Saturday, March 23, 2024

Matthew 21:1-11 The Problem with Palms - March 24, 2024

 Matthew 21:1-11 The Problem with Palms 

Good Morning, Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 21:1-11, page 826 in the pew Bibles. If you didn’t get the memo, today is Palm Sunday! 

I’d like to say thank you to Will for faithfully bringing God’s Word to our family while I was away. Good job Brother!

Let’s pray.

We are going to continue this pause in our study of the Gospel of Luke this week and next as we focus our attention on the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. As we read the Scripture this morning, try and imagine yourself in this amazing scene; imagine yourself on that dusty road just outside of Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:1-11 

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, 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, 5 "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'" 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. 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!" 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."

If you listen, you can hear the crowd. Off in the distance, a muffled rumble, indistinguishable words, then a cheer, and then a chant: "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!"

If you look, you can see the brightly colored holiday clothes of festive pilgrims gathering in Jerusalem. The Passover is not for several days yet, and the people are restless. There’s an energy in the city. A rumor draws them from their eating, from their sightseeing. 

"The Messiah has been revealed!"

If you use your imagination just for a moment, you can feel the press of the people as they gather along the road from Bethany to Jerusalem. You can smell the dust, and the donkeys, and the unmistakable odor of too many unwashed people in too confined a space. 

You can sense the excitement in the air, and soon you find yourself reaching up to break down a palm branch, and then straining to see through all the other waving branches. You may even find yourself shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

If you are the kind of person who thinks about things, you may even wonder what all this is about. Who is this man on the donkey that the people are treating like a king? If he really is a new king, am I supposed to be his subject? If so, what will he expect of me? 

This is Holy Week, the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry.

The crucifixion is six days away. Jesus is coming to Jerusalem despite the danger, because there are some things He must say, things He must do. Perhaps the most important statement He made publicly, He made symbolically by riding a donkey into town.

And why is this so significant? 

So far as we know as recorded in Scripture, Jesus never rode a donkey. Prior to this day, He always walked with his disciples. He ate and slept and sweat in their midst. 

Often He withdrew from them for prayer, but He never expected any special privilege. Now He sends them to fetch a donkey for Him to ride.

But why, what is the significance?

Entering the city on a donkey's colt was a simple way to symbolize the truth that Jesus did in fact come as King. It showed that He accepted the title, and He accepted the people's praise. He remembered that when Solomon became king after David, he rode his father's favorite mule during the inaugural procession into the royal city of Jerusalem. 

32 King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. 33 And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. 34 And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.”

Now, a far greater "son of David" rides triumphantly into the city of kings in similar fashion.

A conquering king would have ridden into the city on a fearsome warhorse, or in a gilded chariot, but Jesus rode on the back of a donkey. While He accepted the title of "King," He refused to become the military or political Messiah that the people, maybe even His disciples, expected.

Jesus had specified that the donkey was to be a young colt that had not been ridden. This suggests the sacred aspect of his journey to Jerusalem. Only animals that had never been used as beasts of burden could be considered suitable for sacred purposes. We can see that in the sacrifices outlined in Numbers 19 and in the instructions for transporting the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Samuel 6. 

The unridden animal's willingness to bear Jesus also says something about His power. Jesus is not only a king--He is a divine King. This was not a political occasion, but a sacred one.

Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking. As they approached the city, looking across the valley at the city of Jerusalem, and as they watched Jesus preparing to climb on that donkey's back, they must have been so excited, finally their hopes were going to be realized.

They knew that Jesus was perfectly capable of walking and He was not the type to act like He was owed a ride. But Jesus never did anything without a purpose, so He must be saying something. Gradually it dawned on them that Jesus was in fact accepting the title of "King."

The disciples had longed for this, but, I’m sure they wondered if it would ever happen. Once they realized what was on His mind, though, they did all they could to make this a truly royal procession. They draped their cloaks over the donkey's back to make Jesus' seat more comfortable and to make the donkey look more presentable. The road was already crowded with pilgrims, and many of them knew about Jesus, so it was not hard for the disciples to stir up the crowd's excitement. "Jesus, the Son of David has proclaimed Himself King!"

