January 1, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I want to give you a New Year’s Day story to try to help set up what we are going to learn from Luke today. In 1874, a British woman by the name of Frances Havergal wanted to do something nice for her friends and her family. So, around New Year’s she wrote a poem and mailed it to them on postcards. Now she already had a book deal with an American publishing company. In fact, she had a literary agent from the United States. She sent this poem to her literary agent hoping that she would be able to make some money off of the poem. A couple of days into the new year, Frances received a letter in the mail that absolutely devastated her. It was a letter from a publishing house. The company had the book for some time so she thought surely this letter is going to be the royalties off of her first book published in the United States. Instead this letter said that her publishing house, as well as many others during the New York Stock Exchange crash in 1873, had declared bankruptcy and Frances lost everything. Just a couple of months before this she gave her life to Christ. After getting this devastating news, she wrote a note to her friend saying, “I was expecting a letter from America, enclosing thirty-five pounds now due to me, and possibly news that my book was going on like steam. The letter has come, and, instead of all of this, my publisher has failed in the universal crash. Two months ago this would have been a real trial for me, for I had built a good deal on my American prospects; now ‘thy will be done’ is not a sigh but also a song.” Frances Havergal turned that last line of this letter to her friend into a poem which eventually became a very famous Christian hymn. She wrote these words, “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.”
None of us in this room know what 2017 holds. So, today one of our challenges is whatever life throws at us this year to find the courage and strength to rest in the love of Jesus and live by the power the Holy Spirit. As a result, you can face whatever life throws at you. Here’s a couple of things that we’re going to learn today from Luke chapter 19.
I. Praise Jesus in all circumstances this year
The first thing I want you to notice from the book of Luke today is to praise Jesus in all circumstances, both the good and the bad, this coming year. On Christmas Sunday, last Sunday, we were challenged to make sure that your Christmas traditions prepare your family for the coming King. Bible scholars refer to what we are about to read as the triumphal entry of Jesus. This is Jesus getting a king’s welcome when he enters Jerusalem. Even this welcome isn’t really the welcome that Jesus is due.
28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?” 34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. 36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. 38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” 39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” 40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
This is the last week of Jesus’s life. By the time that he enters Jerusalem he’s not going to leave. Jesus will eventually die in Jerusalem. By the way, Luke is going to take 5 1/2 chapters to describe this last week of Jesus’s life. This says what happens the last week of Jesus’s life is extremely important to our Christian faith. Jesus is getting ready to receive a king’s welcome. I don’t think I can do justice to the drama that’s going to unfold for us today. So, I’m going to show you a video of how it might have looked when Jesus went into Jerusalem. Every time I watch this video and every time we do an image of Jesus on the screen, I owe it to you to say that these videos give me heartburn because you need to understand that Jesus was not a white man. Jesus was a Jew.
There is a lot of debate about how this thing actually went down. Did Jesus set up the animal and prepare for this animal to be waiting for him? Or, did he just know the future that this was going to happen? Frankly, that part of the story is not that important. Here’s what is important for us today. It’s important that this animal has never been ridden before because a young colt that’s never been ridden before can perform a sacred task. However, if it’s been ridden before no longer is this animal able to do a sacred event. Jesus is intentionally fulfilling Zechariah 9:9. This verse in the Old Testament says when the Messiah comes he’s going to be righteous and victorious. He’s going to ride in like a general but at the same time he’s going to ride in humble and on the back of donkey. Jesus does both of these things at the same time. He intentionally lets the crowd know that he is the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. This animal is a symbol that he is the one that they were waiting for.
Let’s talk about this crowd because this is holy week. This is the week that every Jewish man according to the Old Testament had to leave home, go to Jerusalem, and give an animal as a sacrifice during the week of Passover. This means that this city was crowded with people when Jesus showed up. In that crowd of people there are some that really are praising Jesus and they’re really there to worship. Then there are others that are just there for selfish reasons. They are looking for a Savior who is going to make their life better. They’re looking for a victorious general who’s going to defeat the Roman occupiers and make Israel once again a great nation. They’re like people in our country today who say, “If President Barak Obama couldn’t make my life better maybe President-elect Donald Trump will.” In reality the problems are at the heart level. So, it doesn’t matter who’s the President of the United States it’s not going to make life better. Some of them in the crowd were really longing for God’s Messiah and others were just looking for somebody who would make their life better.
Then you have the critics. You have these Pharisees who, when they hear the crowds shouting Hosanna, they are so offended that they ask Jesus stop the processional and tell the people to stop shouting praise and worship. Jesus teaches us something really important about worship this morning. Most Christians that I know are really good about arguing how to worship. Jesus says, “What’s important is who you worship and why you worship.” You get those things right and chances are the Holy Spirit will take care of the how you worship. You focus on how you worship and you might end up missing who you worship and why you worship. By the way, Jesus says, “If these people who have emotions and souls didn’t cry out and worship me right now, the rocks, the mountains, and the trees would cry out in worship because that’s why I created them in the first place.” Everything that you see around you was created to bring Jesus glory. If the trees, the mountains, and the rocks will do it, how much more do you think Jesus wants the worship of his people? How much more do you think Jesus wants you and I to give him the praise and worship that he deserves?
