God’s Word for You
Luke 19:39-40 Palm Sunday praise
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 28, 2019
39 Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if they would be silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Most translations take the location of the Pharisees as we have it here, “from the crowd.” The Greek apo tou ochlou (ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου) is most probably “from” or “in” the crowd, but the Greek genitive case could also show that the Pharisees spoke “because of the crowd,” that is, on account of what the crowd was saying. The Pharisees showed on many occasions that they were carefully examining every word and action of Jesus. They didn’t like the crowds talking about Jesus as if he were the Messiah, and they didn’t like the crowds praising Jesus as if he were God. They realized what the words of the crowds really meant, but they expected that Jesus would silence them. Jesus had something very different to say: “If they would be silent, the very stones would cry out.”
In the prophets, the stones of Jerusalem are called on to pronounce God’s judgment on his sinning people: “You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it” (Habakkuk 2:11, NIV 1978). That was a threat of the law. Yet there is also a passage in Job that talks about the voice of stones. Job’s friend Eliphaz the Temanite, famous for his wisdom, invites Job to repent (he is incorrect about Job’s sin, but that’s another matter): “He (God) wounds, but he also binds up. He injures, but his hands also heal…. You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the beasts of the earth. For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you” (Job 5:18,22-23). This is the gospel. But can stones speak? Is the covenant the Temanite proposes merely an anthropomorphism of rocks being able to make a treaty with a man to let him plow his field and harvest his wheat without stony interference?
Jesus is not talking about stones as silent witnesses. I suppose there are those who would like to make Jesus’ words speak to the authority of archaeology as a witness to the source of Christianity. But archaeology merely confirms some facts of Scripture; it does not need to prove what is already true. We do not need the pen of Paul to know that he signed his epistles with a pen. He has already told us what he did (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Philemon 19). Nor is Jesus saying that the stones around them would testify later to the truth he was about to speak regarding the fall of Jerusalem (“They will not leave one stone on another,” Luke 19:44).
No, Jesus is saying that at last it was time for the Messianic Secret to come to an end. Earlier in his ministry, he commanded people not to tell anyone who he was (Luke 8:56, 9:21). But now? No one could keep the message from being proclaimed. Jesus is saying that if the crowds could actually be silenced—which he wasn’t going to do—then the words would still be proclaimed. If not by the people, then by the stones. If not by the stones? Perhaps the very donkey he was riding would say it, as a donkey had spoken once before (Numbers 22:28-30). It was the Lord who opened the donkey’s mouth to speak to Balaam. Could not the Lord give mouths to the stones to shout the praises of Jesus? If God can place eyes on hands, on wings, and even on the rims of wheels (Ezekiel 1:18; 10:12), he can miraculously give a mouth to a stone.
Here is also an answer to all idolatry. In paganism, a man “fashions a god and worships it; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me; you are my god” (Isaiah 44:15,17). King Ahab of Israel worshiped a sacred stone of Baal (2 Kings 3:2). But stones are part of God’s creation. Nothing made of stone is divine. The stones here in the Kidron Valley are prepared to proclaim the praises of Jesus Christ. “All the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5). Every element out of which man might fashion an idol is ultimately a thing that is in the service of the Almighty God, and is only perverted and twisted into its pagan form by the sins of men. So it is with any person. Mankind was made in the image of God in the beginning, and this was only lost through sin. Through Christ, we have the image of God back again, and anyone with faith in Christ has put off the distortions and filth of sin, no matter how terrible those sins might have been. We were dead as stones in our sin, but by the word of Jesus Christ, we are alive, living stones (1 Peter 2:5), made alive to sing his praises and to carry his message of salvation to all the world. So much for the stones.
What about the crowds? They showed with their words that they recognized Jesus as the long-expected Christ, the Messiah, their King. Jesus let them sing their praise, and by doing so he showed his agreement with what they were saying. His journey was in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “I have come to give rest to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:2). And listen to the judgment of Solomon: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11), “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver” (Proverbs 10:20), “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom” (Proverbs 10:31), and especially: “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse” (Proverbs 10:32). The words of the crowds were a fountain of life, choice silver, wise, fitting, and true. God had come to give rest to his people. This Palm Sunday praise was absolutely true, and our Palm Sunday praise will continue into eternity.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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