Monday, April 14, 2014


Palm Sunday Sermon - Matthew 21:1-11

Matthew 21:1-11 (Holman Christian Standard Bible): The Triumphal Entry

An audio pod-cast of this sermon is available here.

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples, telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them.”

This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:

Tell Daughter Zion,

“Look, your King is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
even on a colt,
the foal of a beast of burden.”

The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them. A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting:

Hosanna to the Son of David!
He who comes in the name
of the Lord is the blessed One!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds kept saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!”

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The events of Palm Sunday remind me of the chorus to that famous Rolling Stone’s song ‘You can’t always get what you want’:

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

Now, we know God doesn’t give us everything we want. Sometimes we’re prepared to admit it’s a good thing God doesn’t give us everything we want. What we want isn’t always very noble.

We know God gives us everything we really need. Yet, if we’re honest, we realise we find it all too easy to confuse getting what we need and getting what we want. We find ourselves behaving like little children crying ‘But I neeeed it’ when they want a second helping of cake.

By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus sends a message, not just about his being the messiah, but about the kind of messiah he is, about the kind of messiah we really need. The crowd that greet’s Jesus are so full of the messiah they want, they don’t recognise Jesus as the messiah they need.

Around 500 BC the priest and prophet Zechariah had said the messiah would enter Jerusalem ‘riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Mark and Luke note that the animal Jesus rode was a donkey ‘on which no one has ever sat’ (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30). Matthew, an eyewitness, informs us that two animals, a donkey and the foal of a donkey, were present. Having mum walk ahead of it would have been a calming influence on junior, so the inclusion of two animals makes sense. Matthew isn’t contradicting Mark and Luke. After all, Matthew know Mark’s gospel. Rather, he’s adding information Mark don’t bother mentioning.

But what of Matthew’s remark that after the disciples laid their outer cloaks upon both animals, Jesus ‘sat on them’? Images spring to mind of Jesus trying to straddle two donkeys as they make their way up the road to Jerusalem! Of course not! In picking up on the ‘synonymous parallelism’ of Zechariah’s prophecy - ‘Look, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’ - Matthew is making a joke with a serious point: By choosing to enter Jerusalem this way, Jesus is symbolically declaring he is the messiah, but the humble servant-king riding a beast of burden kind of messiah, rather than the riding a stead of war ready to kick Roman butt kind of messiah.

And the crowd doesn’t really get it. Yes, throwing garments in Jesus’ path symbolised submission to Jesus as king, but spreading palm fronds indicates the reception of Jesus as a national liberator. Some shout out verses from the Passover season Psalm 118:25-26: ‘Hosanna (meaning ‘O save’). He who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed.’ However, in the context of Roman occupation their focus was on the first half of Psalm 118, which is about God’s past delivery of Israel from military oppressors. That’s what they wanted, and when Jesus failed to give it to them, the crowd would soon switch from shouting ‘Hosanna’ to shouting ‘Crucify him!’ (Matthew 27:22-23). When we confuse what we need from God with what we want, there’s a sense in which we find ourselves amongst that Jerusalem crowd. So, in closing, let us meditate upon Psalm 118, praying that, unlike the Jerusalem crowd, we‘ll listen as our servant king tells us the difference between getting what we want and getting what we need this Easter:

Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:19-24)



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