“Behold Your King”
April 13, 2014
For one brief, shining moment, some saw a glimpse of the future.
I. The King is Coming (Matthew 21:1-5)
II. Blessed is He who Comes (Matthew 21:6-11)
III. Hosanna to the Son of David (Matthew 21:12-16)
When I was a boy one of the most popular Broadway musicals was Camelot, a very romanticized retelling of the legend of King Arthur. I have no idea where I first heard the soundtrack, but for a while I really liked it. The song that has stuck in my head all these years is the title song, Camelot, and the line that has most stuck is from the reprise near the end of the musical; it turns out it’s not even sung, but Richard Burton, playing King Arthur, who is about to go into his final battle says “don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”
That phrase, ‘one brief shining moment’ speaks to me, and it came to mind earlier this year as I re-read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. For that one brief shining moment Israel saw her king, and acclaimed him. It was a flash-forward, foreshadowing an event that has not yet taken place. In that event, his second coming, Jesus will take the throne as the reigning Messiah king. In that one brief shining moment some saw a glimpse of that future, and Jesus briefly received the acclaim he is due, the acclaim that all of us owe him today and every day as the one who has rescued, who does reign and who is coming again in glory. Our king is worthy of the praise he received that day, the praise he will receive when he comes again, and our obedience.
Now just for the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit that I preached this text in 2012 on Palm Sunday. I didn’t know at the time that I was going to preach from Matthew in 2014, and I didn’t want to preach a different text today. So those of you with really good memories my find a few parts of this message slightly repetitive. Sorry about that. I urge you to hear it as worship, to process it at a deeper and more heart level than you might have two years ago.
Looking back on Matthew we remember that a main theme of his Gospel is the Kingdom of Heaven. In chapter 2, after Jesus’ birth, the Magi came, looking for ‘the King of the Jews.’ John the Baptist’s ministry began with ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ and Jesus’ ministry began the same way: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ The Sermon on the Mount was the manifesto of those who ‘seek first his kingdom.’ The parables were ‘parables of the kingdom,’ a kingdom of power, one that grows in mysterious ways, that is more valuable than any treasure, that belongs to those with childlike faith. This kingdom call is to give up all that we have, and it excludes the proud and the hypocritical.
Jesus said this kingdom is at hand, it ‘has come upon you,’ it is ‘in your midst.’ And yet it is also a kingdom yet to come. As Todd preached a few weeks ago “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” George Eldon Ladd and other students of Scripture have made this ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ tension so clear that now we see its truth everywhere in Scripture, and not least in today’s text: the coronation entry of a king who was never crowned but instead crucified.
Matthew 21:1-5 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying 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. 3If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
By chapter 21 Jesus had been moving toward Jerusalem quite a while. Now he and his disciples reach Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, a ‘suburb’ of Jerusalem, a little village separated from the city by the steep Kidron valley. On this route Jesus and the disciples could not have been alone: thousands of Galilean pilgrims would have been arriving the way. With the support of this crowd, Jesus creates a deliberate 'demonstration', a sequence of unmistakable symbols that present him as God’s anointed King.
In verse 2 Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the village and bring him a donkey and her colt. Only Matthew mentions two animals, but this is probably a result of the other Gospels simplifying the account. How did Jesus know the colt and its mother were there? Did he have supernatural knowledge? That would be reasonable, given the other things Jesus has known. On the other hand it’s not unreasonable to think that Jesus planned this in advance, possibly through his friends in nearby Bethany, and that the donkeys were ready to be given.
In verses 4 and 5 Matthew quotes the Old Testament to reveal the significance of this symbolic act. The quote begins in Isaiah 62, but quickly moves to Zechariah 9:9, which promises a king who is ‘righteous, having salvation,’ humble and peaceful, all in striking contrast with the aggressive war-lord the people were expecting. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the only time in Scripture Jesus ever traveled on land other than by foot. So this symbolic act would remind people not only of Zechariah’s prophecy, but of the way King David once rode away from Jerusalem on a donkey, and especially the way Solomon was brought to his coronation not on a war-horse but a humble mule.
In fact the emphasis in Matthew falls on humble, the same word as 'gentle' in Matthew 11:29 and 'meek' in the Beatitudes. Jesus' symbolic act was designed to show that he is Messiah indeed, but one whose humble arrival will lead him to suffering, not a forceful victory. Jesus was proclaiming a kingdom that stood in sharp contrast to human expectations. Most of the people wanted a Messiah to miraculously free the nation from the Romans and make it the ruling nation. All through the Gospels Jesus has to ward off attempts to push him into this role. A careful reading of Scripture would have shown them that the Messiah had many roles: healer; Prince of Peace; Suffering Servant. Some who followed Jesus may have seen this, but it wasn’t foremost in their minds.
