The Human Face of God
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The Human Face of God

Luke 19:28-48  (ID: 3421)

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem provides a visible expression of God’s heart. As He made His way toward the city, riding on a donkey, Jesus showed Himself to be a gentle and approachable King, a friend of sinners. His weeping over Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple also reveal a God who is both loving and just. As Alistair Begg explains, Jesus’ actions embody the good news of the Gospel: that peace with God is found by believing in His Son.


Sermon Transcript:

Our Scripture reading this morning is found in the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and we’re going to read from verse 28 through to the end of the chapter, which is verse 48. So, Luke chapter 19, and reading from the twenty-eighth verse:

“And when he”—that is, Jesus—“had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” you shall say this: “The Lord has need of it.”’ So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ And they said, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 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 … they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’

“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.’

“And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers.’

“And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they [could] not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.”

Amen.

Well, as we turn back to the Bible and before I pray, I want to read a statement from John Newton that he made to his congregation a long time ago now. I don’t know if he did this routinely, but certainly on this particular day in the eighteenth century, as he stood up to preach, he said this to them:

I [count] it my honour and happiness that I preach to a free people, who have the Bible in their hands. To your Bibles I appeal. I entreat, I charge you to receive nothing upon my word, any farther than I can prove it from the Word of God; and bring every preacher, and every sermon that you hear, to the same standard.[1]

Father, we echo the words of Newton. I certainly long that this may be the case. We want, in a way that is quite remarkable and beyond, really, our ability to understand, let alone create, that beyond the voice of a mere man, we find that in the songs we’ve been singing and in the thoughts that we have been thinking that this same Lord Jesus Christ who rode into Jerusalem on that morning comes by the Holy Spirit to ride into our experience. Oh, grant that it might be so, and that our cry may be the sincere cry of “Hosanna! O Lord, save us! Help us.” For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, at a time of great uncertainty—and it is a great time of great uncertainty—we do what we always do, and that is we go to our Bibles. We turn to the Bible as the source of endurance and of encouragement and of hope. And the passage that we have read from the Gospel of Luke is familiar material, and it is recorded, actually, in each of the Gospels—at a slightly different vantage point in John, but nevertheless, each of the Gospel writers turn our gaze to this particular incident. And understandably, because while we may not read this in the press or find it on the internet, what we actually are confronting here is a crucial day in the most momentous week in the history of the entire world.  It’s not uncommon these days to hear people saying, “Well, we’ve never experienced anything like this before.” And, of course, that is absolutely true. But nothing that we know now compares to the wonder of what took place on that day.

And here in three scenes in this particular section of Luke, in these three scenes, we look, as it were—to use a phrase coined by some theologians of the past—we look into the human face of God. Into the human face of God. It’s not uncommon for children to say, “But Papa, what is God like?” or “How would I know God?” Even our friends may be saying the same thing to us: “Well, who is this God, and what kind of God?” And you will remember, perhaps, that John records for us the incident when Philip addressed Jesus with that very issue. And Jesus said to him—having asked that the Lord would show him the Father—Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and [still you] do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”[2] And when Paul writes to the Colossians, he describes Christ as the visible expression of God.[3]

Now, it is in light of that that we look at these three very straightforward scenes that are recorded for us. And let’s remember that this is taking place in the last week of Jesus’ life. Let’s also affirm the fact that we’re dealing here with real history and with real geography. We’re not delving into the realm of fables, but we’re dealing with facts. And if you perhaps have not of late been reading the Gospels or even been considering these things, when you turn to the Gospel writers, you will discover that they are not presenting us with ideas to accept or even with a philosophy to embrace, but they are presenting us with facts, with events that took place in real time.  And Luke, when he begins his Gospel, is very clear concerning this. He tells us at the very outset of what he writes that he had been in touch with the eyewitnesses who had given him the material in order that he could “write an orderly account,” so that, he says, Theophilus—who is the focus of this letter—that he might “have certainty concerning the things” that have happened.[4]

Now, this is of vital importance, and this distinguishes Christianity from many other spheres of philosophy and religion in the world. We are not saved by believing a certain point of view. People will often say to us, “But that is surely just your point of view.” Well, it is our point of view, but we are not saved by believing a certain point of view. Our salvation is found in certain things that happened: that Christ was born, that Christ died for sin, that Christ triumphed over the grave, that Christ ascended to heaven, that Christ will return. And the best of our poets and our hymn writers have fastened this in our thinking, many of us from our infancy. It’s often viewed sentimentally, but the verse is good, and it is a helpful reminder: “On a hill far away”— geography—

                           stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And it was on that old cross that God’s dearly loved Son
For a world of lost sinners was slain.[5]

And the events preceding that day are recorded for us here by Luke. Now, we can just look at them briefly. If we stayed with each one, we could spend the whole time in each incident, but we’ll take them as briefly as we can and follow along.

