Sermon on Matthew 21:1-11
Text: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “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.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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.”
How to make an impressive entrance. The question is a tad bit ambiguous because the noun entrance could be understood in one of two ways. It could mean the staging, the setting used to dramatize an event. Some suggestions might be a laser light show, a massive tent that might be decorated with an Arabian night theme, or the red-carpet approach of Hollywood, complete with a rope that helps to organize the crowds and offers staged photo opportunities along the way. I guess you could say these examples would make for an impressive entrance.
The noun entrance could focus on an individual. If you look this up on the internet most of the first hits are advice for a corporate executive on his or her first day with a new company. Some of the guidelines were the following: (1) Do your homework. Know what the dress code is. (2) Pause and take a deep breath to manage nervousness and visualize making the perfect entrance. (3) Display confident body language. Stand up straight, head up, shoulders back. (4) Walk in with a pleasant smile. Relax. Make casual eye contact. (5) Don’t head straight to the bar or buffet table. (6) Show confidence, even if you must fake it.
How did Jesus do on that day planned from all of eternity when our Savior made his grand and final entrance into the city of Jerusalem? We could collectively search online until the cows come home, and I doubt any of us would find professional consultants recommending what our Savior did on Palm Sunday! HIS FINAL STEPS LED TO A DONKEY 1. To Fulfill Every Last One Of The Lord’s Promises, 2. To Show Us What Kind Of King Jesus Really Is!
Even though Jesus didn’t follow conventional wisdom when he made his grand entrance into Jerusalem, can we all agree it didn’t turn out half bad? Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “The whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” (Verse 10). The ancient historian Josephus helps us grasp the size of that “whole city” when he informs us that Jerusalem’s population swelled to two million during the Passover celebration. So, word about Jesus, “the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Verse 11), spread so quickly that an entire city, some two million people, noticed right away!
But it wasn’t just the two million people who noticed! Here we are almost two thousand years later, and Christians still celebrate what we call Palm Sunday! All because we rivet our attention on the massive crowds that “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Verse 8) ahead of our Savior so that dust, mud, or other things wouldn’t splatter up on Jesus and soil his robes. But this particular Palm Sunday, can we agree not to focus on the palms? After all, we could just as soon call this “Outer Cloak or Coat Sunday” because Matthew informs us that “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road” (Verse 8). How many thousands of religious pilgrims that day were literally willing to give our Savior the shirt off their backs? Why? To show their love for him! Their respect and devotion to the one to whom they shouted their hosannas!
But what kind of king, hoping to make an impressive entrance, would give these instructions to two of his disciples? “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’” (Verses 1&2). The Scriptures inform us that Jesus and his disciples had spent the last week or so in Bethany, no doubt at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But now it was time for Jesus to take his final steps to Jerusalem, go up and over the Mount of Olives, pause for a moment to take in the panoramic view of Jerusalem and the temple mount, and weep over a city that would reject him (Luke 19:41). But first, two of our Savior’s disciples had to make an important side trip to Bethphage.
Nobody would care about that village if it hadn’t been the place where Jesus told his disciples they would find a donkey and her colt. And when they found them, they were to “untie them and bring them to [Jesus]” (Verse2). Can we agree that perfect strangers shouldn’t march onto your property, up to your donkey and her colt — both perhaps tied up close to your front door, so they’d be handy for your next trip to the village market — and then simply untie them and lead them away? But I promise you, no donkey was stolen on Palm Sunday. That donkey and her colt belonged to our Savior! A thousand years earlier, the psalmist Asaph, serving as the Lord’s mouthpiece, made that clear. “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:9,10).
That’s why Jesus added, “If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away’” (Verse 3). That’s how it happened that the donkey’s earthly owners made no fuss. Instead, they gave these animals to the rightful owner whose divine vision saw so clearly where these animals were tethered at the edge of Bethphage.
Let’s pause for a quick side application. I pray you and I handle all our earthly possessions in the very same way, recognizing that we also are nothing but the Lord’s stewards, managers of his gifts — no matter what we have because “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (Psalm 24:1,2).
His final steps led to a donkey. Well, strictly speaking, two donkeys. Jesus knew it had to be this way to fulfill every last one of the Lord’s promises! The gospel writer Matthew makes sure we catch that when he adds, “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.” (Verses 4&5). It seems that Matthew is giving us a two-for-one prophecy fulfillment special with his careful observation. First to a prophecy offered by Isaiah some seven hundred years before our Savior rode into Jerusalem: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes!’” (Isaiah 62:11), and then to a second prophecy, one shared more than five hundred years before Palm Sunday. By God’s inspiration, the prophet Zechariah was able to peer down the misty corridors of time and notice this almost shocking detail about the type of animal this king would ride: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9).
