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Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 412 “All Glory, Laud and Honor”
- Men’s Chorus “Ride On,King Jesus”
- Hymn CW 413 “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”
- Hymn CW 548 “The King of Glory”
- Hymn CW 414 “No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet”
Who is this Jesus?
- The Prophet from Nazareth
- The Great King of Israel
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the last time is one of the most vivid pictures of his life. Crowds of people cheering. Enemies questioning. People so excited to see the famous prophet from Nazareth that they’re throwing their coats and branches down before him without even really knowing why. Whole crowds of people gathered around, watching the spectacle and asking the most important question of the day. “Who is this?”
“Who is this? Who is Jesus?” That’s a question that transcends one crowd in one city. People have all kinds of ideas about who Jesus is. An enlightened idealist. A holy prophet. A revolutionary in his time. A miracle worker. A voice for the common man. It’s likely that those same thoughts about who Jesus is were shared among the people in the crowd at that triumphal entry on a Sunday so long ago. Chances are, you’ve heard this text before. You know the details. But as we look again and hear the voices in the crowd we find out exactly who this Jesus is. Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth, and the true King of Israel.
Part One: Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is less detailed than the other Gospel writers so let me fill in a few gaps. Jesus and his disciples are coming into the city from the west to enter Jerusalem through what’s called the Golden Gate, or the Temple Gate. As they get close to the city Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead to bring back a donkey’s colt. Matthew glosses over the details, but maybe you remember what happened from past Palm Sunday celebrations. Jesus predicted exactly where the colt would be. He told the disciples exactly what the owner of the colt would say. And Jesus told them what they needed to say in order to accomplish their mission. Who is this Jesus? He is a prophet indeed!
In fact he’s even more than that. Not only is Jesus a prophet who could see the future, he is the future that all the other prophets had written about. In the six days that followed this triumphal entry Jesus would fulfill dozens of promises and predictions God had made through those prophets. It started with the prophecy we heard as our Old Testament lesson today. From Zechariah 9:9. “See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It was a strange prophecy indeed. Even though kings were known to ride on donkeys in Israel during times of peace, no king would ride on a colt – a young donkey. Luke tells us in his account of Palm Sunday that this was a colt that had never been ridden – yet Jesus rides without difficulty. This untrained, unbroken animal walks through a shouting crowd waving palms in the air, steps over thick stalks of palms and piled up coats and never stumbles or bucks in fear. Who is this Jesus? A prophet from Nazareth, but far more than just a prophet.
Strangers in the crowd that day watching this procession into the city would have wondered what all the fuss was about. This wasn’t a powerful military conqueror riding into the city in a glorious chariot with a large army behind him. This wasn’t a rich merchant riding in with flowing robes and golden jewelry. It wasn’t even a famous entertainer with a large entourage. It was a prophet in common clothes, with fisherman and women following him. Jesus rides into Jerusalem with humility and gentleness, just as Zechariah had prophesied.
One of the striking things about Palm Sunday is how perfectly it reveals Jesus’ nature. Here is the eternal Son of God and King of Glory, come to earth not as ruler but as servant. And his entry into the city where he would accomplish his greatest victory matched that mission perfectly. Jesus’ came to do his Father’s will. He lived to bring glory to God’s name, not his own. On Thursday evening, we’ll see Jesus showing his disciples the full extent of his love and humility in the upper room. Scripture says, “He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” That’s a task normally done by the lowliest servant, not the master and teacher.
But this Jesus? The prophet from Nazareth’s humility was even greater in actions than words. He had made his life as a humble servant of God, and now he was entering this city to give up his life to fulfill God’s plan to save sinners. A perfect life, and innocent death. Jesus is our Savior and all it cost him was everything. Our Bible lesson from Philippians talked about how Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to use for his own advantage. Something to hold onto for himself. No, he gave up the praise of angels, the home in heaven, the life of glory…all so that he might humbly obey his father and gloriously save all of us who trust and believe in him. This prophet from Nazareth is more than a prophet. He is God himself, our Savior. We’ve heard how we meets our greatest needs in these past weeks. He is our one hope of forgiveness and our one light in a dark world. He is the living water that removes our thirst. The resurrection and life that removes our fear. Who is this Jesus? He’s everything!
Part 2: Jesus is the King of Israel
One question people regularly ask about Palm Sunday is whether the crowds really know who Jesus was? It’s hard to say, but some of them knew something. As Jesus is riding into the city we read in verses 8 and 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!’”
Some in the crowd that day knew the truth of who Jesus was. Their actions and their words show faith. They laid their cloaks down on the road to honor him. Cutting down the palm branches was their customary way to celebrate a victory. Think of the confetti that falls after a championship game or at a parade. But it’s their words that really reveal the hearts of at least some. The word “Hosanna” literally means “save,” and was used at the festivals as a song of praise to God. The title “Son of David” had come to refer to the long hoped-for Messiah. Those in the crowd who were calling out those words weren’t just welcoming a prophet – they were welcoming a king.
And that’s the sad irony of Palm Sunday. For once, Jesus received the welcome he deserved. Songs of triumph and joy. Crowds adoring him and, according to Luke, even refusing to stop when challenged by the Pharisees. Here we get a glimpse of what Jesus’ second coming will be like when every knee bows before him and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. But sadly we know that while Jesus begins Holy Week with joyful shouts of triumph, in just days those voices will be shouting for his crucifixion. The crowd that welcomed Jesus as their king would reject him when they found he wasn’t the kind of king they were hoping for. As Pilate found out himself, Jesus didn’t come to make an earthly kingdom. He had no interest in nations and thrones and worldly power. He is a greater King than that.
The crowd’s rejection makes little difference in finding the answer to our question though. “Who is this Jesus?” He is the one prophesied about in Psalm 24. It’s the psalm that Christians have used as part of worship on Palm Sunday for centuries, though we haven’t really been using psalms here at Salem recently. Psalm 24 says in part, “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.” Who is this Jesus, riding into Jerusalem in humility, with crowds praising him and enemies powerless to stop him? He is the King of glory, the Lord. And in spite of his humility he is strong and mighty.
Strong enough to take everything about to happen to him and carry it to completion. Strong enough to endure the mocking and betrayal. Strong enough to carry the sin of the world, including ours. Strong enough to accept the Father’s will in the Garden. Strong enough to do it without a word of complaint or an angry response. Strong enough to ask the Father’s forgiveness even on those responsible. Strong enough to lay glory down so that grace could win the day.
Who is this Jesus? He is the prophet from Nazareth and the King of Israel. The Israel of faith, not blood. Our prophet. Our king. The victor over sin and death. The conqueror of Satan. The promised Christ. He is our Redeemer, our Savior, and our God. This week we will once again remember the greatness of his sacrifice. And the greatness of our hope in it. And our voices will be added to those of believers from every century and nation. Worship with us this week, and cry out with us, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.