PALM SUNDAY Places of the Passion Lenten Series: “Bethphage”
March 28, 2021 Matt.21:1-11
Dear bothers & sisters in Christ,
‘Hosanna’ is the word-of-the-day; let’s say it together: ‘hosanna’. Let’s begin with a little history as an illustration. You know the phrase: “Remember the Alamo” ? The ‘Alamo Mission’ began as a Catholic mission outpost among Texans & Mexicans in the early 1800s; it was a time when the border between the U.S. and Mexico was being disputed. This fort was located near the Guadalupe River at -what is now- San Antonio, and it was being threatened.
James Bonham was a young lawyer from South Carolina. He had only been in Texas for 3 months when he volunteered to fight & defend the Alamo. On February 23, 1836, as General Santa Anna & his 2,000 Mexican troops gathered, the 182 men at the Alamo prepared for battle. James Bonham was able to break thru the enemy lines, and rode his horse to find help in Goliad, Tx. No one in Goliad was willing to fight. So, Bonham rode to Victoria, Tx. No one in Victoria was willing to fight. If you were James Bonham, at that point, *what would you have done? *What did he do? He rode back to the Alamo; back to the battle, certain he would die. He got back to the Alamo on March 3rd. He died on March 6 while manning a cannon at the Alamo chapel.
During our Lenten midweek evening devotion times, we’ve had a series of sermons from Matthew’s gospel called Places of the Passion. We walked with Jesus, and watched Him at work for us in 6 places = /in Jerusalem, /Bethany, /The Mount of Olives, /Gethsemane,
/The Courtyard, /and Pilate’s Judgement Hall. To begin our Holy Week, we are with Jesus at the village of Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives. From here Jesus will ride back into Jerusalem, back to our battle where we are opposed by an overwhelming force of darkness, death & condemnation. Jesus is going to finish the fight = certain He will die.
We heard in vs.10: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, asking, ‘Who is this?’” That’s the Palm Sunday question: “Who is this?” WE should be able to answer that question without much trouble; and that is only by the gift & grace of God.
But most of our world cannot correctly answer that question. Yet, that’s the ultimate question. Who is Jesus? If we get this right; we get everything right = eternally. If we get this wrong; we get everything else wrong.
Remember when Jesus asked his disciples ‘who do people say that I am?’ Matthew records this back in chpt.16. And they said, ‘some say you are John the Baptist back from the dead; some say Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet.’ The common thread there is that people thought Jesus was some past Bible character who had come back from the dead. That’s not really the kind of answer we get in our day when the question is asked, Who is Jesus?
But there are still a whole variety of answers people like to give.
+Some say Jesus is a Therapist; he helps us cope with life’s problems, tells us how special we are, and encourages us not to be so hard on ourselves. +Some say Jesus is a Hipster; he’s his own unique person, he drinks fair-trade coffee at Starbucks, loves talk about spiritual things, poetry & recycling. +Some say Jesus is a Coach; he helps Christian athletes run faster & jump higher than non-Christian athletes, & when they win or make a good play, He loves it when his people do this: (touch heart & point to the sky).
+Some say Jesus is a Hippie; he says, “Give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, & all you need is love.” +Some say Jesus is a Spiritual Guru who says, “Be one with nature, do some yoga, & truth is whatever you say it is.” +Some say Jesus is a Revolutionary; he teaches us to rebel, to join a ‘cause’ to change the world, & to resist the system because it’s biased, or racist, or unfair. +Some say Jesus is the best Example for us; don’t judge anyone, tolerate everything, help little old ladies cross the street, & wear your mask at all times.
If you’re old enough, you might remember the movie Cool Hand Luke, actor Paul Newman had the Plastic Jesus. That was even the name of a song in the movie. The lyrics were, “Well, I don’t care if it rains or freezes. Long as I have my plastic Jesus.” A Plastic Jesus is like a plastic Buddha, or a rabbit’s foot; it’s a good-luck charm. Keep him in your pocket; He wards off evil & trouble, but you don’t really need him if things are going fine; altho, you can ask a favor now & then.
So, that’s the variety of answers people might give. That was 8; and there’s always more, because when people try to answer the question based on their own desires, you gete your won Jesus! But Jesus is not going to BE what we want Him to be == He is who He is. So, we need to know who He is. Who is the real Jesus? You & I know -from back in chpt.16- the answer Peter gave, and the answer Jesus praised: …
Peter said, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Memorize that answer, it’s a good one; and keep that answer handy at all times. It’s the truth.
And yet, for this Palm Sunday question, let’s give a Palm Sunday answer, because it is also the truth of ‘Who is Jesus’. Jesus is the humble King who serves to save us. Jesus is a lot and does a lot; but we’ll learn from God’s own Word how to answer questions about God. Instead of desiring Him to be what we want, we’ll learn to desire Him as He IS for a true & solid faith, & a confident & peace-filled life. Jesus is the humble King who serves to save us.
As we heard, they are in Bethphage. “Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’” Could you or I borrow someone’s car and just say, ‘the Lord needs it’? No. But then, you or I are not the Lord. This idea here is Jesus using something called ‘the law of royal levy.’ It was understood that a king had authority to get anything, from anyone, at any time. Who is Jesus? Matthew is answering our question by saying that Jesus is a King.
