ENCOUNTERING JESUS: Clearing the Way   Luke 19:28-48

We are journeying through this Lenten season as a church and exploring these different encounters that Jesus had with people throughout the gospel of Luke.  In some of those encounters people are called; in some of those encounters people are healed; in other encounters people are challenged or rebuked.  Today what we’re going to see is Jesus marching into Jerusalem and just turning the tables on religion.  Jerusalem, at the time of Passover, would be akin to New York City on New Year’s Eve.  It was like Time Square.  Absolutely ready to burst with excitement and ready to burst with energy; Ryan Seacrest certainly there commentating on the whole thing. Have you ever felt that type of excitement?  My guess is when a city hosts the Super Bowl there’s that type of excitement.  When there’s a significant parade or event happening, there’s that type of excitement.

The city of Jerusalem usually floated around about 100,000 inhabitants.  But on the week of Passover, it would swell, according to Josephus, one of the early church historians, to 2.7 million people in this city, on this day. Can you imagine?  For 1,446 years the Israelites had been celebrating the Passover Feast.  It was a time, in the rhythm of their year, where they looked backed at God’s redemption in bringing them out of Egypt and saving them from the Pharaoh’s hand with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  It was their story that they told every single year.  But for 600 years, it was a story they told, but a reality that they had never seen, because they were under the hand of the Babylonians, and then the Persians, and then the Greeks, and then the Romans. The only reason they came out of captivity was to be transferred to somebody else’s.  So you can imagine as they look back at this Passover deliverance and this meal that they celebrated, reminding themselves of God’s deliverance and God’s goodness, it must have seemed like a fairytale.  It must have seemed like it was just a pie-in-the-sky religious type of hope or propaganda that weak people hold on to because they can’t face the reality of the way life actually is.  My guess is that’s the way it felt.

Still the people flooded to Jerusalem and still the people had this hope that just maybe, maybe, God would once again deliver his people.  And their hope started to have a name, because for three years Jesus had been traveling and he had been healing people—the blind would see again, the lame would walk, the sick were restored.  He would teach and say things like, “The kingdom of God is not coming someday, but it’s at hand!” “God is at work once again in this nation, in this people, bringing about the hope that you actually have.”  So, the temperature started to rise.  The hope started to swell.  The dreams started to be reborn.  There was just this murmuring, this undertone, this groundswell of maybe, just maybe, Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, the hope that we long for.

2.7 million people.  Jerusalem like a tinderbox.  Jesus healing.  Jesus restoring. Jesus telling his disciples, “Hey, go steal me a donkey!”   Right?  You’ve read it!  Go steal me a donkey!  Go take a donkey that’s never been ridden and I want you to go and talk to a guy about a donkey.  If anybody asks, just tell them, “The Lord needs it.”  Like THAT’S going to go over well.  Hey, buddy, that’s my donkey.  The Lord needs it.  Uh, okay, sure.  Why don’t you have my coat too and my other car that’s in the garage…   How would you like to be the two disciples that got chosen for that mission?  They march into town and talk to a guy about a donkey and sure enough he says, “If you need my unridden colt for the Lord, take it.”  Which, by the way, if you’re going to march into a city and declare yourself the king, you don’t choose a donkey.  It would be like showing up to Sturgis with a moped and trying to pretend like you’re hardcore.  Right??  You don’t do it!  You ride in on a white stallion and you say, “I’m Jesus.  I’m here to take up my kingship.”  That’s how you do it.  You don’t ride a moped.  You ride a Harley, that’s what you do.

But Jesus was making it absolutely crystal clear for anybody that wanted to hear, He was the King!  And he was about to take his throne.  The prophet Zechariah wrote about it.  The nation of Israel longed for it.  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, you king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)   That’s why Jesus chooses a donkey.  He’s not the king that’s going to come and kill his enemies.  He’s the king that’s going to come and die for his enemies.  He’s unlike any king they’ve ever crowned.  And really, unlike any king they’ve ever wanted.

