Entry Into Jerusalem
Lent 2020 Message #5
A week from today, Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The day set aside to celebrate what happened 2000 years ago when Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before His death on a cross.
In my plans for this year’s Lenten sermons, next week’s message will cover two of the sad things that happened leading up to Jesus’ arrest later during Holy Week. The arrest that preceded His death. Which means today we will, in this message, get ready for Palm Sunday by considering what happened on that day 2000 years ago.
For that, the main text for today is the first part of Matthew 21.
What happened the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was of course toward the end of His three-year ministry. A ministry that had been a roller coaster of emotions.
For most of the time, great crowds of people had followed Jesus, eager to hear Him teach and see Him do miracles, and, in cases of healing, many of them benefitting from those miracles. Yet when Jesus began to insist that those who followed Him ought to obey His teachings, most of His followers - not His 12 close disciples, but most other followers - left Him.
While He was still attracting large crowds of people, Jesus was often honored by those He taught and healed. That did not happen all the time. Sometimes people became very angry with His teachings. But generally, He was honored by the common people who followed Him. Yet the Jewish leaders - the important people of the nation - were, in most cases, dead set against Him, so often criticizing Him face-to-face or speaking against Him to try to dissuade people from following Him.
Jesus’ ministry had been a roller coaster of emotions, but then, as is recorded in the first part of Matthew 21, a very good day started. The day we call Palm Sunday.
Matthew 21, starting with verse 1. When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem… By the way, consider the bravery of Jesus. As mentioned, the religious leaders were dead set against Him, which made it very dangerous for Jesus to enter the city. The threat to His safety came from not only those leaders, but also others who did their bidding.
Despite the danger… Jesus already knew what was going to happen. That He would be arrested, then put on trial, then crucified. He knew all that. But He also knew His death was necessary to save people from their sins. So despite the danger, Jesus drew near to Jerusalem.
As He drew near, He arrived outside the village of Bethphage, located on the Mount of Olives, which was beside the east side of Jerusalem, overlooking the city. Upon drawing near, Jesus sent two of His disciples into the village, telling them they would find a donkey, and a colt with her. The disciples were instructed to untie the animals and take them to Jesus.
The disciples were further instructed how to respond to the owners of the animals if the owners asked the disciples what they were doing. That was important because the disciples certainly did not want to be accused of donkey rustling. The instruction was to respond that the Lord had need of the animals, and that as soon as Jesus was done with the animals, they would be returned.
Incidentally, it was, according to Mark and Luke, the colt Jesus would use in His entry into Jerusalem. As shared in Matthew, that was to fulfill two Old Testament prophecies about the Savior. Prophecies in Isaiah and Zechariah. Prophecies that the Savior would come, mounted on a colt of a donkey. Not on a horse, which would be a sign of a military leader, but on a colt of a donkey, signifying humility and peace.
Jesus arranged to have a colt of a donkey brought to Him, upon which He would ride into Jerusalem. The act He planned was proof Jesus is the Savior.
Having received the instructions, the disciples went into Bethphage. They did indeed find the animals Jesus said they would find. According to other records of this, the owners did question the disciples, the disciples did respond as instructed, and the owners let the animals be taken. The animals were taken to Jesus.
The disciples put their garments on the colt. Jesus mounted the animal. He left the Mount of Olives, went down the Mount, through the valley between it and Jerusalem, and back up to one of the gates into the city.
As mentioned in other Palm Sunday messages in the past, it was always my understanding that the ride from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem was a very long one. However, that was not the case. Again, the Mount of Olives overlooks Jerusalem, which means the journey was a very short one. Maybe difficult because the way down the Mount of Olives was steep and the road up to Jerusalem was also steep, and because the valley between the two was, that day, extremely crowded, not only because the population of Jerusalem was large, but because this happened during the Passover celebration, which means thousand and thousands of extra Jews were in that area, having traveled from their hometowns to Jerusalem to join the celebration.
The route was short. It passed through a narrow valley. But both the valley and the hills were crammed with people. It was that path Jesus took as He rode the colt of a donkey.