The King Riding on a Donkey

The first incident is recorded between verse 28 and 40, where we see Jesus riding on a donkey. Riding on a donkey.

There’s a tremendous amount that is going on in this scene. And incidentally, having mentioned that all the Gospel writers record this particular incident, it will be good for you, after our study is finished, to go and find pieces that perhaps I’ve made mention of that are not immediately apparent in Luke, and that will be because I hope you can find them in one of the other Gospels. For example, it is in John’s Gospel that John tells us that Jesus’ disciples did not actually understand what was going on here. That may be a surprise to us, but it is true. It was only after the event of the resurrection—after Jesus was glorified, John tells us—that they were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and realize the extent of the event in which they found themselves caught up.[6]

The crowds had been swelling, because—again, according to John—they had seen a dead man walking. Lazarus had been raised from the grave, and on account of that, there was a tremendous interest not only in Lazarus himself but also in the one who had performed this great miracle. And so it was that many who were part of this crowd on this day had been present for what we might refer to as a succession of partially understood surprises. They had seen things happen that they had never before considered. And their songs were filled with expectation. They were singing from the Psalms: “Blessed is the King who comes. Hosanna to the Son of David!”[7] And so, if we were seeking to summarize it, we would say that the whole event was filled with acclamation. And yet, privately and very unkindly, with the indignation and frustration of the Pharisees and religious leaders, and with the question—really, the question of the ages—when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, Matthew records, “the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’”[8] “Who is this?”

And that, you see, when we come to these high points in the Christian calendar, is the question that is inevitably raised. It may have been raised in your mind. You may have never given consideration to it up until this week. It may be that the events of this week have conspired to make you think along lines that have not been customary for you. And I’m glad that if I have you within earshot, you can consider this with me.

You see, because Jesus here is making a deliberate statement. Jesus, we’re told earlier in the Gospel, has set his face steadfastly towards Jerusalem. Jesus realizes that he is fulfilling the prophecy that had been made all these hundreds of years before, in Zechariah: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, … mounted on a donkey.’”[9] On a donkey!

Now, G. K. Chesterton has a wonderful poem on the donkey, which I won’t read all of it, but this is just a verse from it, describing the donkey:

With monstrous head and sickening cry
 And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
 On all four-footed things.[10]

In other words, this is a strange creature, and it is a strange creature upon which a king would ride. And what is very important to realize is that nowhere else in the entire Scripture do we read of Jesus riding. This is the only place where he rides. When we confront Jesus, we do not find Jesus shouting aloud in the streets, drawing attention to himself, but here in this deliberate statement, he presents himself as the King on a donkey, gentle and lowly in heart.[11] Now, that ought to be enough to cause us to sit down and chew on it for a while. What kind of king arrives on a donkey and then proceeds to wear a crown of thorns?  “Ride on! ride on in majesty! in lowly pomp ride on to die.”[12]

So what we’re introduced to is a King who is almighty and powerful. Now, whether you want to make the events of the securing of the colt into a miracle or whether you want to understand it as I think I do, as a prearranged plan with a password being given, so that when the question was asked—in much the same way that you have when you are making a new online commitment to someplace, they ask you for your security question. And I think what you have, really, here is the security question. They were going to ask, “Why are you untying the colt?” And the password was “The Lord has need of it.” Well, of course, he was the Lord, and he did have need of it, and no one had ever ridden on this colt. That in itself is quite remarkable. I don’t know much about horses, certainly not about donkeys, but I do know this: that an unbroken colt is not the kind of thing that you want just to sit on, and certainly without a saddle. And so this powerful King, under whose rule and reign are the created things, sits on—powerful and yet approachable, gentle.

