Matthew 21:1-17

 

 

The Beginning of the End

 

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
  ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,

“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

          Today is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of Easter week and is traditionally the time when Christians stop and reflect on our Lord’s death and resurrection. Today we will look at what the Bible tells us happened as Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the first day of that week.

          Tomorrow I will begin to email those who are in the Pastor’s Class WhatsApp group a series of Easter week devotionals. So, as you go through the devotions, I hope you will spend some time thinking about the events that surrounded Jesus’ final week on earth. I hope you will think about the final Passover Jesus celebrated with his disciples when he established the sacrament, we call communion or the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament that recognizes that he willingly and knowingly gave His own body and blood to save us.

          I hope you will also think about the grief Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane while His disciples slept. As well I hope you spend some time thinking about the betrayal by one of his own disciples that resulted in His arrest in the middle of the night. An arrest that was quickly followed by His humiliating appearances before the Jewish and Roman leaders on Good Friday.

          Then finally, you will spend some time contemplating the terrible and agonizing torture that led to His eventual crucifixion and his final words, “It is finished”. And then, Lord willing, you will leave this chapel area next Sunday marveling at the empty tomb and our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. The empty tomb is the foundation of the Christian’s hope of resurrection and eternal life.

          Next week is a surely a very emotional time for Christians. We experience the depths of sadness to the heights of Joy, and all the emotions in between, in just seven days. But what is more important is that we are reminded that our salvation was bought and won for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son, our Saviour.

          Easter week is very familiar to us. If you have been attending a church for any length of time, then I’m sure you have heard the Easter accounts many times. You’ve probably read these accounts many times as you read and study your Bible. There is something we need to be careful of then. And that is, the Easter story can easily become just ‘traditional’. We can end up just saying things like “Ah, I’ve heard this before” and then our brains begin to tune out and we stare into space or take time for a little nap. The danger for us is that we can forget or ignore just how powerful these events were. We can miss how significant they are for each one of us. 

          So, this morning I want you to pay attention and be blessed. How will you be blessed? Because as we reflect upon the events of Palm Sunday and the rest of Easter week, we will be made to think about just how deep our sin is and the greatness of what God did to save us.

          Palm Sunday was the great turning point in Jesus’ ministry to bring salvation. He has been relentlessly heading towards Jerusalem and His crucifixion during all three years of His ministry. On many occasions he has told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem. That there he must suffer and die and then in three days be raised from the dead.

          Even though the disciples heard him say all these things, they still didn’t understand the significance of what he was telling them. If they had been listening with open hearts and minds, they would have understood that he was saying them. They would have understood that He was the long-awaited Davidic King. Everything that Israel’s prophets had said about the Messiah was going to happen. He would enter into His holy city in a great spectacular fashion as Israel’s messiah. Unfortunately, even though His grand entrance will create tremendous amounts of national excitement in Israel, it will not be a day of faith.

           Jesus’ goal in reaching Jerusalem before the Passover celebration was so that He could fulfill all that the Old Testament prophets had predicted about Him. He was determined to bring about God’s promised salvation.  But most of Israel did not know what this salvation meant to them. They thought that it would revolve around the restoration of their nation’s former greatness. That they would be delivered from the oppression of the Romans. Instead, the promise that Jesus was going to deliver was freedom from the guilt and power of sin. 

          It is this combination of false hopes and unmet expectations that are very quickly going to result in Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The people’s excitement and thoughts of freedom quickly fade as Jesus gets into conflict after conflict with the religious leaders. In the end he is betrayed by one of his own, Judas then arrested by the Jews and sentenced to death by the Roman governor.

           But we know that Jesus’ death is not a tragedy at all. It is actually a victory over the power of death and sin. Just as was promised way back in the story of redemption in Genesis 3:15. When Satan’s power is finally crushed once and for all and Jesus himself is, “struck” in paying for our salvation.

          Jesus’ physical death is just the first step towards his final victory over death. We see that the grave cannot hold Him, and on the third day he leaves the tomb never to return. It would be very difficult for us to think of any more important and meaningful week in all of human history.

          That is why this morning I want us to take a closer look at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. What should we learn from it and how should it impact our Christian lives?

          The first thing we should realize is that this day started before Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem. On His journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, I want you to picture in your mind a huge crowd that is following Him. In this crowd there are two blind men that He has just healed outside of Jericho. As the crowd hears that they are going up to Jerusalem you can sense that there is a growing excitement.  The crowd would have increased in size as the other Passover pilgrims heard that something big was going to happen. They would be rushing to join this procession.  They didn’t want to miss out.

           You can imagine that the crowd’s excitement was due to the fact that Jesus himself had been talking a lot about a ‘kingdom’. There were expectations that this Jesus will enter the city and proclaim Himself king. The people had heard, and many had even seen the miracles he had performed.  Surely, they thought, the might of the Roman empire was nothing compared to someone who could raise the dead and could heal the blind and the lame. And who could also feed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish and that was in the middle of nowhere.