The mistake we make, on the other hand is to take his refusal to fulfill Jewish expectations as a reason to minimize our recognition of his kingship and authority. Jesus did see himself as a king with divine authority. That’s why he allowed the people to acclaim him as king. Verses 6-11: The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And 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!” 10And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
The crowd may have placed garments on both animals, but Jesus rode the colt. ‘Most of the crowd’ is better translated 'the very great crowd'; Matthew wants us to see this as an impressive event, not a passing outcry by a few people. So it’s a little surprising that Matthew’s record of the shouts of the crowd does not include an explicit mention of kingship - the other Gospels do. It is possible Matthew avoided this explicit mention because he’d already made Jesus’ kingship claims so clear. There is no doubt the crowd recognized his acted allusion to Zechariah 9:9. That’s why they call him Son of David. It’s why they shout ‘Hosanna,’ the Greek form of the Hebrew words translated 'Save us' in Psalm 118:25, a phrase that was an exclamation of praise and a prayer.
The next words are also from Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! In fact this Psalm was recited t all the great festivals of Israel. These words would come as naturally to Passover pilgrims as the latest hits on KSBJ would come to many today. But Matthew’s point, the point of all the Gospel accounts is that Jesus is the king anticipated, the king promised, but also an unexpected king, a humble king, soon to be rejected. While Jesus doesn’t claim any human throne, he never denies that he is the true king.
Verses 10 and 11: And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” When the Magi came looking for the King in Matthew 2, all Jerusalem was troubled. Now, as the king arrives, all the city is stirred, literally ‘shaken’, the word from which we get seismic; his arrival was an earthquake! We sense that the people of the city didn’t know what to make of this dramatic arrival, and it was the Galilean pilgrims who enlightened them.
But they call him ‘the prophet from Nazareth,’ which sounds almost anticlimactic after the Messianic fervor of the preceding verses. This may have been the way Jerusalem thought of him. But the phrase also alludes to another Messianic hope, the coming of 'the prophet', based on Deuteronomy 18. John reports that when the people saw the sign that Jesus had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” At least some of the people had a bigger vision for their Messiah than the narrowly political figure who would defeat Rome and establish Israel as the world’s premier kingdom. Some saw that the promises of God could not be fulfilled by a mere war leader - that the one who was promised was also one who would heal, would love, would bring God’s mercy to the poor and sinners and God’s justice to the high and prideful, not acting with a man’s authority, but divine authority.
Verses 12-16: And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 14And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “ ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
One scholar, R. T. France, says of this section “While the traditional designation 'cleansing of the temple' contains an important truth, it misses much of the significance. This is the culmination of the deliberately symbolic entry to the city; the Messiah stakes his claim in the holiest place of his people. F. B. Meyer says 'Planned for prime time and maximum exposure, this was a "demonstration" calculated to interrupt business as usual and bring the imminence of God's reign forcefully, to the attention of all.” Matthew already told us, from Malachi 3:1, that the Lord whom they sought would suddenly come to his temple to purify its worship. Zechariah 14:21 promised a day when 'there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts.’
Some Jews reading the ‘branch’ sections of Zechariah 6 believed the Messiah would purify and restore the temple and be both the King on the throne and the High Priest who mediated between God and His people. In the context of all these hopes, Jesus comes as King and as Lord of the temple. His actions speak not only of the corruption of Jewish worship, but of his authority. This is as deliberate and unmistakable a challenge as the donkey ride into the city.
The scene does not take place in the temple building itself, but in the Court of the Gentiles, a huge enclosure around the temple, where a market for sacrificial animals and money changing had been established. The money changing was needed because the temple tax was paid in a special Tyrian currency. The market’s location was sanctioned by the priests, even though it is likely those who did business took unfair advantage of their privileged position.
But notice that Jesus acts not only against those who sold, but also those who bought. He seems to be rejecting all the aspects of sacrificial worship that had developed into mere transaction with no heart content. In so doing, Jesus clearly sets himself above the existing religious authorities of his nation. He claims the right to declare that their system of sacrificial worship, for all its scriptural origin, has developed into something no longer acceptable to God.
It was a dramatic gesture, an acted parable. Those with eyes would see that he himself was the 'something greater than the temple,' whose presence he had announced back in Matthew 12. “My house shall be called a house of prayer” comes from Isaiah 56:7, where it is part of God's promise that in the time to come outcasts and foreigners will worship God as his people. Thus their court must be a place of unhindered worship, not commerce. Jeremiah was the one who said it had become a den of robbers; in context he was accusing the people of misplaced confidence in hypocritical religion. Jesus says the same thing, and will soon predict the entire destruction of the temple. He’s more than a human king: he asserts divine authority as he makes divine judgments.
In the same way, according to 2 Samuel 5:8, David decreed that the blind and the lame are excluded from God's house. But the Son of David asserts the authority to welcomes and heal them in the temple. As the only recorded healing by Jesus in the temple this symbolizes his bringing a new era in which the old ritual barriers give way to God's purpose of universal blessing.
