Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Who Is He?" Sermon: Matthew 21:1-11

“Who Is He?”

[Matthew 21:1-11]

March 20, 2016 Second Reformed Church

            Who is Jesus?

            Who did the people at the Triumphal Entry understand Jesus to be?

            Who are we to understand Jesus to be?

            In this morning’s text, we see:

            First, Jesus claimed to be God, the King.

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            And third, the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior.

            It was Sunday – the first day of the week.  Jesus had been leading His disciples towards Jerusalem, where He told them that He must suffer and die.  It was time:

            “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’”

            Now, Jesus did not tell the disciples to get the donkey and her colt because He was tired and couldn’t make it the rest of the way to Jerusalem – it was only about two miles away – and they were walkers – it would not have been a big deal for them to make the journey.  No, the point of getting the donkey and the colt was the symbolism that would arise from the use of them.

            Consider how Jesus showed Himself to be God in requesting that His disciples get the donkey and the colt:  His instructions to them either involved a plot on Jesus’ part, a great deal of luck, or a divine knowledge of who and what lay before them. 

            Jesus’ told His disciples to go into the village, and immediately, when they arrived, they would find a donkey and her colt tied there.  How did Jesus know that?

            Jesus told them to take them and bring them to Him.  How did Jesus know that the owner would be home?  That it would convenient for them to borrow the donkey and the colt?  That the owner would lend them to strangers?  And so forth?

            Jesus told them if they were questioned, they should say that “the Lord” needs them.  Now, that doesn’t mean much to us in English, but in Greek, it’s another matter.  The words that are used here can simply mean someone who has authority, but, phrased as they are, Jesus was using that most Holy Name of God that God gave to Moses for Himself – Jesus was saying, “If anyone asks you why you are taking them, tell them that the Lord God Almighty – YHWH – has need of them.”  “The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, has need of this donkey and her colt.”

            Why?  Matthew explains the picture Jesus was painting – and remember – though many people couldn’t read – they had memorized vast portions of the Scripture that they had heard read:

            Matthew explains, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘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.”’”

            As Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

            Zechariah wrote sometime after 538 B.C., after Israel returned home from her captivity in Babylon.  Zechariah was a contemporary of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Haggai.  Zechariah prophesied against the people, warning them not to go back into the sins that their fathers had committed, lest they be sent away into exile again.  He also prophesied of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Savior.

            Zechariah’s text, which is quoted by Matthew, is one of those texts which points to the fulfillment of the promise of God to send the Savior.  In this text, Zechariah prophecies that the Savior God will send is their King – the rightful heir to the throne of David.  He is righteous and is the provider of salvation – He will make God’s people right with God.  Yet, He will come – the announcement of Who He is – will be that He rides into Jerusalem, lowly, humbly, on a donkey, on a colt.

            In riding into Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was announcing Himself to be the King and Savior that God had promised to send.  Jesus was announcing that He has a kingdom.  Yet, He was coming to them on a borrowed donkey, sitting on clothes – not a saddle, and cheered on by the poor.  Jesus’ Kingdom is not like other kingdoms – and it is not the one that some people expected the Savior would bring.

            Jesus explicitly states this in His trial before Pilate: 

            “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”  (John 18:33-38a, ESV).

            The expression, “You say that I am a king,” is an idiomatic expression which means, “You’re exactly right – it’s just as you say – I am a king.”

            The truth is what some people didn’t recognize that day:  Jesus is God, the King.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy and the promise made that God would send the Savior to save His people and make them right with the Father that they might enter into His Kingdom

            Second, the crowd recognized Him as the King of Israel.

            “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!’”

            The disciples made the preparations Jesus requested – bringing Him the donkey and her colt.  They lay their coats on them, and Jesus sat on the coats on the donkey.  And He rode the donkey – with colt in tow – down the main road – and a crowd of – mainly – the poor – the commoners – gather around Him – and they begin to praise Him – to call to Him for salvation as the King of Israel.

            They sang – at least portions – of Psalm 118 – a psalm of David in which he reflects on being deserted by his friends and colleagues as he endured attack from his enemies, yet found his hope in the Lord and in His sanctuary and in the promised Savior:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’

            “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?  The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD  than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

            “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.

            “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:  ‘The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!’

            “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open to me the gates of righteousness,    that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

            “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

            “Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.  Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

            “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118, ESV).

            As the crowd sang this song and watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the donkey, they confessed belief in Him as the King of Israel – and called out to Him for their salvation.  He had not come in on a military steed, but on a donkey; He had not come in with victorious pomp, but with meekness – Him only understanding that this was, indeed, a ride to victory – a ride to the cross – victory through His Blood for Himself and for us.

            And the Gospel writers highlight one section of the song:

            Matthew notes:

             “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, ESV).

            And Mark:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9b-10, ESV).

            And Luke:

            “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV).

            And John:

            “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
(John 12:13, ESV).

            “Hosanna” is a word which means “save us, we pray!” and it is directed either to the king or to God.

            When the crowd said that Jesus “comes in the Name of the Lord” – they were saying that He came in the power and the authority of God – He is God’s legal representative.

            They called Him King, they said that the Kingdom of David is His, they said He is the Son of David – that is, the legal heir to the throne of David.

            But the call and confession of Jesus as King is upped as they confessed that Jesus is blessed and that their “Hosannas” are directed to the “highest” – to the “peace” and “glory” of “heaven.”  This is a confession of Jesus as the Divine Messiah – this is the crowd confessing that Jesus is the Promised Savior.  This is the crowd announcing that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus to save His people.

            “But,” you may be thinking, “if Jesus claimed to be God, the King, and the crowd proclaimed Him to be King, and the crowd worshipped Him as the promised Messiah – the Savior, why did they crucify Him?”

            John tells us, “ His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16, ESV).

            Some of these people – most of these people? – spoke the correct words, but they didn’t understand what they really meant.  They hadn’t received salvation in their hearts.  Not a week later, they would say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ESV).  They didn’t get it.  So it doesn’t surprise us as we read:

            “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”

            The crowd confessed that Jesus is the prophet – not a prophet – and the crowd noted that He was their prophet – He was from Nazareth in Galilee – He was a local – an Israelite – the Son of a carpenter – someone just like them.

            John explains that this crowd was made up – largely – of those people who had been at the resurrection of Lazarus and those who had heard about it:  “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:17-19, ESV).

            “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out’” (Luke 19:39-40, ESV).

            Who is this?  The stones know.  The Creation knows.  And in the mercy of God, some people have had the scales removed from their eyes, and their hearts of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, and they have been raised to spiritual life, so they can see Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, flanked by the praising crowd, who is calling Him King and Savior, Divine Prophet of God, and confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).

            The answer you give to the question, “Who is this?” is the most important question you will ever answer – because it has eternal consequences.

            Is Jesus the prophet of God?

            Is Jesus King of Israel?

            Is Jesus God the Savior?

            Who is this?

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we thank You for sending prophets so we can read Your Word and see how Jesus fulfilled all that was said about Him.  We ask that You would open our hearts and ears to hear Your Gospel – to recognize and receive Jesus as Prophet, King, and through His Sacrifice on the cross – our Priest – the Only One Who can make us right with You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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