In this special Palm Sunday sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia examines Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Matthew 21:1-11. The apostle Matthew shows how Jesus’ gentle entry into Jerusalem proves Jesus to be the true, sovereign, and glorious Messiah King. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry proceeds in two main parts:
1. The King Prepares (vv. 1-7)
2. The People Respond (vv. 8-11)
Let’s pray, ask the Lord’s Spirit to teach us now,
Great God in heaven, open Your word to us. Spirit show us more of Jesus Christ and what makes Him so beautiful, what makes Him such a wonderful Savior and let us be encouraged, instructed, convicted, and transformed today. Amen.
It’s my joy to begin with you our seasonal meditation on the culmination of Christ’s earthly ministry. At Christmas time we purposely meditate on the wonder of Christ’s incarnation, His being born as a human baby, but now here at Easter time, we choose to meditate on a different wonder, and that is the passion of our Lord. The suffering that final week where He comes to Jerusalem, and He dies and then He rises again.
Today is the first day of the traditional Holy Week– Palm Sunday. A day that is set aside to commemorate what is commonly called Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Now I have adopted that traditional title, The Triumphal Entry, for the sermon title for today, but there is something we should know about that phrase. It is somewhat of a misleading title for Jesus’ final public visit to Jerusalem. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a triumph is one, a victory or conquest by military force. Two, a notable success. Or three, the joy or exultation of victory or success.
The word ‘triumph’ originally referred to a special roman ceremony. A ‘triumphus’ or triumph was the greatest display of palm and power in the ancient word. It was a kind of a sacred victory parade, in which a conquering Roman general would enter Rome, the empires capital city, and he would process through the streets until he reached the city’s greatest temple and offered sacrifice there and then began several days of celebratory festival.
Though the ceremony was technically a religious procession, the real focus of the ceremony was the general himself, often the emperor. Many aspects of the triumph emphasized the honor and might of the conquering leader. On his head was a crown of laurel leaves, symbolizing victory. On his body was a gold and purple toga, testifying that his greatness was to the level of royalty or even deity. He rode in the splendid chariot, manned by a slave, and pulled by four horses. Before him in the parade were all the captured leaders and prisoners of war preceding in chains, and behind them the many valuable treasures taken as spoils. Behind the leader were the general’s many soldiers, themselves dressed in togas and laurel crowns and continually shouting “io triumphe” which means something like “hoorah for the triumph!” This parade marched to musical accompaniment, preceded with clouds of incense, and was also bombarded by flowers being thrown across the road as they walked. Add to this the shouts and songs of an adoring crowd who have never seen such a majestic display and you have truly an event of epic proportions.
Indeed, because triumphs were considered so glorious, they were seldom awarded. They were meant to commemorate only the most magnificent of military achievements. For many Roman noblemen to preces and triumph was the greatest honor imaginable. Even after the Roman empire fell, many of the emerging European monarchies would adopt elements of the Roman triumph in their own royal ceremonies and entrances to various cities. And surely some of those have even survived into our own time.
But if there is anyone who ever deserved this kind of public honor and acclaim, that is characteristic of a triumph, it would be Jesus. Not only is He the King of Israel, but He is God! He is the King of the universe. He is the mighty Lord of all. We might suspect therefore when Jesus finally publicly asserts His Messiahship, His Kingship to the people of Israel, it would be with a royal, mega triumph. Something more awesome than what Rome could ever produce. But as with Jesus’ birth, with His royal entry, He chose to do something quite different. Something altogether more glorious. He came with humility. He did not come with military might, but with gentleness. And He appeared as not one who had conquered but as one who would conquer by His death and resurrection and deliver the spoil of eternal life for all who believe in Him.
This morning I want to look afresh with you at the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry, so that you and I might be moved to new wonder in our incredible Savior and Lord. All four gospels record the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. And I will mention details of each as we go along today, but we are going to focus on the Apostle Matthew’s account. So please open your bibles to Matthew 21:1-11 where we find the account of the triumphal entry. Before we read this passage, let me just briefly orient to where we are in the history of Jesus’ life. It’s early April just a little less than 2,000 years ago. Jesus is nearing the end of His 3 ½ year ministry and the Passover feast is approaching. Jesus has just made the journey from Galilee to near Jerusalem along with disciples and many other followers who set out from Galilee or joined along the way from different cities. There is a growing sense of expectation from the crowd that Jesus is going to soon establish the promised Messianic kingdom for Israel. He told His closest disciples what would happen when they reached Jerusalem and they experience the Passover. Jesus will be seized, mocked, mistreated, handled over to the gentiles and He will be killed, but then three days later He will rise again.