As Jesus rode, people He passed by began to praise Him and honor Him. That included a number of things.
Some of the people spread their garments on the road in front of the colt. The significance of that was the hope of those people that the colt would step on their garments. In the culture of that time, that would help the people feel part of Jesus. That they had been that close to Him.
Other people cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. Palm branches were, in that culture, symbols of liberty, victory, and joy. That day the people proclaimed Jesus had come to offer them all three of those things.
In addition, just about everyone along the way shouted as Jesus passed by them on the colt. They shouted a number of things. “Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming. Hosanna in the highest.
“Hosanna” was a word of request. A request that Jesus save them.
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our father David.” Those proclamations were, for those people, ways of calling Jesus Savior.
“Hosanna in the highest” means the people shouted that Jesus was higher - more important - than anyone else anywhere.
All of what the people did and said meant their intent was to rely upon Jesus.
As mentioned earlier, most of the people in the crowd that day were excited about Jesus. However, there were some, according to Luke’s account, who were not excited. The ones not excited were some religious leaders - Pharisees are named - who had opposed Jesus for quite some time. They were not at all happy that day. They were not happy for two reasons.
The religious leaders were often disturbed by how popular Jesus was. That day there was a lot of popularity on display, all of it directed toward Jesus.
And the multitude, while rejoicing and praising God, did so with loud voices. It must have sounded almost like a riot. Everybody knew that even a hint of civil unrest would bring an immediate and very violent response from the Roman army. The religious leaders were also concerned about that.
As Jesus rode past the religious leaders, they shouted at Him, but not in praise. Rather the demand, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”
Jesus answered the demand. He said, “I tell you, if these people were silent, the very stones would cry out.” With that, Jesus completed His ride to Jerusalem. What a wonderful experience it was.
Which brings up a question.
Throughout this year’s Lenten season, we have been considering examples of Jesus suffering.
As mentioned each week, the ultimate suffering of Jesus came with His crucifixion, but He suffered many other times during His ministry. Examples are the frustration of His disciples being so slow to learn and understand Him, the demands of very busy ministry, physical threats, being rejected, and facing temptations by Satan. Jesus survived the temptations, but He had to endure them.
Jesus suffered many times. That is what has been highlighted this Lenten season. The question is what the joy of His ride to Jerusalem has to do with suffering.
The answer? Nothing. However, the ride did not end the day. There were some other things that happened that day, two of which were suffering for Jesus.
First, consider what Jesus did right before He entered Jerusalem. Verse 41 of Luke 19. When He drew near and saw the city, He stopped and wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus had just been honored and praised by thousands of people. We would think He would have felt very good about that, but of course He knew what was ahead, including that just about everyone in that crowd would soon turn against Him to the point of shouting the demand to crucify Him.
Jesus knew what was coming. He wept. Not because of His misfortune, but because people He had come to save had not and would accept His offer of salvation.
Jesus continued. He said, “Now salvation is hid from your eyes, and the time is coming when your enemies will surround you and kill you and destroy this city.” All that because, Jesus wept, the people did not come to know Him as the Savior He had come to be.
Jesus suffered from rejection. Suffering made even greater because Jesus knew the consequences those who had rejected Him would face.
Second, upon entering the city, Jesus went into the Temple, which caused more suffering. The suffering of seeing the place of worship and prayer that was to be dedicated to God being used inappropriately, that happening in three ways.
One way was using some of the Temple - not outside, but inside the Temple - for money changing.
On the surface, that appeared to be a legitimate activity. It was the rule that normal currency had to be changed into Temple currency to pay Temple taxes. Taxes were critical for the upkeep of the Temple.
But there were two problems. First, the money changers often charged a huge and unfair exchange rate, which upset people. Second, this did happen inside the Temple, which interfered with worshiping and praying, especially with upset people around.
Another misuse of the Temple centered on the selling of animals for sacrificing. That, too, appeared, on the surface, to be legitimate. People needed animals, especially pigeons, to offer for sacrifices.