So they gather around the side of the road as Jesus enters into Jerusalem.  His disciples—probably pilgrims from the countryside who are gathering in the city to celebrate the Passover Festival—declare about this Jesus, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Some of the other gospel writers said the people said, “Hosanna!”  This is our God and He’s coming to save.  In verse 37, Luke says:  …the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the might works that they had seen…  Can you imagine this scene with people along the side of the road…..I was blind and now I see!  I was unable to walk and I walked here, praise you, Jesus.  I was possessed by a demon—it was really weird and really crazy—but I’m clear of mind!  Just this praise chorus welcoming him.  To his city.  And declaring….make no mistake about it, everybody in the crowd understood what they were doing…..they were crowning a king.  They were saying, “Now our lives are going to revolve around you.  Now our lives are going to point to you.”  The Jewish people are pulling from the Old Testament, out of Psalms 118, and are using that language to say, “Jesus is our king.”  Ironically, it’s also one of the psalms they would read during the Passover Feast as they drank four cups reminding themselves of God’s past provision and pointing toward God’s future restoration.  They would recite Psalm 118 in hope that God would do what He’d done.  That He’d restore.  That He would fix what was broken.

Everybody gathering alongside this road, everybody taking off their coat, everybody laying it down and grabbing a palm branch and laying it down….they’re making way for a Messiah, they’re making way for a king.  They are making a declaration—Jesus of Nazareth is our King!  You know what they get right?  They get right that restoration begins with coronation.  Any restoring work that God does in a nation, in a city, in the soul, in a marriage…..here’s what they get right….that God begins to work when we declare him King.  When we lift his name high, he says, “Oh yeah, that’s when I’ll enter in to that space.  I will take up my throne.  I will begin to rule.”  They’re giving Jesus his rightful due and they’re putting Jesus in his rightful place.  There’s a lot that they get wrong over the next week in the city of Jerusalem.  Some pastors will take this passage and go, “Man, people are so fickle in faith.”  One Saturday they crown him and then on Friday they say, “Crucify him!”  While that preaches pretty well, it’s simply not true.  It’s mostly likely a different group of people that the Pharisees stir up, that the chief priests stir up.  They gather their own crew to come and say, “Jesus isn’t the Messiah that we hoped for.  Look, our nation looks the exact same that it always looked.”   The powers-that-be see Jesus come in as king and they start to manipulate, they start to choose sides, but His disciples get it right.  Because restoration in your life, restoration in my life, begins with coronation.  Whatever king is on the throne of our heart will determine the course of our life.  Whatever we put as ultimate importance, whatever we say that gets to speak into our heart, into our life and guide us, is the very thing that will determine the course that we walk.  The question we have to wrestle with this morning is ‘what sits on THAT throne?’

After Jesus is declared the king…..isn’t is interesting that he says, “Listen, even if you didn’t cry out, the rocks would.”  I read this and go, “Huh, I just sorta wish they wouldn’t have.”  I would have loved to have seen the rock chorus.  So, Jesus is crowned as king….he looks….he’s on a hill looking over Jerusalem and he…..   His first thing he does as king is….what?  He cries.  He weeps.   O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!   That’s the way Matthew (23:37) recounts it. And he weeps.  He knows that this coronation, this crowning him, was the action of a few, but it wasn’t the heart of many.  He knows that as quickly as they crowned him there was going to be others that would rise up and say, “Crucify him!”  He knows that the restoration that the nation of Israel longed for, the restoration that WE long for, was simply a coronation away, but they didn’t really mean it.  Everything they longed for, everything they hoped for, was going to pass them by.  Don’t you love that our God is the kind of God who weeps?  Who weeps over his people making terrible decisions.  Who weeps over his people resisting his grace and love.  Who weeps over his people being a coronation away from restoration and resisting it with everything they have.

