************ Sermon on Matthew 21: 9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 20, 2005
Matthew 21: 9
"The King of Glory Comes"
I Jesus Welcomed as Messiah
A I would like to start with a story from Intermission, a book written by James C. Schaap, a professor of English at Dordt College.
Barthius searched frantically for his father, but the streets were jammed with the festival crowd. Somewhere among them was his father, but where? Barthius pushed and struggled through the mob and the dust and the noise. He had to find his father soon--before he saw their own colt in the strange parade moving up the road. He had to find him, tell him how he tried to stop the men who took the colt, but couldn't ...
The skies seemed almost white in the heat. Sweat curled down the boy's temples and ran down the back of his head as he kept searching. All around him people were chanting about the king of the Jews.
Barthius found his father at a turn in the road, his arms loaded with palm branches.
"Father," he said, panting. "Father, our colt--it is gone. I tried to stop them--" The noise around them was deafening.
"So what is bothering you?" his father said. "You can see what a great holiday this is for Israel."
Barthius stared, trying to catch his breath. The energy in his father's eyes burned like nothing he had ever seen before.
"Here now, my son--help me here."
Together they laid the branches over the road. For just a minutes Barthius looked down past the stream of people on either side and saw, far down the way, a clump of people around a man on his father's best colt.
"Father, it is our colt he is riding--the man they call Jesus." He tried to explain again, but his father seemed possessed. "I'm trying to tell you--," he said, but his father paid no attention. He was yelling with the crowd and tossing branches wildly.
"It is a great day, my son," his father said, sweeping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm. "It is the day of the beginning. We will no longer be slaves to the Romans! You hear me? No longer Jewish slaves. The day of deliverance!"
Barthius stopped at the side of the road and stared down at the men coming towards them. His eyes rested on the still-blurry face of the man riding their colt.
"You think this Jesus is the king?" Barthius asked.
"Everyone says so. They say he can raise people from the dead," his father said. "Surely he can free us from the Romans--"
"Father, he is riding our colt. It is our colt there beneath him--"
His father stared. "Wonderful," he said. "Our own colt, you say? The new king of the Jews riding our colt. How proud we should be, Barthius. Never forget this, my son!"
Barthius stood in silence while the crazed people around him chanted wildly about this man they called the king of the Jews.
This story, congregation, indicates so very well the excitement of the Jewish people on Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
B Actually, the excitement had been building for some time already. Scripture tells us that a large crowd of people followed Jesus and His disciples from Jericho to Jerusalem (Mt 20:29). Most of the crowd probably were pilgrims from Galilee going to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.
When Jesus left Jericho two blind men called out to Him, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us." The crowd saw and heard with considerable excitement that Jesus not only seemed to accept this designation – Son of David – but He also healed the two men. Like the Old Testament prophets, the crowds looked forward to a Messiah King Who would be of Davidic descent (2 Sam 7:12-16; Jer 23:5). Could it be, they wondered, that Jesus was this Messiah?
It was with increasing excitement that the crowds also witnessed that Jesus approached Jerusalem in a round-about way from the village of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. This crowd of Jewish pilgrims was acquainted with what the Old Testament prophets had said about this Mount: from there comes the Messianic judgment and from there also arises the Messianic resurrection (Zech 14:1-9; cf Ezek 43:2-9).
The crowd's excitement built up to a fevered pitch when Jesus mounted on a colt, the foal of a donkey, before He entered Jerusalem. This was no ordinary donkey; rather, it was a purebred which had never before been ridden. This is significant in the light of the ancient provision that an animal devoted to a sacred purpose must be pure and unblemished, one that has never been put to ordinary use (Num 19:2; Deut 21:3). Jesus, in other words, was going to enter Jerusalem with all the pomp and pageantry of royalty. Here was further proof for the crowds that Jesus must be the Messiah.
Matthew adds a note that this took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
Say to the Daughter of Zion,This is a quote from Zechariah 9:9. According to Matthew, Jesus is claiming to be Zechariah's Messianic King, the Son of David, Who is coming to Jerusalem to claim the city as His own.
