20170409FBCAM [Palm Sunday]
Who or what do people tend to want to worship? It is whoever or whatever they think will be able to fulfill their needs and wants.
Israel, when they were led out of Egypt by way of the Red Sea, eagerly worshiped the Lord. And why not? He had given them what they had wanted—freedom.
But let Moses disappear on a mountain for forty days to receive the law from God, what happens?
1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. (Exodus 32:1)
The Lord disengaged for a short time, which the people interpreted as weakness. So they decided it was time to find some other god to lead them.
People will worship whatever will give them what they want or need. Which brings us to our text in Matthew 21. Why were the people worshiping Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem? Let’s take a look—
JESUS THE MEEK KING
Matthew 21:1 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
Jesus had been on the open road in Galilee for most of his ministry. Each year, at Passover, he would come to Jerusalem.
Passover was the most important week on the Jewish calendar.Jerusalem was a busy place during this time.
We don’t know exactly what the population was at the time, but we know it swelled greatly during Passover (a conservative estimate is that Jerusalem grew from 50,000 to 250,000 people).
Now add livestock. One census report from the time period said that 250,000 lambs were bought, sold, and sacrificed during Passover week (Keller, 170).
Jesus had chosen the most dramatic time for his presentation as the King. For months and years, Jesus had tried to stay under the radar. He would even tell people on occasion, to not talk about who he really was.
Now, in the last week of his ministry, he was willing to open the floodgates of acclaim and praise that would propel him to the cross as the leadership would try to stop him (see verse 15).
He knew that while on Palm Sunday the crowds would praise him, the Jewish leadership would be so irritated and afraid, that they would get the crowds to shout “Crucify him” by Friday.
Traveling up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, he approached a village just a couple miles from Jerusalem. Then, turning to two of his disciples and…
Matthew 21:2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
Matthew 21:3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
How did Jesus, in his human incarnation, know about the donkey? Jesus evidently relied on his divine omniscience, or the Father told him what he needed to know in a time of prayer.
Either way, the real question for me, is…why a donkey? I can understand why he didn’t want a camel, but why not a mighty war-horse?
We know from history that when a king came as a conqueror, he came on a war-horse. But when he came in peace, it was on a donkey.
A donkey, by the way, is often a lowly-regard creature in our culture—“stubborn as a mule” is one of the nicer sayings that we have about the creatures. But in that culture, the donkey was a noble animal, on the same level as a horse.
So coming in on a donkey would mean that Jesus came in peace, to win the hearts of people through love, not a sword. But Matthew also informs us that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.
Matthew 21:4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying [in Zechariah 9:9],
Matthew 21:5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
Zechariah had written this prophecy some 500 years before. In it, he indicates that the Messiah would come in peace because he would be on the animal of peace—a donkey.
But Zechariah also emphasized the peaceful character of Jesus with the use of the word, “meek” (πραΰς, JNSM). It means “to not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG, 861).
This particular Greek word is only used four times in the New Testament (Matthew 5:5, Matthew 11:29, 1 Peter 3:4). The one other use that refers to Jesus is in Matthew 11—
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
In this passage Jesus is offering the rest of salvation to those who are struggling spiritually to keep the law by their own effort. It’s impossible to get to Heaven by your own works.
The burden and guilt of our sins will never be removed through our efforts.
Jesus says to take his yoke. Unlike sin and guilt, he is a “meek and lowly in heart” kind of master.
That Jesus is “lowly in heart” indicates that being meek and humble is at the core of his being. This isn’t something that Jesus pretends to be—he really is meek and humble. It’s his default setting.
A song that we used to sing at the church in Minnesota was called Meekness and Majesty—
Meekness and majesty manhood and deity
In perfect harmony the Man who is God
Lord of eternity dwells in humanity
Kneels in humility and washes our feet
O what a mystery meekness and majesty
Bow down and worship for this is your God
This is your God
Father’s pure radiance perfect in innocence
Yet learns obedience to death on a cross
Suffering to give us life
Conquering through sacrifice
And as they crucify prays Father forgive
Wisdom unsearchable God the invisible
Love indestructible in frailty appears
Lord of infinity stooping so tenderly
Lifts our humanity to the heights of His throne
Of course, one of our biggest hangups about being meek is that it seems to mean that we should be pushovers.
Meekness isn’t about being a pushover. Was Jesus a pushover? Notice what happens after Jesus enters the city:
Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
Matthew 21:13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves [Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11].
When necessary, Jesus pushed things over! Now, sometimes Christians have a tendency to look at these kinds of examples as a reason to always be tough and rough.