I love that the first thing Jesus does as king is weeps, because he’s invested.  Because he loves. Because he longs to see his creation invited into  life.  Here’s the second thing he does — And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46)  The first thing he does is weeps; the second thing he does is he remodels.  That’s what he does.  I don’t know if you know this, but ever since President Bill Clinton served as president, the presidents have received a budget of $100,000 to remodel certain rooms of the White House when they move in.  I think it’s good.  I want the President to feel at home in the White House.  I want them to feel like, “This is my space and I get to operate in here in a way that fits me.”  That’s what Jesus is doing….he’s going Extreme Home Makeover on the temple.  Why is that significant?  Why does it matter that one of first things Jesus does…..they lay down their coats; they put down their palm branches; they say, “Hosanna!”; they say, “You’re our king!”; he weeps, then he marches into the temple and just starts to wreck shop on it.  Who cares?  Every Jewish person would have cared.  The temple was the center of the Jewish life.  It was the center for them religiously—it was the place where they met with God.  It was the center for them sacrificially—it was the place where they brought their offering to God and were brought back into right relationship with God. It was the center for them politically as a nation.  It was the center of everything they communally, as a people, held together.  The temple was at the center.  When Jesus walks into the temple, he walks into the center and he makes his declaration, “You may look good on the outside.  You may have all of your systems in place, and you may have all the boxes checked, but on the inside you’re rotten.”  At the core of who you are as a community, you’ve gone awry, you’ve gone off course.  The temple was intended to be, as the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 2:2-3, a light to the nations.  It was intended to draw people:  It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it…  That they might be restored.  That they might be healed.  That they might find the thing that their soul looks for.  Jesus says, “Listen, the center of your life, the center of the community, the center of interaction with God has grown rotten.”  Like cutting into a piece of fruit that looks good on the outside and then getting down to the middle and seeing that it’s rotting from the inside out.  That’s what’s going on.  That’s what’s happened.

He makes a statement: My house shall be a house of prayer, {That was God’s design.  That was what he intended the temple to be.} but you have made it into a den of robbers.  There’s two primary ways that the temple was turned into a den of robbers.  One was through the moneychangers.  There was about five denotations of currency in Israel at this time.  Yet there was only one that was accepted in the temple—it was the sanctuary coin or the Galilean shekel.  People would come to Jerusalem on their Passover pilgrimage and they would want to pay the temple tax, which every Jewish male had to pay every single year in exact change. You could pay it in your hometown in a tax booth that was set up, roughly a month before Passover, but most people chose to pay it at the temple itself.  You would show up with your other money and you would have moneychangers as you got into the temple, saying, “We could do an exchange rate for you.  We could give you the approved temple money, but we’re not going to give you a good deal.  We’re not going to give you a good exchange rate.”    When we were in Mexico a few weeks ago, the exchange rate of pesos to dollars was roughly 19.5 to 1.   Unless you had dollars and needed pesos, then it was about 10 to 1, depending on where you were at.  It’s the same thing going on here.  They’re marching into the temple and getting absolutely robbed. Moneychangers, number one.

Number two:  You had these people selling animals.  You needed to have an animal “without blemish” to sacrifice.  As they were getting closer to the temple, some people would try to bring an animal with them, from wherever their hometown was.  That was dangerous because journeying through the countryside, those animals could easily get picked off by predators.  The other thing that would happen is you would parade a goat up to the temple and you would have somebody from the High Priest’s court ask, “Hey, could I take a closer look at that goat?  It certainly looks like there’s a blemish behind its right ear.”  Or, is your goat limping a little bit? That’s not without blemish.  I have another goat here that I could sell you at an absolutely inflated and terrible price.  So what’s going on?  Moneychangers and animal sellers are picking off people as they’re walking up to the temple.  This place that’s intended to be a way of meeting with God and interacting with God has turned into a place where people get beat down by religious systems that have gone away from the heart of God.  Jesus says, “I set this up as a place where people could meet with me, but you turned it into a place where people get robbed.”

