Last Sunday, a proud father handed me these notes that his eight-year old daughter had taken during the sermon that morning:
She caught all the highlights of the message. And not a few of the asides, the “oh by the ways,” the throwaway lines that apparently find themselves into the ever churning brain of a bright eight-year-old girl.
And from the personalities in the sermon and the Scripture, she got it just right: I was a hippo and Luke is a genius.
Here’s a rough transcript of the sermon itself, though I’m sort of partial to the shorthand version above. It was all called Crying Stones, week three of our Journey Of Stones.
I think I was 4 or 5 when this happened but one day I pretended to be a hippopotamus. I only have a vague memory of this event but know it happened because it is part of our family lore. Anyway, I was walking around the house making hippo faces (DO), and one of my older sisters called our house. My mother picked up the phone, spoke for awhile and then asked me, “Would you like to speak with your sister?” So I answered matter-of-factly, “Hippopotamuses can’t talk.” So they can’t. And that moment and that answer was just one more building block in the realization that I was the cutest Davis kid ever.
But hippos can’t talk. And neither can rocks. Which makes today’s story from Luke 19 more than a little perplexing. And a little misleading.
Here’s the scene: it’s the beginning of the end. Jesus is preparing to enter the city of Jerusalem to start the last week of his life on earth. And I love 19:28:
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
because it is actually the bookend to something that began way back in 9:51:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
What he started resolutely ten chapters ago, he now brings to completion. And heading to Jerusalem is Luke’s way of saying he’s marching towards his death. That kind of detail lets you know that Luke is not just a great gospel writer but a literary genius as well. Even if you don’t believe anything in the story he tells, you can admire the way he tells it.
But look what happens in today’s story in 19:29-31:
As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
So two things he predicts: you’re gonna find a colt and someone’s gonna ask you why you need it. Colt & conversation. And so look what happens next:
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
It all happens exactly as Jesus has said: colt and conversation. Check, check. Tuck that away.
So Jesus next gets on this colt – a donkey, really – and rides into town. And people throw their cloaks on the colt and then on the road (19:35-36) as a way of saying, “Here is our king! We don’t want him dirtied by beast or by dust! This is our king!” King on a colt. And it continues this theme of something always being out of place in Luke’s gospel: the rich fool dies; the good neighbor is a Samaritan of all things; the Pharisee leaves the temple not justified while the sinner leaves it as justified. Something is always off balance, even upside down in Jesus’ story and Jesus’ world. And the shocking, unexpected image of a king making his grand entrance to town surrounded not by a conquering army or charging chariots is just another in that pattern. Maybe the most striking one.
And then those same followers who have cast the first – and second, and third – cloak upon Jesus begin to give voice to their feelings. Look at 19:38:
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!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
See, they know, they see, and they surrenderto the king who looks like anything but a king. He’s making his grand entrance in an off-center way, and they are glad he is there. Like when Santa Claus comes at the end of a Christmas parade, only this one is a lot better.
But then the city’s religious leaders do what religious leaders so often do: they shut the party down. Look at 19:39:
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
These people are too loud, too boisterous, and clearly having too much fun. And it’s up to us to remind them that religion is a somber affair! You’re supposed to endure it, not enjoy it! Makes me think of the church where the young people started clapping during the singing and a fellow pulls me aside and says with venom in his voice, “It sounds better without the clapping!” And I was like, “no it doesn’t!” Now: rebuking the people’s exuberance was really just a way of rejecting their claim. They reason they were TOO LOUD according to the religious leaders is that they were worshipping the WRONG KING. You can’t praise a guy riding a donkey!
And that rebuke / rejection leads to Jesus’ enigmatic words that form the heart of this story:
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
And if you read that like I do, you think, “But, like hippos, stones can’t talk!” I have never met the first talking stone. Pet rock, yes. Talking stone, no. So what is Jesus saying? Well, there certainly is a sense in which creation itself longs to be set free from its bondage and to acknowledge its king. Romans 8:22 says as much:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
But is this a story about the divinity of nature; a story for the Hindus? No. Others have said this section of Luke is all about praise and so we should launch from these words into a sermon or a teaching on how to praise God at full volume. Like you heard recently: pretty follows loud into the party. But again I say, probably not what the story is really, truly about.
Instead, I believe that in order to know what Jesus means when he says “even the stones will cry out” you’ve got to read the next section because it relates to and shines a light on everything that has come before it. Look at 19:41-44:
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 recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Now: the stones there in 19:44 let you know that this occurrence is somehow connected to those crying stones in 19:40. Stones here, stones there, and the similarity is not by accident. But here’s more: remember how earlier Jesus had said, “You’ll see a colt” and the colt happened? And then “you’ll have a conversation” and the conversation happened? The whole atmosphere of the story is that what Jesus speaks, happens. The world does what Jesus commands. And so here’s what you need to know from history as it reflects on Luke 19:41-44: it happened. About 35 years after Jesus uttered these words, IOW 70 AD, the epoch-making event known as the Destruction of Jerusalem happened. The Romans got tired of the various rebellions of the city, broke down the walls, destroyed the temple, and ransacked the city. All the Jews were dispersed – that’s ultimately how so many ended up in Germany and Poland in WW2!