Finally, in verses 15 and 16 we’re told that children have picked up the shouts of the crowd. Jesus has already taught that children perceive spiritual truth adults fail to grasp. So he defends their enthusiasm by quoting Psalm 8. But this is a Psalm of praise to God, not to the Messiah or any man. When Jesus claims the right to be praised by children, or stones, he is making himself equal with God.
What could be a more wonderful kingship? He affirms not only the praise a human king might receive, but also praise of the divine, something David, or a son of David, could never do. Only God incarnate could rightfully receive this praise.
So what have we seen? After all this talk, chapter after chapter, of a kingdom that is already and not yet, Jesus does enter Jerusalem with an explicit claim to be king. By riding the donkey and going to the Temple, he pushes back on the expectation that the king will be a political messiah. But at the same time he does things that explicitly tie into the wider biblical concept of God’s anointed. He makes the connection inescapable, even to his enemies. He is the Lord who at least some of them seek, the one who will suddenly come to the temple. He is the one with Divine authority for whom praise is fitting.
So Jesus is not, as some have said turning toward sacrifice instead of the kingdom; rather he is deliberately moving to become the sacrifice that alone establishes his kingdom, a different kind of kingdom than the people expected, a kingdom with a divinely authoritative king. For this one brief shining moment he is saying to those who have ears to hear: I am your king; I am the promised one.
This kingdom should be a daily part of our Christian awareness. This is a kingdom in which his resurrection leads to his reign, sovereign over both sin and death. It is a kingdom in which the ‘not yet’ fulfillment is balanced by an ‘already’ victory; the kingdom promises and the kingdom responsibilities which Jesus so fully and carefully taught are realities for you and me. This is a kingdom in which God’s plan for the world comes to full fruition. We saw that when we studied Revelation: God wins in the end; Jesus comes in power and reigns in glory forever and ever. We saw in Matthew just a few weeks ago that no matter how we interpret the sequence and details, the truth God’s people share is that Jesus is coming again. He is coming as king and he will put everything, even death under God’s sovereign sway. What was glimpse for one brief shining moment in the Triumphal Entry will be celebrated for all eternity.
The question I want to ask as we close today, is this: Are you actively making Jesus the sovereign king in your life. Is it meaningful, to you and to me that Jesus is our King? Part of the problem, I think, is that as Americans, and in most of western culture we no longer have a natural fear, awe or even respect for kings. There was a time in history when kingship was absolute. The kings of France before the revolution, the tsars of Russia, Genghis Khan and others had life or death power over every person in their realm. There have also been dictatorships of absolute power. Hitler and Stalin were able to give life or death at a whim, without judicial or legislative authority over their actions.
Imagine yourself for a moment in one of these kingdoms or dictatorships. You would have a fear of the king. You would not want to risk being in his presence. In Russia there was a saying “Oh Lord, bless and keep the tsar - far away from us. We don’t need to have that attitude, and yet our understanding of Jesus needs to include a deep recognition that he is the absolute monarch of the universe. He doesn’t need a judicial branch for he is the judge. He doesn’t need a legislative branch, for he makes the laws. He doesn’t need an executive bureaucracy, for he holds all administration and all power is in his hands. We need to attribute to King Jesus absolute authority.
But we also need to recognize that of all the kings that ever ruled this is the only king who ever truly established a benevolent dictatorship, the only king who was ever completely at work for his people’s good. The evidence is found in his sacrifice: he gave his life for us, his people. But his benevolence is also found in all of his promises, all of his actions, and all of his responses. He is working for good, and is building a kingdom that is entirely good.
Again, we can learn from the benevolent kingdoms of history and legend. Henry the Fifth, the Lord of the Rings, even Camelot and many other stories remind us that in a kingdom that even pretends to be benevolent, the subjects believe if they can just bring their concerns, injustices and trials to the king, he will make things right. In many cases this faith is disappointed, but in our kingdom this faith is fully justified. Our King listens to our pleas, answers our prayers and works all things together for good for the subjects of his kingdom. So we have a king who is worthy not only of our praise, of our hosannas on Palm Sunday, but worthy of our simple and entire obedience. We have a king who the perfect one to be in absolute charge of us, of our actions, our attitudes, our hearts and minds. He is the king glorious in majesty and therefore worthy of our praise; righteous in power, therefore worthy of our obedience.
Let’s put the question another way. How do I respond to this king? What can I do while I am waiting for his return, to give him the praise and the obedience he deserves? Am I even making praise and obedience a priority in my life, or have I so filled by life with my own stuff that like the Russians I unconsciously say “Bless Jesus and keep him far away from me.” In light of the king revealed, at the triumphal entry, the king who came, the king who rose to reign, and the king who is coming again, I can do nothing better but to focus today, this week, all my life on giving him praise and service. Telling him how wonderful I know him to be and looking for a way this moment to be more fully his in obedience. Our conscious cry should be “Blessed are you Lord. Praise to the coming King! Hosanna! Amen!”