Triumphant, or Hopeless? Thinking Through Luke 19:28-40.

Do you ever feel like it is just plain hopeless? It will never work out. It might be your health, career, a relationship, or your hope for world peace. Concern weighs our hearts down, grinding down our hope and joy along with it.

Not only will it not work out, it may seem completely beyond your control. You didn’t sign up for that illness. You were not the one who introduced a mess into the relationship. Vladimir Putin didn’t ask you if he should invade Ukraine. If it makes you feel better, he didn’t ask me either.

Today we are taking a break from all that hopelessness by looking back to a moment of great hope and joy:

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem….

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began 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 heaven!”

Luke 19:28,36-38

We call it the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem but we could just as easily call it the hopeful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

That moment was a break from hopelessness for the people of that day. The people needed a break, something to celebrate. Rome was in charge and everyone knew that was not the ways things were supposed to be. God’s people were meant to be a free people living in the land promised to them.

Making matters even more frustrating for the the regular person, the leaders could not agree on the best thing to do about it. The Pharisees were saying something different than the Zealots who were saying something different than the Sadducees who saying something different from the Essenes who were just telling everyone to give up listening to anyone and join them in the wilderness. The best experts could not agree. Perhaps that sounds familiar.

There was hope.

Hope flickered like a small candle for many years, hundreds of years in fact. There was the hope that God would send a messiah, in Greek, a Christ, meaning an ‘anointed one.’ Though there were many pretend leaders through the years, from not-appointed-by-God kings like Herod, to Roman appointed governors like Pilate, some day God would send the true king. That king would be someone from the line of David, the king from Israel’s “glory days,” who would bring the people into new glory days.

At some point people began to wonder if Jesus might be that hoped for king. Yet somehow Jesus didn’t fit the expectations. He had the wrong kind of accent for one thing, coming from Galilee. But people wondered. The disciples knew, but Jesus told them to be quiet about it. Then Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus orchestrated the way he entered Jerusalem to make absolutely clear that he was the true king, the hoped for messiah. The flickering candle of hope became a raging fire. The people welcomed Jesus with great joy and celebration!

Yet there was an ominous note:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Luke 19:39 (NRSV)

That ominous note of opposition would get louder until it was replaced by the shouts of “crucify him,” by the end of the week, then by the sound of nails being driven into a cross, then by the sound of struggling for breath, then silence.

Life is like that.

There is hope, then hopes are dashed.

Hopes were dashed at the cross.

So how did the people go from “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” to “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in less than a week?

When the people saw this Jesus who gave the clear sign that he considered himself to be the the true king who would rescue them from Rome, in the hands of the Romans, clothed in purple, with a crown of thorns on his head, Roman soldiers mocking him, and Pilate joking “here is your king,” well then hope went out the window.

Most reasonable people would discern that Jesus wasn’t the messiah after all. No one was saying “Don’t do that to our king,” they would have been saying, “That is not our king.”

The miracles and teaching of Jesus had captured the imagination of people and filled them with hope. However, his inability to pull together an army, or to bring the Pharisees, Sadducee’s, and Zealots together on any kind of plan to beat the Romans had people thinking he was a fraud. The true king would get the people out from Roman captivity. Jesus, however, was in Roman captivity more than the people.

If he was a fraud, then he should be crucified. So “crucify him!”

Except he wasn’t.

That was Friday.

On Friday Jesus was arrested, tortured, dead, buried and obviously not the messiah, the promised king. So back to life under the thumb of Rome, with Jewish leaders that can’t get their act together, and back to a small candle of hope. Maybe someday God would send the messiah. But not today.

That was Friday. On Sunday Jesus is alive. Yes he really is the messiah, the promised king, the true king.

Jesus defied expectations of what the true king should do and be like. He not only defied expectations, he blew them wide open. Never mind being king of the Jews, Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Never mind a rescue from the Romans, this is a rescue for all of Creation, including the Romans!

Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and no one could change that. Even killing Jesus could not change that. What had always worked for bringing about a change in leader, namely killing him, did not work this time! The Romans with all their power and the terrifying control they held over people by the threat of crucifixion could not change the fact that Jesus is the king, even the king of Caesar!

Our struggles are real, but they cannot destroy hope.

Jesus is King, and his vision for the future is the vision that will come about. Not the vision of the religious leaders, nor the Romans, nor yours, nor mine, nor any person, disease, bully, nor any world ruler no matter how many nuclear arms may be at that ruler’s disposal, but the vision of Jesus, that is what shall be.

This is good news. Jesus is King, and the king is for us and not against us.

The struggles are real, the wounds are real, the strikes against hope are real, but they are never fatal. With Jesus as king, our wounds can never kill hope. Remember when the Pharisees told Jesus to stop the people celebrating as he rode into Jerusalem?

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Luke 19:40 (NRSV)

The celebrations could not be stopped. Hope could not be destroyed.

The opposition Jesus faced between his entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion was real. The opposition was real but it could not destroy hope. The struggle was real, but the defeat wasn’t. The wounds of Jesus were real, but even though they led to death, they were not fatal.

That is true for us.

The struggles are real. We can’t just gloss over life’s struggles as if they don’t exist. When we gloss over the struggles, we fail to reach out for help. We may need the presence of a caring friend, a trained counsellor, or a psychiatrist. Being a Christian does not absolve us from struggle.

The struggles are real, but defeat isn’t. The wounds are real, but they are never fatal. They can never override God’s will for us.

Hope may be stifled for a season, by a bully, a fool, a disease, an accident, or a tragedy. But it cannot be destroyed because Jesus is King, and he is for us and not against us.

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