"See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
C It was at this point that the crowd's excitement could be contained no longer. Jesus was the Messiah, the King, the Son of David, so He had to be greeted like the royal personage He was. Matthew notes the details for us: cloaks on the road, waving palm branches, cries of "Hosanna," considerable noise and confusion. The story of Barthius, I think, captures the enthusiasm and excitement of the Jewish people that day.
D Why were the crowds so excited? What is so special about the arrival of the Messiah? Don't forget, for centuries the Jews had waited and dreamt and prayed and hoped for His coming. Now He was finally here.
The appearance of the Messiah heralds the beginning of a golden and glorious age for Israel. The glory and splendor of David's rule would return to the Promised Land. There would be prosperity for all. There would be no more hunger. God's people would be set free from foreign domination. The rich would no longer oppress the poor. The lame would begin to leap and jump and dance. The blind would see a world of vivid color. The deaf would listen to the songs of birds and the music of harps. The deserts of Israel would be turned into fragrant gardens. Swords and spears would be hammered into plows and hoes. Enemies would become friends. Jerusalem would be at the center of the world, and all the kings and rulers of the earth would come there to worship Israel's God.
Can you imagine a perfect world? a world without crime, pollution, death, hardship? a world without war, struggle, injustice? a world without weapons of mass destruction? a world without floods, hurricanes, droughts, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis? a world of love, peace, joy, hope? That's the kind of world the Messiah would bring. His coming heralds the beginning of a glorious, wondrous, beautiful time for the people of the Lord.
No wonder the crowds were so excited: the Messiah was here.
II Jesus Rejected as Messiah
A A few days later many of the same crowd turned against Jesus: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" they shouted. In the "wild west" this would have been called a lynching mob: "String him up! Kill him!" they would have shouted.
Shortly before the French Revolution (1789), the people of Paris rushed to Versailles to hang hated Queen Marie Antoinette. When the crowd appeared on the palace grounds the queen opened the door of the palace balcony and, standing straight with her children around her, calmly faced the hostile crowd. The voices died down and suddenly someone shouted, "Long live the queen!" Instantly the crowd chimed in.
Our Savior experienced how short-lived human approval really is. The people provided Him a royal welcome to Jerusalem. But only five days later these same people screamed for His blood. This became for Jesus a source of bitter suffering – that His own people changed their minds that quickly.
Does the way others think of you mean a lot to you? It is really a strange thing that we are all so sensitive to public opinion and the approval of the people around us. Perhaps you even base your happiness upon this. It is the most human thing to do, but it is also very foolish. For popularity and approval never remain constant – they ebb and flow with the ups and downs of human emotions.
Within the Church, of course, there is no place for popularity contests. Rather, we love and accept each other for Jesus' sake in spite of sins and weaknesses; we love and accept each other not because of any human skill or excellence we see in the other person but only because of Jesus.
B Why was Christ's popularity of such a fleeting nature? Why did "Hosanna in the highest!" so quickly turn into "Crucify him!"?
Why? Because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah the crowd expected. The crowd expected Jesus to be a Jewish Caesar with an earthly kingdom. They saw Him as a political or military Messiah Who would establish His kingdom by power and force.
In large part Jesus, as Messiah, was seen as the fulfillment of the beliefs of the Zealots. The Zealots were right-wing extremists. They believed that the rule of God was to be set up by the violent and military overthrow of the Romans. The Zealots believed allegiance was shown to God by a refusal to pay taxes to the Romans, a refusal to speak Greek, and a refusal to acknowledge Caesar as lord. It was the Zealot's hope that Jesus, Who had the power to heal the blind and raise the dead (cf Mt 20:29-24; Jn 12:9,17,18), would use this same miraculous power to drive out the Roman legions.
Did you notice how the crowds greeted Jesus: by laying their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches in the air. This shows they thought they were welcoming the earthly King of an earthly kingdom. Consider the palm branch for a moment. At the time of Jesus the palm branch was the national symbol of Israel – just like the bald-headed eagle or stars and stripes are the national symbol of our land. For instance, when Simon Maccabeus conquered the Jerusalem castle in 142 B.C., the Jews took repossession of it carrying palm branches. And, when Palestine revolted against Rome in A.D. 132-135 the palm was the symbol for resistance and was imprinted on the Jewish currency.
