A few years ago, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons ran a special test where they showed test participants a video of six people, three in white shirts and three in black, and asked the viewers to keep track of how many times people in white shirts passed a basketball. What they didn’t tell their viewers ahead of time was that in the middle of the video a gorilla would walk through the players, face the camera, thump his chest, and then leave, appearing on screen for a total of 9 seconds. If you were one of the test participants, do you think would see the gorilla? When Chabris and Simons ran this test on people at Harvard University, they found is that half of the people who watched the video and counted the passes totally missed the gorilla. And when I took this test myself, I didn’t see the gorilla either. This has become known as the Invisible Gorilla test and from it Chabris and Simons concluded that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us and we have no idea what we are missing. What happens is that we can be so focused on one thing that we totally miss something else. So they did more research about other assumptions we make about our minds are incorrect and they put the results into a book called The Invisible Gorilla.[i]
There is no way that any of us can observe everything that goes on around us, so we do need to focus. How do we determine where to direct our attention? If we don’t know how to answer this question, we risk missing out on something of great, perhaps even eternal, significance. This is the question that we are going to be thinking about today as we dig into Luke 19:28-44.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
What we find described for us as we turn there is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is the week of Passover, one of the most important festivals in the Jewish religion. Because Passover, along with Pentecost and the Festival of Booths, was one of the three pilgrimage festivals which every adult Jewish male was required to attend, pilgrims from all over the Holy Land flocked into Jerusalem and camped in and around the city. They were gathered to celebrate and remember the most important event in all of Jewish salvation history, the night when the angel of death passed over every house marked with the blood of the Passover lamb. That same angel of death visited every home that wasn’t marked with the blood of the lamb, and the first-born sons of all those homes died that night. That was the event that prompted Pharoah to set all the Hebrew slaves free. The salvation and the loss people experienced were not based on the ethnic distinctions of Egyptian or Israelite. They were based on whether or not you paid attention to the commands God gave through Moses and followed them.
So, Jesus was one of many, many pilgrims coming into Jerusalem that day, and yet his entrance into the city was different from anyone else’s. He rode on a colt of a donkey that had never been ridden before, implying that this animal had been set aside for a sacred task. As he came down the slopes of the Mount of Olives, those who travelled with Jesus were paying attention and, recognizing who he was and remembering the miracles he had done and the amazing things he had taught, they gave him praise and honor like he was a victorious king riding into Jerusalem after battle. People spread their cloaks on the road, kind of like we would roll out the red carpet for someone special today. They acclaimed him as King, calling out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38) There were some Pharisees in the crowd that day that were opposed to the people’s proclamation of Jesus as king and they called out to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” (Luke 19:39) He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem
And then an event happens which is only recorded for us by Luke. As Jesus got close to the city, he looked upon it and he began to weep. He saw the beautiful Temple and God’s people living around it. But he also saw forty years into the future when the Romans would come and completely destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Speaking to the city of Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:42-44) The visitation that Jesus was talking about was his visit to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem would face calamity in the future because they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah when he came to them. Because of their lack of attention, they would miss out on the peace that Jesus came to bring to them and all humanity.
Here is the reason that paying attention to Jesus is important. When you are in a relationship with someone, if you do not pay any attention to them, you are not able to receive them as a person and you are not able to receive the gifts that they have to give you. If you are in a relationship with someone and you don’t pay any attention to them, you really don’t know them, you are not able to be blessed by them and you really don’t have a relationship with them. Love means giving your time and attention to someone else. And it is the same thing with Jesus. If we do not give our time and attention to Jesus, we are not able to know him in a close, intimate way and we are not able to receive the blessings that he wants to give us. Attention is the currency of love.
The 3 Kinds of People in This Passage
So, what are we to make of all this and what does it mean for our lives today? As we look at this passage, we can see that it describes three different kinds of people. First, there are Jesus’ fellow pilgrims, who were walking with him and paying attention to who he is and what he does, and they respond to what they saw by declaring him to be the king of their hearts.
The second kind of people are the Pharisees. They were not walking with Jesus, but they had their eye on him because they saw him as a threat to their comfortable way of life. They thought had everything figured out. They had put God in a box and set up a system where, if they did “X”, they believed God would do “Y”, so all they and everyone else had to do was follow the rules and everything would work out well in the end. And they saw it as their job to make sure that everyone else, including Jesus, followed the rules. So they watched Jesus, but only to make sure that he didn’t disrupt the status quo.
When the Pharisees saw the worshipful response of Jesus’s fellow pilgrims, they felt threatened. A new king of the Jews could dislodge the hold that the Pharisees had on the lives of Jewish believers. Perhaps there was also concern that the Romans would hear these cries acclaiming Jesus as king and respond with brute force to put down what they saw as a rebellion.
