Isn't Palm Sunday about palms? Of the 4 Palm Sunday accounts only one, John's, mentions palms at all. Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, doesn't. What is unique to Luke are Jesus words about the stones crying out if He should silence the praise of His disciples.
The fact that the stones would cry out is proof that it is fitting to welcome Jesus as a king. Don't think that because Jesus tells Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world," that He is no king. The Old Testament prophesied that the Christ would be a king. The wise men said, "We have come seeking Him born king of the Jews." Several of the parables say Jesus is a king. Pilate will be emphatic about it on Friday. He won't rewrite the sign above the cross that stated why a person was being crucified to read, "This man claimed to be king of the Jews" as the church leaders insisted. No Pilate keeps the sign 'The King of the Jews,' because that is who Jesus is.
The stones have to cry out that Jesus is King of the Jews. Jesus has been acting like a king since passing through Jericho. When blind Bartimaeus called Jesus the "Son of David," i.e. a king in David's line, Jesus doesn't silence him. Later when Jesus meets Zacchaeus, He says He must lodge with him as a king would with his subject. Then just before arriving in Jerusalem Jesus tells the parable about a nobleman getting a kingdom.
And what about today, Palm Sunday? Ever see Jesus act like this before? As a king would, Jesus commissions 2 disciples to go get what He needs. As a king would, Jesus has them tell the owners that He is the rightful lord of the donkey they untie. As a king would, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Jesus might have ridden many times in His life, but only here does Scripture point it out. Kings rode; ordinary people walked. When kings came in war, they rode horses. When kings came in peace, they rode donkeys.
The people don't miss what's happening. They rightly identify Jesus as their king, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" They lay down clothes, strew branches, and wave palms as flags to honor Jesus as they knew conquering heroes were welcomed in the past. Then they praised God for all the mighty works that had seen Jesus do. "He raised Lazarus four days dead." "He healed blind Bartimaeus." "He converted a chief tax collector." And Jesus accepts it all, doesn't He? He accepts the pomp and circumstance befitting only a king. He accepts their praises and their acclaiming Him king. Where is the schussing that Jesus does elsewhere? Where is Jesus telling them, "Tell no one about this." Where is the Jesus who religiously stayed away from using the term Messiah a virtual synonym for king of the Jews?'
Jesus doesn't correct them, and He says the stones would cry out if He did because it is true. We, who know water can be alive, Bread can be Body, and Wine can be blood, ought to take this literally. If Jesus muzzled the crowd about His kingship mouths would've appeared on the stones and out would come the words, "Here's your King Jerusalem!"
Crying stones prove that it's fitting to welcome Jesus as a king, and they prove that there is peace in heaven. If the crowds were rebuked the stones would take up their cry of, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven" There is peace in heaven because the king of heaven comes in peace.
Earlier in Luke, King Jesus had said that it was impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem. Earlier, He had said she killed every prophet and stoned everyone sent to call her to repentance. He had even said then that He was leaving Jerusalem desolate. Yet here He is in peace. How come? Because He comes as the Peacemaker. Peace between God and Jerusalem, and all mankind, is going to be made by Jesus. It won't be a negotiated peace, but the peace of God which passes all human understanding. It will be a peace in Old Testament terms. Jesus the Lamb of God who comes into Jerusalem carrying the sins of the world; Jesus the Scapegoat bearing all your sins, my sins, all sins every committed past, present, and future, will be slaughtered on the altar of God.
The high priest use to enter the holy of holies with the blood of the scapegoat. He'd pour it in the mercy seat to cover the sight of the broken 10 commandments in the Ark of the Covenant from the view of God dwelling in the cloud above them. Hebrews says Jesus entered into the true holy of holies in heaven to make eternal peace with His blood. The world may be mad at God, but by the blood of Jesus, God is reconciled to the world. You may be mad at God, but in the blood of Jesus, God is reconciled to you. There is peace in heaven and even if you can't or won't cry that out the very stones do.
"Peace in heaven," the stones cry, but there may not be peace on earth or in your life. There wouldn't be for the disciples of Jesus in this account. At Gethsemane, at Golgotha, and even after the empty tomb, still no earthly peace in their lives. Read the Book of Acts. Read the rest of the New Testament; it's a tale of fightings within and fears without. Read the Book of Revelation; the old evil foe now means deadly woe. Yet, through it all, they could know, they could believe, they could cry out with the stones that there is real, lasting peace in heaven.
