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The Servant at Work, Opening the Doors of the Kingdom: Suffering, Dying, Rising Again
(chapter 19, verse 28 through chapter 24, verse 53)
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem
The triumphal entry
Luke chapter 19, verses 28-44
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied 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.’”
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.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
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:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
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 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 the time of God’s coming to you.”
As one approaches Jerusalem from the east, the road crosses over the Mount of Olives, which rises some three hundred feet above the city. Bethphage was a small village on the Mount of Olives, but its exact site is uncertain. Bethany is located on the eastern slope of the mount about three miles from Jerusalem. This is the village in which Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. From John’s gospel we learn that Jesus spent some time in Bethany at the home of Mary and Martha. Only recently he had raised Lazarus from the dead (John chapters 11 and 12).
On the Sunday before the Passover festival, Jesus sets in motion an action that will result in a public demonstration in his behalf. He sends two disciples into Bethphage to bring him a colt on which no one has ever ridden. Perhaps Jesus had made a previous arrangement with the owners to use this colt when he needed it. The disciples bring the colt to Jesus and help him to mount.
The significance of what Jesus has done is immediately apparent to the people who are following. Jesus is consciously fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah: “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” (Zechariah chapter 9, verse 9). Matthew and John quote this prophecy in telling the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people spread cloaks on the road as a kind of royal carpet. John tells us that they carried palm branches (John chapter 12, verse 13), an action that gives this Sunday its special name in the Christian church year.
As the triumphal procession crosses over the ridge at the top of the Mount of Olives and begins the descent, the city of Jerusalem, with its beautiful temple, comes into full view. At last Jesus has reached the goal of his journey, which was first mentioned in chapter 9, verse 51. He comes not to establish an earthly kingdom; he comes not to bring this world to its end; rather, he is the King, the Messiah, who comes to die on the cross. With his death and resurrection, he will open the doors of the kingdom of God for all people.
As the royal procession moves forward, a whole crowd of disciples shouts in loud praise to God. Using words from Psalm 118, they honor this king who comes in the name of the Lord. The words of the people, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” bear a resemblance to the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus (chapter 2, verse 14). Such talk is too much for the Pharisees. Luke mentions them for the last time in his gospel as they advise Jesus to silence his disciples. In answer Jesus says that if the people keep quiet, then the stones will cry out.
Then, suddenly, the shouts of the people are stilled; only the sobbing of Jesus is heard, weeping over the city of Jerusalem. Previously, Luke had recorded words of Jesus spoken in sorrow about this sacred city which refused his ministry (chapter 13, verses 34 and 35). Jesus was the bringer of peace, that peace of which the angels and the crowd of disciples had sung. But Jerusalem, like the Pharisees, was not looking for the peace that Jesus came to bring. As a result, they would experience not peace but dreadful war. The future is hidden to the inhabitants of this walled city, but Jesus knows what is to come.
The words of Jesus describe the Roman siege of Jerusalem that resulted in its capture in the year A.D. 70. Jesus’ words that “they will not leave one stone on another” are an echo of his statement to the Pharisees: if the people are quiet, the stones will speak. The people of Jerusalem were not ready to speak words of praise in honor of the coming King. Since they would not speak, the fallen stones will speak God’s word of judgment.
Jesus at the temple
Luke chapter 19, verses 45-48
Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
When Jesus was 40 days old, Mary and Joseph had brought him to the temple to present him to the Lord (chapter 2, verse 22). At age 12 Jesus was found by his mother in the temple courts among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (chapter 2, verse 46). He told his mother that she should have known that he “had to be in my Father’s house” (verse 49).
Now as the mature Servant of the Lord, Jesus again enters the temple area; he is distraught by what he finds. Within the temple courtyards are people selling sacrificial doves and changing foreign coin into the required currency to pay the temple tax. Far from being a house of prayer (Isaiah chapter 56, verse 7), the temple had become a den of robbers (Jeremiah chapter 7, verse 11). Profits had replaced prayer as the dominant feature of temple activity. Here is another example of bad stewardship.
Jesus acts in his role as King to purge the temple. He needed to do this so that he might use this as a place for teaching the Word of God. Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple is more detailed and places this event on the Monday of Holy Week (Mark chapter 11, verses 15-19). Luke’s concern falls more with the following report of Jesus’ teaching in the temple. It is not so much the cleansing which upsets the leaders as it is the teaching of Jesus.
Three opposition groups are mentioned. The chief priests had charge of all temple business and activities. The teachers of the law were interpreters and instructors of the Old Testament Scriptures. The leaders among the people refer to the elected elders and members of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. They all wanted to kill Jesus, but the popular support that his teaching had among the people made this very difficult.
The authority of Jesus questioned
Luke chapter 20, verses 1-8
One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
For a person to come from despised Galilee and take over the temple courtyard in Jerusalem as Jesus does is a challenge to those in charge. It alarms them that people come to hear this outsider teach. He proclaims the good news that the door of God’s kingdom is open to all who repent and believe him. That the temple leadership should come and question Jesus about the source of the authority for his words and deeds surprises no one. In fact, one could say that they are only doing their duty.
Jesus responds to the official delegation with a counter question. He asks who gave the authority to John to baptize in the Jordan (chapter 3, verses 1-18). Was this something that God authorized John to do, or did the Jerusalem leadership give him this right?
Those questioning Jesus find themselves in a dilemma. They are trapped by the choice that Jesus puts before them. If John was really God’s prophet as the people took him to be, then they should have accepted him. But if they deny that John was from God, then the people may stone them for blasphemy. Moses had ordered that “anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death” by stoning (Leviticus chapter 24, verse 16). The best option for the temple leadership seems simply to express their ignorance. They confess they don’t know where John got this authority—a rather embarrassing admission for them to make.