Jesus is now staying in Bethany, a town on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, not very far from Jerusalem. He is at the house of His dear friends, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. It was just two months earlier that Jesus raised Lazarus form the dead, and it was just a day or two earlier that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with that costly jar of Perfume. It is now Sunday of the Passover week and Jesus is getting ready to enter Jerusalem along with a massive crowd accompanying Him. This brings us to the beginning of Matthew 21, we will read our passage now,
When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with it; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them’ and immediately he will send them.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken trough the prophet:
“SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD 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 had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”
When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” and the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
So here in our text from Matthew, we see Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Though actually most of the recorded actions take place before He enters Jerusalem. It’s truly a glorious entrance, but again, not in the way that many people might have expected. This is part of His purpose and part of Matthew’s purpose in presenting it to us. Here is the main idea of the passage today, in Matthew 21:1-11, the apostle Matthew shows you how Jesus’ gentle entry into Jerusalem proves Jesus to be the true, the sovereign, and the glorious Messiah King.
This great event unfolds in two main parts, and they are the two parts of my sermon today. Part one comprises verses one through seven. Point number one is: The King Prepares.
Let’s walk through these verses, starting with just verse one, the beginning part. Matthew says,
When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives…
Here Matthew reports Jesus’ approach from Bethany where Jesus was staying to the village Bethphage. Bethphage must have been a small and insignificant town because it is mentioned nowhere else in the bible aside from these triumphant entry accounts. It’s a village also on the east side on the Mount of Olives, but slightly closer to Jerusalem than Bethany, Jesus would have to cross through Bethphage to cross the Mount of Olives, cross the Valley, and then proceed west into Jerusalem. Jesus will do this, but He intends to do so in a very particular way, and it involves some preparatory work that includes the disciples, which is what we will hear next at the end of verse one going to the end of verse three. It says,
then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with it; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, The Lord has need of them’ and immediately he will send them.”
Now notice how specific, yet mysterious, these directions from Jesus are. Jesus sends two disciples, we don’t know which, but possibly these are Peter and John, because we hear from Luke in Luke 22:8, that they are the two disciples that Jesus selects to go prepare the upper room and the Passover meal itself, so perhaps He even sent them on this mission. Jesus tells these disciples to go into the village opposite them, or before them, which would be Bethphage, and then immediately they will find something. They will find a female donkey tied up with her young colt in a public place. Now Jesus says: when you come upon these animals, untie them, and bring them to me.
Now, imagine being in the shoes of the disciples and hearing these directions. How might you respond? You want us to just show up to this town and take the first donkey colt pair we find? Wouldn’t that be a little weird, to say the least? And Jesus’ next direction might not seem super reassuring since Jesus adds,
If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, The Lord has need of them’ and immediately he will send them.”
Now, could you imagine going into a small town here in New Jersey and just taking someone’s bike or car? And when that person confronts you saying, what are you doing with my vehicle?! You just say: the Lord has need of them. That sounds like a great way to get attacked or arrested. But Jesus tells His disciples at the end of His directions: when you do all of this, the owner will send them to you right away. And if Jesus says that, despite the mystery in these directions, whatever the Messiah Jesus says turns out to be so, so we can believe what He says, and we can do this. And as we will see in a moment in Matthew 21:6-7, everything turns out exactly as Jesus says it would.
But what is really going on here? Well clearly Jesus is demonstrating something of his Kingliness, even His divine omniscience here. He knows exactly where the animals are that He needs, and He knows how to retrieve them. Now it is possible that the owner of these animals is an unknown follower of Jesus, and so, He would’ve been eager at receiving any word from Jesus via Jesus’ disciples that Jesus needed to borrow the animals and to send the animals right away. Maybe Jesus even made prior arrangements with this friend to do this. That’s possible. But it’s also possible that this is really just a miraculous display of Jesus’ divine authority. One of the reasons why I say that is because of the words Jesus gives His disciples to convey. He says, tell them the Lord has need of them.
