The Public Exaltation of Our Lord
March 19th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
THE PUBLIC EXALTATION OF OUR LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-19-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the sermon this morning is on The Public Exaltation of Our Lord. This is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It is a Sunday that celebrates the royal entry of the King of Kings into Jerusalem. Now the reading of the passage is in the twenty-first chapter of the First Gospel, Matthew chapter 21, “And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come unto Bethphage” [Matthew 21:1], that’s what it is in the Greek, “Beth-page,” most of our people pronounce it, just a little village on this side of the mountain:
. . . unto the Mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, Bethphage, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto Me.
And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spaken by the prophet—
Zechariah, in the ninth chapter—
Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set Jesus thereon.
And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way, others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way.
And the multitudes that went before, and the multitudes that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna! At first the word meant “saved”; it was a prayer to God, and then came to be an exclamation of praise and acceptance and glory. “And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” [Matthew 21:10-11].
Now all this happened in the springtime of the year. The city of Jerusalem is just about in the same latitude as our city of Dallas. And in Palestine, the winter rains are over and the whole country burst verdantly, carpeted with emerald; flowers that you didn’t know exist burst out of those arid acres. This is the Passover time of the year, Easter time. Passover was set in the full of the moon because when the slaves were taken out of Egypt in the journey to the Promised Land, they needed the light to walk by, to march by, so God set the Passover in the light of the moon.
And our Easter is set at the time of the Passover; the Passover is set the first Sunday after the full moon, after the vernal equinox. Or take it the other way: when we come to the vernal equinox—when night and day are the same—the first full moon, then the Easter after the first full moon. The light of the spring, when the light begins to flood the earth in the daytime, the king of lights, and in the evening the queen of lights, it is this time of the year.
Now in Palestine and converging on Jerusalem are thousands and thousands and literally hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. In reading Josephus, I remember one time when he referred to Jerusalem at the Passover season, at this season, as having as many as two million pilgrims present. It is unbelievable! The whole earth around the city is covered with a solid gathering of tents, some of them black, some of them white, some of them different colors.
Now it is at this season of the year that our Lord is doing something that He has never done before in all of His ministry. The throngs and the throngs and the throngs are gathered round. And coming into Jerusalem from the east, from the Jericho side, from the Jordan side, from the Mount of Olives side, from the Bethany side, were added thousands of people. They joined the throngs not only because of the Easter season, the Passover season, but they are also there because of Lazarus [John 12:9]. The raising of Lazarus from the dead, he who had been dead four days, whose body had begun to decompose, disintegrate in that climate—the raising of Lazarus from the dead was an astonishing miracle [John 11:39-44]. And thousands came to the little town of Bethany, not only to see the power of God in the Prophet of Galilee, but also to look upon Lazarus himself [John 12:9].
You get an idea of the multitudes and multitudes in the brief passage that I read, “And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way…and the multitudes that went before, and the multitudes that followed after” [Matthew 21:8-9], and the multitude said, “Who is this?” [Matthew 21:10]. The people who are gathered at this time of the year in and around Jerusalem number literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands.
Now in this our Lord is doing two things that He had never done before. One, it is interesting, just a side observation, He never did employ, He never did use an animal before. All through those long tedious journeys of His ministry in the days and years past, He walked. He always walked. But the most astonishing thing in this story is, this is prepared and purposed publicity, and not in all of the life of our Lord, not one time, not upon one occasion, not in one instance, did the Lord ever court favor, or publicity. Never! Yet here He is doing it grandly, magnificently, outspokenly, approvedly, receivedly; it is an astonishing turnabout in His life! [Matthew 21:6-9].
May I illustrate that? In one of the chapters of the Gospels, referring to the ministry, the quiet, humble ministry of our Lord, the author quotes the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. “My Servant shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall His voice be heard in the street. A bruised reed, a bruised reed, He would not break” [Isaiah 42:2-3; Matthew 12:19-20]. Not then, not that much effort. “A bruised reed He will not break, a smoking flax,” a candle, “a smoking flax, He would not quench” [Matthew 12:20]. The quiet, unobtrusive, humble, unadvertised, unpublicized ministry of our Lord.