It is first in knowing peace with God that we discover the peace of God. And the peace with God has been granted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Zacchaeus had already, as he came through Jericho, found him to be just that. The religious people had turned their backs on Zacchaeus. He didn’t fit their program. He didn’t meet their standards. He certainly didn’t meet God’s standards. But he found in Jesus an approachable King,[13] and he would have been happy to say, “You are the sinner’s friend, so I your friendship claim.”

Now, for some in the crowd, their enthusiasm was short-lived because they’d been hoping for a conquering nationalist hero. And Jesus just did not meet their expectations. And indeed, the Pharisees themselves were embarrassed and annoyed at the sound of praise that was rising in the ears of Jesus.

The King riding on a donkey.

The King Weeping over the City

And then, in verses 41–44, the King weeping over the city. Weeping over the city. So we move, if you like, from God on a donkey to God in tears.

Now, why is it that he weeps over the city? I think it is for two reasons: first of all, because of the love that fills him, and then on account of the judgment that awaits them. Because of the love that fills him, because of the judgment that awaits them.

It wasn’t that these people were disinterested in peace. They longed for peace. But they thought that it would come militarily, that it would come politically, that somehow or another there would be structures put in place that would make it possible for them to be triumphant over those who had opposed them and so on—understandable designs and desires, and yet not the plan of God. And some of us today are looking for peace in a similar kind of way. But we’ve never considered what Jesus says concerning peace and what it means to know this peace.

And you see, what has happened is that they have resisted all of the message that they have received, and they have rejected the messenger who comes. The pathway to peace has been made known to them. Jerusalem is a city loved by Jesus. But they, having been the beneficiaries of the stories that he has told and of the miracles that he has performed, are blind to it. And it is on account of their ignorance and their blindness that Jesus weeps. “Would that … even you”—we might add, “of all people”—“would that you … had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Now, you see, this is not peculiar to the circumstances in Jerusalem. This is actually the predicament of humanity. This is the dispeace that pervades individual hearts and families and lives and communities and nations—that he who is the Prince of Peace is the only one in whom this peace may be discovered; that he who comes to rule and to reign as a King comes also as a prophet to speak into our ignorance and to our blindness. When Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 4, he makes this point very straightforwardly. He says, “This is your circumstance: outside of Jesus, you were darkened in your understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in you due to the hardness of heart.”[14]

You see, people think of sin almost inevitably in terms of things that we do or things that we haven’t done that we should do. But in actual fact, sin is a condition before it is an action.  And one of the pictures that the Bible uses of our predicament as sinners is blindness. It is sin that blinds us to the fact that we are at enmity with God. It is sin that blinds us to our need of peace with God. It is sin that blinds us to the provision that has been made for peace in Jesus.

Now, you don’t have to scramble to think of this. Perhaps listen to yourself speak someday, or perhaps listen to a colleague with whom you may have been considering these things, and you’ll hear them say things: “Well, I just don’t get it. I just don’t see it. I don’t understand why you would say such things.”

Well, you see, what the Bible says is that the darkness is not as a result of the absence of evidence that may be considered—“The heavens declare the glory of God”[15]—but the darkness is actually on the inside; that we are blind, that we suppress the truth,[16] and we repress its impact on our minds and our wills and on our emotions. And as a result of that, we do not know God. And as a result of that, knowing peace with God is the great heart of the Scriptures.

I don’t doubt that there’s not a person within earshot right now who has not been thinking this week about peace: “If only I could find peace, if I could find a measure of peace.” Some of us have been unsettled by the reality of the prospect of imminent death. And in the night hours, our conscience has stirred, and we say to ourselves, “If only I could have peace—for all those things that I’ve done, for all the things that I have left undone. If only I could cast a veil over my past. If only it were possible for me to find peace in this moment, in this present predicament. If only I could look out to the future and discover peace. If I could find it, if I could have it, I would go for it.” Well, here’s what the Bible says: it is first in knowing peace with God that we discover the peace of God. And the peace with God has been granted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Now, when we look at this, we actually look at ourselves. What Jesus is saying to these people here is, “Listen, you did not know the time of your visitation.” It may seem like a strange thing to say. But what he’s pointing out is this: the tragedy of those in whose company he now finds himself is simply this, that God has come and visited them, has given to them the message of the prophets, has given to them the signs of God’s wonder in the works and in the words of Jesus, and yet they are blind to it all. And as a result of that, you have this amazing picture: that God weeps. I don’t think we should see this as somebody reaching for a little hankie and dabbing his eyes. No, can you see him in your mind’s eye? A great seething, sobbing carpenter. And why? Because God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.[17]

