“Do you know what time it is?” (Luke 19)

 “Do you know what time it is?”

It’s a question that I always associate with my mother telling me -indirectly- just how late it was.

(And, as Dr Seuss said:”How did it get so late so soon?”)

There’s a similar sense of foreboding over the Palm Sunday reading of Luke 19: 28-44 as if time is almost up. The contrast is sharpened between the light of praise associated with the king’s arrival and the dark of secret treachery and grim prophecy.

The passage begins with the curious gift of a colt “on which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” say, “The Lord needs it.” It’s as if things are shifting into a preset plan or a heightened sense of destiny and purpose.

But then as Jesus sits on the colt, this moment of mystery is forgotten in a rush of adrenaline.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” 

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’

40 ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ “

Once again (in Luke’s Gospel) the worship of the devout is brought into sharp contrast with the criticism of the unbelieving. The disciples are filled with joy at the memory of miracles but they sing songs about the coming of Messiah as recorded in both the Old Testament and at the birth of Jesus.

And then vv 41-44 recount Jesus’ grim prophecy over the city shows just how late the time really is:

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.’ “

The stones are either lifted up (or “crying out”) in worship or cast down in destruction, it seems. And Jesus pronounces judgment over the city in a complete destruction. Why? Because  they did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.

There are three groups of people in this picture:

  1.    The crowd of disciples who shout God’s praise
  2.    The religious leaders who oppose Jesus and criticise
  3.    The city’s inhabitants who are oblivious to all this.

Only the first group know what time it is (and even their understanding is sketchy, right now!).

The prophecy has various levels. It refers primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman troops in AD 70 (which lay some forty years in the future from the events of the narrative, of course). But even here, those with a keen eye to history and to hard political realities could foresee a collision of some sort between the irresistible force of Roman imperialism and the immovable object of Jewish intransigence.

The second level of the prophecy related to what God was doing with his Messiah at that moment in history, and those three responses of worship, doubt and indifference.

The third level of the prophecy relates to us and our response to what God is doing in our lives today. And the question is still the same: Do you recognise the time of God’s coming to you? “Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The consequence of recognition in v42 is described as “the things that make for peace …”  The Hebrew concept of peace is wrapped in the Hebrew word “Shalom.” It means: peace (from war), completeness, soundness, welfare, safety, health and prosperity.

But just what are “the things which make for peace”? In our day, this is a matter of great disagreement and heated debate. The “hawks” think that peace is obtained by might, by having sufficient arms to serve as a threat to any who would think of military aggression. The “doves” think that the absence of armament is the answer. In Israel, the belief was that Messiah would bring peace to the nation when He appeared. Thus, at the birth of the Lord Jesus the angels sang of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14).

But how was this peace to be accomplished? By and large, it would seem that the majority of people thought that this peace would be accomplished by a sword, and by force. They therefore supposed that when Messiah came, He would utilize military might, and that He would throw off the shackles of Rome. When Jesus wept because Jerusalem did not know what would bring about peace, He wept because He knew what lay ahead for this tricky, wrong-thinking nation. Instead of Messiah’s coming bringing about the demise of Rome, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah meant the destruction of Jerusalem, at the hand of Roman soldiers.

It was not by Messiah’s use of force and power, nor by the death of Messiah’s enemies that the kingdom was to be brought about, but by Messiah’s death, at the hand of His enemies. It was not triumph which would bring in the kingdom, but the tragedy (from a merely human viewpoint) of the cross.

God’s ways are never man’s ways.

But we see Jesus, fully understanding what time it is in God’s economy, and moving with conifdent assurance into what God is doing. He claims the right to man’s possessions  (vv 28-34), and the right to possess man’s praise and worship (vv 35-40), and third, to institute his kingdom in the way he sovereignly chooses, rather than by those power-plays which men might prefer.

And Messiah will come again to possess what is His, to receive man’s praise, and to bring about the kingdom in his own way. Such is the way of his cross.

It is for me and you to recognise the time of his coming and to do the thing that make for peace.

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