Now it’s true that certain persons in the gospels sometimes refer to Jesus as Lord. This could be taken simply as a title of respect, meaning something like Sir. But it is worth noting that Lord with the article in front, The Lord, O Kyrios in Greek, in the Gospel of Matthew, it is only used to refer to one person, and that is God. It’s even a translation of Yahweh from the Old Testament, The Lord.
Therefore, the statement that Jesus gives to His disciples to say on His behalf regarding these animals would probably not have clearly communicated that Jesus was the One in need of these animals. The disciples would have been communicating that God, even Yahweh, needed the animals, which of course is true, because Jesus is Yahweh God, but if a random person told you that God needed your valuable property, would you just hand it over? Now some others have suggested that this phrase from Jesus was something like a code or password. That is possible, but again, it’s also possible it might’ve been more likely that this was His royal power on display. If the heart of kings are in God’s hands, then are not also the hearts of a donkey owner?
If Jesus merely saying I Am, can cause a crowd of soldiers fall back and fall to the ground, as we hear in John 18:6, then could not the simple words The Lord has need of them, spoken on Jesus’ behalf, be made to supernaturally move a heart to loan two donkeys without question? However it exactly happened, Jesus certainly displays here His authority and omniscience with these donkey directives.
But why does Jesus need animals in the first place? It’s interesting according to what we hear in the gospels, Jesus has never before ridden on an animal anywhere—He’s always walked! All throughout Israel and around Israel. So why does Jesus suddenly need an animal now, let alone two? Well, there is a very important reason. There is a purpose behind this new divinely wrought arrangement, and we see it clarified for us in verses 4-5. Let’s look at those verses again now,
This took place to fulfill what was spoken trough the prophet:
“SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.’”
We now see the purpose of this colt and donkey. It is on the one hand to fulfill prophesy and to further confirm the identify of Jesus as Israel’s King. It is also, on the other hand, intended to communicate something powerful about this King. Now Matthew doesn’t specifically identify which prophet has the words that are fulfilled by Jesus here, it is actually the combination of two prophets. One only slightly and the other more mainly. The beginning phrase comes from Isaiah 62:11 where is says,
Say to the daughter of Zion
The bulk of the reported prophesy comes from Zechariah 9:9. Now there in the book of Zechariah, amid various prophesy about how God will one day, once and for all, deliver Israel from its enemies and how He will dwell with His people and will bring about for them astounding peace and prosperity. God then declares this in Zechariah 9:9,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
You may notice that is a bit longer than what we see here in Matthew. Matthew doesn’t quote the entire verse. He leaves out the part that speaks of rejoicing and shouting or the King coming as the righteous one endowed with salvation. Not that those aren’t true, but Matthew wants us to focus on a certain other aspect of the prophesy. Let’s consider the words as Matthew reports them here in his gospel, he says first, say to the daughter of Zion. That is, to declare a message to the people of Zion and Jerusalem. Behold, look, see it for yourself! What should you see? Your King is coming to you. The one you have been waiting for so long, He is finally going to arrive! How does He come? Gentle, Matthew says. The word for gentle here in Matthew’s gospel could also be translated to humble or meek. It pertains to someone who is not openly impressed by scents of his own self-importance. And yet, the King of Israel, even the mighty God, He will come this way to His people? This word for gentle also appears in another notable passage in Matthew, one you have probably heard a few times before. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29,
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Why is Israel’s King coming so gently? Why isn’t He coming in overwhelming glory and military might? He is certainly capable of that, so why not? Why gently? Well because the King knows that there are many among His people who are weary, weighed down, and afflicted, especially by their own sin. They don’t need a conquering general who will frighten them into submission with his power. They need a loving Lord who will speak peace to them, who will deal gently with them, and who will save them. You know, in Zechariah 9:9, the original passage you heard, in the translation of the word is Humble. But more literally the word describing the humble king there can be translated to poor or afflicted. And how appropriate? Often only those who are afflicted themselves have the humility to deal with others who are afflicted with gentleness. God declares through Zechariah, behold such a one is coming to you as your King. This gentleness is reflected in the King’s choice of arrival vehicle. Notice Matthew says, gentle and mounted on a donkey.
