Sermon outline for Feb 15:
In the Robbers’ Den, Luke 19:1-48
After a long journey, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, and we learn that all along his goal has been the temple. He enters the city of the Great King as a king (19:37-38), and begins to drive out the moneychangers in the temple (vv. 45-46). Jesus’ arrival is the “time of visitation” for Jerusalem, but because Jerusalem refuses to accept her king the city will be destroyed (vv. 41-44).
“Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd . . . .” (Luke 19:1-48).
ZACCHAEUS, SON OF ABRAHAM
Two stories in this section of Luke are set in Jericho: Jesus heals the blind man on the road close to Jericho (18:35-43), and Jesus encounters the tax collector Zacchaeus. Two OT characters are in the background. Jesus’ Hebrew name is “Joshua,” and the last time a “Joshua” came through Jericho, he destroyed the city (Joshua 6) and threatened curses against anyone who would rebuild it (Joshua 6:26-27; 1 Kings 16:34). Later, the prophet Elisha, whose played “Joshua” to Eiljah’s “Moses,” came through the rebuilt Jericho and purified the waters (2 Kings 2:18-22), making the “city of Palms” (Judges 1:16) another Eden. Jesus’ “conquest” of Jericho is more like Elisha’s than like Joshua’s; He brings healing and salvation rather than destruction (but cf. Luke 19:41-44).
In the time of Joshua, Jericho was the home of Rahab the harlot, who converted to Yahweh and was incorporated into Israel (Joshua 2; 6:22-25). Though Zacchaeus was not a prostitute, he was, by Jewish standards, “in bed” with the Gentile Romans. Yet, as Rahab received the spies from Joshua, so Zacchaeus receives Jesus into His house (Luke 19:5-6). As always in Luke’s gospel, Zacchaeus’s repentance is shown in his use of wealth. He promises to pay restitution to everyone he has defrauded and to donate half of his property to the poor (v. 8). He does exactly what the ruler was unwilling to do (17:22-23); he is a camel that is brought through the eye of the needle (17:25).
TIME OF RECKONING
Jesus tells the parable of the “talents” while he is “near Jerusalem” and in response to people who “supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (v. 11). Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, accompanied by a multitude of disciples, has raised expectations about what He’s going to do. The parable, then, has something to do with Jesus’ teaching concerning the timing of the kingdom and of the coming of the Son of Man.
From one angle, this parable is the story of Israel. Yahweh had left Israel in charge of His goods, and promised to return to evaluate Israel’s performance (e.g., Malachi 3:1). Jesus is claiming that His arrival in Jerusalem is the arrival of Yahweh. In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry has been a performance assessment, and it is clear that Israel is not doing well.
More specifically, the story of the parable is the story of Jesus’ work. In the parable, Jesus is the “nobleman,” who goes “to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself” (v. 12) and then return (v. 14-15). That’s what will happen in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (cf. Daniel 7). The return that is mentioned in verses 14-15 is not Jesus’ return at the end of all history, but the reckoning that will take place in the “days of the Son of Man” (cf. 17:22-37). At that time, Jesus will assess whether His servants, His disciples, have been faithful in their use of the things committed to them. Those who are unfaithful will be cast out, and the many who do not want Jesus to reign over them (i.e., the Jews) will be slain in his presence (19:13, 27). Those who have been faithful in the things committed to them during the intervening period will receive even more ?Emore goods and also more responsibility.
THE KING’S ARRIVAL
When Jesus gets to the outskirts of Jerusalem, He deliberately sets up a scene that would be familiar to any well-informed Jew. Though we don’t think much of donkeys and mules, they were royal transportation in ancient Israel; Solomon was taken to his coronation on a mule that had belonged to David (1 Kings 1:33-44), and David’s sons all rode mules (2 Samuel 13:29). Kings who ride donkeys and mules are clearly not war-mongers, but they are kings nonetheless. Further, Jesus knew that Zechariah had prophesied of a king coming to Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). When Jesus arranged His entrance this way, He was symbolically declaring His kingship. He is the Greater Jehu, who rode over his followers’ garments into Samaria to destroy the temple of Baal (2 Kings 9:11-13; 10:18-28).
The symbolism was not lost on the disciples who have been following Jesus. They praise God for all the miracles Jesus has done, and praise Him as the king who comes to the royal city in the name of Yahweh (vv. 37-38). Jesus has been flouting Pharisaical customs throughout His life, and this incident, along with Jesus’ temple demonstration, is the last straw. The chief priests, scribes, and leading men decide that they must destroy Him (19:47).
DEN OF THIEVES
Why does Jesus drive out the people who sell in the temple? It is often said that He was angered because commerce was taking place in the temple or because the moneychangers were cheating. There is, however, virtually no evidence that temple commerce was dishonest, and the OT itself indicates that buying and selling in the area of the temple was legitimate. Israelites were allowed to convert their animal and vegetable tithes to cash, and to buy things for a feast at the central sanctuary (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). It was natural that booths for buying and selling animals would spring up around the temple.
The Deuteronomy passage helps us understand what Jesus is doing. By chasing out the sellers, Jesus makes it impossible for the Jews to carry out their sacrifices. When they can’t buy animals, they don’t have anything to bring to the altar. Throwing the furniture around (Matthew 21:12) sent the same message. Jesus is dramatizing what He has been warning about throughout His journey to Jerusalem, namely, that the Temple will be destroyed and sacrifices will cease forever. Flying tables and chairs is only a small taste of the destruction the Romans will cause (vv. 41-44).
Jesus’ words help to clarify what He’s doing. His charge that the temple is a “den of thieves” rather than a “house of prayer” is taken from Jeremiah’s temple sermon (Jeremiah 7:11; cf. Isaiah 56:7). In that passage, Jeremiah charges that Israelites would “steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal,” yet retreat to the temple and believe they were safe (Jeremiah 7:9-10). Jesus is saying the same thing about Herod’s (unfinished) temple: The Jews are treating the temple and its rituals like a magic charm; so long as they go through the motions they are safe, no matter how wicked they are once they leave the temple courts. They have made an idol of the temple, and Jesus, a Greater Gideon, throws down their idol.
CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
Why did Jesus visit Jericho?
Joshua and Elisha had visited Jericho before, and Jesus is the greater Joshua and the greater Elisha.
What does Jesus expect us to do with the gifts He gives us?
He expects us to put them to good use, so that they can increase.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
1. Zacchaeus climbs up a “fig-mulberry” tree to see Jesus (19:4). Look up “fig” in a concordance, and think about how this helps to explain Zacchaeus’s action.
2. Jesus enters Jerusalem as King. How does that context help to explain the way Jesus borrows the donkey He rides? (19:29-35).