As I mentioned yesterday, this week is sometimes known as “Holy Week” in the larger world of Christendom, so I thought perhaps it might be an interesting topic for this blog to follow Jesus along through the last few days of His physical life on earth. At the end of each day we’ll try to draw some important observations for ourselves.
Jesus’ day on Sunday appears to have started on the other side Jericho, because the first we hear of that day Jesus is passing through Jericho in which He meets a man named Zaccheus. Jesus’ passage through almost any town created a stir, and in Jericho it turned into something like a parade in town with people lining the streets to see the famous rabbi, prophet, healer Jesus. Everybody wanted to see Jesus, including Zaccheus.
But Zaccheus had a special set of problems. Zaccheus was a chief tax collector, meaning that he had other tax gathers under him. He was viewed as a Roman collaborator and traitor to his people and therefore without morals — it was assumed that he cheated and gouged those from whom he collected taxes . Presumably, nobody wanted to make a place for him to see Jesus and be associated with him. To top it off, he was also too short to look over the shoulders of the crowd to get any sort of decent glimpse of Jesus passing through. His only chance to see Jesus was to climb a sycamore tree.
We don’t know what it was that drew Jesus’ attention to Zaccheus, but Jesus noticed him and called him down by name, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” probably for rest and lunch. Zaccheus was surprised and thrilled; and he gladly received Jesus into his home. But just at this point another old problem popped up; anyone he associated with got painted with the same brush of suspicion and shame that stained Zaccheus and every other tax collector. The crowd muttered and disapproved of Jesus going to his house.
Of course, Zaccheus was used to hearing ugly things said behind his back, but this time was different, this time he had been noticed and valued by Jesus. He had been called out by named would be hosting this righteous teacher. It was the perfect time to set things right, so Zaccheus turned to Jesus and, in front of the whole crowd, promised, “…Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8). Zaccheus’ repentance shown in his generous giving to the poor and reparations to anyone he might have cheated prompted Jesus to rejoice, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
As Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind men called out to Him,“…Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David” (Matthew 20:30). Use of the phrase “Son of David” was tantamount to recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. The crowd tried to discourage them by telling them to leave Jesus alone, but the blind men cried out all the more. Jesus, in compassion, turned aside from His departure for a moment to ask them what they wanted, and He gave them their sight. And they began following Him on the road to Jerusalem.
Jesus continued on His way to Jerusalem. It is about 15 plus miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it’s a pretty hard 15 miles — uphill, winding, dusty, narrow, and dangerous. He likely arrived in the Jerusalem area (Bethany) in the latter part of the afternoon. But His day’s events were not yet finished. Jesus sent disciples ahead to find a donkey and colt for him to ride into the city. When His disciples returned with the donkey and colt, they threw their cloaks on the donkey’s and colt’s backs and Jesus rode them down the road that led down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley and on to the city of Jerusalem itself. During this ride into town crowds gathered along the side of the road throwing palm fronds on the road, a traditional symbol of welcome to a triumphant, returning king, and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!” a cheer that implied a call to God for salvation.
Because of this reception and especially because of the cry, “Hosanna!” some of the Pharisees in the crowd, who thought this to be blasphemy, rebuked Jesus to discourage the people from saying such a thing. Jesus response wasn’t exactly what they expected of a respectable rabbi, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” — as if say “The whole creation has been practically bursting with excitement to confess my divinity, and you want me to tell these men to hold back?”
As Jesus continued approaching Jerusalem He could see the entire city; her beautiful Temple, its gleaming walls, its palaces, the ancient city of David, and the myriad people in the city (citizens and visitors here for Passover) — and suddenly He was struck by the centuries of sin, disobedience, and faithlessness of its inhabitants that was about to reach its great, dreadful climax in the crucifixion of its Messiah. And struck too by the horrific penalty it would pay in AD 70 for this last foul sin. And Jesus wept over it, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). The word “unwilling” being the most heartbreaking part of all.
As a last act of His very busy day, Jesus went into the Temple itself, but upon entering it, He was greeted with the cacophony and chaos of merchants, money changers, and sharp dealings that belonged in the marketplace rather than house of prayer that it was supposed to be. The chief priests had given these merchants permission — for a price, of course — to set up shop in the court of the Gentiles to change the unclean denarius for a clean shekel for the Temple tax and purchase ritually pure animals for sacrifice. Outraged with this desecration, Jesus began to turn over the tables of money changers and drive the animals out with cords.
There’s so much to learn in these stories
Our Lord, who seeks and saves the lost, never overlooks even one of us — not a Zaccheus, not the blind men in Jericho, and not you or me. You’re not too insignificant, you’re not too sinful, you’re not too hated or despised by others, you’re not too ruined, and you’re not too late, yet. Jesus is not too preoccupied with big problems or important people to see you and hear you. So actively seek Him like Zaccheus, persevere in prayer like the blind men, and you’ll be both heard and found.
Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, when they rebuked Him for accepting the crowds adulation of “Hosanna!” has always struck me and appealed to me, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” This theme of inanimate creation crying out their witness of the Creator, groaning and suffering under the curse from the Garden of Eden, or (as here) scarcely being able to be restrained from bursting forth a confession of Jesus’ Godhood is one that you will run across from time to time as you read through Scripture. They are used in Scripture as a means of shaming men in their so-called wisdom and intellect that denies God; even the dumb rocks know better, know their Creator and Redeemer!
And how deeply tragic is the scene of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. It reminds me of the appeal of God to Israel at an earlier time, “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts (Isaiah 65:2).” The LORD’s appeal to His people to return down through the centuries had only occasionally been heard, and then for only a short time. Jesus’ tears were the tears of a husband (see the book of Hosea) who loves his wife, but whose heart has continually been pierced by her unloving, faithless, rebellious, and wandering ways. And even now, though she would soon “crown” her rebellion with putting Him to death, He still mourned the sure consequences of condemnation that she had so richly earned. The LORD spoke through Ezekiel, “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:11)?’”