We need to understand that there was no particular stigma attached to donkey travel in the ancient world. Yes, it’s a beast of burden, but donkeys were actually a preferred travel animal, because of their versatility and generally smooth ride. Even great men would sometimes ride on donkey or mules. For example, Abraham, incredibly worthy and great Abraham, rode on a donkey when he journeyed to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:3). King David was provided with a donkey to ride on when he was fleeing from Absalom in 2 Samuel 16:2. The sons of David, princes in Israel, had their own personal mules to ride, according to 2 Samuel 13:29. And when David had Solomon crowned King, David had ordered that Solomon would ride to the coronation site on David’s own mule (1 Kings 1:38). So, there is nothing dishonorable about riding on a donkey or a mule. But there is one thing that a donkey is not, a war machine. In ancient times, you didn’t see soldiers riding into Babylon on donkeys, but on horses or chariots. Which is why for kings who wanted to emphasize their power or war-making abilities they rode on a horse. Or they rode on a chariot. In fact, this is what we see the later kings of Israel and Judah do. They don’t do the donkey or the mule thing anymore. They go for the chariots. Donkey was an animal for peace. So, if your king is coming to you in a donkey, then you know that he is coming to you gently.
As if coming on a donkey didn’t emphasize the King’s gentleness enough, Zechariah’s prophesy goes further, as Matthew also notes, he says,
GENTLE AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.
If a donkey is considered unthreatening, how much more the colt or foal of a donkey. The younger versions of an animal tend to be less aggressive and even more easily frightened. You all know this right, because of puppies and kittens that we have? Well, the same is true of a young donkey. The other Gospels clarify that Jesus specifically sought out a young donkey for His arrival into Jerusalem—even one on which one has never sat on before. Not only would this unused animal appropriately set it apart for royal, even sacred use, but it also would clearly communicate the peaceable and peace-bringing nature of the One riding it.
Now brethren, consider how beautiful, how humble yet glorious is this coming of God, as the king! He does not come in war or wrath or judgement, He comes in peace even amid human apathy and hostility. He comes in peace, humbly, gently, both in His birth and in His public royal entry into Jerusalem. What a God! No one can conceive of a God like this, and He is the God that we need because we are the poor and afflicted. Certainly, He is the sovereign Lord who fulfills all prophesy about Israel’s coming King. We don’t want to miss that part. What Zechariah prophesied more than 450 years earlier was fulfilled by Jesus, but let’s not miss the other aspect that Matthew really wants us to see. He comes as the gentle King, Savior, who speaks peace to the poor to bring about their salvation.
Jesus especially prepares His entry into Jerusalem so that Israel might itself behold this about their King. If we see it, they were to see it too. And the display of Jesus would have been all the more poignant considering a certain Jewish tradition. According to the Talmud, which is the collection of commentaries of the Jewish Bible, the law, there was this rule that any pilgrims to Jerusalem riding on animals were supposed to dismount once within sight of the city, which would have been at the Mount of Olives. They were to dismount and then walk the rest of the way out of reverence for the city and for God. Notice that Jesus’s plan upends this tradition. He is mounting at the Mount of Olives, and He is going to ride into the city. The only way that could be appropriate and not an arrogant affront is if Jesus really is the King. Even if He is really God.
We see Jesus’ direction, the grand purpose behind the directions, and in verses 6-7 we see how it is all carried out just as Jesus intended. I am going to read those verses again. Matthew 21:6-7,
The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats.
The disciples placed their own cloaks on the animals and deference to Jesus served as a saddle, I am sure they didn’t have a saddle lying around. Jesus then sits on the colt and the donkey and colt are led together toward Jerusalem. Why is the other donkey included? Well, the mother is likely there to be part of the precessions so that the young colt doesn’t get spooked—it remains calm amid the boisterous crowd. It’s that kind of a gentle animal, it needs its mother nearby. So, this is the first part: the King prepares.
Now let’s examine the second part of the narrative which we see in verses 8-11. Number one, the King prepares. Number two, the people respond. Let’s start with verse 8,
Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
We are seeing the activity from the crowd, but let’s remind ourselves again who composes this crowd. We do have in it, true followers of Jesus, real disciples, but we also have nominal followers, curious bystanders, and even some concerned opponents who just want to keep an eye on Jesus. There are people from Galilee, other parts of Israel, and even some who have come out from Jerusalem. This group has various levels of belief and understanding when it comes to Jesus. But a large portion of it feels a great deal of enthusiasm for Him and they now begin to display their enthusiasm in a happy affirmation of what Jesus has been, not so subtly, asserting about Himself, that Jesus is the king!