A lowly donkey was needed on Palm Sunday as a sign to let the “Daughter Zion,” the Jewish people, know that Jesus was the Promised One bringing them all — bringing us all — “salvation.” What more important gift could any king of any time ever bring! Infinitely more important than world peace! Even more important than an instant cure for any disease. What our King Jesus gives is the only gift that lasts through eternity!
Had Jesus spent big bucks on a first-century PR company, I very seriously doubt they would have recommended using a donkey to make an impressive entrance into Jerusalem. Yet any lost sinner, any hurting believer waiting for “the Son of David,” would see Jesus riding on that donkey and would remember the Lord’s promises! And they’d be more than ready to throw down their outer clothing on the path ahead of him or cut palm branches and spread them on the road, all while shouting their hosannas! There was a reason why his final steps led to a donkey to show us what kind of king Jesus really is! And what kind of king is that? A king of limitless power, yet more humble than the lowest servant.
That Jesus was a king of limitless power was proven by the prophecies he fulfilled. Whether those prophecies were made thousands or hundreds of years before, Jesus kept every last one, as if checking off a daily to-do list! But then there’s also this tiny detail in Matthew’s record that is all too often overlooked. The detail? It’s what happened after the disciples brought Jesus the donkey and her colt and laid their outer clothing on them. Jesus sat on the donkey. So what, you say? So this. Both Mark and Luke, in their accounts of that day, inform us that Jesus sent his disciples in search of a colt “which no one has ever ridden” (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30). I wouldn’t recommend you try that unless you are prepared for some serious donkey pushback! It takes great patience to train a donkey for riding. Generations of donkeys have gained their reputation for stubbornness — either by sitting down and refusing to budge an inch if you try to pull them with a rope or by kicking the living daylights out of anybody naïve enough to get behind to push! Is that why Jesus told the disciples to bring both the colt and its mother? Would having the mother along make the feisty young colt easier for the disciples to handle? Less fearful of the crowds and their shouts? It’s a possibility.
But when the disciples brought the colt to Jesus, the animal knew it had met its Master and its Maker. There was absolutely no reason to be afraid! The donkey knew instantly what sinful humans like you and me learn ever so slowly through the gracious working of the Spirit through Word and sacrament: Jesus is indeed the kind of King who was promised! Humble and meek, caring and giving. He’ll watch over us. There is no reason to be afraid. You and I can trust our eternities to him because he’s not out to use us for his own personal gain. As we are reminded in Matthew 20:20, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
On Palm Sunday, when his final steps led to a donkey and he sat on it, the crowd followed the divine script our Lord had written a thousand years earlier for Jesus’ final, impressive entrance into Jerusalem. The air rang with a shout the crowds kept repeating like a chant, at a decibel level rivaling fans in Memorial cheering on their beloved Huskers making a drive for the final winning touchdown! The words of the Palm Sunday chant were borrowed from Psalm 118:25,26: “LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.” When we hear hosanna, my guess is that we automatically think, “That’s just like hallelujah!” But hosanna isn’t just a shout of praise. It’s so much more! Hosanna is a Hebrew cry for “Help!” It means “Save us now!”
It’s a fitting cry for all of us to use today. “Hosanna! Save us now!” That’s the cry we will raise the difficulties of life. It’s the prayer we will send to our Father’s throne when we hear a doctor speak a dreaded diagnosis or we struggle through the challenges of rehab. It’s the cry we will make on behalf of the elderly or for a young couple struggling to pay their bills. We make these prayers because we know our King is humble, compassionate, caring, selfless. His final steps led to a donkey to show us what kind of king Jesus really is!
He is the kind of king who cares, listens, and answers every last one of our prayers, whenever or wherever we offer them. Whether it’s the prayer of a little child begging their Lord: “Please make my goldfish better,” or the prayer of a person holding spouse’s hand as they struggle to take their final breaths in the hospice bed in the living room: “Take them home, Lord. Please, take them home.”
“Hosanna! Save us now!” It’s a fitting cry for all of us to make, but for a far greater reason than any I’ve mentioned so far. For you see, this grand entrance that Jesus made into Jerusalem paved the way for our Savior’s final steps to his cross. And that was always the goal, because saving us was his mission. Saving us was his purpose. Saving us is what he did when he bowed his head and died, when he dragged down into his grave the most deadly infection to ever plague our world! A cross-generational pandemic with a 100 percent fatality rate: sin (yours, mine, and everyone else’s too). Our fears and our worries right now. “What about all the things going on in the world right now? What about my investments and my retirement fund?” Our anger over our Father’s plans when they don’t seem to match our own. Our selfishness and self-centeredness that sometimes come bubbling to the surface like so much raw sewage.
Jesus answers the cry “Hosanna!” to show what kind of king he really is, precisely the kind of king broken people like you and me need — now and always. Amen.
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