Palm Sunday Sermon: Who Is This?

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

It’s the year 33 AD or so
It’s probably a Sunday
And the setting is Jerusalem, now a world class city and the center of Israel’s religious life with its newly renovated temple that rivals any in the ancient world.

The city is filled with pilgrims in town for Passover.
everything is noisy and bustling
Merchants are actively selling their wares, families are moving and shuffling about.
Dust is likely filling the air as animals hauling belongings and supplies are shifting and plodding
this way and that
Chatter is everywhere.

And then, people begin to take notice of this scene developing at a distance, toward one of the entrances of the city
People are starting to whisper and point into the distance.
The interest and curiosity seems to be building
Some are grabbing each other by the arms and racing toward all the action
Something is going on but no one is quite sure what.
It appears that the crowds are noticing this man riding atop a donkey entering the city.
people are gathering on the edge of the road like its some sort of parade
many are even running alongside him seemingly to get a closer look
They’re shedding their garments and throwing them on the road in front of him for the donkey to tread upon
They’re ripping palm branches from the trees and waving them in celebration—
Gestures that everyone in the crowd know are symbols for victory—
They shout Hosanna!
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
In Hebrew, Hosanna means “save us” -which considering the story is interesting, but here it is likely just a shout of praise.

But who is this guy?
And why are they all responding to him like teenage girls to the arrival of Justin Bieber?
Who is this, making such a scene?
Surely it must be someone royal and powerful, considering this level of welcome.
And this enthusiastic welcome would indeed be appropriate
if what they’re saying is true-
Because the Messiah was understood to be from the lineage of King David, Israel’s greatest king.
being a descendent of David was a prerequisite for this new king
So when they shout out “Hosanna, Son of David” they are acknowledging that he fits all the criteria of the one who is hoped for
In other words, this could be IT.

This is the image they have likely dreamt about for years.
Perhaps lifetimes.
The arrival of the Messiah.
It fits all the descriptions they’ve heard in prophecies.
Almost to a “t”
So in their hopes at least- The Messiah has come to rescue them at last
To liberate them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire.

But who is this?

Well, they know his name is Jesus.
But this is a common name at the time
Almost like John or Bob or Richard of today—
so the name wouldn’t be a big indicator
But chances are they had a good idea of who this guy was
the word was on the street, so to speak
it’s likely the word was getting out about about this traveling rabbi from Galilee who had started up a movement of sorts
He’s creating quite the buzz
People are beginning to follow him from town to town to listen to his teaching.
many even consider him to be a prophet
And all this hubbub has been getting under the skins of the religious leaders
Everything he has been saying has been challenging them

Now we have this scene which will likely only make matters worse

Because from the looks of things, people are soaking it all in and starting to get excited.
As the text says
The city was all stirred up.

Jesus knew what he was doing by setting this all up this way.
He’s no stranger to provocation

He knows good and well that the people of Jerusalem will recognize the statement he is making
They’re steeped in Scripture.
They know the prophecies.

So, just before he enters the city, he stops by a suburb of Jerusalem known as Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, and sends two of his disciples to secure a donkey and a colt for which he was to ride.
this way, he’s intentionally linking himself to, and placing himself in, the prophecy in Zechariah 9:

“Tell the daughter of Zion (which is Jerusalem)
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

If you continue on with Zechariah passage, it goes even further in describing this king.

The image of a divine warrior
Promises to “set your prisoners free”
To return you to your stronghold
To restore to you double

By taking these well-understood symbols and reappropriating them, Jesus is deliberately claiming to be the promised king of Israel who will re-establish the throne of David

And they respond accordingly

When they throw their garments on the ground for him to ride over, it is reminiscent of how crowds acted when Elisha commanded the anointing of the prophet Jehu as King of Israel in 2 Kings 9:13. “hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king’”

With his dramatic arrival into the city, Jesus is announcing that he is the king they have been waiting for. He is the Messiah that has been foretold for so many years.
And yes, he has arrived
And yes, he will save them.
And yes, he will liberate them.

But not exactly how they think…

The entire story in fact is a study in contrasts.

A king riding not on a majestic warhorse….but a donkey.
Instead of royal robes, the clothes of the poor and marginalized are rolled out on the ground like a red carpet
Here is a leader who conquers not with force, but with love, compassion, and forgiveness.
This is a kingdom not of glitz and splendor, but of lowliness and servanthood.

Now this is NOT what the people were expecting.

And we know that once they learn that their expectations are not as they think
Their shouts of Hosana will turn to hisses of “Crucify!”
But for those developments,
and to fully experience how this story unfolds,
you’ll have to come back later in the week.

See you Thursday.

Amen.

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