(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The Triumphal Entry
31st March 2012
For this week, I'm leaving the series on Matthew. Today, let's think about the triumphal entry.
The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey must have been amazing. People can get excited when a football team win the FA Cup and then ride on a bus around their local town. Thousands of people come to see them drive by. Some people even get a bit excited about the local carnival. But Jesus is the creator of the universe. He’s the Prince of Peace. He’s the Lord of Lords. And He was riding into town. What would it be like – how would you react – if Jesus rode into your town tomorrow?
The writers of the New Testament tell us about the reactions of three different groups of people that day.
Firstly, there were the followers of Jesus. Matthew 21v8 says A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. I wonder what the local council would think about it if it happened here tomorrow. This was an unauthorised procession. No-one had applied for a license, or done the paperwork. The traffic jams would be horrendous. And no-one had done a health and safety check! And people had thrown their cloaks onto the road! That donkey could trip on them! And people were cutting branches off the trees, without a permit!
But the people who did this weren’t in the habit of causing trouble. They weren’t vandals. They were good people, ordinary people. They must have been so very excited that Jesus was coming to have taken off their own cloaks and thrown them on the road. It was a bit like rolling out the red carpet. They must have understood that this was a historic event, and realised that it was so much more important than their clothes, or a few trees. For the followers of Jesus, this was a great day! They were going to give Jesus the best welcome they possibly could.
Luke 19v38 says that When he [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!". Matthew 21v9 says that they shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!".
“Hosanna” is one of those words that changed its meaning over time. Originally, it meant “God save us” – a prayer. Then it came to mean “God saves us” – a statement of fact. Finally, it came to be a shout of worship, of acclamation, “Praise God because He saves us!”.
Real Christians can get rather excited about Jesus. Perhaps you’ve got a friend who tries a bit too hard to get you interested in the things of God. But when a person has met Jesus, and seen Jesus do amazing things by His Holy Spirit, changing people’s lives, healing our hearts and our bodies and our relationships, teaching us all sorts of things about God, and about people, and about how we can live better, more fulfilled lives, then it’s hard to keep quiet.
And when we worship together, we want to sing "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!", "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!", "Hosanna to the Son of David!", "Hosanna in the highest!". Of course we do!
Sometimes I go to a football match, and hear people sing passionately about football – something that’s totally unimportant. Occasionally, I’ve been known to join in. Sometimes, I come home with a sore throat. And if we can get excited about something as trivial as sport, or the X Factor, or Strictly Come Dancing, or whatever, then OF COURSE, we should get excited about Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. Unless, of course, we haven’t yet understood that He rose from the grave, He’s alive, and He sends His Holy Spirit to His followers.
The second group was the people from the town. They hadn’t seen Jesus before. They’d heard some stories, but they’d never really believed them. Perhaps that’s a bit like you? Perhaps you know the stories, but you’ve never really thought about whether they’re true, and what they mean for us. Matthew 21v10 says When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?". That’s rather a good question, isn’t it? When we begin to realise that Christians get genuinely excited about Jesus, and that Christians are just ordinary people like us, it makes sense to find out who it is that gets them so excited. Who is Jesus, really? What’s He like? What does He do? The townspeople began to ask questions, and Matthew 21v11 says The crowds [that is, the followers of Jesus] answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee". Jesus is a messenger sent from God. In fact, He’s much more, but no-one can understand everything about Jesus in their first serious conversation about Him. But the people wanted to know about Jesus, and were prepared to admit that they didn’t know much at all, and to ask Jesus’s followers for information.
The third group is the politicians and religious leaders (in 1st century Judea, they were much the same thing). Matthew 21v15-16 says that when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he [Jesus] did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. "Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. They didn’t want children finding out about Jesus. The children might grow up with dangerous ideas about peace, and freedom, and love, and justice. Matthew 21v17 tells us, "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?" Sometimes, children are better than adults at working out who is full of love, and who is full of selfishness and ambition and fear. Jesus was saying to people who prided themselves on their learning, that God wants children to know Him, and to sing His praises.
And Luke 19v39 says that Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!". The authorities didn’t want Jesus’s followers to tell their neighbours the wonderful news about Jesus, the Son of God, who loves us and wants to help us. They didn’t then, and they still don’t. And Christians will try to explain about God’s standards – the moral code He laid down for us to make our lives as rich, and healthy, and happy as they can be. And politicians still don’t want to let us speak out. But we will, just like the crowd did.
In Luke 19v40, "I tell you," he [Jesus] replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out". As educated people like them should have known, Habbakkuk 2:9-11 says, Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out... Jesus knew that God’s promise is that those who govern without justice will come to ruin. As will our politicians today.
Politicians today are just like them. They talk as though they have a monopoly of wisdom. They think they’re so much cleverer and better educated and more sophisticated than ordinary people. They want to keep us quiet. They want to stop us wearing crosses. They want us to lose our jobs for offering to pray for people. They want to stop us telling others what the Bible says. Some even accuse us of “hate speech”. But we don’t hate anybody. Christians accept and try to obey Jesus’s teaching that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It’s not us that hate. We try every day to share the love of God with those around us. We’re not motivated by hatred of others. Our motivation comes from our experience of the love and power of Jesus.