His whole life was like that:
- For example, when He was endued from heaven for His messianic ministry, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came upon Him; no one saw that but John the Baptist [Matthew 3:16-17].
- For example, when He was tempted by the devil; no one saw that, it was between Christ and Satan. And when Satan suggested to the Lord that He throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple as a spectacle before the world, the Lord summarily and firmly refused [Matthew 4:5-7].
- For example, the miracles of our Lord: in healing—all of those gracious things He did for people—He would always add the word “But tell no man” [Mark 7:36; Luke 5:14].
- When the leper was cleansed [Matthew 8:4].
- When the blind was made to see [Matthew 9:27-30], it was with the injunction, “You are not to tell it. You are not to speak of it” [Matthew 9:30].
- For example, when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, the Scriptures say that He put everybody outside the house, everybody, family and all, and taking Peter, James, and John, went into the chamber where the dead child lay [Luke 8:51-56].
- For example, when the Lord was transfigured on the high mountain—I think it was a part of Mt. Hermon—when the Lord was transfigured there in the north of Galilee near Caesarea Philippi, nobody saw that glory but Peter, James, and John [Matthew 17:1-9]. How many times does He pull the disciples aside to teach them and to tell them quietly, unmolested, without the fanfare of the people who crowded on every side?
- For example, when they came and by force sought to make Him a king, He sent the disciples away, who were egging on the proposition. These meant for Him to be made a king; He sent the disciples away. He dismissed the multitudes, and Himself went into a mountain apart to pray [John 6:15].
- For example, when He spoke to them those great chapters of consolation in John chapters 14, 15, 16, and the high priestly prayer of John 17, all of those words were said to the little band behind the closed door.
- For example, in the agonizing prayer of Gethsemane, He even left Peter, James, and John behind, and Himself went further and fell on His face before God [Matthew 26:38-39].
That is the ministry of our Lord; unobtrusive, unpublicized, always quiet. “My servant shall not strive, neither shall His voice be heard in the streets, a bruised reed He will not break and a smoking flax He would not quench” [Matthew 12:19-20].
When I come therefore to this story, recounted by all of the Gospels, when I come to this story and read of the active seeking and courting of open acknowledged publicity on part of the Lord, I am astonished! This is a new departure; this is something never seen in the life of Jesus [Matthew 21:1-11]. So as I began to think of it, there are some things that crowd into my soul, and in the little moment that remains I shall speak of them.
There are three great public presentations of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, there are three of them, three purposed ones, three announced ones. In the sovereign and elective grace and purpose of God, there are three great public presentations of Jesus the Lord.
First: He is publicly presented in the elective purpose of God as the promised Messiah and King of Israel. And this is the passage that I have just read, celebrated on Palm Sunday [Matthew 21:1-9]. This is the covenant day of all Jewish history. The years and the centuries and the millenniums that have passed have reached forward to this great moment when the King shall come, and this is the public presentation of Jesus our Lord as the promised King of Israel. And when the scribes and the Sadducees and the rulers and the elders objected to the cry of “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh; blessed is the Son of David” [Mathew 21:9], when the rulers of the people objected to those—to them— blasphemous, exalting remarks, the Lord replied, “But sir, if these should hold their peace, the very stones of the pavement would cry out unto God!” [Luke 19:39-40]. All of the promises of the prophets, all of the messianic longings of the chosen people, all of the things in the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, all of them look forward and moved toward this great and final moment.
And when the Lord stood before the Sanhedrin and He was placed on the witness stand, and the high priest asked the Lord, “Tell us plainly, art Thou the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah of promise?” [Matthew 26:63; Luke 22: 66-70]. And in the days passed, our Lord never publicized it. It had so many political overtones and so many revolutionary connotations that the Lord disassociated Himself from the political ideals that were bound up in “the Messiah.” But on the witness stand He was asked before the court of the Sanhedrin by the high priest himself, “Art thou the Christ, the Messiah of God?” [Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61]. The Lord Jesus replied, “I am, and from henceforth shall thou see the Son of Man coming in clouds of glory with the holy angels of heaven” [Matthew 25:31; Mark 14:62]. This is the first public presentation of the Son of God; the covenant time of all sacred history when the King was presented to Israel [Matthew 21:1-9] and when Israel rejected their Son and slew their Messiah [Matthew 27:32-50].