You know what ambient noise is: It's the amount of existing or present noise. There is an ambient fear, worry, unrest all about us. There are a thousand things to fear and a million devils to worry. There is an ambient trembling in the fallen soul just as there is a constant clamor in the urban ear. Yet, the very stones testify that there is peace in heaven. The 4 living beings around the throne of God never cease to call out, "Holy, holy, holy." Heaven is not at all up in the air, upset, worried or fearful about today or all the tomorrows in the future. Heaven is at peace because in Jesus God defeated all His enemies and rescued all His friends.
Crying stones prove Jesus is King; there is everlasting peace in heaven, and that's God's glory is in suffering. To be sure the crowd doesn't see this, nor did the disciples even though the liturgy they chanted pointed them this way. The people in Jerusalem chanted in versicle and response form with the people arriving for Passover. Psalm 118: 25-28 was used. The response part of verse 27 is, "Bind the festival sacrifice with cords on the horns of the altar." Jesus is coming not to make them suffer for their sins, but to suffer for their sins. Jesus comes here not to make you suffer for your sins but because He has suffered for them already.
The stones cry out "glory to God in the highest" when they see Jesus riding into suffering, torture, and hellish death. We glory in an empty cross and an empty tomb. Heaven glories in Christ and Him crucified. We glory in a feast of victory for our God. Heaven says as often as you eat His Body and drink His blood you proclaim, not the Lord's resurrection, but His death. We think people will be drawn to an empty tomb; Heaven agrees with Jesus who said, "When I am lifted up on the cross, bloody, beaten, swollen, and hideous, then I will draw men to Myself." Jesus makes clear in John 12:23 that the hour of His glorification is not His resurrection but His death.
You can't learn this from your reason. You can't learn this from the world. You can't learn this from your feelings. You can learn this from stones. God's glory is not to make His enemies suffer but to suffer for His enemies. God's glory is not health, wealth, and strength. God's glory is sickness, poverty, and weakness. God tells us that His strength is made perfect in weakness, yet we seek to be strong. God tells us that our life is found in dying and yet we seek living. God tells us that He chooses the things that are not in this world, and yet we seek to be something or somebody.
On the cross, it is only His enemies that demand He come down. On the cross, it is only His enemies that demand He save Himself. On the cross, it is only those who mock and scorn Him that demand that He help Himself. The woman disciples, Jesus' own mother, the apostle John and even the converted thief ask no such thing. His disciples and mother had seen Jesus do many more powerful things than coming down from a cross. It would have been childishly easy for Jesus to do that. Yet, they don't ask, but they don't see the glory in Jesus continuing to suffer eitherthe stones did.
Do you? God's glory is to be merciful to sinners. God's glory is to love the unlovable, save the unsaveable, and forgive the unforgivable. It would not be glorious if Jesus turned unlovable people into loveable ones and then loved them. It would not be glorious for Jesus to make the unsaveable somehow savable and then save them. It would not be glorious if Jesus made unforgivable people forgivable and then forgave them. Yet this is what the theology of glory thinks. God wins by power. No God wins by weakness. He doesn't turn people into loveable, savable, forgivable persons. No, He sends His Son to bear and suffer their lovelessness, their damnation, and their guilt. He bears it to the bitter end and cries out, "It is finished!"
Even when He rises, He still bears the marks of His suffering. He keeps them before our eyes directing us to glory in His cross, His crucifixion, in the Body and Blood He gave and shed for us there and gives to us here. His pierced hands, feet, and side testify that God does far more than we ask and think through suffering. They testify to us saying that which truly is ugly and hideous can be glorious. What else will you want before your dying eyes but Christ and Him crucified? What else will comfort you in your suffering? A risen, powerful Lord, which He is, or a Savior who knows what suffering is and suffers for and with you?
The stones cry out that King Jesus is to be glorified in the highest because He makes peace in heaven by suffering and dying for earth. The stones crying out in praise of Jesus suffering for us sinners testify to us that the rocks that are so heavy, ugly and many in our life are in fact glorious. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20070401); Luke 19: 28-40