It was almost 2000 years ago this day that Christ entered Jerusalem. Though possibly calm for the day, the triumphal entry portrayed in Mark 11 and Luke 19 would eclipse most anything we would see today in America. It was the beginning of the final week that Christ would live before his crucifixion and resurrection. And the picture is incredible.
Two disciples, following Jesus’ command, had gotten a donkey that its owners had tied. They brought it to Jesus and put their coats upon it. Then they hoisted Jesus upon this donkey as he rode into Jerusalem as a king.
We may have seen people rolling out red carpet for some star to walk on it, but what these followers did makes that look like nothing in comparison. At first, they were taking palm branches and lying them on the ground in front of the donkey. Then, however, they began to take off their garments and put them on the road in front of the donkey. A red carpet can be rented, but these people were shedding their own garments in order that that not even the feet of the donkey upon which He was riding would touch the ground.
Amid this incredible sight, they were chanting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD; blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10) Now if one understands Old Testament history, then one understands what a high praise this was. For in 2 Samuel 7:12-13 God had told David, “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Now, yes, in some sense, Solomon was the immediate fulfillment of some of the covenant. He did reign after David and he was the one who built the temple. However, I don’t think anyone assumed Solomon would reign forever over an everlasting kingdom. Therefore they were waiting for another to come along: “The King of the Jews,” the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of David. Though they did not necessarily know it, they were waiting for Jesus.
Therefore, when the people say, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” They obviously believed that this descendant of David had come. They were entering into Jerusalem chanting these things and worshipping with such acts because they thought they were ushering in the new king of Israel. They thought Christ would come in and rule in great power while he was there. They wanted to be there supporting the king.
However, at the end of that week their king had been crucified. The one they thought had all the answers sat silently as men mocked, beat, spit on, and killed him. Their hopes all came to a halt as Christ seemingly showed himself to be their greatest disappointment in life.
I hope that sinks you into the thoughts of the men on the road to Emmaus. Remember their words to the resurrected Christ when they did not know who he was? “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days? … The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:18-21).
The question I want to ask this morning is “Why did the King (for that’s what he was) have to die?” Why did Jesus have to be crucified? I mean, He is God and, it would seem, could do anything he wanted. Why couldn’t the events have unfolded the way the Israelites thought they were going to, with Him marching into Jerusalem and establishing His eternal throne?
I want to answer that question by looking to the book of Leviticus and something known as the Year of Jubilee. Then I want to bring us back to the New Testament and try to more define our answer. Possibly it will give us a taste of the importance of Biblical Theology as opposed to simply Old or New Testament Theology.
In Leviticus 25 God establishes a year in which the principles by which the world seems to be governed are defied. He calls this year the Year of Jubilee. In this year, anyone who was in debt or had sold their property was given back what they had forfeited. Also, all the slaves were released. I'll point out the details throughout the passage.
Let’s look at this first in verses 25-28. (above)
In essence, the rule is that if a man gets in financial trouble and poverty and is forced to sell his land, then you must let him or his relative purchase it back for him. Now, this sounds decently graceful. I mean I get the land and you get it back when you can pay to get it back. We see grace because the new landowner should not necessarily have to sell back land. It is rightfully his.
However, look at verse 28: “But if he has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of jubilee; but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property.” Now the picture of grace is pushed to the extreme of not even seeming fair isn’t it? It all sounds right until the word “until.” Then the verse takes an absurd turn. Even if the guy cannot pay back the money, the verse says, the landowner must give it back in the year of jubilee. The debt must simply be forgiven without the impoverished man ever making recompense.
Now look at verses 39-43. (above)
The situation and rule of this case is similar. You have a man who has become poor and consequently sells himself to another to be his slave. If mean, none of us likes the slavery idea, but the flow of the passage is logical. And, it should be noted that the man volunteered, selling himself into slavery.
The text says, “You shall not subject him to a slave’s service.” And there is a piece of grace. Though he has sold himself as a slave, the command of the Lord is that one should treat him as a hired worker. And we feel good about this. However, look at the end of verse 40 and then verse 41. He shall serve until the year of jubilee and then he is free to go. One must set his slaves which he purchased (and was even treating as hired men) free in the year of jubilee. It does not matter apparently whether the man has worked off what you paid for him or not.
Finally, look at verses 47-55. (above)
In this passage you have a similar situation with a stranger. And once again, the owner is not only to treat the individual as a hired worker but, even if he is not redeemed, “he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him.” And once again, we see grace like we have rarely seen it before.
Well, what’s the problem with such a situation? For the ones who are forgiven, nothing is the matter. However, for the ones who must forfeit their purchased land or hired worker, I am sure they would get pretty upset when this year of jubilee came around. They might think, “Sure, this idea of grace is a good one, but there is still a debt to be paid.”
God’s answer to such a statement is found in verses 42 and 55. In verse 42 the Lord gives a basis for His actions, “For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt” and “For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
God says that the people belong to them. He is the one who purchased them. He owns them. Therefore, He is free to give grace to them. To the man who asks, “Who is going to pay for this slaves life?” God answers, “I already have.”
See, God is just. If he had simply tried to come in and show grace without paying for it, He would have gone against His justice. It would be like an outsider coming into a courtroom where a man is being tried for vandalizing another’s car and saying, “It’s okay, let him go without any payment for his crime. I forgive him.” If the judge agreed, everyone would cry, "That’s not just!”
Sure, mercy is nice someone might agree, but there must be some payment for grace to be shown.
Are we starting to see a little more clearly why Christ did not simply come in and establish Himself as King but instead went to the cross? Yes, God wanted to justify man of his sin, but He also had to remain just. Such was the case in Leviticus and such is the case with us. Let’s look at the New Testament to drive the point home.
Romans 3:21-26: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Now there is much that could be exposited from this text, but I simply want to point out some connections with this text and the idea of the text we just read from Leviticus.
1) Like the Israelite slaves, we are slaves. We are were supposed to live our lives to the glory of God, but we have failed in that standard and are consequently indebted to God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
2) God has shown grace to justify His people and free them from the shackles of sin. “Being justified as a gift by His grace…”
3) There was a price paid that we may go free. He bought us back and took us as His own. This is the idea of redemption. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
Verse 25 shows us how Christ was the redemption for man. The debt that had to be paid was the debt to God. God had called for a standard of perfect holiness reflecting His glory, and man had failed in living up to it. In doing so, God’s justice called for wrath to be poured out. That was the captivity that men were in as sinners. We were held captive by the wrath of God. Christ, however, redeemed us, running into the courtroom, as it were, and volunteering Himself as payment for the justification that we may go free. God did not simply show grace without payment for sin. He sent His son to be payment for sin.
God then poured out this wrath on His Son and Christ appeased the wrath of God toward all those who would believe. That is what propitiation means in verse 25. Christ was our propitiation. He was that which bore the wrath of God in order that God may in turn show grace to man.
We ask, “Why did Jesus not just march into Jerusalem on this day almost 2000 years ago and simply declare His people forgiven and claim Himself as their King?" Because God is just. Romans 3:26 says God sent His Son to die, “For the demonstration … of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Jesus had to die a horrible death on that cross near the end of that week because God wanted to justify His people, and yet He still had to remain just.
On the cross is the collision of the justice and the grace of God. Only in such an act could God justify His people while remaining just. O the wisdom of God, of which there is nothing like!
“God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath … Christ [dealt] with the wrath that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure.” - John Murray
This week, and the rest of our lives, may we find ourselves pondering on the beauty of the cross. For it was in that, that our God displayed grace and redemption, wrath and mercy, justice and jubilee.