The crowds, then, greeted and welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as the King Who would lead them to national victory over Rome.
C With this is mind, it is instructive to note what Jesus did after He entered the city with the shouts and hosannas of the people still ringing in His ears. Did He rally the people around Him? Did He issue a cry to war? Did He send out His disciples to quietly assassinate every Roman in Jerusalem?
The people were watching and waiting. The children were still shouting their hosannas (Mt 21:15). All would gladly have followed Jesus to the death in a struggle against Rome.
What did He do? Did He call for a war council, a strategy meeting? No. "He left them," says Scripture, "and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night." (Mt 21:17). What a let down! It became clear to the crowds that Jesus was rejecting what they were offering Him: an earthly kingdom established by force and blood.
And then I want you to notice what Jesus did – this is very important. Instead of driving the Romans out of Jerusalem He chased His own countrymen, good and upstanding businessmen, from the temple area.
D I need to point out that Jesus accepted and even wanted the hosannas, the praises, and the jubilation of the people; after all, it was His actions which stirred up the people. Jesus did want to be recognized and proclaimed as Messiah King. However, He could not be the sort of Messiah the crowd wanted Him to be because that wasn't God's will for Him. It was God's will that Christ's Kingdom be a spiritual rather than an earthly one. And, it was God's will that Christ obtain His Kingdom not by means of the spear and sword but by way of the cross and the grave. It was God's will, in other words, that Jesus be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the Suffering Son of Man.
The crowd wanted a king to deliver them from Rome, not a Savior to redeem them from their sin. That's why their "Hosanna in the highest" changed to "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
E How could the crowd be so wrong, so mistaken, about Jesus? Why did they see Him as a deliverer from Rome rather than as a Savior from sin? Why? Because the crowd listened to only part of Scripture. Whenever God's people begin to pick and choose out of Scripture only what they want to hear, there are bound to be misinterpretations and they have started on the road to apostasy. We ignore any part of Scripture, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel, at great risk both to ourselves and the Church.
The Old Testament Scriptures present the Messiah in a number of different ways. Sometimes He is presented as the great warrior King Who would someday slay all of God's enemies (Is 63:1-6). Sometimes He is presented as the Suffering Servant Who would be led like a sheep to the slaughter for the sins of the world (Is 53). Other times He is presented as the Immanuel, as the Son of God, as the Lord Himself suddenly coming to His temple (Is 7:14; Mal 3:1). Over time, however, the last two images began to fade from people's minds. By the time of Jesus most of the Jews saw only those passages of Scripture that presented the Messiah as a warrior king Who would defeat all enemies. They ignored those parts of Scripture that presented another side to the Messiah. Because of this they were not able to recognize Jesus for Whom He really was. This in turn changed their "Hosanna in the highest" to "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
F We must be careful that we are not too harshly critical of the crowds of Palm Sunday. We must not forget that the hosannas of the crowd expressed a real longing for the coming of God's Kingdom. The people were so wildly enthusiastic because they thought the Kingdom was being established.
We could and should learn from their enthusiasm. I look at God's people in Trinity, I look at my own life, I look at believers across this land and, I'm afraid that I do not see people who live in the expectation of the Lord's coming. Look at your own life, dear people – can you honestly say that you are expecting the Kingdom at any moment?
You know what the problem is? It is possible for us to be so in love with this world, so involved in its affairs, so used to sin and injustice, that we lose the expectation of the new heaven and new earth. Too many of us are so wrapped up in the cares of day-to-day life that we no longer live in the expectation of the Lord's impending return.
Before we condemn the crowds for their selective reading of Scripture and their spiritual blindness we would do well to be jealous of the intensity of their anticipation of the Kingdom, of their hunger for the triumphs of the Messiah. How many of us, for instance, get so excited about Jesus that we rip off our coats, wave branches, and start shouting "Hosanna!"? Can you imagine any of us being so enthusiastic about the coming of Jesus that we act like the crowd in the story of Barthius?
Let us always keep alive within us the expectation that the Kingdom will come soon in all its fullness, that our Lord will return in all His glory.
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