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When the Lord entered Jerusalem in His triumphal entry, He was walking steadily toward a triumph that only He really understood. His followers knew that it was a triumph, certainly, but they did not yet know what kind of triumph it was going to be. The Lord was going to die on a cross, and that is why He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). And this is why, as Chesterton once observed, the cross can never be defeated. It can never be defeated because it is defeat.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37–39).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, and He is met by an enthusiastic crowd of disciples (Matt. 21:1-17). That entry culminated in the second cleansing of the Temple (vv. 12-17). Jesus had cleansed the Temple once before, at the very beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-17). Remember how in the Old Testament, the priest would inspect a leprous house two times before it was condemned (Lev. 14:39). Remember also that Jerusalem contained three main factions—the disciples of Christ, who knew and loved Him (Matt 21:9), the Jesus mobs who were greatly impressed by Him (Matt. 21:26, 46), and the establishment Jews who hated Him (Matt. 12:14).
After the triumphal entry, Jesus told a few parables (not to mention cursing the fig tree) that indicated the coming cataclysmic judgment on Jerusalem. Not only so, but in chapter 22, He has a series of doctrinal collisions with the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, again with pending judgment in view. And then in chapter 23, the Lord launches into an extended diatribe against the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, and that chapter concludes with our text. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often they killed prophets and stoned messengers sent to them! How often Christ wanted to gather the children of that fated city under His wings, but their leaders wouldn’t have it (v. 37). Their house is therefore left to them desolate (v. 38). But the one who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed (v. 39).
THE PROPHETIC VOCATION
We know that Jesus Christ is our prophet, our priest, and our king. Our purpose in this message is to consider His role as a prophet, the supreme prophet. Moses foretold the fact that a prophet like Moses would eventually arise (Dt. 18:15), and Jesus is that prophet. Because He is that prophet, He fulfills the prophetic vocation perfectly.
But what is that vocation? What is a prophet called to do? This is almost entirely neglected in our day, and when we do pay attention to it, we often understand just half of the prophet’s task. We think the prophet is supposed to denounce the sins of the people. But it is not nearly so simple.
We begin with shalom, with peace between God and His people. But tragically, second, the people become faithless, and they do so in two directions. They are faithless toward God in their worship (vertical) and as a result they grow faithless toward one another (horizontal). Then third, God gets angry with them. This happens because He is a jealous husband (vertical), and because He cares for the downtrodden and oppressed (horizontal). At the penultimate fourth stage, God’s righteous anger is poured out on the people. And last, God calms down, and balance is restored.
The prophet’s role is two-fold. When the people start to veer off, he is to warn them about the destructive path they are on. This is the part of the prophetic ministry that we understand. A prophet denounces the sins of the people. But when the people don’t turn away from sin in repentance, and God’s anger is aroused, the prophet’s calling is to turn back to Jehovah and demand that He turn away from His wrath.
The Hebrew word shuv means to turn. It refers to a change in behavior. The people are called to turn (shuv), and then God is called upon to turn (shuv). For those who understand who God is, this is audacity without boundaries. But this is what Abraham does (Gen. 18:22-25). This is what prophets do—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, this is their calling. This is what Jonah was so reluctant to do. Jonah’s problem, as the book bearing his name reveals, is that he was only taking up the first half of the office. And what does the king of Nineveh say?
“But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn (shuv) from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn (shuv) and relent (nhm), and turn away (shuv) from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:8–9, NKJV).
This is the pattern Moses follows. Look closely at this exchange between God and Moses. God says, “Let me at them . . .” “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Ex. 32:7). And how does Moses talk back? “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” (Ex. 32:11).
We need to remember these things. A prophetic ministry does not just argue with the people about God. There is also the audacious element, the one in which we argue with God about the people.
THE RECKONING AT GETHSEMANE
The prophets of old are all types of the coming one, some very clear types (Jeremiah), and others not so much (Jonah). But all of them establish the pattern and all are types. Jehovah wants a prophet to arise, and come before Him to do this.
“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Meon behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God” (Eze. 22:30–31, NKJV)
“Therefore He said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, to turn (shuv) away His wrath, lest He destroy them” (Psalm 106:23, NKJV)
Jesus is the one who turned back perfectly in order to stand in the gap, and in order to stand before His Father. And in doing this, He made the choice that led straight to our salvation.