Second of the three great public exaltations and presentations of Jesus—first, on that Palm Sunday in that royal entry into Jerusalem, when He was presented as the King of Israel, promised Messiah of God [Matthew 21:1-9]. The second public presentation of Jesus: His death, according to the elective purpose of God, His death is to be an open and a public spectacle. The eyes of the entire world are to be drawn upon that sacrifice for our sins [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12-13].
First of all, He was publicly set apart on the tenth day of Nisan. Augustine said, “This royal entry into Jerusalem is far more like the procession of a victim to the sacrificial altar than it is the procession of a king to his throne.” And that is correct. The tenth day of Nisan, this day, was sacred in the life of the ancient Jewish people because it was the day upon which the lamb was chosen and set aside that was to be offered for the sins and the salvation of the families of the chosen people [Leviticus 16:1-19]. Jesus our Passover is to be sacrificed for us [1 Corinthians 5:7]. And on the tenth day of Nisan, this day our Lord publicly and openly is set aside for a sacrifice, an atonement, an expiation, a covering, a washing away of our sins. And when He dies, when He is crucified, it will be so public that three languages will be required to announce to the world why His execution. It will be in Hebrew, it will be in Greek, it will be in Latin [John 19:19-20]. It will be that the world of religion shall know it. It will be that the world of culture shall know it, and it will be that the world of government shall know it. And there outside the city gate, on a public highway [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12-13], in the midst of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, there will the Lord Christ be lifted up from the earth, and all men shall be made aware of that spectacle [John 12:32], the sacrifice of the Son of God for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].
Now that was not necessary. The blood of Christ that washes away our sins [Revelation 1:5], could have been offered in the sanctuary of heaven privately by the Lord Jesus. The Lord could have died in some place near Bethpeor, where Moses fell asleep in the Lord and no man knows of his sepulcher unto this day [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. Or the Lord could have been offered up as Abraham offered Isaac, upon some lone mountain, far and away [Genesis 22:1-10]. And the expiation, the expiatory grace and virtue of the death of the Son of God would have still been able to wash all of our sins away [1 John 2:2]. But that is not in the sovereign, elective purpose of God. For God said, “When My Son is offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the earth, it shall be public, and the whole earth shall fasten its gaze upon the sacrifice of God’s only Son” [John 19:19-20; Hebrews 13:12-13].
So much so, that when the elders and the leaders of the temple put a price on the head of Jesus [Luke 22:1-6] and said, “We shall destroy Him, we shall take away His life; we will kill Him! But” they added, “not on the feast day. Not at this season of the year, lest these thousands and thousands not understand and there be a riot among the people” [Matthew 26:5].
Those Pharisees, those hypocrites, those leaders of the temple, those heads of religion, they said, “Not on the feast day.” But God said, “On the feast day! Among these thousands and thousands of pilgrims shall the Son of God be lifted up. It shall be a spectacle for the whole world to see!” [John 19:19-20; Hebrews 13:12-13].
When Paul stood before King Agrippa II, he said, “Thou knowest of these things for this was not done in a corner” [Acts 26:26]. No sir! Herod Agrippa knew it, all of Palestine knew it, and it was not long until the ends of the civilized earth knew it; what God had done, and the immolation of His Son, and the sacrifice of His Son for our sins [John 19:16-20].
And that public acknowledgment of the blood of Christ has been God’s sovereign will in its acknowledgement for His people through these centuries and through the years. Before the day of the cross and after the day of the cross, before the day of the cross God said, “And the blood shall be displayed openly and publicly, unashamedly with great commitment and faith” [Exodus 12:5-7, 22-23].
