Reading: Luke 19:28–48
The scene is the “Triumphal Entry”. Jesus is on a donkey colt entering Jerusalem as people spread their cloaks on the road in front of him. The people joyfullly shout praises to God and say, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37-38) This declaration of Jesus as the king of Israel, the son of David, the One who comes in the name of the Lord, provoked a rebuke from the Pharisees.
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
This statement by Jesus is the subject of some choruses and has brought about many statements about how we might see rocks singing the praises of Jesus if we don't! Maybe... but, maybe not. Allow me to suggest that Jesus wasn't saying that the stones will sing praises if the disciples stop singing them. In fact, the text doesn't say that at all. And you don't have to know Greek to see it; I'm talking about what your English translations say (just like the Greek). It doesn't say the stones will sing praises if the disciples don't.
What does it say? It says that the that if the disciples don't joyfully shout these praises, the rocks will cry out. However, it does not say what they will cry out. To understand what Jesus means by the rocks crying out, I believe we must understand the background to this statement.
The first hint we have to anything like this comes after the first murder. Cain has taken the fleeting life of righteous Abel. The Lord declares to Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) What was Abel's blood crying out? It was crying out guilt – Cain's guilt.
This particular incident gets mentioned later. Hebrews 12:24 tells us that we have come to the blood of Jesus which speaks “a better word than the blood of Abel.” Though Abel's blood spoke of guilt, Jesus' blood speaks of forgiveness! Both had fleeting lives; both were taken in the prime of life; both were unjustly killed by a jealous older brother (figuratively in Jesus' case).
In Joshua 24, Joshua warns the people of Israel what the requirements of serving the Lord are and what the consequences of turning away from the Lord are. They choose to serve the Lord so Joshua set up a stone under an oak tree and said,
“See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” (Jos 24:27)
The stone had been present when all the warnings were issued by Joshua; the stone heard the people's commitment to serve the Lord. In the event that the people failed to keep the covenant they couldn't deny that they had made the commitment for the stone was present. Therefore the stone could serve as a witness in a court case against the people if they failed to keep the covenant.
In Habakkuk 2:9-11 we read of stones of a wall crying out against those who had in their presence made and plotted their greedy plans. Here again the stones hear and then testify against those who did wrong in their presence. Of course, this all seems to be a figurative way of saying, “you will be brought to account for what you have done... and will not be able to deny it. These stones will serve as witnesses against you.”
When we arrive in Luke 19:40 I believe it is best to read this background into the statement Jesus makes. In other words, if after seeing all these miracles and deeds I have done no one shouts out praises and honors me as the Messianic King, your judgment is sure and the stones (possibly the stones of the temple where Jesus did some teaching), will cry out in judgment against this city! This makes even more sense as we read what immediately follows (Luke 19:41-44 where stones are mentioned again). (See also Luke 21:6.)
When I read Luke 19:40 I don't envision stones singing, I imagine stones witnessing the rejection of Christ by those who saw the miracles and deeds crying out guilt in the face of their impending judgment. May we respond and sing the praises of the King! His sprinkled blood speaks better things... (Hebrews 12:24).
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