Matthew reports that most of the crowd start laying down their coats on the pathway of Jesus’ colt. And others cut down and spread tree branches onto the road. What kind of tree branches? Well, the other Gospels tell us. They tell us that they are the leafy branches of the date palm, very common to the region of Palestine, which is why we call it Palm Sunday. Now what is with these coats and palm branches—why are they laying them in front of Jesus’s traveling animal? Well, it’s kind of like laying out a red carpet for a king. It’s an act of honor—something that we see in another place in 2 Kings 9:13. When Jehu is anointed to be the next king of the northern kingdom of Israel, his soldiers place their cloaks on the stairs on which he walks. Why? Well, it’s an affirmation that the one traveling on the coats is the king and deserves to have his way made more comfortable for him. When you put your coat on the road, it’s an expression of honor and submission. We see the crowd do this for Jesus.
We also see further action from the crowd in verse 9,
The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”
Note here that it says “crowds” singing, plural, so this must have been a massive amount of people. Just like in a Roman triumph, we’ve got boards coming before and after Jesus. There are all sorts of shouts and acclamations from the crowd about Jesus being the blessed Messiah King. Each of the gospels records these shouts a little bit differently, but they all essentially say the same thing, and they all tie into a certain psalm. We read Psalm 118 earlier in the service, and there was a reason for that. By Jesus’ day, Psalm 113-118 have become part of a special collection, known as the Egyptian hallel or simply the Hallel. It is a group of six praise songs that are dedicated to praising God for His deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Six praise songs celebrating the exodus and this collection of psalms was sung at every one of Israel’s main feasts, including the Passover. Psalm 118, which is the last of the group, is particularly interesting. Many think it was written by Moses himself, the psalm doesn’t list the author, but it is also clearly a Messianic song, something that foretells and praises the Messiah. We hear it quoted in the New Testament several times. In fact, here the cry that Matthew records from the crowd includes quotations from two verses in psalm 118:25-26, which reads,
O LORD, do save, we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD
So, the crowds are not only quoting words of a praise song traditionally sun at Passover, but according to the context of Psalm 118, and according to the context of what Jesus is doing, they are proclaiming and celebrating the arrival of the Messiah King.
In verse 9, the word hosanna is just a Greek transliteration of the phrase ‘do save’ that we see in Psalm 118:25. That could be translated ‘do save’ or ‘save now.’ It’s the Hebrew word for Hoshiana or in Aramaic, Hoshana. The Greeks just say Hosanna. Hosanna was originally a prayer to God to rescue, save, and provide salvation. Over time, this phrase acquired a slightly different meaning. It came to be used as more of simple cry of praise or acclamation or jubilation. It had one meaning but the meaning shifted, it’s kind of like the phrase ‘how you doing?’ in American English. It’s a question that expects an answer, but a lot of people say ‘how you doing’ as a greeting and they don’t even wait for an answer. That’s not what the words mean but that’s how it’s come to be used and is the same thing with the phrase Hosanna. Hosanna does mean save now, but in usage it means something more like praise, glory, blessed be! That’s the way we see the people use it in verse 9, as a word of acclamation or praise.
Let’s see how this is now connected to the other words in verse 9. We see first that hosanna to the Son of David, this is to say may honor and blessing come upon the Savior King of the Davidic line, even the one as part of the special covenant of God to David in 2 Samuel 7. May honor and blessing come to the son of David, next, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, which is also a phrase that is appropriate for Passover, it could apply to any pilgrim, but again, context of Psalm 118 and of what Jesus is doing here points that this is a statement of acclamation about the king who has come in the name of the Lord. In fact, that is how one of the other gospels records it—blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
And then finally, Hosanna in the highest, that is to say may highest praise go to the saving God and His saving King, may honor, praise and blessing resound in the highest places! These are some pretty happy exclamations, but are they appropriate? Is it appropriate for the crowds to say these things about Jesus? Well, of course! Though of course many in the crowd don’t realize just how true these words are that they are saying, they are nonetheless testifying accurately to something that Matthew wants us to understand as well. The king has indeed come! He is the long-foretold Savior Messiah of Israel, and He really does deserve all this acclamation.