So the Lord said in the blood of the Passover lamb, it shall be sprinkled on the front of the house. Here on the lintel above and on the doorposts on either side, in the form of a cross here and there; outside, on the front side [Exodus 12:5-7, 22-23]. “Oh, but,” would say a Hebrew, “Not I, I shall sprinkle the blood on the back side, in the closet. I shall hide it away.” God said, not so, not so! But the blood of expiation shall be presented openly and publicly, where the whole world can see; on the lintel, the front door, and either side [Exodus 12:5-7, 22-23].
And this has been God’s way of salvation for His people through the years and through the years: openly, publicly, standing by the cross. “I am a child of the King, I do trust in the blood of Jesus for the expiation, the atonement, the washing away, forgiveness of my sins [Ephesians 1:7]. And without shame, and without reserve, and in a commitment unto death I stand by the cross of the Son of God.” That is God’s elective purpose for His people.
In reading history, I used to wonder and I could not explain why the persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire. Now if you read that history of the Roman Empire carefully, you would fall into the same dilemma. Why did Rome feed Christians to the lions, and why did Rome burn them at the stake, and why did Rome, confiscating their property, hounding those Christians unto death, why did Rome persecute the disciples of Jesus, the followers of Christ? Well, you read Roman history and you will wonder. There never was a government as broad-minded and sympathetic as the Roman government, never; nor is there today. England would be the most like it.
Rome never interfered in the religion of its provinces. If they wanted to worship Juno, that’s fine. If they wanted to worship Jove, that was fine, or Aphrodite or Osiris or Venus or Astarte or Neptune, or name it! If you have visited Rome, the most perfectly preserved of all the ancient buildings of antiquity is the Roman Pantheon. Built by Agrippa, the friend of Julius Caesar, in 44 BC—the “Pantheon,” get it? Niche, niche, niche, the circle with a great dome, niche, niche, niche; any god of any conquered province, [they] could bring their deity there for worship. And finally they added to it the image of the emperor. It was a sign, it was a token of patriotism, of loyalty to the state, to bow down and to say, kurios kaisar, “Caesar is lord.”
Now that was Rome. And when the Lord Jesus came and was preached as the Savior of the world, the God of our lives, why, the Roman officials were very happy, very happy, wonderful! “Right here by Jupiter and right next to Juno, we will put Jesus in the Pantheon, and welcome.”
Why did Rome persecute the Christians? Because the Christians said “Not so. Not so! Jesus shall not be by the side of any other deity—Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Venus, Astarte, Aphrodite. Never!” said the Christians. And when the emperor’s image was placed there, all that was required—now you look at this—all that was required to save the Christians from death, delivery from martyrdom, was to take one pinch of incense, and put in on the sacrificial fire that was burning in front of the image of the emperor. And if he would take that one pinch of incense and put it on the fire and look at that image and say kurios kaisar, “Caesar is lord,” never touch him, never bother him, go on his way. Yet the annals of the Christian church in the first three centuries are written in blood, in blood; and all they had to do was to deny the Lord and live.
Rather than deny Him, even with a pinch of incense: why, the second church of the seven in Asia is called the martyr church [Revelation 2:8-11]. It’s the church of Smyrna where Polycarp was pastor, and they were fed to the lions, and they were burned at the stake, and they suffered all of the tortures of governmental persecution because of their unreserved, uncompromising acknowledgment of Jesus: kurios Iēsous, “Jesus is Lord!” And they were fed to the lions in the Coliseum and burned at the stake.
That is the elective purpose of God for His people. And you children, all of us who are adults, and everybody, God expects of us, if it costs us our life, to follow Jesus openly and publicly unto death; so much so that our Lord put that as an integral part of our very salvation. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9]. “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me in this evil generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed” [Mark 8:38]. “When He comes in the glory of the Father with His holy angels” [Matthew 25:31], that’s the second great public presentation and exaltation of Jesus; is when He was lifted up from the earth, beneath the sky, drawing all men unto Him [John 12:32]; standing openly, publicly by the cross, “I am a Christian.”