As you read through the gospels, there’s very few things that tick Jesus off more than religious systems being used to distance people from God, rather than bring them to him.  When he walks into the temple and, in John 2:15, braids a whip and turns over tables, and in Luke 19 when he drives out the money changers and the animal sellers…..when he walks into the temple, he’s been crowned as king, but now he’s waging war.  He’s waging war on a system that has gone off course from the way that it was intended to operate.  There’s very few things that make Jesus more angry than religious systems distancing people from God rather than bring him to them, because his heart is for you.  His heart is that you would come into contact with him and into relationship with him, rather than to be kept away.

When Jesus says, “Listen, it was suppose to be a house of prayer, but you made it into a den of robbers,” there’s a whole lot more underneath the surface than Jesus hoping that people would gather in his temple just simply, or only, to pray.  Certainly it is about prayer, but there’s a lot of other things that happened in the temple as well.  In the temple courts there was teaching; in the temple there was sacrifice.  There’s layers to what Jesus is saying.  It would be akin to him saying, “You came to the hospital to get healed, but you walked away with a disease.  That happened—Ignaz Semmelweis in 1846.  He started to recognize that there were two wards in this hospital that delivered babies.  One of them was where doctors delivered the babies.  So, they were doing other surgeries and then they’d be called in to deliver babies.  On the other ward, midwives delivered the babies. And that’s all they did.  Semmelweis recognized that these two wards had very, very different rates of infant mortality.  The babies that the doctors delivered seemed to die far more often than the babies delivered by the midwives.  So, Ignaz proposed, “Hey, doctors, maybe we should start washing hands in between surgery and delivering the baby!”  For them it was like…..WHAT??!!!  What he identified was that the transfer of disease didn’t happen in the air or because of evil spirits, but it happened through hand-to-hand contact between a sick person and a well person. So Ignaz was lobbying for this with his life.  Why??  Because people were going to be born and they were actually dying.  They were going to be healed, and they caught the disease.

The same thing is happening in the temple.  They’re going to be healed, they’re going to meet with God, and they’re being weighed down by a religious system that even the religious people can’t keep up with. I don’t know about you, but I love it that it ticks Jesus off!  I love it that he’s the kind of king who’s going to walk into the temple and turn over the tables and go, “I know I rode in on the donkey, but what now???”  Right?  This is a declaration of war.  He’s passionate about restoring people to God.  It was a den of robbers, but it was intended to be a house of prayer.

So the question is how do those things play out as we look deeper beneath the surface of just that den of robbers and house of prayer?  What’s Jesus saying?  What’s he coming to restore?  What’s the king remodeling?Here’s what he’s doing.  First, he is restoring the temple to a place of awakening rather than oppression.  They were always intended to walk into the temple….  You probably have some flowers in growing in your front or backyards right now.  We have a number of tulips that are pushing through that really hard winter dirt and they’re starting to bloom and come alive again.  For the Jewish mind, the temple was intended to be that.  That people would walk in and they would go, “Oh yeah!  The presence of God is here in a significant way.  The mercy of God is thick in this place.”  They were intended to walk in and as the Jewish mind would have thought, the temple was the place where earth and heaven, to quote them, overlapped.  It was this place of awakening. It was this place of life.  But, the moneychangers and the high priests and the animal sellers had turned it into a place of oppression.  Listen to the way that the prophet Ezekiel talks about the intent of the temple.  He paints this picture in Ezekiel 47:12 of water that flows from the temple, flows out of the temple, and he talks about the intent of that water.  And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food.  Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.  Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.  This was the intention.  So Jesus walks into the temple and when he turns over the tables he’s going, “You’ve made it about oppression, but for me, it’s always been about awakening.”  Awakening people to the life that God has for them.  Awakening people to their DNA and the fact that YOU are an image-bearer of the Most High God.  That’s what we hope every time you come into contact with the God of the universe.  We should get this overwhelming sensation of the reality that we carry His image.  And that wakes people up.  But they’d become oppressive rather than people who awaken.