You see, the warning of a coming judgment—a judgment that was actually brought upon them in AD 70; history again records this—the warning of this coming judgment: “Listen,” he says. “The reason you are where you are is because you did not know the time of your visitation. If you had only known!” Now, that’s not an uncommon phrase. People say, “Well, if I’d only known, I would never have bought that. If I’d only known, I would never have moved there. If I’d only known, I would never have married her.” What a tragedy to end in eternity saying, “If I had only known”! And so the Bible is given to us here on this Palm Sunday in order that we might know. And the warning of a judgment that comes falls from the lips of one whose eyes are filled with tears—the same Jesus who, looking on Jerusalem, said, “How often would I have gathered you like a hen with her young, but you would not come to me.”[18] So the severity of God’s judgment must be understood in light of the reality of God’s love. 

The King Cleanses the Temple

That brings us, then, to the third and final scene: from the riding into Jerusalem and the way in which he weeps over Jerusalem, and then the way in which he enters to cleanse the temple of Jerusalem.

Now, Luke, who says in his introduction that his plan was to give an orderly account, really does a masterful job of meeting his own expectations. Because when we arrive here, we really are right back at the beginning of the Gospel record. And when you go back to the early chapters of Luke, you realize that we are introduced to Jesus in the temple when Simeon takes him in his arms and declares the wonder of God’s salvation.[19] In that same chapter, the record fast-forwards to Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy. And as his earthly parents come to find him, they find him seated in the temple in conversation with the religious leaders. And, you remember, on that occasion he says to them, “I’m not sure just exactly why it is that you are as distressed as you are. Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[20]

And the temple in Jerusalem represented the place where God meets with his people. And what Jesus is describing here is a circumstance that is so far removed from the intentions of God that it is inevitable that he as the great Priest should clean the place up. He knew the Old Testament. He knew Isaiah 56:7; he knew that God had said through his prophet, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all [the] peoples.”

The same humanity that allows Christ to look over Jerusalem and weep is the same humanity which causes him to cleanse the temple. Never forget that the whip is held in the hands of a Savior with tears in his eyes.

He also knew the prophecy of Jeremiah. And it is the combined understanding of these things that allows Jesus to speak as he does. So that in Jeremiah—and you can read this on your own—in Jeremiah chapter 7, and then later on, you have this word of warning concerning the fact that “I have made for you a place in which you are going to meet and make your offerings and confer with me.” And then he says, “But are you going to trust in deceptive words? Are you going to treat the place as if the building was the issue: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’? Please,” he says, “do not trust in deceptive words to no avail. Do not do all these wrong things, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations.”[21] And then here’s the question. Jeremiah 7:11—and Jesus knew this: “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”[22] So Jesus as the Lord of salvation, as the King, as the Prophet, as the Priest, reaches back to the Scriptures that would be familiar to these people, and he quotes them.

The folks who had been indignant at the praise that Jesus was receiving are the same folks who are now presiding over this irreligious bazaar. The details of it are so well known we needn’t rehearse them. They were changing money to an extortionate profit. They were making the people’s offerings of creatures regarded as unacceptable in order that they might give to them “acceptable” offerings and to give them at a very inordinate price. And all of this has been going on—filled up with animals, and filled up with tables and chairs, and far removed from what God had intended for his place to be.

And John actually says that Jesus made a whip out of cords.[23] And this is one of the passages of the Bible that people throw up to me all the time, perhaps to you as well: “Well, how could we ever believe in a Jesus who took a whip?” and so on. Well, we shouldn’t for a moment imagine that he’s whipping the people. He’s a sensible man. He realizes you’re not gonna be able to move big beasts out of the temple precincts by just having a conversation with them: “Now, come along, Mrs. Moo, let’s have you move along.” No, no, no. Christ in his humanity, in the same humanity that loved going to Bethany to be with his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus, the same humanity that allows him to look over Jerusalem and weep, is the same humanity which causes him to deal with these circumstances. Never forget that the whip is held in the hands of a Savior with tears in his eyes. 

