March 17, 2024. See Your King Comes!

First Mennonite Church

March 17, 2024

See Your King Comes

Text: Matthew 21:1-16, Luke 19: 41-44

As we continue to follow Jesus heading into his final days, Matthew 21 gives an account of his last entry into Jerusalem. In the liturgical calendar, Matthew 21 is assigned as the reading for Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter Sunday. Although, today is not the Sunday before Easter Sunday, we will consider this passage today because next Sunday we will have Communion in celebration of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.

In some churches, part of Palm Sunday worship includes giving palm branches to children to wave as they enter the sanctuary. In some others, church members enter into the sanctuary in a procession with palm branches in hand. These forms of commemorating this special Sunday can be beautiful and joyous. But, as we will see, the passage assigned for Palm Sunday has a very important message we should also take into account.

During Jesus’ earthly life, the days around the Passover Festival were always very tense both for the Judean people and the Roman representatives in Jerusalem. Nobody hated the Passover Feast more than Pilate, the Roman Governor in Jerusalem. Therefore, in the days before the Passover Feast, Pilate would bring in more troops in Jerusalem and have them until the crowds had dwindled. Troops would march in from the west, probably from Caesarea Maritima, and make a great show of military might with war horses and columns of marching troops while entering the city. This display of force was intended to dampen the enthusiasm of any Jewish activists.[1] And the reason for that is because the Passover Feast commemorates Israel’s liberation from Egypt. Thus, the head of every household was required to tell the significance of the meal. The Passover meal included unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and whole lamb roasted. The meal commemorated Israel’s hasty exit from Egypt after Yahweh had executed his judgment over Pharaoh. The meal marked the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom. Thus the reason for the feast and the elements of the meal raised a touchy political issue in the eyes of the oppressive Roman occupiers of Judea. 

For our benefit of biblical literacy, it is important to know that according to the Gospel of John, Jesus goes to Jerusalem three times (John 2:13, 5:1, 12:12). In Matthew’s storyline, Jesus only goes to Jerusalem once. In Matthew, Jesus seems to have avoided Jerusalem throughout his life because when he was born, Herod had wanted to kill him. The Herod reigning at the time of Jesus’ entry was not the same one during Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great died while Jesus was in Egypt when he was still a baby. But in place of Herod the Great, reigned Archelaus, Herod’s son also called Herod (Matthew 2:21, 22).

Therefore, imagine, as Jesus enters the city, the crowds begin to proclaim him “king,” the very title only Herod could have. It is no wonder why the “whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” (v.10).

It is within that context of tension, of clopping hooves of warhorses all over the place and under the watchful eyes of Roman soldiers, of excited locals and arriving devout pilgrims, and of raised hopes of Divine liberation that Jesus appears into the scene.

Bethphage was adjacent to Jerusalem. Upon arriving there, Jesus instructs his disciples what to do. To fetch him a nursing donkey and her colt.  

It is really puzzling or interesting to see Jesus’ foreknowledge displayed in the instructions he gives his disciples. “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. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

In Luke’s version of this story, the owners of the animals do question the disciples’ actions. In Luke 19, verses 32, 33, & 34 we read: Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

In Matthew, Jesus sends for two animals: a nursing donkey and her colt, on which the disciples “put their cloaks on them, and he [Jesus] sat on them. It seems as if Matthew is telling us Jesus rode on two animals.

However, Matthew shows that Jesus’ riding on a donkey and entering Jerusalem is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

So, riding on a donkey, Jesus enters Jerusalem. And a crowd welcomes him, laying down their cloaks and branches on the road for Jesus’ donkey to walk over. The crowds going before and behind Jesus were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

This is a quote from Psalm 118:25, 26.

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
    O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The word Hosanna is a prayer: Save us please, Lord!

The excitement and passion of the crowds combined with the words of acclamation to Jesus, had great resonance with the Jewish messianic hopes of God’s decisive deliverance of his people. And again, it was no wonder the great turmoil Jesus’ entrance aroused in the whole city of Jerusalem. It was a momentous occasion that shook the whole city, including Herod, Pilate, and all the religious leaders.

But Matthew also wants people to know that when he says that Jesus is king, he is not talking about kingship in the ways of Herod and all other earthly kings. Jesus Is the King who restores his people, but not with military victories. Jesus triumphs, but not with the might of the sword. Jesus enter the city riding not on a war horse, but a “humble donkey,” a beast of trade. Just imagine a Roman soldier mounted on his horse watching this. What else can be so poignantly humble as a man riding a nursing donkey sniffing down on the green branches to see if there is something she could eat, and along with her an innocent foal in tow?

 Jesus is the promised Prince of Peace, whose desire is that no implements of war ever exists. According to Zechariah’s prophecy, Zion’s King enters “triumphant and victoriously,” to do the following:

[He] will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations.
(Zechariah 9:10)

Luke’s version of this account reveals Jesus’ yearning for peace. While the crowds chanted their hosannas and their hopes were those of earthly deliverance, Jesus’ heart was breaking. His countenance suddenly changed as the city of Jerusalem came into view. Luke tells us: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.

My dear sisters and brothers, Palm Sunday is a reminder that Jesus didn’t come to take over Pilate’s system to install his kingdom. Palm Sunday is a reminder that Jesus did not come to institute peace through force and violence. Jesus came not to rule in the way of Pilate nor Herod of old or of the present times. The Pax Romana imposed peace by destroying its enemies. Jesus came to give peace, not as the world gives it. Jesus is the Prince of peace and who even prayed for his enemies as he died in their hands. He surrendered his life on the cross to reconcile man to God and to show mankind the way of peace. Therefore, any attempt at putting Jesus in the chambers of power to rule in the ways of Pilate or Herod is a distorted view of who he is. It is a view similar to those who gave him lip service when they chanted “hosanna,” expecting Jesus to replace Pilate and to rule according to his ways.

Palm Sunday asks us the question: Which Jesus are you following?  Is it He whose heart breaks because his ways of peace are rejected or a version of Jesus we have created according to the rulers of the world, who He is not? Are we following a Jesus who rules through imposition, through violence, and by destroying those who do not align with his ways?

No, my brothers and sister. The Christ we follow not only gives us peace but also makes each of us a peacemaker. In the Beatitudes, Jesus said: Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.

Jesus is King, but he only rules over those who accept his rule and lordship over them. Jesus’ reign takes place in those whom the Father has revealed the true identity of Jesus. Jesus reigns over those who have voluntarily surrendered their lives to him. Therefore, when we confess that Jesus is Lord and Christ, the anointed King, we leave no room for the Pilates of this world. When we confess Jesus as Lord and the only King we have, we follow him, carrying our cross as he did. Jesus is our humble King of peace. That is the Good News of God for the world. Amen.

Pastor Romero

[1] Andrew Prior. (March 14, 2024)