But again there were two problems. Many times the cost of sacrificial animals was much more than what they were worth, which upset people. And again, this happened inside the Temple, which further interfered with worshiping and praying, especially with upset people around.
A third misuse is recorded in Mark’s Gospel. Some people used the Temple as a short cut to get from place to place in the city. That, too, angered Jesus because the Temple was more important than that.
Jesus suffered as He saw the Temple being misused, which caused in Him a great anger. Anger displayed in three ways. He drove out of the Temple all who changed money and sold sacrifices. He then overturned the tables of those businessmen. He then blocked those who were using the Temple as a short cut.
He then shouted, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Of course the money changers and the sellers of sacrifices were upset. So, too, was the family of the Jewish high priest upset. The family was upset for a couple reasons.
When Jesus referred to the Temple as His house, He thereby claimed to be God. He was and is God, but the religious leaders did not accept that fact.
And guess who was in charge of the two businesses Jesus removed from the Temple. The ones in charge were the family of the High Priest, which means what Jesus did hurt them, not only religiously, but also financially. That increased their desire to destroy Jesus, which they accomplished a few days later,
Of course, they did not destroy Jesus. The Lord rose from the tomb on the third day after His death. But they thought they got rid of Him.
On the day of His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus suffered. He suffered the sorrow of people still not accepting Him as the Savior. He suffered because the Temple was being misused. But there was something else that happened that was positive.
Verses 14 through 16 of Matthew 21. When things settled down - when the Temple was once again a place of prayer - three groups of people went to Him. They were the blind, the lame, and children. Jesus healed the blind and the lame. He accepted praises from the children as they cried out, “Hosanna” Remember that word means “save us.” “Hosanna to the Son of David,” which is a name of the Savior. That is what the children had heard earlier. It is what they said to Jesus.
What the children said further angered the religious leaders, but Jesus still accepted the praises of those who meant what they said. He did that as He helped those who were in need of His healing power.
* * * * *
As we continue through this year’s Lenten season, let’s remember the love of Jesus. Love He showed even as He suffered.
Let’s rely on that love all the time, including when we suffer. Which we certainly are as we continue to be affected by the coronavirus. And which will happen other times at the hands of those who do not like Jesus any more now than the Jewish leaders liked Him 2000 years ago.
With the suffering we face, consider words in the first part of Isaiah 43.
“When you pass through the waters and rivers that overflow [making them dangerous] and when you walk through fire [which refers to extreme suffering]… Notice the word “when.” That is a promise that even though many of our days are good and easy, there will also be difficult days mixed in.
when you face those things, “fear not.” That is God speaking. “Fear not.” That is possible for those who believe in God. A belief proved by accepting Jesus as Savior. Such people are known to God by name. “Fear not,” God says. Then “the floods will not overwhelm you and the flame shall not consume you.”
That is a promise made by God, who identifies Himself by saying, “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
When we suffer, we know that Jesus also suffered. As He survived, He will help us survive. Let’s continue to celebrate that this season and beyond.
Let’s pray. Jesus, You knew what was coming - the great suffering You were about to endure. Yet You stayed true to Your mission - to Your calling to do what needed to be done to accomplish being our Savior. Thank You for that, and for Your offer to share Your strength with us, including when we suffer, either because of our faith in You or because of the uncertainties of life, including what we are going through now. Help us to know You and rely on You. Help us to keep praising You and honoring You, even in our difficult times. Amen.
The closing song gives us a chance to share the joy of the people along the road Jesus traveled the first Palm Sunday 2000 years. We know that those people soon lost their joy. Today, let’s determine to not let that happen to us. To instead keep our joy alive and well.
Come, Christians, Join to Sing.
Come, Christians, join to sing;
Loud praise to Christ our King;
Let all, with heart and voice,
Before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice:
Come, lift your hearts on high;
Let praises fill the sky;
He is our Guide and Friend;
To us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end:
Praise yet our Christ again;
Life shall not end the strain;
On Heaven’s blissful shore
He goodness we’ll adore,