If we think, well, how does this fit with the humble, gentle thing that Jesus has going on? Luke has something very interesting in his gospel, I’ll just mention it to you, some of the pharisees are apparently part of the crowd coming with Jesus into Jerusalem and they certainly aren’t there to celebrate, they want to keep an eye on Jesus. When they hear these kinds of things being said about Jesus, they get upset and they demand of Jesus to rebuke his disciples for what they are saying about Him. You know what Jesus says in response? Luke 19:40 says,
But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
Despite His humble entry, or even because of it, the true nature of Jesus as the God-Man and Messiah demands that He be given some kind of glory when He presents Himself as Israel’s King. Even if it’s without soldiers, a chariot, or horses. Even if it is by lowly and not fully informed masses of people. Even if it is with some bandwagon enthusiasm. He must be celebrated as the glorious Lord and God because He actually is. If people won’t do it, the stones will! God’s universe cannot bear up under the Messiah presenting Himself on the royal entry day and not being glorified. The same is true today. Such a glorious Savior, such a mighty salvation, such a gentle work of peace demands worship. So, amid this continual acclaim—riding on a colt, Jesus crests the mount of Olives and then rides down toward Jerusalem.
In verse 10, we finally see Jesus enter the city and we see another kind of response of the people to the King. Look at verse 10,
When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
Notice Matthew says here, all the city was stirred. The Passover pilgrims have greatly enlarged the population of Jerusalem, but there were already a number of people living there. There were hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem at this time and perhaps not all of them know or have gone out to see Jesus arrive. But they can hear the incredible commotion and they can hear the shouting and the singing, seeing the people beginning to stream into the city. So naturally they ask in alarm and wonder, who is this? What’s all this commotion about? Not necessarily true that they never heard of Jesus before, but because of the clamor, and they didn’t have social media like we do today, they might not genuinely know who it is that is arriving. And yet, it is telling that these persons haven’t already gone out to meet Jesus. It’s like Matthew is setting up a subtle contrast between the people of Jerusalem and the followers of Jesus who have come from Galilee.
The followers of Jesus from Galilee acclaim Jesus, but what do the people of Jerusalem do? Those who are, one would hope, the most religious and the closest to the center of worship and power in Israel, what is their response to Jesus? Matthew says that they are stirred. All of Jerusalem is stirred. That word is interesting. It could also be translated to stirred up, or even better, shaken. The Greek word being seíō, related to the Greek noun seismos, which means earthquake, from which we get the word seismic. The people in Jerusalem are shaken, they are thrown into commotion with the arrival of King Jesus. The question is why? Why would the gentle arrival of God’s King be considered by some to be so alarming? Even for the whole city of Jerusalem. Could it be that no matter how gently He arrived or how humble was His heart, that to these people, the King represented a threat? He was a threat to expose sin and false worship. It was a threat to demand true repentance and whole allegiance of life. It was a threat to take away political power and earthly treasures.
Does this line about all Jerusalem being stirred or shaken remind you of any other part in Matthew’s gospel? Perhaps Matthew 2:3, after the magi proclaimed to Herod that they have come to worship the new King of Israel, we hear this from Matthew 2:3. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all of Jerusalem with him. Jerusalem, God’s place of special dwelling, it should have been the most welcoming sight for God’s King. Yet, we see in the gospels that it’s the place that is most troubled by Him, even the most shaken by His arrival. Well, they’re asking who is this? And the crowd soon supplies the answer to the question, no doubt multiple times you see the worst saying, which means they are probably saying it more than once. Who is this? In verse 11 we get the answer,
and the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I don’t know about you, but there’s something uncomfortable to me about this reply from the crowds. I think it’s the statement’s ambiguity. You might expect after the donkey, the prophesy from Zechariah, the acclamations, the arrival, that in response to ‘who is this,’ the people would quite boldly and clearly say this is our Messiah! The son of David! This is Jesus! After all, they were kind of just saying that, but in response to the people of Jerusalem, that is not what they say. They say this is the prophet Jesus. Now is Jesus a prophet? Yes. But only a prophet? Now for some in the crowd, maybe they understood that Jesus wasn’t just a prophet, but the prophet. There was some of this expectation in Israel—Moses foretold a certain great prophet in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, even an ultimate prophet to whom Israel was to listen and obey. There was some connection between this prophet and the messiah. Certainly, some must have seen this, but did everyone? Did everyone understand Jesus as that prophet?