The third kind of people in this passage were the ordinary people of Jerusalem who paid no attention to Jesus at all. Because they were not paying attention to what was most important in that moment, they missed their opportunity to receive peace from Jesus.
And the peace that Jesus was bringing to Jerusalem and to the world was not just a feeling of calmness in our hearts. The tears that Jesus shed were tears of sadness over what could have been for people that he loved. The love and compassion that Jesus felt in his heart for people who ignored and even hated him was what moved him to go to the cross later that week and suffer and die to more than pay the full cost of forgiveness for all sins of all people throughout all time. Through Jesus, we have peace with God. Through his resurrection, Jesus has also given us a new life with God as a member of his family. As we grow into our new identity as a beloved, forgiven children of God, we have peace with ourselves. As we grow in receiving Jesus’ love, we also grow in sharing his love with others, and we begin to have more peace with the people around us and peace with God’s creation. And all this peace is headed towards a wonderful fulfillment at the end of time when Jesus comes back to make us and all things right. He will banish all evil, restore the original goodness of his creation, and raise us from the dead with our old bodies made new again. On that day, as we read in Revelation 21:4, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
This is what the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means. It is peace in all our relationships, peace with God, with ourselves, with the people around us and with God’s creation. And the future fulfillment of that shalom peace is a present reality that we live in right now.
In December, I officiated at the funeral of the wife of a friend of mine. Her name is Ruth and she had this curious way of reading a book. She would read a little bit at the beginning of the book, then she would read the ending, and if the beginning and the ending looked interesting to her, then she would read the book. Dear friends, it is exactly the same thing with us. We know how the story of God’s creation began, and we know how the story of God’s creation will end. Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are going back to the peace, harmony and perfection that existed in God’s creation in the very beginning. That’s how we can live in the fulfillment of God’s shalom peace right now. We know how the story will end and it wlll be good.
So, dear friends, I ask you to think about what it is that draws your attention. By nature, we are curved in on ourselves, we are self-focused and selfish. It takes intention and effort to turn away from what is a “normal” way for human beings to live and direct your attention toward what truly matters. Many have said that we tend to become what we focus on. So don’t be like the people of Jerusalem and be so self-focused that you miss the wonderful, life-changing opportunity that Jesus is setting before you. And don’t be like the Pharisees who watched Jesus but wouldn’t let him have any influence over their lives.
Instead, be a fellow pilgrim with Jesus. Go through your life watching him, paying attention to who he is, and what he has done in the past, is doing in the present and will do in the future. Follow Jesus wherever he leads you and respond to him and his infinite love for you with worshipful praise and by declaring him to be the king of your heart.
Attention Directed by Love
The Greek historian Xenophon tells the story of a young prince of Armenia and his beautiful wife whom he loved. They were both captured by Cyrus of Persia and brought before him and his tribunal to be sentenced. Cyrus asked the prince what he would give to be reinstated in his kingdom. The prince replied that he valued his crown and his liberty at a very low rate, but if Cyrus would restore his wife, the princess, to her freedom and former honours, the prince would be willing to pay for that restoration with his life. Cyrus set both of them free and gave them back their former honours.
Later the prince asked his wife, “What did you think of Cyrus?”
She replied, “I did not observe him.”
“You didn’t observe him,” her husband exclaimed. “Then upon whom was your attention fixed?”
She replied, “Upon that dear and generous man who declared his readiness to purchase my liberty at the expense of his life.”[ii]
Jesus Weeps with Us
Jesus is the prince who purchased our liberty and our new place in God’s family at the expense of his life. Jesus’ tears are an indication of his infinite love for us and for all people. And Jesus not only cries for us, he also cries with us. In his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson writes, “History is lubricated by tears. Prayer, maybe most prayer … is accompanied by tears. All these tears are gathered up and absorbed in the tears of Jesus.”[iii]
Dear friends, the tears of Jesus are our assurance that his grace is for us. So the challenge that I am setting before you today is this: focus your attention on Jesus. Watch him, get to know him, follow him in all the ways he guides you, fall in love with him, and he will make sure that you will not miss out on what is truly important. Amen.
[i] The Invisible Gorilla (Internet; available at http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/gorilla_experiment.html; accessed March 27, 2023).
[ii] “Willing to Die for His Princess,” Ministry 127 (Internet; available at: https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/willing-to-die-for-his-princess; accessed on March 28, 2023).
[iii] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 138, quoted in Peter Greig, God on Mute (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 63.