Second thing that Jesus does in turning over the tables, in awakening people, he says, “Listen, you’ve built all these barriers, but I’ve come to build bridges.”  You’ve made religion about keeping people out, rather than finding a way to invite people in. {Slide: Bridges instead of barriers.}  Oh, come on, church!  I love it that our God turns tables over, because his people became builders of blockades and barriers rather than crafters of bridges.  We’re a light to the nations.  We’re a city on a hill.  Our goal is not to keep people out, but to invite people in!  So when the moneychangers and the animal sellers at the door are jacking the prices up—jacking the price up for people to get back into right relationship with God, jacking the price up for people to find hope, to find forgiveness, jacking the price up for people to have the realization that they’re loved by the king of it all—Jesus goes, “Not in my house!”  Not when I’m king.  Because when I’m king, the offer of forgiveness will be held out to everyone.  The hope will be held out to all.   I will make a way for the person who’s the furthest away from me and has made the absolute biggest mess of their life to be brought back into right relationship with me.  That’s his heart.

Ironically, the word ‘priest’ in the Latin actually means ‘bridge builder.’  You are a kingdom of priests.  It’s a whole lot easier to build a wall than to build a bridge.  It is.  Literally and figuratively.  I could probably build a wall.  A bridge—-now that takes skill.  It takes skill relationally.  Anybody can build walls relationally—just be a jerk!  It’s a lot harder to build bridges.  It takes way more intentionality.  It takes way more thoughtfulness.  It takes thinking about people.  From the very beginning, the early church has braced the ethos of being bridge builders, not wall builders.  In the very beginning, in the incipient stages of the life of the church, they came to this crossroads.  There were a number of people converting to Christianity who didn’t have a Jewish background, they weren’t people who grew up around the Jewish story, so many of the males were uncircumcised.  The church got together in its very early stages and had this conversation:  Do men who have converted to Christianity, who do not have a Jewish background and are not circumcised, do they need to be circumcised in order to be followers of Jesus?  Now, if you’re a male, you have a vested interest in the way that meeting goes.  In Acts 15:19 they have the Jerusalem Council.  Here’s what they decide: Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.   Let’s not make it harder than it has to be.  If their faith is in Jesus, who cares if they’re circumcised or not?  They’re welcome.  From the very beginning of the church’s life, their goal was “Let’s build bridges, not walls.”  It has huge implications for the way that we interact at our workplaces.  It has huge implications for the way that we live as a church and a community of faith in God’s good world.  It has huge implications for the way that we interact in our families. See, they were walking into the temple in hopes of being forgiven, but what they heard was “You’re not welcome here.”  As D.L. Moody says: “The voice of sin is loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder.”  That’s the heart of Jesus, but it was being drown out by all these other things.  Don’t those blockades just prey on every insecurity we have inside of us?  That we don’t deserve to be here. That we’re not welcome here.  That somehow our sin is going to find us out, and the passage that ‘His grace is greater than our sin’ will not hold water on the day that we need it to.  When Jesus turns over the tables in the temple, he says, “No! Your God is for you!”  He’s for awakening, not oppression.  He’s for bridges, not barriers.  He’s for communion, not coercion.