Let me tell you why I worded this first part ‘praise him in all of your circumstances’. I’m not going prophesy. I won’t even make a prediction. I’m going to make your promise. There’s going to be some good days in 2017 and there’s going to be some bad days in 2017. This very crowd, the ones that were screaming “Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!”, less than a week later are shouting for his death. When the Roman government and the religious leaders are plotting to kill him, the very people in that crowd that’s praising Jesus in one week are calling for his death less than a week later. They are motivated by emotions and they’re being driven by their circumstances. There’s no question some of them in that room will be calling for Jesus’s head in less than a week. I want to challenge you. When life is good this coming year give Jesus the praise that he deserves. When it’s bad, tenaciously and boldly hang onto your faith no matter what life throws at you. Let your praise rise up to the King no matter what the circumstances. Find strength to face the day and decide right now at the start of the new year, “No matter what 2017 brings me, I will honor my King. I will give Jesus the praise that he is due.”
II. Love your city this year
The second thing that the story tells us is that you and I should love our city this year. Imagine that you are a farmer and you have this orchard on the side of a mountain. You’re there praising Jesus when he comes into Jerusalem but you have to cut out early because you have a lot of work to do. So you go to do some work in your orchard on the side of the Mount of Olives. When you’re there you start to hear some rustling next to you. It’s Jesus but now he’s not laughing or rejoicing. According to Scripture in the original language Jesus is weeping loudly and uncontrollably. How does he change this quickly from rejoicing when he comes in to Jerusalem to weeping uncontrollably? What happened?
41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
Jesus can see into the future. Jesus is sitting on the side of this mountain looking over Jerusalem and he starts to weep uncontrollably at this city. He is looking at the city the place where God’s temple is and the place for God’s presence is supposed to dwell. Jesus is heartbroken over what he sees. He should and could be weeping over his own future but instead of thinking about himself Jesus is thinking about this city. He is heartbroken over what’s about to happen in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a rebellious city. For more than 100 years at this point Jerusalem has been rebelling against Rome. Rome has been putting down rebellion after rebellion. Not long after these events Rome is sick of it. The Caesar in Rome decided to put the rebellion down once and for all. He sent a general by the name of Titus. Titus built a camp around the entire city so that no one can escape. Titus built ramparts and ultimately breaks through the walls of the city on September 26th, 70 A.D. When Titus broke into that city he annihilated Jerusalem. He leveled the city and left no building standing. He destroyed the Temple and taught them a lesson that Israel will never forget. He said, “Israel, you rebelled against me for the last time and Caesar is sick of it.”
I want you to notice what Jesus is saying here in Luke 19. It is not actually Rome’s fault that Jerusalem fell. It’s Jerusalem’s fault that Jerusalem fell. The name Jerusalem itself means the city of peace. Jesus says, “You won’t have peace anymore. You had your shot at peace and you missed it. When God showed up to visit his people and you failed to recognize him.” At the end of this passage Jesus says it’s because of this that the city will be destroyed. Literally there’s nothing left standing after these events that Jesus is weeping about. There’s nothing left standing today except for the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where Jews still show up and weep over the destruction that Jesus was weeping about on the side of the mountain. Jesus loves this city. Jesus longs for the best for this city but the city doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus.
There are only two times in Scripture that Jesus’s heart is broken so bad that he’s weeping about the situation. Once in John Chapter 11 when he sees the pain of death and what it does to his friends when Lazarus dies. The second time is here. Jesus looks over Jerusalem and knows the annihilation it’s about to happen and it brings him to tears. I want to challenge us this year about the Chattahoochee Valley. I want to ask you to have a heart like God has a heart for our city, to rejoice like God rejoices when great things happen in the city, and to weep like God weeps to mourn up like Jesus mourns when tragedies happen in the city. I want to challenge you. This year will you cultivate a heart for your city like Jesus has a heart for Jerusalem and like Jesus has a heart for this city?
Let me remind you of the language that I used today. The word ‘love’ is a verb which means it’s an action word. It’s not just about how you feel towards the city. It’s more about what you do as a result of how you feel towards the city. So first I challenge you to pray fervently and to develop a heart for the city. Secondly, if you’re really going to love your city like Jesus did, you have to put action with those emotions. You have to do something to make an impact for your city.
III. Go back to the basics this year
Let’s see how this story ends from Luke chapter 19. Go back to just the basics about your faith. Let this year be the year that you clear some room in your schedule and you go back to the very basics about your faith. If you’re not careful, doing religious deeds will become first place and a relationship with Jesus will get pushed to the sidelines. If you’re not careful, you may end up in the same boat that the people we’re about to read ended up in. I want you to see something, perhaps the only time in Scripture, that Jesus is so upset by what he sees but it’s got him fighting mad.