          However, as we know only too well, expectations are very inconsistent and unreliable. Soon the crowd comes to know that Jesus isn’t who they think He is and turn on Him. And even though they started this day filled with excitement and anticipation and even sang and cheered that that the Messianic prophecies were being fulfilled, they very quickly turned-on Jesus. Their enthusiasm and zeal were actually very misguided and mistaken.

           Now we come to our passage. Here Matthew recounts how when they approached Bethpage as mall city close to Bethany. You remember that Bethany is where Jesus raised His friend Lazarus form the dead. Jesus sends two of His disciples into a village and instructs them, “you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.

          In giving these instructions Jesus is clearly fulfilling the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9 that talked about the messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem,  That it would be humble and not what the people expect. They were looking for a conquering hero riding on a white stallion of victory and judgement. Of course, that day will come later. 

          Matthew tells of this event in a way that God’s presence is assured, and He is the One conducting all of these events. The donkey and colt’s provision tells us that this prophecy is going to be fulfilled no matter what. The crowd’s sense of messianic expectation is even increased by the sight of Jesus approaching on a donkey. There can be no mistake that Jesus is announcing to everybody that he is the one that Zechariah and Isaiah had prophesied about hundreds of years before.

          Matthew also tells us that everything happened just as Jesus said it would. In verse 7 we read, “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. The crowd’s excitement is building and building as they see the animals being covered with cloaks which is another symbol of a king entering his city.           Without having to be told the crowd starts spreading their own cloaks on the road and even cutting down palm branches, and laying them down also. The people are aware that something that has not happened since the days of Solomon and David is taking place. There is no need for an advance team from Jesus to whip them up into a frenzy as we see in some political and religious gathering these days. The people know that the laying down of cloaks and throwing down of palm branches was something that was only done for the approach of a King.

          Matthew continues to describe the building excitement in verse 9. He tells us that, “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” This word ‘Hosanna’ is very significant. It is from the Hebrew word “to save” and literally is like crying out “Oh save!”. In the context of Matthew chapter 21:1-17 it could be translated as the crowd yelling, as Jesus makes His way up to the Eastern entrance gate “praise be to the messianic king

          Verse 9 is also significant for what the crowd adds to their chant of ‘Hosanna’. They also say, “Hosanna to the Son of David”.  This refers to the promise that a descendant of David will establish a throne that will last forever given in 2 Samuel chapter 7. Not only do the adults cry out but the children continue with this same chant up to the very gates of the temple itself.

Everything that they have been waiting for with regards to the Messiah seems to be coming true before their eyes and they add to their chanting, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

          Now Matthew is not using this phrase to refer to any of the pilgrims who are approaching the city for Passover. No, he is identifying the promised Messiah, the descendant of David, who is foretold in 2 Samuel chapter 7. Matthew wants us to know that this day, is the day of Israel’s salvation. But the question must be answered, “saved from what?”

          When Jesus finally entered Jerusalem, Matthew tells us in verses 10-11  that the whole city was, “stirred up”. Not an easy thing to do. Consider that at the time of Jesus the population of the city was estimated at between 80 – 100, 000. Now that would have swelled to over 200,000. Now, the pilgrims who did not witness the commotion of His entrance rightfully ask, “Who is this?” And this question is asked even though Jesus had fulfilled so many of Israel’s own prophecies. You see even though there was tremendous excitement in the city that day. We should never confuse excitement with faith.

          They were probably asking other questions as well, depending upon what they had heard about Jesus especially if they had never heard him preach or seen him heal and perform other miracles. Not only would they ask, “Who is this?” but also, “Is this really the Messiah?” “Is this the One who will sit on David’s throne?” “Is he going to restore Israel to greatness?” “Is he once and for all going to remove Rome’s yoke of oppression from our necks?” “Who is this?”

          Then Matthew begins to show us that the crowd’s initial excitement was because they did not understand, and reality is beginning to set in. Their answer to the question that others were asking is, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” Now, instead of the messianic title of King, Jesus is just referred to as “the prophet”. Perhaps they too were also asking questions, but theirs were more like, Why is Jesus not leading an army?” “Why is he not talking about rebellion?” “Why is he riding on a lowly donkey and not a white horse?” “Why is he so meek and humble?

We see here that without the eyes and ears of faith then it is impossible to understand Jesus’ actions and words. And for people without faith, He will be nothing more than a prophet or a miracle worker.

