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Matthew 21:1-11 Sermon

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When someone suddenly changes their behavior in a dramatic way, we tend to start asking questions. If you kid who loves baseball and has for years, suddenly comes home from practice one day and throws his hat on the ground and says that he never wants to play baseball again, you know something is up. Maybe someone was mean to him at practice, or he got cut from the team, or maybe he’s tired of this whole concept of giving young children hard objects and telling them to wildly throw it as hard as they can at you - #truestory. Whatever it is, their change in behavior should evoke some questions from you as the parent, because people don’t just change at the drop of a hat like that.
When my little one month old son is sleeping peacefully in his bassinet, and suddenly erupts
So out of the ordinary for Jesus.
Well, we’ve kind of got that going on here in this story with Jesus riding into Jerusalem. If you’ve been following Jesus up to this point, you’ve seen him time and time again avoiding attention and fame. He’d heal people and then tell them not to say anything about it. He’d withdraw from crowds when they got too big or too rowdy. He was not at all interested in drawing attention to himself.
And then we come to this story, and all of that changes. Jesus and his disciples could have easily slipping into Jerusalem quietly, without causing a stir, but instead, we come to find that Jesus has staged this whole thing. He’s planned this provocative display of street theater with one clear message that everyone in Israel would immediately understand. Instead of his usual habit of keeping it on the downlow, keeping it all hush-hush, with this entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus is yelling through a bullhorn on top of a Macy’s Day Float, Ferris Bueler style, and what is he announcing? “Your King is here.”

Jerusalem is in turmoil at the sight of King Jesus.

So, how does Jesus announcing himself to be the King? Well let’s take a look. Verse 1:

Jesus comes to a people who are not ready for him.

21 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives,
So Jesus is approaching from the east, and he crests the Mount of Olives, which is a tall hill that is actually higher than Jerusalem. And so the road descends the Mount of Olives, its very steep, and it goes down into this valley before rising again very steep, up to Jerusalem. So Jesus comes up over the Mount of Olives and he comes into this little one-stoplight town of Bethphage, and Jesus has stashed some donkeys. He’s prearranged with someone in town to supply him with some donkeys, and he’s even got a codeword between him and this donkey guy. Like, this is spy-novel stuff.

then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.

So he’s got this arrangement to get donkeys from this little town maybe a mile from Jerusalem. Jesus has been traveling to Jerusalem for many days at this point. He’s walked over a hundred miles, yes walked over a hundred miles, and so isn’t it a little odd to suddenly, a mile from his destination, arrange to hitch a ride on a donkey? This is all very intentional. There’s a plan here.
Jesus is not the first King of Israel to ride down this very road on donkey. Israel’s greatest King, King David rode down this very same road also on a donkey after his son Absalom rebelled against him. . When David is reinstated as King, he makes this same exact ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. And David’s son, Solomon went to his coronation riding on his father’s donkey.
The prophet Zechariah picks up on this theme of the king’s of Israel riding to their coronation on a donkey, and he says that one day God will provide a king for Zion, which is the name David gave to Jerusalem - one day God will provide a king who will come to Jerusalem in the same way that all the great kings do, riding a donkey, and he will save Israel from her worst enemies. And sure enough, Matthew quotes Zechariah as a way of explaining what Jesus is doing with his ride into Jerusalem:

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5  “Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

So this is all very intentional on the part of Jesus. Jesus couldn’t be more clear. By setting up this ride into Jerusalem, he is declaring himself to be the long awaited king who will save God’s people. Again, this is so unlike Jesus, who has tried up to this point to fly under the radar.
So what happens?

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

So there’s this huge crowd around Jesus, because Jesus has timed this provocative street theater during the Jewish festival of Passover, which we’ll talk about in a second, but large numbers of people would be traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and there’s now a huge crowd of pilgrims who are traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem, and they see this performance by Jesus, riding on a donkey, and he’d be the only one riding any sort of animal, because it was custom to walk into Jerusalem on foot for Passover.
So they see this performance by Jesus and what do they do? They buy into it! They think he’s the real deal. They start rolling out the 1st century red carpet! They put down palm branches and their coats and garments, and they start shouting. Verse 9.

9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Hosanna, they say. Now, you’ll hear a lot of people say that Hosanna means “Save us,” and that is true. The crowd is shouting scripture at Jesus. to be specific, which we just read. “O Lord, save us,” we read, and the word there is Hosanna. And though by the first century Hosanna became just a general word of praise, much like Hallelujah, the message from the crowd is the same. They’ve seen this proclamation of Jesus, where he has emphatically revealed himself to be the King sent by God, and this huge crowd of Galilean pilgrims is all in.
So this whole procession is making its way down the steep road, into the valley, and now up to the gates of Jerusalem, and Matthew tells us that things are getting crazy.

