When the Messiah Weeps

Luke 19:29-41
David A. Davis
April 5, 2020
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“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” That’s what they shouted. The whole multitude of the disciples as Jesus road down the path from the Mount of Olives. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” That is what they shout in Luke. They go and get the colt like Jesus told them to do. They bring the colt to Jesus. Some throw their coats on the colt that Jesus is about to get on. Others toss their coats on the road. They begin to “praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

Blessed is the king. The king. The messiah. The savior. The Son of Man. The Son of God. The one they had been waiting for. The messiah who would save them. The king who would bring victory to the people of Israel. Triumph over Rome. Jesus and his “Triumphal Entry”. That’s what the tradition has called this parade pretty much forever. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The whole multitude of disciples are trying to make it as triumphal and royal as they can. Cloaks tossed as regal cloth to ride on, to march on. Lots of cheers and shouts. Loud enough to annoy the Pharisees. The followers of Jesus are doing their best to create a scene fit for a king. While Jesus doesn’t stop them and Jesus knows he could make the stones shout, you have to wonder if Jesus was sort of shaking his head inside or heaving a sigh. Not because the disciples’ efforts seem sort of pitiful, even ridiculous when compared to a staged entrance of Caesar Augustus. Not because of the ironic paradox of it all…a Triumphal Entry that takes Jesus to the cross.  No, you have to wonder if Jesus heaves a sigh because he knows the disciples still expect him to be a victorious, conquering, power wielding kind of king.

The disciples expect triumph and try to create the aura of royalty. Maybe Jesus doesn’t stop them because he knows the whole scene is a mockery of earthly royalty, triumph, power, and victory. After all he started it all by sending for a young little animal. By the way, you can walk down from the Mount of Olives and up to the city of Jerusalem in about 30 or 40 minutes. What on earth Jesus would think of the tradition’s label now stuck forever. Triumphal Entry. It is as if the whole multitude of disciples, the tradition, the church never does get it. Jesus the king, the savior, the Messiah. The followers of Jesus forever shaping a messiah of their own making. The followers of Jesus creating a god they want rather than trusting the God of our salvation. The God who sent us our salvation in the One who mocks and transforms the very power and triumph humanity lusts after. “All men want to be rich, rich man wants to be king, king ain’t satisfied till he owns everything.” Bruce Springsteen, 1978.

Shaping the God you want rather than trusting the God we know in Christ Jesus. That’s is what seems to be going on back in Luke 13 in the verse I read to you a moment ago. Pilate killing the Galileans, desecrating their sacrifice to God with their own blood and the fall of the Tower of Siloam. That’s the passage Professor Barreto is teaching this morning in adult education. Not surprisingly, I can tell you it is a passage I have never preached on! Those who ask Jesus about those tragedies are wanting to believe in a God who punishes people through their suffering. They want to shape a God who keeps score, a God whose judgement miraculously matches their own judgement, assumptions, and view of others. They want to have some kind of religious idol, a concept of God that explains the unexplainable and makes up answers to the unanswerable. They demand a divine explanation for unspeakable human suffering.

It is an incredibly puzzling passage tucked into a few chapters of Luke where Jesus is teaching and preaching with the apocalyptic language and style. Apocalyptic biblical texts; yes incredibly puzzling. But an ancient literature, nonetheless, is less about giving answers and more about trusting God. In that apocalyptic framework, Jesus’ response to the few is much a less a threat and much more an acknowledgement of the inevitability of death and the reality of human suffering. And ashes to ashes, dust to dust kind of thing. A reminder that Jesus embodies not a God of answers but God of comfort, salvation, and resurrection power and hope. It is a foreshadowing of a God whose own Son plunged the depth of human suffering. Rather than the notion that God wagged a finger at those who died at the hands of Pilate or when the tower fell, rather than the idea that God said “I told you so”, it is the belief in a steadfast, loving God who wept in response to such suffering and death.

If there are days that feel apocalyptic, we are living them now. No, not in a rapture and end of the world way. But in the sense that we are confronted by a magnitude of death and the reality of all kinds of human suffering around us. Physical, emotional, spiritual struggle and suffering.  Some may demand divine explanation. Most of those will shape their own answers that reflect an idolatrous god created in their own world view and imagination. You and I, we turn to our God of mercy. We cry out to our God of steadfast love. We don’t ask for answers. We ask for strength and wisdom and peace and calm for our fear. We do what we have always done: We pray for others. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves, and work for justice and love kindness. We strive to praise our God joyfully and worship our God with the faithfulness of our lives. We do so with the confidence and assurance of Jesus who promised to be with us always. Jesus who promised that God would give us the Holy Spirit, a Spirit that would be with us forever. Jesus who promised us abundant and eternal life.

The same Jesus who road on that young colt down from the Mt of Olives and up to the city of Jerusalem. Jesus and the “anything but” Triumphal Entry. Maybe you noticed there are no palms in the reading of the Palm Sunday story in Luke’s gospel. There are no shouts of “Hosanna” either. Just cloaks and “Blessed is the king”.  But there is one piece of Luke’s story that only happens in Luke. It’s just Luke. Here is the very next verse after Jesus tells the Pharisees that the stones will cry out if the disciples are silent. “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Jesus goes on to lament the lack of peace in the city and describe the violence and destruction that would come to the city. Jesus is pointing to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The suffering and death described by ancient historians is hard to fathom. Over the years when I preached about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, most often, I would preach about him weeping over the city of his own death. The sinful violence of the city and of humanity that would result in his crucifixion. But I read it differently this week. My encounter with the weeping messiah this week is different. He’s is not weeping at the thought of his suffering. He is weeping at the reality of humanity’s suffering and death. The Son of God, our Savior, loving God who weeping in response to such suffering and death. Emmanuel, God with us, weeping in response to such suffering and death. The Weeping Messiah.

It is yet one more way to shatter the expectations the disciples had about their triumphant, victorious, powerful king. Jesus may have wept at the news of the death of Lazarus, but no one, no one, no one would ever have expected a messiah who weeps. On that night in the garden in the face of his own suffering and death, according to Luke, Jesus prayed in his anguish and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (22:43) Here, as the procession ends, Jesus stops. And faced with the magnitude of humanity’s suffering and death that only he could see, he weeps. A weeping messiah. Who could have ever imagined that? No one. No one.

Friends in Christ, as you and I walk through these days of Holy Week together, when there is so much to take in and try to comprehend and you’re not sure what to think or whom to believe, when some of our most sacred worship traditions will happen but be different, please remember and know and believe deep in your heart, the timeless affirmation of the preacher in the Book of Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) And proclamation in the Apocalypse to John, the Book of Revelation “I am the Alpha and the Omega says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”.

In Holy Week we often tell of walking with Jesus to the Garden, to Golgotha, to the Empty Tomb. This Holy Week, our Messiah walks with us. Our Weeping Messiah. Our Savior. Our Messiah. Our King.

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.