Notice the further description given of Jesus in verse 11, this is Jesus from Nazareth and Galilee. Is that a true statement? Yes, He did grow up there. Most of His life and ministry took place around there, but though Matthew does note Jesus being called a Nazarene fits certain expectation from the Old Testament, that’s Matthew 2:23. Matthew also notes that Jesus wasn’t really from Nazareth. Where was He born? In Bethlehem. In accordance with the prophesy about the coming Messiah in Micah 5:2. Did the crowds understand this? Did they understand where Jesus was really from? Did they see that that further confirmed that He is the Messiah? Did those answering the question understand who Jesus really was and what He came to do? Our passage ends without giving us the full answer, but if we read on in Matthew’s gospel, we discover what the truth is. The people, even many who are following and shouting such praise of Jesus this Palm Sunday, they didn’t really understand who He was. For many, they thought He was just a good teacher, a prophet, maybe a political Savior who could defeat Israel’s enemies, especially Rome and establish a kingdom of eternal prosperity. To them, Jesus was the easy gateway to achieving all their earthly hopes and dreams. Now, Jesus would be the One to defeat Israel’s enemies and establish a kingdom of eternal righteousness and prosperity. We see that in the Old Testament, but not yet. Those prophesied verses have not yet been fulfilled because there is a much more pressing problem that Jesus came to address and that is the sin an idolatry of His people, which results in the eternal wrath of God hanging over them.
For many enthusiastic followers of Jesus on the original Palm Sunday, they wanted the crown, but not the cross. They wanted the kingdom, without any kind of contrition. They wanted eternal life, but without losing everything for the Lord’s sake. Like many today we must confess, the people of Israel were looking for a Messiah King that would get on board with their program, rather than the one they can get on board with His program. As the passion week goes on and it becomes clear that Jesus is not really what the people are looking for, they grow disillusioned with Him, they become easily swayed by the religious leaders and they ultimately reject Him and hand Him over to be killed—even nailed to a cross.
There’s one detail about the triumphal entry that I haven’t shared with you yet. It’s not mentioned in Matthew, but it comes to us from Luke. I think it’s quite interesting. Luke tells us that right after Jesus crested the Mount of Olives. Right when He was able to finally see Jerusalem, or shortly thereafter when He traveled down the mountain, He did something that probably nobody in the crowd expected. He cried. This is what Luke says in Luke 19:41-44
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.
Talk about a buzz kill. Why did King Jesus weep in the middle of His triumphant parade into Jerusalem? Luke tells us because He knew His gentle terms of peace would be rejected. He did come humbly, proclaiming peace to Israel if the people would repent and turn to God, but He knew that they would not. Therefore, He also knew that despite the day’s fanfare, that only judgment awaited the unrepentant people of Jerusalem. He even foretold what would happen just a few decades later in the great Jewish revolt against Rome. Roman legions would besiege Jerusalem and then utterly destroy it in A.D 70. They slaughtered the people, they burned down the temple, which is still not rebuilt. God’s holy anger over Israel’s sin and false worship could no longer be restrained once His people rejected His messiah. His own Son. It was the last straw. Though, maybe I should put an asterisk on that phrase because Jesus does proclaim later in the passion week that Israel will come to repentance—even national repentance one day. Jesus says in Matthew 23:39,
For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”
Wait a second, I though they already said that? Oh, they sure did. But not with true understanding, not with real sincerity, not with a heart of actual repentance and faith. But Jesus says, implicitly, one day you will and that’s when you’ll see me again.
What about you? We see the response of the people in the original Palm Sunday to Jesus. But what is your response? Do you really understand who Jesus is and why He came? Do you see Him only as a good teacher or as a genie who is going to unlock all of your desires? Or do you see Him as the righteous Lord and Messiah? The One for whom you, in sincerity of heart, are going to lay down your cloak and your palm branches before His path and say, you are the King Jesus, I want to worship and serve You! Is that your heart? Each of us must confess that this is not the way we have lived our lives. We have not served God or King Jesus the way we ought to have. Rather, we have sought to live as our own kings—rebelling against the One who is the true sovereign. Even our good works have all been polluted by this desire for self-righteousness and autonomy. We want to be king, even though only God is king. Therefore, we have no way to escape God’s just punishment.