10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

The whole city was stirred up, Matthew says. That’s a very tame way of translating the Greek here. This word is used of earthquakes and apocalyptic upheavals. The city was in turmoil. In the Christmas story, when Herod learned of Jesus’ birth, he was “stirred.” He wasn’t frustrated. He wasn’t upset. He was unhinged by the news, to the point that he would order the killing of every baby boy. So when Matthew says that as Jesus, riding the donkey, proclaiming his Kingship, surrounded by the chorus of a huge crowd singing his praises, and he says that the city was stirred, he means that the roof was about to come off the place.
Because the truth is…Jesus has picked the absolute worst time to declare himself King.
He has chosen to do this during Passover. Now, historians say that there was around 50,000 people living in Jerusalem at this time, but during Passover week, Jews from across the whole province pilgrimage to Jerusalem, some 150,000 people flock to the city every year during this time. Imagine how cramped and chaotic this city was.
I remember my first real rock concert as a teenager, it was at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, and I was so excited to be down on the floor, standing just a few people from the stage. But then people kept coming, and coming, and pressing up against me. And then the show started, and it was absolute chaos, cramped, sweaty, chaos. This city of Jerusalem was swamped with hundreds of thousands of people past its capacity, and when you have that many people gathered in such a cramped space, of course it’s going to be a charged atmosphere.
Then throw in the fact that this festival that celebrates the founding of the nation of Israel is happening under the shadow of a foreign palace. Jesus may be rolling into town as the self-proclaimed king, but Jerusalem already had a King…and it was the king of the world, Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire. So what kind of message would it send for this Jewish Rabbi to declare himself King during Israel’s most important national celebration? You can bet that many in the city were thinking…this guy is going to get us killed. Can you see how charged the atmosphere must have been as the people in Jerusalem witness Jesus entering the city gates? The city was shaken by his arrival.
Jesus has shown up at the worst time.
And I think that idea isn’t foreign to us, Jesus showing up at the worst time.
I was listening to a podcast the other day about two young guys, in their mid-twenties, and they are just killing it financially. One of them is some kind of civil engineer and the other is in finance, but they are both making six-figure salaries as bachelors. Obscene amounts of money, especially at such a young age. And they had worked hard for it, and their hard work had payed off. But they had come on this podcast, because each of them, at the pinnacle of their careers, with the world essentially at their fingertips, no door closed to them, they both saw Jesus show up in their lives and declare himself King. And their initial response was that this was the worst time for Jesus to show up.
You’re rising up the corporate ladder
Have you ever felt that? Really Jesus? You pick now? You pick this moment to say that you are the King of Kings? When things are finally going well. I’ve finally gotten this thing sorted out. I’m finally comfortable in life. I’ve got my ducks in a row, I’ve got my five year plan. Now? Now is the time that you stop flying under the radar and declare that you are King? This is the worst time, Jesus.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Things are going terribly. Things are falling apart. Your world is caving in, and you feel isolated and alone. Maybe there’s a pandemic raging across your country, and in some way Jesus shows up and reminds you that he is King. And you think, what a terrible time to be doing this, Jesus. I’ve got so much going on, and now you want me to deal with you?
No, I think we can relate to the city of Jerusalem. And they are right. Jesus has picked the worst time to show up and reveal himself as King. This street-theater, this show that he is putting on is destined to fail. That is…if his intent were to be a King that conquers his enemies through force. This is certainly what the crowds shouting, “Hosanna,” thought he was going to do. It’s what they wanted - for him to ride in and vanquish the Roman oppressors, bringing salvation to the nation of Israel.
But, of course, that was not why Jesus had come. He had not come to establish his kingship through violence, but by submitting to the will of his enemies. This is often called the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, but the irony is that Jesus intended this act to set into motion events that would bring about his death just a few days later.
The city of Jerusalem was worried about the arrival of Jesus. What will he do? Surely he will bring ruin. Jesus shows up in our lives at what seems like the worst time, and we are shaken, as we think this King will only bring ruin.
But King Jesus shows himself to be a King of compassion, a King of sacrificial love, a King that seeks to serve, a King that bears our worst flaws and darkest secrets on his shoulders, a King that would humble himself to die on a cross, so that we’d find true life, true love, true hope, true peace.
If King Jesus shows up in your life, it is at exactly the right time, and you do not need to be afraid, or shaken, because as he did on Palm Sunday, and as he does every time, he has come to bring life, love, hope, and grace.
Let’s pray.
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