Soon the road was jammed with pilgrims and locals alike. They joined the disciples in laying their cloaks across the road to show Jesus honor. They cut branches from the palm trees and waved them in the air, and spread them on the road. 

The last time Israel had been independent was a hundred years prior to this event, when Judas Maccabeus had led Israel to victory and became king. His nickname was "the hammer," and he had adopted the palm branch as a symbol of his victory. He put the image of a palm branch on his coins, and had them used in temple feasts to celebrate the victory over Rome. When the crowd rushed to get palm branches for this occasion, it was not just because they were convenient.

While the cloaks and the palm branches make this a royal procession, the cheers of the people are even more significant. 

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

The word "Hosanna" is a transliteration of a Hebrew phrase that means "please save!" or "help!" It occurs in Ps. 118:25, just before the other phrase used here, "Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!" 

Both of these quotations were used in the liturgy of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, when the people would commonly wave branches in the air and pray for God's help.

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" was a popular greeting shared between pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the festival. Here it is adapted to pronounce a blessing on the King who comes in the name of the Lord.

Verse five quotes the prophet Zechariah from Zechariah 9:9.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people all around took notice. Verse 10 says that, "the whole city was stirred and asked `Who is this'?" The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

When we read this account, we must also ask, "Who is this?", and in particular, we must ask "Who is Jesus to me?"

The problem with palms is that once you cut the branches from the tree, they don't live long. The problem with Palm Sunday is that the excitement of that crowd soon faded, and when Good Friday rolled around, many of the same voices who shouted "Hosanna!" may also have been shouting "Crucify Him!" Their appreciation for the Lord Jesus was shallow and based entirely on their hope of what exciting things He might do for them. 

Many pilgrims would get behind Jesus on the road to the throne, but they would not follow Him on the way to the cross. They would wave palms before the coming King, but they would not obey the Suffering Servant.

This day in Jesus' life was significant in many ways. Jesus knew that the end of this phase of His ministry was near. It was almost time to do what He had come to do. It was now or never.

This was Jesus' opportunity to be obedient to the will of God, and to accomplish the purpose set out for Him.

It is a day in history that speaks to Christians of every age.

Are we also so shallow that we will wave our palm branches on Sunday mornings, and sing our songs of praise, but refuse to obey the Servant King the rest of our lives? 

There is life ahead of us - there is a purpose for us.

None of us knows just how long that life will be, just how much time we have left. Every time someone dies, we are reminded of that.

None of us can know all that the future holds. We don't know how long we will be on this earth. But we can know that God has a purpose for us. He calls us to love Him and love others to make and mature disciples together as a family, He calls us to speak the truth, to reach out our hands, to hold out our hearts.

And he calls us to do that now

Most Christians hold the ideal of one day being truly faithful to Christ. "One day I'll be obedient," we say. "One day I'll be truly committed. One day I'll submit to serve him."

That day is now. We don't know how many more days there will be.

Just like that crowd we have a choice. 

We can choose, like they did, to bail on Jesus. They chose to run out on Him when he didn’t meet their expectations they chose to quit when He didn’t do what they wanted him to do. 

We have that choice too. We can choose to bail, we can choose to quit.

How often does it seem like our prayers go unanswered or get answered in ways we don’t expect or don’t like? When we are disappointed with Jesus like the crowd was we can choose to turn on Him like they did.

Or, we can choose to trust Him, we can choose to submit to His plan and His design for our lives and for His church, we can choose to be faithful to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and live according to his Word, we can choose to love God and love others, we can choose to help make and mature disciples together as a family. 

We can choose to follow Jesus.

You are faced with that choice, what are you going to do?

I hope you will choose to trust Jesus and follow Him wherever and however He leads.

Let’s pray.