It was like a big, joyous party as our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Following our Lord’s instructions, the disciples had acquired a donkey and thrown their cloaks on the animal. Now Jesus rode into Jerusalem on it. As he rode along, his followers spread their cloaks on the road.
Luke tells us that “as he was drawing near--already on the way down the Mount of Olives--the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” We should note that Luke focuses here on Jesus’ disciples. It is easy to overlook the fact that the group of disciples who accompanied Jesus on this final trip to Jerusalem was much larger than just the twelve apostles. As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, he sent out seventy two disciples in pairs. They went before Jesus into every town where Jesus was about to go as an “advance team.” Jesus gave them the instructions: “Heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” In addition to these, there was also a sizeable group of women who supported Jesus’ ministry financially.
They had seen the miracles Jesus had done. Now, mounted on an animal that had royal associations in ancient Israel, Jesus was entering into Jerusalem. They were rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice. And they were saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Surely they expected that now Jesus would bring the consummation of the kingdom of God – the reign of God – that he had been proclaiming. He would act as the King – the Messiah – who would bring the restoration of Israel and fulfill all that the prophets had spoken about Israel’s future.
The disciples who accompanied Jesus were so enthusiastic; they were proclaiming such dramatic things about Jesus that it was just too much for some of the Pharisees in the crowd. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But our Lord responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Jesus affirmed what his disciples were saying. Every word was true and it had to be said about Jesus.
It was a dramatic, inspiring, and exciting moment to be with Jesus as everyone anticipated that Yahweh was about to do epic things through him. But then, Jesus did something that seemed completely out of place. To be honest, it seemed completely inappropriate given the moment.
Luke tells us, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Jesus sees the city of Jerusalem and he weeps. He is moved to tears as laments that on that day they did not know the things that make for peace. They didn’t know them, and now they were hidden from their eyes. Instead of peace, Jesus described a scene that had played out again and again in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. He described how an army would lay siege to Jerusalem by encircling it, and that finally they would tear it down to the grown. All of this would happen our Lord said, “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
In our text this morning, Jesus leads us to recognize the significance of his person and ministry. In his person was the visitation of God that brought peace. Speaking by the Spirit, Zechariah declared at the naming of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” The child born in Bethlehem was God raising up a descendant of King David to redeem his people. It was God visiting his people to fulfill all that he had promised through the prophets.
When Jesus raised from the dead the widow’s son at Nain fear seized all present, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” In this and all of Jesus’ miracles, people were seeing that God had visited his people in Jesus.
Jesus was God visiting his people, and he had come to bring peace. That was what the angels announced when he was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Jesus had come to bring peace by the forgiveness of sins. A woman who had lived a sinful life came to Jesus, and in repentance and faith she wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And then later he added, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus Christ was God visiting his people and bringing peace. Yet while the disciples who accompanied Jesus, had received him in faith, many others had not. In fact, as Jesus looked upon Jerusalem he could say that as a whole the city had not known the things that make for peace. They had not known the time of their visitation.
They had not recognized Jesus for who he was. No doubt there were a number of reasons for this, but the most common was the fact that Jesus had not done things that they wanted and expected. Sure, he had healed people and cast out demons. Yes he had spoken interesting parables and intriguing teaching. But he had not taken on the role of the powerful and mighty victor. If he had this power to do miracles, why was he not using it drive out the Romans and free Israel? He was talking about “the kingdom of God” all the time, but he wasn’t doing anything to bring God’s kingdom to the nation.
If people had been disappointed by what Jesus had done up until that moment, they would find the results of Holy Week to be proof that Jesus was a fraud. Jesus had come do the things that make for peace. He had come to be the saving visitation of God. But he was going to do this by dying on a Roman cross. Though without sin of his own, he was going to be numbered with the transgressors. He was going to bring peace with God by winning forgiveness for us. He was going to offer himself as the sacrifice for our sins. He was going to be the One who received God’s judgment in our place.
Humiliated in death on a cross, Good Friday would end with Jesus’ body buried in a tomb. All was clear. Jerusalem had been right to reject him, for he was a false messiah. Hung upon a tree, he had been cursed by God.
But on the third day – on Easter – God acted to show that nothing was what it seemed to be. He raised Jesus from the dead. And in that resurrection he showed that Jesus’ death on the cross had been God’s visitation bringing peace. Christ has won forgiveness. He has given us peace with God. In his resurrection the result of sin – death – has been defeated and eternal life with God is offered to all who believe in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord.
This is real peace. But if you are going to follow Jesus you must be prepared for the fact that this is not a peace that the world wants. Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus’ peace requires confession of sin and repentance. Jesus’ peace requires faith in him alone. And the Lord is right. This does bring division. The question is whether we are ready to declare the truth about Jesus to our family members and friends who don’t believe. Or does the possibility of rejection, tension and strife cause us to remain silent? Do we crave the world’s version of peace and so say nothing about Jesus?
The people of Jerusalem did know the things that make for peace. They did not recognize the time of their visitation. You have been baptized into Christ. You know and believe the Gospel. You know the things that make for peace. Yet you must also understand your need to continue to recognize the time of your visitation.
We do not live in first century Palestine. Our visitation does not occur by means of the incarnate Lord’s earthly ministry. Instead our Lord’s visitation occurs through the gifts that he places in the midst of his Church. It occurs through his Means of Grace. Our Lord’s saving visitation continues to occur through his inspired Word. It occurs through baptism and absolution. And our Lord visits us in the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for us.
We need to continue to recognize and receive our Lord’s visitation through these means. The ongoing struggle again sin and the old Adam requires it. The continuous effort by the devil to separate us from Christ and his peace demands it. The devil always wants us to think that we have “enough of Jesus” – that we don’t need any more of his visitation; that we can use our time for other things and everything will be just fine. But that is the path that leads away from Jesus and the loss of the forgiveness and peace we have through him.
Instead as we continue to receive the saving visitation of Christ, we know the things that make for peace. We know the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. And because we do, this is something that cannot stop with us. Instead we share this with others in the way we treat them. We forgive others, because God in Christ has forgiven us. We seek peace with others, because God has given us peace with him. We help and assist others, because God has visited us with his love when we had no right to expect it. The saving visitation of God in Christ has given us forgiveness and peace that defines our present and eternal future.