          The salvation that Jesus brought to Jerusalem that day was not the kind of salvation that people wanted. Jesus came to save them from their sins, but the people, because they misunderstood their own sinful condition, just wanted Jesus to save them from Roman occupation. The people didn’t understand that their real need was salvation from God’s wrath. A wrath that is something far worse than Rome. And without faith, not only couldn’t they see it, but they also wouldn’t see it.

          Upon entering the city Jesus immediately goes to the temple. But, Jesus doesn’t go to there to worship, but to cleanse it. We read about his encounters there in verses 12-17. The first think He does is drive out the those who were buying and selling there. “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those who sold doves”.

He may have looked like a revolutionary to some people. But the actions of cleansing the temple where not part of some political revolution but of spiritual cleansing. The temple had become a symbol of just how far the hearts of the people had wandered from God.

Jesus wasn’t angry because they were buying and selling in the temple itself. His anger was directed at them because of where their activities were taking place. They had set up their businesses in the place known as the court of the Gentiles. This was the place especially set apart for non-Jews to come and worship God. They were in effect being a stumbling block, preventing the Gentiles from coming to God.

This action too was part of the messianic fulfillment. We see this prophecy written about the messiah 450 years prior to this day in Malachi 3:1-4. This is what God said through His prophet Malachi, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soapHe will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years”.

The people of Israel see that the son of David has come to His temple, but they do not perceive, they hear, but do not understand. In Matthew 21:13 Jesus repeats another prophecy of Isaiah’s to call His people back to repentance. “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers”. And with that declaration Jesus was pronouncing that the temple had fulfilled its purpose. It was no longer pointing people to the true lamb of God, the all sufficient sacrifice. In a few days, the curtain that separated the Most Holy place from the temple courts would be torn in two. And finally, in AD 70 the temple, the centre of Jewish religious life would be destroyed, and the sacrificial system would cease.

The next series of events are shortened by Matthew into one verse. Verse 14 simply states, “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” Jesus did not only come to the city to purge the temple. He came to bring healing to the blind and lame. And once Jesus is in the temple the news spread quickly. Quicker than Twitter or WhatsApp and the sick come quickly. They seem to understand what it means that the Messiah has come to his temple. Again, anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear would easily conclude that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, they would see and understand that He was fulfilling the messianic prophecies of Zechariah, Malachi, and Isaiah. But without the eyes and ears of faith they simply cannot see it, they do not hear it, and they cannot understand it.

           Matthew then shows us in verses 15-16 that when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that Jesus was doing and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David” they were indignant. They said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying? They see their power slipping from their hands and the only thing they could do is demand that Jesus stop the children from singing the messianic chorus.

          And Jesus’ responds to them by reciting part of a very well known psalm 8, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” He not only doesn’t stop the children but shows the religious leaders proof that this prophecy too is being fulfilled. If what the children are chanting is true, why should he stop them?

Unfortunately, the pride of the Pharisees prevents them for accepting who Jesus really was. Because if they accepted that Jesus was the Messiah they would stop what they were doing, repent of their sins, and know that their righteousness was to be found in Him alone. Now, their anger, determines that the only option they have left is to kill Jesus,

          The decision of the religious leaders to get rid of Jesus becomes one of the greatest ironies in human history. Their anger against the messiah becomes the means through which God will save His people. But the time for the Passover lamb to lay down His life had not arrived yet and Matthew simply says, “And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night”.

As we conclude this Palm Sunday sermon let us just take a step back and understand that the entrance of God’s Messiah into His city and the cleansing of the temple tells us that salvation has come. Look at all the old Testament prophecies written hundreds of years before this and see how many of them have been fulfilled on this day alone. And even though the crowds cheered as Jesus entered the city that excitement quickly faded and became anger. Without faith the people could not see, or understand, that the power of sin was far greater than the power of Rome.

          And that is the same issue we run into today when people reject the gospel. They say to us, “tell us how to fix things that really matter, don’t bother us with sin and grace”. They just can’t see it. We can’t just be content with calling Jesus, just that prophet from Galilee. Jesus is not a revolutionary, he is not a religious reformer, He’s not merely a great teacher, or just a miracle worker, Jesus is God in human flesh. That should be the message that we give to this dying world.

 

Let’s pray: Lord, throughout today, as we continue to reflect upon the events of the first Palm Sunday, may we add our voices to the heavenly choir that sings, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. We give You the glory and the honour that You alone deserve. Lord, Your kingdom will last forever and Your Word reveals that to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Lord, help us to perceive an understand the truth of Your Word as you reveal the truth to us over the coming week. We want to see You as King over Your kingdom. Show us how You ascended into heaven after Your death, burial, and resurrection. Show us that even now you are in your rightful place at the right hand of His Father. Just as the apostles Creed tells us. Give us the confidence in knowing that now you reign above all else until that day when You return on the white horse of judgement. May our response always be, “all Glory and honour to our redeemer King, Amen”.