Jesus follows their lead and refuses to say by what authority he is teaching. His authority was not from a body of men like the chief priests but from God. Jesus had demonstrated that authority again and again during his earthly ministry (chapter 5, verses 24 and 25). The crowds recognized his authority (chapter 4, verse 32). It was an authority affirmed by the heavenly Father at the transfiguration (chapter 9, verse 35). Even if Jesus had identified the source of his authority, his questioners still would not have believed him (chapter 22, verse 67).
From now on, the conflict between Jesus and the official religious leadership of the Jews will intensify. There will be more verbal matches between Jesus and his interrogators.
Finally, there will be an arrest, a trial, and the cross. How true were the words of Jesus: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (chapter 19, verse 42).
The parable of the tenants
Luke chapter 20, verses 9-19
He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
This parable Jesus tells to the people is a clear revelation of his impending death and the judgment that will fall on his killers. The prophet Isaiah had described the people of Israel as a vineyard which failed to produce fruit (chapter 5, verses 1-7). In Jesus’ parable, the problem is not with the vineyard but with the tenants to whom the owner had rented his property. The tenants obviously represent the religious leaders of the Jews, as the leaders themselves recognize at the parable’s conclusion. The comparison is fitting, seeing as they were trying to kill Jesus (chapter 19, verse 47).
The owner is looking for fruit from his vineyard. Jesus earlier had told a parable about a tree that failed to produce fruit (chapter 13, verses 6-8). Both Matthew and Mark report that on his daily trip from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus had cursed a fig tree for its failure to produce fruit (Matthew chapter 21, verses 18 and 19; Mark chapter 11, verses 12-14, 20 and 21). These tenants who fail to give the owner the fruit due to him are another example of poor stewardship of what God gives for the use of his people.
Three servants of the owner are abused and sent away empty-handed by the tenants. These servants represent prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. As a kind of last resort, the owner decides to send his beloved son, thinking that the tenants will respect him. He, however, suffers an even worse fate: the tenants throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. They imagine that since the heir is dead, they will inherit the vineyard. How mistaken they are! The owner comes and kills these tenants and gives the vineyard to others. The tenants suffer the same fate as the citizens who didn’t want “a man of noble birth” as their king (chapter 19, verses 11-27). Jesus is referring to the destruction that will befall the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation at the hands of the Romans in the year A.D. 70. By the “others” to whom the vineyard is given, he means the Gentiles.
The people also catch the drift of what Jesus is saying. The expression they use is found a number of times in the letters of Paul but only once here in the gospels. The NIV translates it as “May this never be!” The KJV says “God forbid.” Either expresses a strong opposing reaction, or negation.
Jesus meets their objection by asking a question about the meaning of Psalm 118, verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” The rejected stone is Jesus himself, the son rejected by the tenants of the vineyard (see Acts chapter 4, verse 11 and 1st Peter chapter 2, verse 7, where this verse is applied to Jesus). That rejected stone ends up being the most important one in the entire building. The NIV translation has “capstone,” the top stone of a structure or wall. More literal is the KJV “head of the corner.” In ancient times this was the stone used at a building’s corner to bear the weight or stress of the two walls. On Jesus rests the entire structure of God’s kingdom.
And what of those who reject this stone? Divine retribution falls upon them. The rejected stone is not only important in the building; it is a stone which brings the judgment of God. The person who falls or trips over the stone will be broken to pieces; the person on whom the stone falls will be crushed. In either case, not the stone but the person is hurt. The effect is like that of the Jewish proverb “If a stone falls on a pot, woe to the pot. If the pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot. Either way, woe to the pot!” So also with anyone who dares to reject the stone that is Jesus the Savior.
Paying taxes to Caesar
Luke chapter 20, verses 20-26
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
The enemies of Jesus, frustrated in their attempts to get rid of him due to his popularity among the people, now decide upon a new tactic. They hope to entice Jesus into making a statement that will get him in trouble with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Matthew and Mark identify the spies sent to question Jesus as being Pharisees and supporters of the Herod family. They pretend to be honest by seeking to appear as if they really are interested in having an answer to the question of paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They preface their question with words of praise for Jesus, identifying him as one who teaches the way of God truthfully with no regard for human authority.
There were some groups within Jewish society who taught that it was wrong to pay taxes to the Romans. In A.D. 6, Judas of Galilee led an uprising of armed men who denounced the payment of Roman taxes. A sect known as the Zealots was strongly anti-Roman and promoted all things Jewish. For some Jews, to pay taxes with a Roman coin bearing the image of the Caesar seemed to be a form of idolatry. God had commanded his people to make no graven or molten image, and Jewish coins bore no figure of any human being.
Jesus was not fooled by his questioners. He saw through their duplicity; they were two-faced. This becomes evident when they are able to produce a Roman coin from their purse at the request of Jesus. The denarius was worth about a day’s wage. It bore the image of the Roman Caesar with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.” If the spies were religiously opposed to paying tax to the Romans because of this idolatrous image and inscription, then they should not have been carrying the coin. This episode is an embarrassment for the spies.
The statement Jesus makes clearly indicates that it is proper to pay taxes to government, even if it is a foreign and heathen power. Paying such taxes does not interfere with the Christian’s obligation to God. Just as the coin paid to Caesar carries his image, so people bear the image of God and have an obligation to him. We are able to be both good citizens and good Christians.
Despite the fact that Jesus here supports the payment of taxes to Caesar, this becomes one of the charges against him when he is brought for trial before Pilate (chapter 23, verse 2). The enemies of Jesus will not be bothered with truth or honesty.