Jesus says it, predicts it, it happens. He’s the king and he’s in charge. And why did Jerusalem gets ransacked in that way? Yikes . . . not pleasant: look at 19:44: READ. Because they did not recognize and did not acknowledge their rightful king. Oh, if you don’t pay attention – if you’re too busy or too prideful or too skeptical to acknowledge that off center Jesus as king, those stones that were crying stones become crushing stones. Calamity comes.
Because here’s one other thing that ties this whole story together with so much else in Scripture: there’s going to be another great entrance by Jesus. Another arrival. Only this one not peaceful, and not on a donkey. What does Revelation say? Not on the donkey of peace but the white horse of judgment. When don’t know when and we’re not sure how, BUT JESUS IS FOR SURE COMING BACK. When he returns he will be undisguised and it will be unmistakable and you know it is going to happen because he said it would. (Refs) Remember?! His record of making the things that he speaks come to pass is pretty good. So here’s what it all builds to, the crying stones, the crushing stones, the humble entrance and the grand entrance: Every person who has ever lived will acknowledge Jesus as King. Some will do it out of habit. Others out of regret.
The praises of the people who SEE this man as king . . . they are just a great foreshadow of the end of time when Jesus returns to judge the quick & the dead (Creed that day!). And because they have acknowledged him as king, heaven is simply a continuation of and rapid improvement upon what they were doing all along. But the others, the RELIGIOUS ONES! – because they were blinded or prideful or lazy or distracted during their time on earth – they will bow and acknowledge him out of sorry, full of regret and as part of everlasting judgment. It’s like Philippians 2:11 says: every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord . . . and we know for some of those knees and tongues it will be the first time they’ve done so and it will be part of their divine, eternal sentence. When he comes back, you will want to be in practice.
Because I want you to know that the wrath of God is just the other side of the love of God. It’s so funny – those people who really want to believe that everyone goes to heaven and that God won’t judge – well, no one wants to go there with Adolf Hitler. Or Osama Bin Laden. If heaven includes people like that, we don’t want to be there. So even the strongest “universalists” want the really “bad” people judged. But where’s the line?! JUST THE OTHER SIDE OF ME, RIGHT?! Oh, for God to be right and just and good, he must judge & punish sin, ranging from the horror of Hitler to that seeming harmlessness of your off color humor. Oh, I don’t want you to be crushed by the ways you rejected Jesus or ignored Jesus or more likely made Jesus into your homeboy instead of your king.
People wander around life with no real clue about the utter holiness of God. I came across this tribute to a pair of departed parents: . . .heaven: something for everyone!” No! It’s not! Heaven is not our domain; it’s his. And if you don’t acknowledge him as the king of the living and the dead, of heaven and of earth NOW, by HABIT, it will be by force and full of regret THEN. I know we’re headed to Easter, but this story of the crying stones turning in to crushing stones is an awful reminder of hell and of judgment and of the urgency to surrender your life to the king before it is too late. Hell is a place below all hope. Listen: if you doubt the reality of hell, gaze at the cross: (AV) That’s what it’s like. And that’s what it took. REFRAIN
Because I don’t want stones to crush you. I don’t want your oblivion and your distractions to haunt you. And church people can be the worst, the most smug. A young teen went to a Young Life camp a # of years ago, and as often happens at those, gave Jesus his life. It’s part of a ceremony they call “Say So”: around a campfire on the last night if you’ve come to faith you stand up and “say so.” Well this young man did, in great excitement, and then went home and the first person he told about his “Say So” was his pastor. You know the answer? “Oh that’s a bunch of nonsense. You’ve been baptized and confirmed already & you don’t need that other stuff.” Ugh! Hope stones didn’t crush the pastor!
Oh, let’s don’t be that preacher, that church. Let’s don’t have the sin of silence or silencING. I want you to sing, that’s fine, and sing loud, that’s great, but more than that I long for you to publicly, gladly move ownership of your life from you to Jesus. You exit the throne and put him on it. He gets off the colt and onto the throne chair. And the honor and acknowledgement and knee bowing and name saying you give him here will simply be continued into the next life for all time and all of eternity. And I don’t know what the details of the rez of the dead will be like, I just know it’s in the presence of Christ, so it will be good. A lot better than the alternative.