Well, those are the scenes, and I leave them to you: God riding on a donkey, God weeping over Jerusalem, God cleansing the place of his appointment with his people.

You see, actually, what is happening here… I wonder, even, did Jesus, on this occasion in the court, look across into the temple? Did he look across and see the curtain that was there, knowing in his mind that within a matter of days, that curtain would be torn from top to bottom[24]—that eventually this temple structure would crumble and be destroyed, and one day the dwelling of God would be in the presence of he who is the King?

But what do you want to do with this? You’ve got to settle this for yourself, as I do. You’re sensible people. You read the Bible. Are you prepared to consider that what we’re dealing with here is history, we’re dealing with facts? Have you looked at the identity of Jesus? Have you considered him as he has made himself known in his words and in his works? Do you understand the tragedy that is here, represented in this moment? And it is a tragedy which carries forward into today. Because when you and I resist the day of God’s visitation, there is nothing left for us but ultimate disaster. 

You see, Christ looks at this tragedy and he weeps. Of all the things that these days may be, surely it would be not wrong for any one of us to suggest that this may prove to be for the nations of the world a day of God’s visitation—in other words, a day and a moment of opportunity when the King comes riding in, where he weeps on account of the extent of his love and the tragedy of our rebellion, when he bids us come to him. Because he loves, he cares, he invites:

“Come unto me, ye weary. …
And whosoever cometh
I will not cast him out.”
O patient love of Jesus,
Which drives away our doubt,
Which calls us, very sinners,
Unworthy though we be
Of love so free and boundless
To come, dear Lord, to thee.[25]

That’s the invitation.

And in another hymn—and with this I close—here is the expression of the person who has responded to that invitation, the invitation of a humble and an approachable King: “Come to me, all you who are weary, heavy laden, burdened down with COVID-19, burdened down with your past, your present, your future, your concerns, your sins, your rebellions, your disappointments, your heartaches. Come to me. Come to me.” And here is the testimony of the one who has come:

I was blinded by my sin.
Had no ears to hear your voice,
Did not know your love within,
Had no taste for heaven’s joys.
Then your Spirit gave me life,
Opened up your Word to me
Through the gospel of your Son
Gave me endless hope and peace.[26]

Will you not sing that first song now, from a heart of childlike trust and believing faith, in order that on another day you may be able to sing the second song?

Well, gracious God, we thank you that the events that we consider took place, that our study of the Bible is the study of historical data. We thank you too that it is rational—that there’s no sense in which we are asked to somehow or another take some great gigantic leap into oblivion, but rather that our minds matter, that the truth is presented in a way that causes us to ponder and to consider and to determine whether we are going to, on this day of visitation, believe and to trust, or resist and refuse in our blindness. And we thank you too that this material is also empirical, inasmuch as it may be put to the test. O God, grant that there will be many of us today, on this Palm Sunday, who from our hearts say with the swelling crowd, “Hosanna! Oh, save me! Save me now, Lord Jesus.” Amen.


[1] “Of a Living and a Dead Faith,” in The Works of John Newton (1820; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 2:558.

[2] John 14:9 (ESV).

[3] See Colossians 1:15.

[4] Luke 1:3–4 (ESV).

[5] George Bennard, “The Old Rugged Cross” (1913). Lyrics lightly altered.

[6] See John 12:16.

[7] See Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9–10; John 12:13. See also Psalm 118:25–26.

[8] Matthew 21:10 (ESV).

[9] Matthew 21:4–5 (ESV). See also Zechariah 9:9.

[10] G. K. Chesterton, “The Donkey” (1927).

[11] See Matthew 11:29.

[12] Henry H. Milman, “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” (1820).

[13] See Luke 19:1–10.

[14] Ephesians 4:18 (paraphrased).

[15] Psalm 19:1 (ESV).

[16] See Romans 1:18.

[17] See John 3:16.

[18] Luke 13:34 (paraphrased).

[19] See Luke 2:25–35.

[20] See Luke 2:46–49.

[21] Jeremiah 7:1–10 (paraphrased).

[22] Jeremiah 7:11 (ESV).

[23] See John 2:15.

[24] See Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45.

[25] William C. Dix, “Come unto Me, Ye Weary” (1867).

[26] Bob Kauflin, “O Great God” (2006), based on the Valley of Vision prayer “Regeneration.”

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.