Matthew 21:1-11 (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday)
“The King Comes”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 14, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in Matthew 21:
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, 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.”
On Sesame Street there used to be a segment with a song, “One of these things is not like the other.” On the screen you would see four objects, three of the four would have something in common and one would be different. So—strawberry, apple, banana, rock. Which of these is not like the other? The rock, all the rest are fruit. Try this one. King, crown, palace, donkey. Which of these is not like the other? You want to say the donkey, don’t you? A king, a crown, and a palace have to do with royalty, but the donkey? Well, actually, it’s a trick question. In the ancient world the donkey also had a connection to royalty.
A donkey’s main function in the ancient world was as a vehicle for rich and poor alike. In fact, the donkey and mule were a staple of ancient Near Eastern royal ceremony. The royal archives of the city of Mari (located about 15 miles north of the Syrian-Iraqi border) shows us that already in the third millennium B.C. riding on a donkey for ceremonial entry into the city was an act of kingship. In the old Sumerian text, the sons of kings ride donkeys. Jumping forward in time to around 900 B.C., in 1 Kings 1:33-44 Solomon rides David’s mule to Gihon to be anointed king. Kings and donkeys do indeed belong together.
On that Sunday morning in A.D. 30, Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. His chosen beast did not show Him to be a poor or common man, but a king. But He came as a king in humility, not as a king who conquers. A man on a donkey is not looking for war. Jesus came as the king promised by the prophet Zechariah, “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah spoke about this king who is righteous and bringing salvation. The context of the prophecy was one of peace where God would remove the chariots and war horses from the land and proclaim peace to the nations. The blood of God’s covenant would free prisoners from their waterless pit. (Zech. 9:9-11)
So Jesus comes as a king, riding a donkey. Better, Jesus comes as THE king promised of old, the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed One, who would save His people. And the people of Jerusalem and the pilgrims who had come to the city for the upcoming Festival of Passover welcomed Jesus the King as they would have welcomed triumphant kings and generals returning to Jerusalem in days gone by. Indeed, the people welcomed Jesus as the divine King with the words of Psalm 118: “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
These words are packed full of meaning. So let’s take a moment and unpack them. “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word. It means “Save us.” It was a prayer to God for salvation. By the first century at the time of Jesus it was more of a cry of praise to the Lord, to Yahweh, a cry of jubilation along the lines of “Praise be to the Messianic King!” The promised Son of David, the Messiah, was entering Jerusalem as Zechariah had proclaimed. The people identified Jesus as such with the acclamation “Hosanna” and then proceeded to continue to speak the words of Psalm 118, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh.” Jesus is proclaimed to be who He truly is—Yahweh’s Anointed One, Yahweh’s Messiah, the promised descendent of David who would bring Yahweh’s salvation to the people of Israel and to the nations.
Even as the King comes humble and mounted on a donkey, even as He is acclaimed with all the right words, it quickly becomes apparent that the people are looking for a much different king than Jesus is going to be. They want a triumphant, nationalistic, even militaristic king. They want a Savior from the Roman power, not from the power of sin and Satan. Does Jesus ride into Jerusalem to inaugurate this new era of salvation? He comes as a king and is even proclaimed to be such a king, but He doesn’t come as a king looking to conquer. In fact, Mark records that after Jesus rides into the city, He went to the Temple complex, looked around, and went out the Bethany since it was already late. Nothing happened. The next day Jesus returned to the Temple and drove out all those buying and selling in the Temple. Not what they had in mind. “The chief priests and the scribes . . . started looking for a way to destroy Him.” (Mark 11:18)
Jesus a king? Clearly He identified Himself as the promised King, Yahweh’s Anointed One, the Messiah, by fulfilling the prophetic words of Zechariah. The people’s proclamation on the first Palm Sunday indicated their assent to this claim. But when it came right down to it, Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted. He was not the King they wanted. “Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King.’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”(John 19:14-15 ESV)
Who is your king? Who is your lord? Kingship and lordship has become a foreign idea for Americans. As a nation, we threw off the yolk of kings. We very much do not like the idea of submitting to a royal head who has absolute power over us. Even more so when it comes to Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s not the King we want because to place ourselves under His rule goes against our nature. Sure, it’s nice to have a King when we want His protection, His favors, His guidance, or His help. But we’d much rather prefer not to have this King. Our very nature seeks to serve only one “king,” the self. Do we not consider ourselves lords and masters of our own destinies? Do we not think of “ourself” as the one in charge of “my life?” Isn’t a prevalent view about Christians to be those who have to follow a bunch of “outdated rules and laws”?