45 Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. 46 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” 47 After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. 48 But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said.
If you were alive in Jesus’s day this is what the Temple looked like. The large building in the center was considered the most Holy Place. This is the site where God dwelt. The only person that could go inside that place was the high priest only one day of the year and only after having been prepared to go in there. The smaller inner courtyard was called the Court of the Jews. It’s where faithful practicing Jewish men could go to worship but only Jewish men. The very large courtyard on the outside is the court of women and the Court of Gentiles. It’s where you and I, if we were in Jerusalem in Jesus’s day, would’ve gone to worship. That’s where people were selling animals to make money. Don’t forget it’s Passover week. Everybody has to have a sacrifice. They could make a lot of money in the Temple by showing up to sell birds and sell animals.
If you were to go back and read this story in John chapter 2, Jesus is so furious that he’s violent. For all of you pacifists in the room this is going to cause you some struggles because he is violent in the original language with the way that this goes down. This is premeditated. Jesus goes out into the woods and says, “Peter, go get me that stick over there. James and John, go get me some rope.” He starts to prepare a whip. This video doesn’t even do justice to Jesus kicking over tables and whipping men across the back as he drives them out of the temple. He is so furious at what he’s seeing inside the temple. What has Jesus so angry that he literally resorts to violence? You can only imagine the shock on his disciples when Jesus goes off like this. Jesus is furious because people aren’t showing up and hearing about God anymore. They’re showing up and they’re buying, selling, and making a profit. All of this by the way is perfectly legal with Old Testament law but somehow in the process they missed it. Now men and women show up into that outer court, buy an animal, and sacrifice it but they never hear about God. Now they leave and walk away with no idea who the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is.
There is a true story about a very important African man, similar to a cabinet member in the United States today, who left his hometown. He went on the trip of a lifetime. He spent months traveling to Jerusalem to go worship and find out more about God. He could only enter the outer courtyard where they’re selling the animals. He can’t go inside where the Court of Jewish men are. So, he went to the Temple and tried to worship but nobody wants to talk to him about God. They’d be happy to take his money but they’re not going to talk to him about God at all. He left Jerusalem dejected with no idea who God is. Go and read the rest of the story in your Bible in Acts chapter 8.
This man from the country of Ethiopia is completely clueless after having spent probably his life savings to go to Jerusalem to find out about God. The Holy Spirit prompts a new believer by the name of Philip to go over to this man’s chariot and to listen. As Philip listens he hears this man reading from the Bible. Philip asked the man, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Think about the tragedy of what this man says, “How can I? Nobody would talk to me about God. They took my money but they wouldn’t tell me anything about God.” Philip started explaining the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Philip explained who Jesus is and right there on the spot that man gave his life to Christ. In fact, he’s so transformed that when he sees some water on the side of the road he asks Philip, “Can I be baptized right here, right now? I’m all in. I’ve been to Ethiopia. I’ve seen how sincere and how devout the believers in Jesus are in Ethiopia.” History teaches us that this man after meeting Philip and after hearing about Jesus went back to his country and became a great witness for Jesus. Imagine if Philip never showed up. Imagine what Ethiopia would be like today, if the Holy Spirit never prompted Philip to go over there and to talk to that man.
The truth is these guys in the temple courtyards were doing what they were absolutely allowed by Old Testament law to do. Somehow the practices became more important than the relationship with God. Somehow the making of money had taken over the ministry that they could and should have been doing in that outer courtyard. The reason why I’m challenging all of us today to go back to the basics is because if you’re not careful that exact same thing can happen to you. It’s not about money. You can get so wrapped up in following the rules, being religious, and doing good deeds that it ultimately crowds out any time for a relationship with Jesus. So here’s my challenge to you this year. Diligently, militantly look at your schedule and protect time for a relationship with Jesus. Don’t let following the rules become more important to you than having this deeper walk with him. If you’ll do that, at the end of 2017 your walk with Jesus will be deeper than at the start of this year and you will be more like him. You’ll look more like him. You’ll act more like him at the end of this year.
• I need to surrender my soul to Jesus. Today, I turn from my sin and trust Jesus as my Savior for the first time.
– I have let my circumstance affect my relationship with Jesus. This year I will worship Jesus no matter the circumstances of my life.
+ I want to have God’s heart for my city. This year I will pray regularly for my neighborhood.
- Did you make any New Year’s goals for 2016? Did you accomplish any of them?
- What is your biggest goal for this year?
- How would you like your faith to look different at the end of this year?
- What do you like most about our city? What breaks your heart most about our city?
- Have you ever been to a church service that gave you the impression they were only interested in your money? What did that do to your impression of that church? Did it influence your opinion about all churches?
- Doing a lot of things at church can sometimes take the life out of your faith. How can you ensure that doing church stuff doesn’t drain your excitement for Jesus this year?
- Close in prayer for each other that our faith would grow deeper this year.