Hello, I’m Becky, I lead the Eden team over in Fir Vale, and I have been having loads of fun thinking about this passage, so thanks for joining me! Today we’re onto the first bit of Matthew 21, which is the story of when Jesus sends a couple of disciples to fetch him a donkey, and finishes his journey to Jerusalem by riding through the gates on it.He’s not just got sore feet, he’s actually acting out an old Jewish prophecy from the writings of Zechariah, that says when their King comes to save them he’ll be riding on a donkey, and so everybody gets very excited. They could really use a promised Saviour-King at the moment, someone to overthrow the Romans and reclaim the land for them.
So – Jesus is on a road outside Jerusalem, surrounded by his disciples and the crowds who’ve followed him from other towns, and he climbs onto the back of a donkeyand starts heading for the city. It’s a couple of sizes too small for him, and he’s presumably wearing the clothes he’s been trekking in for days, but by acting out the prophecy from Zechariah, he’s making a pretty bold statement that he is the promised King. This is the response of the crowds in Matthew 21 v 8-9:
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
How much of a celebrity do you have to be to get a street parade? What about to get people waving things as you go past, or laying their coats on the floor, not even for you to walk on, but so your donkey doesn’t get dirty feet? This is a huge symbol of honour for Jesus, and more than that. This is the response of people who believe their promised king has come – they’re calling him the Son of David, King David being Israel’s legendary king who led them through the glory days, whose help they could really use at the moment. And they believe he’s come to save them – that’s what ‘Hosanna’ means, ‘save us now!’ But, as an onlooker to this scene, I’m kind of surprised by their enthusiasm. Because – Jesus might be dressing up as a king here, but he doesn’t look like the real thing, he looks like a low budget attempt at one. Plodding along on a donkey, he looks a bit silly, and if they go along with it, they’re in danger of looking like fools.
But Jesus seemed to have got himself a fairly wise crowd that day. They could have chosen to see a man on an undersized donkey and his overexcited fan club… but instead they saw their future king. Not only did they recognise it, but they had the faith to act on it right then and there, to get on board and side with Jesus publicly, even when he didn’t look like the real thing.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever sensed Jesus calling you to embrace the awkwardness of following him in a world where he does not look like the real thing to everyone. Whether you’ve sensed him nudging you to side with him, and do or say things that you know are going to look odd to those who don’t see him the way you do. I don’t know if you’ve ever wished Jesus would show his glory a bit more obviously, when you tell people you follow him. That day in the crowds of Jerusalem, it would have been easier to honour Jesus as the king if he had been a bit more slick about it – after all, as the Son of David, and the son of God, he really did have every right to do the whole thing properly, all the authority to ride in on a proper-sized horse and command the people, all the resources to produce a miraculous crown and some fancy clothes, all the power to make the Romans kneel at his feet. He could have validated the worshipping crowds and silenced the Pharisees who objected later to their praises. Why does he settle for this understated, entry to the city of his people? Why does he leave his Kingship open to debate?
That day, instead of demanding recognition as king, Jesus held his unquestionable authority so lightly that people who were created in him and through him were able to dismiss him completely. He walked the line so delicately that people could reasonably go either way, see either picture. The crowds saw through the outward appearance of things to the ultimate reality and honoured him as their king. As we’ll see later, the Pharisees didn’t, and were scandalised later in the temple to hear the kids still following him, keeping up the shouts of praise. And not long from now, Jesus would again allow his status as king to become laughable, even pitiable, in a horrific day of cruel humiliation. He would wear a crown, but it would be made of thorns and it would cut painfully into his head. He would be given a stick as a sceptre, but soldiers would use it to beat him. He would be given the title, ‘King of the Jews’ but he would be nailed naked underneath it. To the kind hearted he would look like an object of pity. To the cruel he would look like a joke.
But just like the story we’re looking at today, that’s only the outward appearance. When I picture Jesus on the cross, he is anything but pitiful to me. In the moment of what looks like his greatest failure, he is my hero, my rescuer, and my king, showing me the most incredible courage, love and selflessness the world has ever seen.I know that has lost none of his power, glory or strength, but only given them up for me. His humility only makes him more worthy of worship, not less, and I want to promise him I’ll follow him, to kneel in thankfulness and give myself to him. Because the cross might well look like foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
There is so much weight in the scene Jesus played out in the streets that day, that when I got to the end of it I wondered why Matthew had even bothered putting in the little snippet at the beginning about the disciples having to go and get the foal. They’re not exactly the star players in the story – this is all about Jesus and his glory. But I’m glad he did because we now get to see how in a small way, tiny in comparison, they and the crowds stood with Jesus and honoured him as their king when he didn’t look like a real one. They embraced a bit of awkwardness for him and they honoured him through that obedience. Because when we are willing to honour Jesus as king in a situation when he doesn’t really look like one, he is glorified in us. And the confidence to do that comes when God’s Spirit helps us to see past the crown of thorns, past the poor substitute for a horse, to the true kingship of Jesus, the kind of authority we see in his resurrection and ascension, the kind we know we’ll see when he returns.
So how are you doing at seeing past the obvious? Are you convinced of the kingship of Jesus? Are there people or situations that cause your focus to flick back to only seeing the outward picture? Regardless of the response of others at the time, when we do this in obedience to him, we are making a statement that he is worthy, that we recognise him as king even when those around us don’t, and he is glorified in us.
Jesus, we love you and we believe in you. Would you help our unbelief. Help us to wrestle with our questions, and speak to our hearts. We honour you as our king, in the safety of your presence. Help us to honour you as our king as we go out now into a world that doesn’t see you the same way. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 21:1-17
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘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.’
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:
‘Say to Daughter Zion,
“See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’
The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.”’
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.
‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him.
‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read,
‘“From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise”?’
And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.