We don’t want a King who won’t let us do whatever we feel is right. We don’t want a King who tells us that we can’t have sex with whoever we choose, whenever we choose. We don’t want a King who says we can’t get drunk, gossip, swear, lie, or cheat when it is in our interest to do so. We don’t want a King who has to be first priority in our lives. What we want is to be “king” of ourselves. What we want is to be in charge of ourselves and do things the way we want to do them, live the way we want to live.
But our own personal little kingdoms are doomed to fail. Our personal kingdoms are corrupt and evil. They earn for us nothing of lasting value, only the things that are here today and gone tomorrow in favor of something else our fickle selves come up with. In the end, our little personal kingdoms are worth nothing and cannot stand up under the judgment and scrutiny of God. As God poured out His wrath and judgment against the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, so He will shower His holy anger against us and our personal kingdoms. We will face the wrath and justice of God against our sins of thought, desire, word, and action. We will fall under the Lord’s condemnation and be sentenced to eternal death in hell. Our kingship and our kingdoms will fall.
Yet, “behold your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” The King comes not in warlike-judgment. He doesn’t come to enact payback for our sins against Him. He comes bringing salvation, for this King is Jesus who saves His people from their sins. The Divine King, God Himself, comes in the person of Jesus, God-made-flesh and dwelling among us, in order to save us from our sins, from eternal death, and from hell. He is the God-Man whose blood is the blood of God’s covenant that would be poured out to save all people from the waterless pit of sin and death. Behold, your King was lifted up and nailed to cross where His holy blood flowed freely from His veins to wash us clean from our sins, to redeem us from our selfish rebellion against our God and King, and to anoint us with life everlasting in the King’s royal presence.
Jesus Christ is the God-given King that we need to rule our lives with His grace. Rather than punishment and condemnation, which is what we deserved, our King Jesus brought us forgiveness and salvation. Rather than death, our King Himself died in our place so that we would have life and have it in abundance. Our King Jesus comes today in the preached and read Word of the Gospel with His forgiveness. Our King Jesus comes today in His own Body and Blood with bread and wine to seal your forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your Baptismal faith in which you know and confess Him as the King of your life.
As you leave your sacred audience with the King, the Lord Jesus, today, He goes with you in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables you to live under Jesus in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness because Christ is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. And how do we serve our King who first came to serve us? By loving Him, our King, with all our heart and soul through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. By loving our neighbors with mercy and love shown to them in the name of Jesus.
Through His Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit enables us to daily drown our sinful nature along with all of its desires for us to be our own kings of our own little kingdoms. In Baptism we daily die to sin and rise to newness of life in Christ through the power of the Spirit. Being in Christ and living for Christ now predominates our lives of faith. We worship our King, placing Him first in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. And since we now live in and for Christ, we demonstrate our loyalty to our King through our faith active in love and mercy. In humility you and I “count others more significant than” ourselves. We look to the interests of others as you and I care for people by helping them in the physical needs. (Philippians 2:3-4) We lend a listening ear and a compassionate heart and a comforting word. And we especially share the Gospel message about our Crucified and Risen King with others so that they might hear and believe and be saved.
During this Holy Week, come into the presence of your King, Jesus Christ. Hear again the Word of His Passion. Kneel and feast at the King’s Table on Holy Thursday as we observe the night in which He was betrayed, receiving into our mouths His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. On Good Friday see your King lifted up on the throne of the cross where He shed the blood of the covenant to take away your sins. Then come for the Easter celebration of the King’s resurrection as we rejoice in the victory over death and the grave Jesus won for us. Behold, your King comes to you this Holy Week in Word and Sacrament. Come and meet Him with your Hosannas! Amen.