Unfortunately, throughout the history of the church, we have gotten the reputation—some of it very rightful—for being a people who are about manipulation, or coercion, rather than meeting and welcome.  I think of one example.  John Tetzel was a Roman Catholic leader.  One of the jobs he was commissioned by the pope to do was raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  He traveled around the countryside of Italy and the surrounding areas and he had this phrase he would tell people: “A coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Give a little money and your dead relatives will really be grateful.  It’s a great way to build a cathedral.  You can check it out—it worked!! It’s a terrible way to invite people into relationship with God. God wants to meet with you, not manipulate you.  The beautiful thing about being in a relationship with Jesus is that you know that he needs absolutely nothing from you.  He calls out the stars by name every night.  He holds the entire world together by the very breath of his mouth.  He’s not up in the heavens wringing his hands going, “Oh man! I hope Paulson comes through for me.  I don’t know what I’ll do if he doesn’t!”  NO!  He has every resource at his fingertips.  He’s God!  You can rest assured that the reason he wants to meet with you is not because he wants to manipulate you, but because he wants to love you.  He’s passionately for you.  When Jesus flips the tables over, it’s because he wants people to know God’s not interested in getting something FROM them, He wants to give something TO them.  Man, I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of God that I want to lay down my coat for.  That’s the kind of God that I want to wave a palm branch at and welcome him as king, and crown him as king.  He not only goes into the temple and turns over the tables, he shifts manipulation for meeting, and he shifts coercion for communion, and he invites you not to be taken advantage of by God, but to be welcomed home.

And then….and then in the giving of his life and the spreading of his arms, he walks into the Most High temple, the High temple that the earthly temple is just a shadow of.  He walks into the throne room of God.  And he wipes that slate clean too.  You may be wondering, “Paulson, why in the world would I lift this king high?  Why in the world would I lay down my coat and welcome him into my life?”  Here’s what I would say back to you—You can lay down your coat and welcome him as King, because he laid down his life!  {Slide:  We can lay down our coats because Jesus laid down his life.}  A week later on Calvary’s hill, he’s going to spread his arms and he’s going to shed his blood.  In doing so, he steps into the Holy of Holies, into that throne room of God, and he clears those tables, too, and he clears your guilt, and he clears your shame, and he welcomes you back into relationship with God—not because of anything that you could do, but because of what he has done.  THIS High Priest, instead of taking advantage of people, gives his life for his people.  Instead of keeping people out of his temple, he makes a way to welcome us home.  Instead of taking FROM us, he gives his very life FOR us. Ironically, the high priest was the one who was able to set up booths inside the temple courts to sell people animals.  The high priest was the one ripping people off!  So when the book of Hebrews (9:11-14) says Jesus is a better temple, that’s he’s the better high priest, that he’s made a way not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption for us and purifying us, friends.  In the same way he cleansed the temple, he cleanses your life.

So as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we’re reminded that his restoration begins with coronation, begins with crowning him as King.  As we do that, I would invite you to think about three things as you practice this this week.  One, obey his way.  The way of the donkey not of the stallion, the way of humility not of power and authority, the way of giving our lives for people rather than killing our enemies.  Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  This is the way of our King.  Second, trust his heart.  He’s the God who weeps over us.  You can trust him, you can coronate him.  He is good.  Finally, that we would be the type of people who obey his way, who trust his heart, and who embrace his mission.  May we, South Fellowship, be a church that builds bridges not walls, that brings awakening instead of oppression, and that invites people to communion with God rather than coercion and manipulation.  THAT’S. OUR. KING.  May we live in his kingdom.  Let’s pray.

Before we go rushing out of here, I just invite you to take a deep breath.  Envision yourself along the side of that Palm Sunday road.  What’s your posture to this King?  Jesus, we long for you to reach into the broken places of our soul.  The places of shame.  The places of regret.  The places of hopelessness.  The places that we, years ago, blocked you off from and figure there’s no way you could break into.  Would you march into those places today, Jesus, and turn over some tables?  Father, we crown you as King and we pray that you would begin the restoration, the awakening, the bridges, the communion, that come along with that coronation.  Would you begin that in our life, would you begin that in our marriages, would you begin that in the dreams that we have that we’ve let go of, would you do that in our relationships?  Jesus, we crown you as King and we long for the restoration that you promise to bring.  Would you help us live in your way, with your heart, on your mission this week, we pray.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.