But these are the exceptions. Jesus’s default setting—his heart—was to be meek, gentle, humble.
In fact, immediately after overturning the tables of the moneychangers, his gentle side came out again—
Matthew 21:14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
Are you the kind of Christian who needs to be balanced out with more meekness?
If you want to be like Jesus, work on being meek and gentle with people, especially those you don’t like. Because of our sinful nature, it’s the side that comes hardest to us.
O WORSHIP THE MEEK KING
However humble Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem may be, it’s not that we are free to ignore him. He is gentle, but he is the King. We should worship the meek King of the universe, obeying him just as the disciples did.
Matthew 21:6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
Matthew 21:7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
The other gospels mention only the colt, because that is what Jesus sat on (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30-32; John 12:14). Matthew mentions both animals to show the fulfillment with Zechariah 9:9.
Matthew mentions the colt’s mother, which could have been brought along to keep the colt calm (which is supported by Luke, who says that the colt had never been ridden).
Matthew 21:8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
How did crowd respond to Jesus as king?
First, they threw their coats on the road in front of Jesus. If they had no coats, they found palm branches (John 12:13) and used them instead. Obviously, this is how the name of Palm Sunday came to be in Christian tradition.
Why did they do this? It was their form of what we would call the “red carpet treatment” today. It showed their respect and excitement.
It was perhaps also a way of declaring him to be king. Hundreds of years before, Jehu, king of Israel, experienced something similar when “they hurried and each man took his garment and placed it under [Jehu] on the bare steps, and blew the trumpet, saying, Jehu is king!” (2 Kings 9:13).
Matthew 21:9 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
They shouted praise to him, specifically, Hosanna! Hosanna’s original meaning was: “Save us!” But by the time of Jesus it had lost much of that meaning and had become the generic shout of praise that we know today.
Nevertheless, they were thinking that Jesus would save them. But their idea of salvation wasn’t the same as ours.
They were thinking that Jesus would save them from the Roman occupation of their land.
They had no inkling that his way of saving them would lead to his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later. It was the one thing that could really save us.
The penalty for sins is death (Romans 6:23). But the death of animals can not pay for sins.
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
We said that 250,000 lambs were sacrificed during Passover week. Not even that much blood could forgive one little sin that one little child commits. All it did was symbolically show us how terrible our sin really is.
Jesus’s sacrifice was that of a pure and holy lamb, the Lamb of God. His death and his blood covers and forgives sin.
12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; (Hebrews 10:12)
Jesus, in his meekness, chose to die for us—to be the one sacrifice for our sins. Praise God that our Savior is so meek and gentle that he would die for us!
As Jesus marched into Jerusalem on the donkey, the overcrowded population took notice—
Matthew 21:10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
The word “moved” (σείω, VAPI3S) means that they were agitated. It’s not being moved with excitement, but more like worry and concern.
After all, Jesus was marching into Jerusalem like a king. That would certainly anger King Herod and Pontius Pilate. The Romans would come in to suppress Jesus’s supposed uprising and people would die.
“Who is this?” They asked.The answer—
Matthew 21:11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
The mention of his name—“Jesus”—probably hit a cord with many of the people in Jerusalem. They may have heard the miracle stories circulating around the last three years. They would have recognized him as the Messiah.
How about you? Who is Jesus to you? Lots of people have different ideas of who Jesus is. He might be a myth, or the opposite, a bonafide historical figure. Many consider Jesus a good teacher, right up there with Muhammed.
True Christians, of course, see Jesus as the God who became a meek man to die for our sins.
For the Jews, this became a very difficult thing to do. A Messiah who would die? Nonsense! A weak savior is no savior (see 1 Corinthians 1:23)! The only one that they would worship would be the one who set them free from Roman domination. Jesus’s meekness was a weakness.
People still struggle with Jesus when he doesn’t live up to their expectations. If Jesus heals them, makes them rich, or gives them justice somehow, then they will follow him.
What was it that I asked at the beginning? Who or what do people tend to want to worship? It is whoever or whatever they think will be able to fulfill their needs and wants.
Jesus came to save you from your sins. That’s your greatest need. Being saved from your sins will give you eternal life—what more could you want? What new car, or freedom from suffering, or destruction of an enemy could ever hope to match with the glories of eternal life with God?
By being meek, Jesus secured for us our greatest need—salvation—and gives us our greatest want—eternal life.
Are you still struggling with Jesus not being who you want him to be? Let the false impression of Jesus go, and embrace in faith, the real Jesus. Let him give you what you really need and could only imagine wanting.
Then you will worship forever the meek man from Galilee who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
BDAG: Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.