This passage describes Jesus final visit to Jerusalem, where he was praised as the Messiah, God’s anointed King and Savior, and then a few days later arrested and crucified. This was during the annual Passover celebration.
The Jewish people were instructed in the law of Moses to make at least three trips a year to the Temple in Jerusalem. This particular festival, in the spring, was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or Passover. Passover celebrates the Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Fifty days later is the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, which commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Then in the fall, is the Feast of Booths, or Sukkot, which commemorates God’s provision for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness before entering the promised land.
So Jesus would have gone to Jerusalem at least three times a year throughout his adult life. There were three routes from Galilee to Jerusalem. The shortest was through Samaria, but that was hostile territory for the Jews. The longest was around the west side, near the Mediterranean Sea. The third, and most common, was south along the Jordan River, skirting Samaria, to Jericho and then west to Jerusalem.
Beginning with 9:51 Luke describes Jesus final journey to Jerusalem, taking the road through Samaria. This could be walked in three days. But Jesus seems to have taken longer and spent more time in the towns and villages along the way. For example, Luke identifies two separate Sabbath Day healings during his journey.
Jesus also took a side trip east to Jericho before heading back west to Bethany in the Mt. of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. Since most pilgrims traveling from Galilee would have taken the eastern route along the Jordon River to Jericho, maybe Jesus took that side trip to meet up with them since many Galileans would likely have joined him there.
Luke describes Jesus’ actions along the way, proclaiming and teaching about the Kingdom of God and working many miracles. Perhaps we can imagine ourselves traveling with Jesus.
Luke tells us that when Jesus walked though Samaria the Samaritans rejected him. You may remember that as a result John and James wanted to call down fire on them, but Jesus rebuked them. We probably feel that way sometimes too — wanting to call down fire on people who don’t do what we want them to, who get in the way of our plans and projects. Better results all around, though, if we pray for them instead.
When Jesus gets to Judea he sends out 72 disciples to go two-by-two ahead of him into the towns and village to bless and heal people. When they returned to Jesus, they report joyfully that, “even the demons submitted to us in your name.” How amazing it would have been to be one of those 72! Can we imagine? What a privilege! But you know, God sends us out every single day and gives us the power in his Spirit to bless others in some way. We too can rejoice that we share in Jesus’ mission.
On a Sabbath in a town synagogue Jesus heals a woman who’d been disabled and bent over for 18 years, creating a stir. Then on the next Sabbath at the house of a religious leader in another town he heals a man with a heart ailment, scandalizing the guests there. Sometimes God leads us in acts of compassion that other religious people criticize. But we are only following Jesus’ example.
Next in Luke’s account Jesus heals ten men with leprosy. But only one, a Samaritan, comes back praising God and thanking Jesus. Being thankful is a habit we learn by practicing. A thankful heart something we can cultivate. Giving thanks to God is perhaps the highest form of prayer. The Apostle Paul is always giving thanks, and he encourages us to be continually thankful. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “if the only prayer we ever prayed was ‘thank you,’ it would be enough.” Giving thanks to God is the most appropriate of human acts and the most profound. And there’s a sense in which giving thanks for something makes it truly ours, welcomes the gift into our heart.
Later, a rich young religious leader turns away from Jesus’ invitation to become a disciple because he wasn’t willing to give up his great wealth. When I was a new believer I felt God telling me to take a certain difficult action. It didn’t involve giving up any material wealth, of which I had very little. But it involved setting aside my pride in a big way, and I didn’t think I could do it.
I grieved at the thought of disobeying God and turning away from the wonder of God’s presence and calling. So after much struggle I said to God, “I can’t do what you’re asking me to do. I can’t humble myself in that way. It’s just not in me to be able to do it. My heart is too hard. But Lord, I you believe that you can change my heart, and I ask you to do that.”
Immediately I felt an inner change and knew that as difficult and humbling as the thing was, I could do it by God’s grace. Not because I found the will power, but because God had replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh made new by his Spirit.
In at least one town, people brought little children to Jesus for him to bless, but his disciples tried to stop them. Jesus was heading to Jerusalem and in the disciples’ view, spending time with children was a distraction. It didn’t contribute to the overall plan.
But Jesus welcomed the children. And he asks us to welcome and spend time with children and adults who may feel like a distraction and not seem useful to our purposes. Yet who are precious in God’s eyes and worthy of our time. Perhaps surprisingly, we may gain more from them then they from us.
As Jesus nears Jericho a blind man named Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus to heal him. The people with Bartimaeus rebuked him and told him to shut up. But he kept crying out. And Jesus healed him. We too should persist in asking Jesus to answer even the most difficult prayers, and not give up. Who knows but that God may fulfill our hopes as he did Bartimaeus’.
Finally in Jericho Jesus sees Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector and social outcast, sitting in a sycamore tree. To the shock of the onlookers Jesus invites himself to stay in Zacchaeus’ house. Befriending the friendless, the outsider and the outcast is one of the greatest Christian acts that we can do.
As Jesus traveled this long road from Galilee he was joined by an increasing number of people, so that by the time he arrived in Jerusalem there was a great crowd with him. As he walked the final distance from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem these followers began loudly praising him as the Messiah, laying down their coats and palm branches on the path before him. This was the ceremonial way of welcoming a king or conquering military leader entering a city. The crowd was recognizing Jesus as God’s anointed King.
Jesus entered humbly riding on a young donkey. This signified that Jesus was coming as a peacemaker, not a conquering warrior. Indeed here was a very different kind of King. A King of the lowly, of sinners, of the lame and the blind, of lepers and demon possessed, of the impoverished and oppressed, of outcasts and outsiders. And he’s our King as we consider ourselves among that company with our own sins and weakness and neediness. For it’s the humble who are welcomed into God’s kingdom.
Brothers and Sisters, God loves us and delights in answering our prayers to fulfill our hopes. Just as he did by healing Bartimaeus, the ten men with leprosy, the man with heart disease and the disabled bent over woman. But there’s something God wants for us even more.
Many years ago I came across a card, which I still have, that reads, “the purpose of life is not happiness, but holiness.” God wants us to grow in trusting him, reflecting his loving character and serving his mission to the world. So our personal wishes may sometimes be set aside for God’s higher purpose for our lives, replaced in the midst of hard times with God’s gift of the peace that passes understanding and the joy of the Lord.
Unlike the crowd in Luke, we know what’s next for Jesus. We know that God had a higher purpose in Jesus than they had imagined. With wonderment and thanksgiving, we know God’s great purpose accomplished at immeasurable cost on the cross.
And so we have even more reason to praise Jesus, throwing down our coats and palm branches before him. Today on this Palm Sunday, let’s re-commit our lives to him and rejoice in our King and Savior.