The following sermon is on Matthew 21:1-11 and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.
One of the things we cannot ignore when we come to reading scripture is that we know the end of the story. We know that the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday will take us on a path which leads to Jesus’ death and crucifixion on Good Friday. However that is not the end as Good Friday leads us to Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead which we celebrate next Sunday.
However although we know the events that follow Palm Sunday, I want us as best as we can to put ourselves into the shoes (or rather sandles) of those people who were there on that day. None of who knew, apart from Jesus, what would follow in the next few days.
We see at the start of the passage that Jesus sent two of his disciples to collect a donkey and a colt. Jesus deliberately chose to enter Jerusalem this way. He could have just strolled into Jerusalem discretely but He did not. Why the colt?
By doing this Jesus was fulfilling what the prophet Zechariah had predicted some 600 years before:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah chapter 9:9)
This passage in Zechariah is recognised by the Jews as referring to their King, the Messiah entering Jerusalem triumphantly. Therefore by fulfilling this prophecy Jesus was saying loud and clear to anyone who was paying attention that “I am that King!”
There were occasions in His ministry when Jesus told people not to tell others who he was or he just kept out of the public limelight. For example after the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd wanted to forcibly make him king (John 6) and when Peter answered the question “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16)
Not this time though. Anyone who knew the Scriptures (especially the Jewish religious leaders) would have understood the symbolism here. By entering Jerusalem on a colt, Jesus was publicly declaring that He was the King that the people had been waiting and longing for.
The King was entering Jerusalem. However this King was different to your normal king. Instead of riding into Jerusalem in a royal carriage He entered humbly riding on a foal of a donkey.
Our passage tells us that a large crowd gathered and excitedly cheered Jesus.
Have you ever been to a music concert where you are awaiting the entrance of the main star of the evening? The anticipation builds up and the crowd eagerly await the entrance. There is a buzz of excitement and then a huge cheer as the person who everyone has come to see appears.
On the day after Tony Blair’s first general election win in May 1997, as I was off work on annual leave, I decided to go up to London to see if I could get into Downing Street and watch the celebrations. I managed to sneak my way into Downing Street and joined the various supporters of the Labour party as they were celebrating getting back into power.
It was interesting, as a neutral observer, to watch the emotions of those present. And of course when Tony Blair arrived there was much cheering. Obviously I’m not suggesting that Tony Blair was a saviour figure but days like that give an indication of what the atmosphere could have been like on the first Palm Sunday.
There is certainly something special about being in a crowd awaiting the arrival of someone. Maybe it’s the shared experience or the feeling of being part of the group.
Let’s picture ourselves in with the crowd in Jerusalem. The little boy says to his dad” can you see him? When’s he going to arrive?”
People are looking up the road looking out and longing to see Him.
Suddenly a big roar goes up “He’s here! He’s here!”
“Look people are spreading their cloaks on the floor. This is how we greet our king!”
“Look at all those palm trees on the road!”
More shouting is heard:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The crowds were excited to say the least!!
There are two Pharisees in the crowd talking with each other. There is a mixture of fear and anger in their voices.
“He’s on a colt. You know what that means!”
“I know. He thinks he’s the Messiah! This is getting out of control. We have to stop him. If we don’t do something there could be trouble and the Romans may slaughter many of our people.”
“More importantly they might destroy the Temple and we might lose our privileged priest position!”
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
We certainly see in this passage that the King is greeted with great enthusiasm by the crowd. Now I know that 4 or 5 short days later many of those in this crowd may well have been there with the Pharisees shouting “Crucify him, Crucify him” and we cannot ignore that. However I wonder if there are things we can learn from the crowd? They were excited about meeting Jesus:
- Are we excited about meeting Jesus?
- Do we get excited about coming to church each Sunday to meet with God’s people?
When I think about the crowd I see observe three different groups of people amongst them.
FIRSTLY: Disciples and the other followers of Jesus.
I’m not just referring to the twelve disciples but also to the others who followed Jesus around. (For example in Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy two people to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. There were also the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who supported Jesus financially e.g. Joanna, whose husband Chusa was Herod’s administrator; Susanna; and many other women).
Yes we all know that the disciples got things wrong and make mistakes. I guess that’s because they are humans like us! However they were not naïve or stupid. They knew it was dangerous going up to Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 tells us that “that those who followed him were afraid.” Yet they still bravely followed Jesus.
I would imagine that as they walked into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday they were nervous and worried about what might happen. However deep down they wanted to follow their master.
I wonder if we can identify with those disciples? We want to serve God but so often feel we are not adequate or feel scared. Or we just plain get it wrong on occasions!
SECONDLY: The crowd who spread their garments cheering Jesus
The Jewish people hated being ruled by the Romans. They wanted their freedom back. It was the week leading up to Passover, when they remembered God rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The religious and nationalistic expectations of the crowd would have been huge. The people had for years been longing for the Messiah to come and rescue them from the Romans. Could Jesus be their Messiah?
However the Messiah / King that the people were expecting was a military king, just like David. They were looking for the wrong type of king. Israel was looking for a king to defeat their enemies the Romans. But Jesus did not regard the Romans as his enemies. Jesus’ enemies were the power of sin and death. These were the enemies that he came to fight and defeat.
His was a spiritual battle in which he would be going toe to toe with sin and death. They were the real enemies. These were the enemies that had brought misery to the human race and that Jesus would defeat.
How could the crowd have turned against Jesus so quickly?
It’s easy sometimes to worship God when He does what we think He should do; when God answers our prayers the right way (i.e. our way).
However what happens when our prayers are not answered in the way we think they should? What happens when Jesus does not “drive out our Romans?” Do we still praise Him then? Or do we allow ourselves to become either bitter or disappointed with God?
Perhaps this morning there are people here who are disappointed with God. Maybe you used to praise him like the crowd did but now you don’t.
THIRDLY: The Pharisees and the religious rulers
If you study the life of Jesus in the four gospels, one thing that leaps out is that the Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus!
Whenever Jesus performed a miracle and they had a chance to criticise it they did.
On Mothers Day we were reminded of the amazing healing of the blind man in John 9 and the way that the Pharisees would not accept this miracle. You would have thought that they would have been overjoyed but no they were not.
There was the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm and the religious leaders were unhappy with this as the healing happened on the Sabbath. This grieved Jesus. (Mark 3)
It’s difficult at times to get your head around what was wrong with them!
They seemed to think the way to God was through obeying rules. And don’t you dare break their rules or you are in trouble! (woe betide you!)
Yet I wonder are there occasions when we are like the Pharisees? Do we allow religious traditions to stop us from meeting Jesus? Does the fact that “we’ve always worshipped like that” prevent us from truly meeting Jesus in a fresh way?
So in closing are we like:
The disciples – frighten, confused, often get it wrong but deep down we want to follow Jesus.
The crowd – we will follow Jesus as long as he answers our prayers in the way we want.
The Pharisees – our religious traditions stop us meeting Jesus.