus.  They saw this whole episode as a threat.  On this occasion, their opposition was particularly petty; “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  They told Jesus to end this parade and get these unruly pilgrims under control.  (Notice how that word comes up!)  They sought control and probably thought they had Jesus right where they wanted Him; He could either be defiant or shut them up.  Either way, they won!

But Jesus’ response denied them control.  He took a third option and effectively responded, “God is in control.”  God is so much in control, and the parade was so much His will that if the pilgrims did not shout, then He would do something miraculous and make the stones under their feet shout out praise!

  1. The crowned Christ cried (19:41-44).

This event is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It fits perfectly with his theme, that Jesus came to find and save lost sinners.

It also fits in the sense that it is in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus three times pronounces a woe on Jerusalem.

– The first is in Luke 13:34-35 = “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!  LOOK, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT TO YOU DESOLATE.  I TELL YOU, YOU WILL NOT SEE ME AGAIN UNTIL YOU SAY, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD’.”

– The second is here in chapter 19.

– The third is in Luke 21:20-24 = “WHEN YOU SEE JERUSALEM SURROUNDED BY ARMIES, YOU WILL KNOW THAT DESOLATION IS NEAR.  FOR THIS IS THE TIME OF PUNISHMENT IN FULFILLMENT OF ALL THAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN.  THERE WILL BE GREAT DISTRESS IN THE LAND AND WRATH AGAINST THIS PEOPLE.  THEY WILL FALL BY THE SWORD AND WILL BE TAKEN AS PRISONERS TO ALL THE NATIONS.  JERUSALEM WILL BE TRAMPLED ON BY THE GENTILES UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES ARE FULFILLED.”

Still, this pronouncement against Jerusalem comes at an unexpected time.  Jesus stood before a group of people cheering for Him when He stopped and cried for Jerusalem, bringing a prophecy o/t city’s doom.  Imagine the emotional effect of “Santa Claus” stopping the Thanksgiving Day parade, climbing down from his float, kneeling in the middle of the street and pronouncing a tearful prophecy of New York City’s destruction.  What a down beat!

Jesus cried because He foresaw their rejection of Him and what it would cost them; it broke His heart.  Jesus did this because He had knowledge. He knew their present condition.  He knew they were arrogant, rebellious, and stubborn and that they were going to reject Him.  He also knew their future condition: He had already repeatedly predicted the downfall of the city.

As importantly, Jesus wept because He had had heart.  Though they deserved the wrath that was going to be poured out on them, it was still heart-breaking for Him to see His people and their great city come to an end.  God’s vengeance and wrath are not occasions for rejoicing, no matter how richly deserved – Jesus wept.

  1. The crucified Christ forgave (23:32-34).

They knew exactly what they were doing in the sense that His crucifixion was according to their plan.  The religious authorities and the residents of Jerusalem acted in secret because they did not want the pilgrims to find out and riot on Jesus’ behalf.  The betrayal of Judas allowed them to act under the cover of darkness and their conspiracy pushed the Roman governor to the action they wanted.

However, they did not know what they were doing in the sense that they did not know who they were crucifying.  Their intent was to eliminate a threat to their control, their sense of orderly life.  They thought Jesus was just a man who’d vaguely threatened the temple, another nut job who’d stir up the common folk and bring down another brutal Roman retaliation.  They had rejected the notion that Jesus was the Messiah.  They found Him guilty of blasphemy because He claimed to be the Son of God.  They clearly did not know who they had put on t cross.  They did not know what they were doing.

Demonstrating the love and grace that should been seen in every one of His disciples, Jesus prayed to God the Father, asking Him to forgive them.  The reason He gave was true; they didn’t know what they were doing.

Though they acted out of hatred and self-righteousness, their evil act was accomplishing God’s will.  (Remember what Isaiah wrote; “It was the LORD’s will to CRUSH him.”)  God is so powerful He can turn evil to good and accomplish His will!

The application of this passage is three-fold but simple:

#1 = DO BE LIKE THE CROWD; worship Jesus as your King.  Get excited!  The crowd was so happy to see Jesus they inconvenienced themselves to go and cut palm branches to wave at Him.  They thought so much of Jesus and so little of their worldly possessions that they laid their cloaks on the road to honor him.  (A person’s cloak was a prized possession, especially for a traveler!)

#2 = DON’T BE NASTY LIKE THE CRABBY PHARISEES.  Obviously, not all Pharisees were like that bunch, but the name “Pharisee” has come to be a byword for hypocrites, control freaks, and nay-sayers.  It’s ironic that they were the most religious people around and yet the people who incurred the sharpest rebukes from Jesus.

#3 = DO BE LIKE JESUS; He is our example in this passage in three specific ways.

a = How he dealt with the Pharisees.  Dr. Jay Carter refers to this kind of behavior as “invalidating,” and the people who practice it as “invalidators.”  Those Pharisees were saying that the procession was an invalid assembly and ordering Jesus to disperse the crowd.  He refused to play their game or even to take them seriously.  He turned to God.

b = What Jesus took very seriously was the outcome of His people.  He looked upon the city with the eyes of God, saw their tragic future, and was moved to tears.  We tend to get things backward: we’re moved to tears by invalidation and miss entirely the real threat: rebellion against God.

c = Most importantly, when He was on the cross, at the moment of the most gross injustice, Jesus was gracious and pleaded to the Father for the forgiveness of His persecutors.  We need to seek the graciousness and gentleness of Jesus.  The ends do not justify the means.  Being right does not always mean that we have the right.  We need to look on all people with the eyes of God to love and forgive.