Introduction & Day 1
‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’ About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
The week that changed the world
For Christians, the events that are covered in the final chapters of each of the four Gospel accounts of the life of Christ are the centre point of history.
And not just for Christians. If what Luke, Matthew, Mark and John describe actually took place, then these events are the pivotal point of history for us all. For they present the world’s ultimate and only hope. They present God’s resounding yesto the world’s no. They present the only basis for full and free forgiveness in a moral universe. They present the only answer to the reality and fear of death that holds us all in bondage. They present an eternal basis for human value and personal meaning.
It is little wonder then that the Gospel writers devote such a large percentage of their writing to these key events: Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem as the Messiah, his rejection at the hands of the authorities, his trials and judicial murder, his resurrection from the dead, his commissioning of his disciples to bring the message of resurrection to the world and his ascension into heaven.
As with the opening book in this series, The Arrival, my purpose in these daily readings is to focus first of all on thefactsas Luke sets them out for a certain Theophilus (see Luke 1:1-4). In my experience of interacting with others on this topic, the details of these history-changing events often get lost and leave only headlines behind. It is a short step from being left with the headlines to being left with nothing. Individual and collective memories often need reinforced. (I know mine does!)
Secondly, my purpose is to highlight how Luke has arranged his material to guide us in understanding its meaning. One benefit of having four separate accounts of these events is that each author can bring out different emphases and different perspectives. While Luke’s account is similar in many ways to the others, and especially to Matthew and Mark, he also differs from them and on occasions, without contradicting them, he differs quite significantly. So as before I have supplied some thoughts which are very far from being a commentary but which I hope will be of help as you reflect on Luke’s words.
The title The Departureis taken from the English (NIV) translation of Luke, which I have used throughout. The word occurs in chapter 9 in Luke’s description of what is known as The Transfiguration, a dramatic event which Luke places at the climax of the first half of his account of the life of Christ.
Jesus had previously made this promise to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God”.One week later, he fulfilled this promise when he took three of his disciples – Peter, James and John – up a mountain to pray.
AsJesus indicated, the normal way to see the eternal reality of God’s kingdom is through death. No one, five minutes after death, will have any doubts as to the reality of that kingdom. But on this occasion, before they tasted death, Jesus deliberately chose to pull back the veil that divides the seen world from the unseen, and provide his disciples an unforgettable glimpse of the eternal world. As he prayed, his appearance was dramatically transformed, becoming so glorious that the three disciples were psychologically overwhelmed to the point of falling asleep.
During those moments, Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah. We can only imagine the power involved in bringing these two men across time and space to be on the mountain that day. While Matthew and Mark also record the event, it is only Luke who tells us the topic of their conversation: Christ’s departure (orexodus), which he was going to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Just as Jesus had come into the world as a fact of real history, so he was going to go out of this world. It was to be an exodus, not merely a death. It was to be something he would accomplish, not something that would happen to him that was beyond his control. And it was to take place in Jerusalem.
This sets the theme for the second half of Luke’s account. Up to this point the emphasis has been on Christ’s coming into the world, with a particular focus on his identity, his claims and the evidence of his teaching, living and miraculous actions that explained and illustrated what he came into the world to do. From this point on the focus shifts to Christ’s departure from the world: how it would be accomplished and what its implications would be both for those who accepted him and those who rejected him.
The turning point comes when Luke writes, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” His narrative from this point is marked by references to this journey. For example, at 10:38 we read,“Now as they went on their way…”.On their way where? On their way to Jerusalem. Again at 13:22,“He went on this way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem.”
Christ’s resolve to go to Jerusalem was met with rejection from the very start. The first incident Luke provides in this second half recounts how a Samaritan village, when they realised where Jesus was headed, refused to welcome him. This was a harbinger of what would happen on a much larger and more sinister scale when he finally reached Jerusalem.
The disciples were incensed by this rejection. But Jesus rebuked their anger and they moved elsewhere. The disciples would need to get used to the reality that they were following a king who would ultimately be rejected not just in a Samaritan village but in the nation’s capital.
They also needed to grasp that Jerusalem itself was not the goal, just the point of departure. For Jesus was going to be received by heaven itself. He came into this temporary earth from the eternal reality of God’s kingdom. He was going to depart from this earth, through his death, resurrection and ascension to be welcomed into that eternal world once more.
Zechariah celebrated the coming of the “rising sun… from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and the shadow of death.” Death casts its shadow on all. And at Jerusalem Jesus would be rejected and killed. But that would not be the end. Jerusalem was not his final destination: being taken up into heaven was. And in that lies the world’s hope.
The implications of all this are truly staggering. And life changing. Join me on the journey through the tumultuous final week of Christ’s life on earth and see if you find these claims true.
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘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. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” say, “The Lord needs it.”’
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
Luke 19: 28 - 35
Jerusalem at last! Messiah, son of the Most High, heir to David’s throne, was finally approaching the royal city. He had been there before, of course, and not just as a boy. But this time was different. This time he was coming to Jerusalem as her rightful King.
Zechariah had prophesied that the true King would come to Jerusalem “lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus deliberately sent two disciples ahead to bring a donkey colt to him. There was to be no confusion in anyone’s mind as to what exactly Jesus was claiming as he approached the city.
The two disciples may have been a little hesitant about the instruction in the same way that you or I might hesitate over an instruction to take someone’s car! What if someone were to ask them what on earth they thought they were doing? “Simply reply”, said Jesus, “the Lord has need of it.”’ In case we miss the point, Luke repeats it. The Lord needs it. The ownerneeds it. This was the King, Messiah, Son of God. Ultimately, he owned everything and had the right to assert his ownership at any time.
We can only imagine the reaction as news of this incident spread in the corridors of power. Many would not have objected to Jesus’ presence as long as they could control him. After all, his teaching was superb, his power remarkable, his example inspiring. A role could surely be found for him. But to be theLord, whose purposes and requirements were paramount? To be theOwner? That was a different story. The Lord who asked for your donkey one day might ask for anything the next – your job, your time, your money, even life itself.
What is our attitude towards Jesus as ultimate Owner? As we think about that, we might think about the donkey that the Owner requested. Luke tells us that the donkey had never had anyone sitting on it before. Normally such donkeys are quite difficult to subdue for the purposes of riding. They need time, training, careful management and encouragement. Yet this donkey didn’t resist. It allowed the Creator of the universe to put his weight on it and direct it where he wanted.
What about us? We are used to thinking of ourselvesas owners of what we possess: our bodies as well as our money, our time, our abilities and our opportunities. This incident is a reality check, and not just for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. We have nothing that we were not given. The very oxygen in our bodies and in the atmosphere around us reminds us that we are utterly dependent on powers beyond our control. We did not create the world, God did. We did not invent the human body, God did. Moreover, for the Christian there is a deeper reality, as Paul reminds us: “you are not your own, you have been bought with a price.” We are doubly owned. Owned by the simple fact of being God’s creatures and owned because the Creator ‘bought’ us through his own death.
So, what if the Owner – our Owner - asked us to set aside our plans today for a special assignment he has in mind? What if he asked us to set aside how we were planning to spend our morning, so that we could take time with a neighbour, volunteer in the community, support an orphaned child or a lonely old person? What if he asked us to divert ‘our’ funds for the sake of the Gospel? What if he made it clear to us that the romantic relationship we currently are in is not honouring him? Do we listen to the inner voice that resents any outside interference? Or are we prepared to fight even with our own emotions to set Jesus Christ apart as Lord and Owner in our hearts?