What kind of King? “Behold, your King comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey.’” It’s interesting that when Matthew is quoting the prophet Zechariah, chpt.9, he leaves out a couple of words. We have to assume this is on purpose. Zech 9 says, “Behold, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, humble and riding on a donkey.” And Matthew just said, “Behold, your King comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey.’”
Why leave out ‘righteous and having salvation’? Matthew has used both those words about Jesus over 10 times in his gospel; so why leave them out here? He does it for emphasis. Matthew is emphasizing the Messiah’s quality of humility. Back in chpt.11, Jesus said,
“I am humble and lowly in heart.” It’s a key thing.
The donkey underscores Christ’s humility, not His power. Emphasizing that humility would also be a chief mark of all the people who belong to the real Christ of God. A horse was the beast of choice by earthly kings; by using a donkey, Jesus announces that with His first advent He’s not here to bark out orders; He came to wash feet. His assignment was not to be an ‘elite’, to dominate & intimidate, but /to join our trouble, /to have compassion,
/to forgive sinners, /& to cry with us over a broken & unfair world that won’t give us what we desire = it can’t.
Jesus doesn’t come to wave His hand to signal an army, but lets His hands be bound; He is arrested & dragged before a judge, who will order His hands stretched out & nailed to the cross. By that He will hold us & our salvation in His hands. Richer than a thousand kings, this King became poor, to serve us & make us rich in heavenly treasure. The Palm Sunday crowd spoke well of this King when they shouted, ‘hosanna to the Son of King David. Hosanna in the highest.’
So, Jesus is a King; absolutely. But humble, using His authority to serve us. This is what He taught the crowd as He made His way to Bethphage in Mt.20: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey; back to the fight; He is certain He will die. Why would He do that? To give His life as a ransom for many. Biblically, a ransom is not extortion money because of a hostage situation; it’s money paid to release law-breakers who are prisoners. WE are Prisoners to our selfishness & fears; captive to our sinful desires which make life empty, not fulfilling. Jesus ransomed us, “not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death.” That’s who He is; He is the One who paid our price of sin; we’ve been ransomed & redeemed by His body & life. Jesus is our humble King who serves us, & sets us free.
Now, just because Jesus serves us, does not mean He does not ‘fight’ for us. It’s just that He is not fighting ‘people’. He fights for people & against our enemies: sin, death & the devil. Who is Jesus? He’s a fighter, our mighty warrior. Matthew writes, “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 means, “Save us now!” The palm branches were an ancient sign of military victory. So, while serving us, Jesus is also a mighty Warrior = who fights against the dark forces of evil; He fights against sin’s temptations; He fights against the false doctrine of lying religions; and He fights against death for our resurrection. Jesus is the Lord’s mighty warrior against all God’s enemies. He goes down fighting; ….and on the 3rd day, he wins.
And finally, Who is Jesus? Matthew wrote: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up.’” Other translations say ‘shaken up’.
Jesus is our utmost prophet who shakes the city. That’s what Bible-Prophets do; because they bring the Word & Spirit of the Holy God. Prophets shake things up! Sinners are ‘stuck’; toward God & His things, we are often lethargic, listless, & lukewarm in our faith. Many years ago a poet wrote: “Come weal, come woe, our status is quo.” Meaning: sinners like to stay in their sins, as pigs like to stay in their mud. God’s prophets are shakers. God made Isaiah walk around naked for 3 years. (Isaiah 20) Jeremiah had to bury his underwear & then had to dig it up to illustrate how Israel was spiritually ruined.(Jer 13) Hosea was told to married a prostitute who continued to be immoral. (Hosea 1). God’s prophets did some shocking things.
What did God’s Son do to shake things up? Jesus allowed people to /spit on him, /slap & punch him, /whip & curse him, /lie about him, /use the justice system against him, /& spike him to the cross until dead. The whole region was thrown into darkness because of Jesus. And in Matt.27, at His final breath, “The earth shook and the rocks split”, the curtain of the holy-of-holies was torn in two, and tombs broke open. This prophet shook the whole world.
It was quiet for one sabbath day; and then on Sunday morning we’re told, “And behold there was a great earthquake.” The Word-made-flesh would not be silenced, & the Crucified One could not stay dead. His death & resurrection continues to shake sinners out of their sleep, to give the unshakable promise of eternal life. That’s who Jesus is: He is the One who was crucified, and now He is arisen & alive. So, Jesus is the humble King who serves to save us, and who shakes us alive. He is all of those things for you. That’s the Palm Sunday answer.
Have you heard the little story about that Palm Sunday donkey Jesus rode? That Sunday was quite a day for that animal. So, the donkey woke up Monday morning, his little donkey brain was so happy after that most exciting day of his life. He found some people who had been there, and said to them, “Throw your garments down again.” They shook their heads & walked away. “Miserable heathens!” the donkey muttered. He then went to the marketplace and asked the people there, “Where are your palm branches? Yesterday, you waved palm branches at me!” They just stared at him. Sad & upset, the donkey went home to his father. “You foolish donkey,” his father said. “Don’t you get it? You are nothing without Jesus!”
The heavenly Father says to you & me, ‘Don’t you see? You’re nothing without Jesus.’ We’re not talking about some therapist, or coach, or good luck charm. The real Jesus is the Son of the Living God who came to shake things up; He’s our Mighty Warrior who fights for us; and He’s our humble King who serves us to save us. To thank & honor Him we repeat our word-of-the-day together: ‘Hosanna!’ Amen.