Now, I’m not going to continue. I have a third one, but we will speak of it at length some other day, three great public presentations and exaltations of Jesus: one, when He presented Himself as the promised Messiah and King of Israel [Matthew 21:1-9]. Second, when He was raised on the cross before the gaze of thousands and thousands and thousands in the world [John 19:16-20; Hebrews 13:12-13]; third, when He shall come again. Before the startled eyes of the multitudes of the nations of the earth shall we see Him descending. Jude 14, “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints.” And the text of the Revelation, Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him.” And the Lord shall come openly, publicly, with His saints from heaven [Jude 14]. When the sky shall be rolled back as a scroll [Revelation 6:14], as the vivid lightning flashes across the bosom of the sky; so publicly, openly, will the Lord come from glory [Matthew 24:27]. “And every eye shall see Him, every eye shall see Him, and they who pierced Him” [Revelation 1:7].
What an amazing thing for John to say. I have thought: John was standing at the cross, and saw those men drive those nails in His hands [John 19:16-19, 26]. He saw those soldiers thrust that sword in His side [John 19:34]. He saw their brutal and vicious faces, and looked upon their blasphemous deeds when they slew the Son of God. And John says someday they shall be confronted by the living Lord Himself: “Every eye shall see Him, and they who pierced Him: and the families and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7-8]; lost, lost, life lost—soul lost, lost. And when the Son of Man comes in glory, the tribes and families of the earth shall wail because of Him—lost, undone, and unprepared! [Revelation 1:7]. O Lord, O God!
But to us who love His appearing, it shall be glory and triumph; it shall be victory, for this corruptible shall have put on incorruptible. And when this mortal shall have put on immortality, when the Lord shall come, we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trumpet [1 Corinthians 15:51-54]. For us who have looked in faith to the Son of God, it shall be victory, and glory, and resurrection, and triumph, and immortality, and heaven forever [1 Corinthians 15:54]. That is why when the Lord said to His servant John, exiled on the lonely isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-10], “He which testifieth these things said, “Surely, surely I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. And the sainted apostle John answered from the depths of his soul, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”; “Even so come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20], the third: the last and the great public presentation of the Son of God, our Lord, our Savior and our coming King. Oh, what a victory! What a blessing! What a triumph awaits God’s people in Jesus.
And to give yourself to that faith and that hope and that assurance [Romans 10:8-13], you are invited to come and stand with us. Would you? Would you? Without reserve, without compromise, without shame, come before men and angels and take your place by the cross, with face lifted upward to heaven, looking, watching, waiting for the triumph of the Son of God. Would you do it? Would you do it?
In the balcony round, there is a stairway on either side, there is time and to spare. The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it today. This is my wife, these are our children. All of us are coming.” Or one somebody you, to give your heart in trust to Christ, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, answer a call from heaven. As God shall say the word, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment to sing, stand up coming. Do it, and God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PUBLIC EXALTATION OF OUR LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. This is the royal entry of the King of Kings into Jerusalem
C. The multitudes – pilgrims there for Passover(Matthew 21:8-9)
D. Jesus is doing two things He had never done before
1. He is using an animal
2. Here He is courting publicity(Isaiah 42:2-3, Matthew 4:6-7, 17:1-9, Luke 5:14, 8:51-56, Mark 7:36, John 14-17)
E. There are three great public presentations of Jesus the ChristII. Publicly presented as the promised Messiah and King of Israel
A. The covenant day of all Jewish history(Zechariah 9:9, Luke 19:40)
B. His rejection by the rulers of the nation(Luke 22:66-70, Matthew 25:31)III. Publicly offered for our sins
B. Crucifixion so public three languages were required to announce why His execution
C. Publicly acknowledged(Acts 26:26, Exodus 12:7)
1. Why Rome persecuted the Christians
2. God expects us to follow Jesus openly(Romans 10:9, Mark 8:38)IV. Publicly coming again
A. When He will come again openly with His saints from heaven(Jude 14, Revelation 1:7, 6:14, Matthew 24:30-31)
B. To us who love His appearing it is glory and triumph(1 Corinthians 15:51-54, Revelation 22:20)