For the Israelites, the devastation of A.D 70 was terrible, but it’s nothing compared to the eternal wrath of God in hell. That’s our destiny apart from some amazing intervention from God, which is what was even beginning to occur on Palm Sunday, because Jesus came to save doomed sinners like you and me who were and have been in rebellion against God. He was born, grew up, lived a perfectly righteous life, entered Jerusalem knowing He would be rejected, because He was going to accomplish a perfect purpose there. He was going to allow Himself to be handed over so that He could go to the cross and die for sinners. On that cross Jesus took on the sins, the debt before God of all those who believe in Him, so that He could pay it off once and for all. Suffer the infinite wrath of God and His infinite soul in a way that could be paid off forever. He suffers the wrath that is due those who believe in Him for their sin, pays it off completely, and then gives His own righteousness to them so that they could be made acceptable to God. He came to be a saving substitute. He died on the cross, He lays down His life, but then He took it up again because you can’t restrain the King of life! Three days later from the grave He arose. Showing that His sacrifice was acceptable, and His people are justified. That is for those who repent and believe in Jesus. If that is not you yet then you need to make that your priority today.
Jesus was speaking peace to Israel and from the text, He is speaking peace to us all today. He says you can come and be reconciled to God. I am coming to you gently, won’t you be reconciled? You are to take up those terms of peace if you want to be wise, because they are not going to be offered forever. Israel resisted and they were stubborn, they killed the messenger of peace, and God judged them. You do not want to linger and risk God’s judgement on you. Not even one day or one hour. Psalm 2 says: kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way. He is the King, He has the power to just utterly destroy, but He is holding that back now and is coming to you gently, so don’t neglect that kindness. That is kindness bringing you to repentance. Turn from your sin, turn from yourself, and all your hypocritical efforts to save yourself before God and turn to Jesus as your only Savior and the only one who can make you right with God and He will save you. He will give you eternal life and His spirit so that you can walk after Him and just as Ian was saying earlier, you don’t just get eternal life, you get God who is in Himself eternal life! Even the King is your friend, your loyal friend. If you do not know the Lord Jesus this morning, you must repent and believe. If you do know the Lord Jesus, then as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 about the Passover, let us celebrate the feast, not with the leavened bread of malice or sin or any other kind of unholy living, but with the unleavened bread of righteousness, sincerity, and truth.
Let us praise the Lord with our mouths this morning and this week but let us also praise the Lord with our lives! Let us live as those who are in the train of Jesus, the triumphant One. That is what He’s called us to. That’s what He is worthy of. Jesus did come the first time humbly and gently to save our souls from sin, but as is quite clear in the scriptures, He will come again but in a different way. It will be with power, with war, destroying all His enemies. If you’re in Christ, you can praise God that when that day comes, you will not be one of the enemies before Him who is obliterated. Rather, you’re going to be behind your general. Not fighting with Him, He doesn’t need your help. You will be there to celebrate and to acclaim His victory. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? That is reality! The truth according to the scriptures. Therefore, it deserves our saying today, in a way that is hopefully more realistically informed than what was said in the crowd on that original Palm Sunday, Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest! May that be the testimony of our hearts this morning.
Let’s pray. Oh Lord, we have only scratched the surface of the glory of what You’ve done. Even on that Palm Sunday how You presented Yourself and how You still present Yourself to doomed sinners today with terms of peace. Oh God, I pray if any have not accepted those terms and have repented and believed that they would this morning. God also for those of us who have come to believe in You yet have stumbled and turned again to walk in darkness, may Your kindness and gentleness on display again move us back to repentance, even to joyful worship and obedience to You! For how can we neglect so great a salvation, so great a Savior. Oh Lord God, I pray that this week You would help us to meditate purposefully, worshipfully, on Palm Sunday, and all the other things that took place during that week of passion, even to Your time on the cross and Your resurrection, so that we may love You more and see more of Your glory and worship You. Lord God, thank You again for Your Word today and thank You for that Palm Sunday and thank You for salvation through Your cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.