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.

When We Were Hopeless and an Angel Set Us Straight (Thinking Through Luke 2:11)

It can all seem rather hopeless. Between nuclear weapons and climate change, it can feel like humanity is doomed. We wonder if this is going to end well for us. Or when bad things happen to good people and all kinds of things happen to all kinds of people, it can all feel rather haphazard. Is God really in charge, and if so, is there really a plan? Speaking of God being in charge, looking at past history, it seems like the ones in charge have often used their power for evil. It doesn’t go well for the people under their care.

Is there hope?

According to the angel who spoke to the shepherds that first Christmas, there is great hope:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12 (NLT emphasis added)

The angel described this baby with three words that bring great hope no matter how things seem.

When it seems humanity is doomed.

If scientists are correct, then it appears that we really are doomed. We’ve got bigger problems than climate change. There is such a thing as universe change. Scientists tell us that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and that ultimately, our universe will cease to be life-permitting at some point. That is a long, long way in the future. But it is still the future! Don’t worry, the heating up of our sun and the boiling of our oceans will get us before the expansion of the universe does.

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day a Saviour.

When we use the term “Jesus is Saviour” people often have in mind one of at least three things. We should have in mind all three:

  1. Salvation from the eternal consequence of our sin which separates us from God. Jesus brings reconciliation with God, saving us from death, changing our future from everlasting death to resurrection to everlasting life.
  2. Salvation from harmful ways of living which messes up relationships, inter-personal, and inter-national. Jesus saves us by teaching us and showing us the better way of love.
  3. Salvation not just of of people, but all of creation. With our resurrection also comes God’s re-creation of everything:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

Romans 8:18-21 (NLT emphasis added)

If we listen to scientists, and we should, it would seem we are in fact doomed. If we listen to the angel, and we can, we discover that the Creator who spoke all of creation into existence, stepped into creation as Saviour. We are not doomed.

When it seems like God is neither in charge, nor operating by a plan.

When bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and random things happen randomly to all people, it would appear there is no one in charge, there is no plan.

If God is in charge and working out a plan, why couldn’t he stop this virus from spreading, that cancer from spreading, this train from crashing, and that tornado from landing? Is God really in charge?

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Messiah.

Some people think God created the world, wound it up, then stood back. The fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, both words meaning “anointed one,” speaks to God stepping in.

The fact there is an “anointed one” speaks to God’s plan:

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NLT)

Paul was not speaking about mystery in the sense of something that cannot be understood, though there is that kind of mystery, in life, and faith. There may well be an element of mystery in why some seem destined to suffer more than others.

When Paul spoke of mystery, he was referring to something that was hidden, now made plain. What is made plain in the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the ‘anointed one’, is that God has a plan.

If we look at the random events of our world, we can lose hope that God is in charge and operating according to a plan. If we look to that one event, the birth of the Messiah, we find hope that all is going according to God’s plan. God is in charge. There is a plan.

When it seems like the powers that be use their power for evil.

When we survey some of the famous rulers in world history, it appears that  those in charge don’t care about the people under their charge. How many people died because of the decisions of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the list goes on and on. How many people did Rome crucify?

The history of the world is a history of people using power over others. The history of the world is a history of people in power using power to stay in power. This often does not go well for those not in power. We see this with Herod’s plot to kill the infant Jesus which did not end well for those in Bethlehem.

Jesus speaks about power as found in Luke, chapter twelve:

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

Luke 12:4-5 (NLT)

The most the powers that be can do to us is kill us. That is all they can do. Their power is therefore limited! This is true of the people that might kill us, and thankfully I cannot think of any. This is also true of the diseases and afflictions that might kill us, and unfortunately I can think of many. God’s power, however, is infinite. God can allow for us to be separated from him forever, or can raise us to live in his presence forever. Now that is power! So don’t fear people, fear God. That being said, Jesus immediately went on to say:

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)

Fear God, but don’t be afraid of God. God loves us. The ones using terror against others are the ones who need to be concerned!

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Lord.

Lord means “master,” and it means that neither Caesar, nor Herod, nor Hitler, nor Stalin is lord, but Jesus is. Their power is limited.

“Lord” was also the word that stood in for God’s name when God’s people read the Hebrew Scriptures. Even today, when Jewish people come across God’s name, they usually say “Adonai,” meaning “Lord”. This is reflected in our English translations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) whenever LORD is in all capitals. It is also reflected in the Greek translation that the people of New Testament times would have been familiar with. So when the angel announces the birth of the “Lord”, there is a strong hint, especially when taken together with other passages, that this baby is not just one true master among many pretenders, but God Himself.

It may seem like those in power often use power for evil, draining us of hope when we discover that the powers that be are not for us but for themselves. But the angel tells us that this small baby is Lord, this Jesus has power. This infant was evidence that the Powerful One is for us and not against us.

In Conclusion

This can be a hopeless time of year for many. It is said that more people get depressed at this time than any other. Perhaps it is the shorter days, the busyness, or the expectations we place upon ourselves to provide and experience that “perfect” Christmas. It might be that all the glitter and happy songs do not match what is going on in our lives.

This may be a bleak season of your life. This may well be a season of bad news in our world. It is quite normal to feel perplexed by it all, to lose hope. We don’t want to minimise that bad news or gloss over it. But neither do we want to miss the good news.

The identity of Jesus as announced by the angel, of being Saviour, Messiah, and Lord replaces the hopelessness of how things seem with the hope of how things really are.