This is my sermon from this past Palm Sunday. I did record the audio but for some reason I can’t get it to download.
When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples, telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.” This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
Tell Daughter Zion,
“See, your King is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt,
the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their clothes on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their clothes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Then the crowds who went ahead of him and those who followed shouted:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name
of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!”Matthew 21:1—13
We have seen how Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. We have seen that he was determined to carry out the will of the Father by going to the cross. And we have seen how Jesus demonstrated that death—beginning with his own—would be undone forever, its sting removed, through the raising of Lazarus. We’re now entering what we call Holy Week. On Good Friday we will remember Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. And on Sunday we will celebrate his triumphant resurrection. Through all of this Jesus is showing us what it means that he is Savior, Messiah, and King.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem. Most Bibles will have a heading above the passage that says something like “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.” His ministry is fast reaching its climax. And this is all happening during the Passover season when messianic expectations tend to run very high. When it comes to Jesus, people had very different expectations of him. Our passage prompts us to ask: What kind of king is Jesus?
“This took place so that what was spoken . . . might be fulfilled”
Jesus, of course, is the fulfillment of God’s promises of old. And we see in our story more of God’s promise coming true. We’re told that what’s happening here is to fulfill what was spoken in the prophets. The quotation here is a combination of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.
Isaiah 62:11: Look, the Lord has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: Look, your salvation is coming, his wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him.”
Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
These passages refer to the coming of the Lord, to the coming of the divine king. Together they point to Jesus’ deity and his messiahship/kingship. Jesus enters Jerusalem deliberately in this way to signal what’s happening. Even the spreading of clothes and palm branches on the road recalls the way kings were welcomed into their royal cities. As one commentator notes, “The time has come for Jesus to declare openly that he is the righteous Davidic Messiah.” And Jesus comes as the divine king in the line of David.
So what kind of king is Jesus? One who fulfills God’s promises of a Messiah but in unexpected ways. The people of Israel were expecting a Messiah. They longed for God to bring deliverance, especially deliverance from their political enemies. But Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem—which he meant to be provocative—gets different reactions. We’re told that the whole city was in an uproar. All kinds of people were saying, “Who is this?”
There are many people who are looking to him with hope as a miraculous liberator. Listen to the words of the crowd welcoming Jesus into the city: Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna means “Lord, save us!” However, religious leaders see him as a threat to national security. Not long after where we read in Matthew, religious leaders came to him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” They were talking especially about his actions in the temple. In effect, they think, “Who does Jesus think he is?”
Here’s the thing: Jesus has a way of confounding expectations. This is still true. Jesus doesn’t fit into our boxes. He doesn’t conform to our expectations. He isn’t limited to our comfort zones. And this is because we need have our expectations transformed. Because as Jesus enters Jerusalem as the anticipated king, he does so in an unexpected way. Because his enthronement as king will happen on a Roman cross. He comes to offer salvation and reconciliation, not as a conquering military or political leader. In what ways has Jesus been who you expect him to be? In what ways has he surprised you during your life?
“Jesus went into the temple”
You see, no one anticipated the Messiah would come and seek to upend the religious establishment. But consider what Jesus does once he enters Jerusalem. As we read: Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. What’s going on here?
Here’s how it worked. The money changers were there to exchange Roman currency with temple currency. They did this for a fee. Sacrificial animals were also sold to those who had traveled a long distance to be in Jerusalem for Passover. Doves were used by people who were poor and couldn’t afford lambs. There was corruption that went along with some who did this. And not only that: some of the money changers and merchants had set up in the court of the Gentiles, the one area of the temple where non-Jews were able to pray.
So Jesus comes into the temple and—literally and metaphorically—overturns everything. He’s making a profoundly important point. In John’s version of the story it says that Jesus did this out of a zeal for the Father’s house. He is responding to how what’s going on disrupts actual worship and obstructs the actual purpose of the temple. Like Jesus says in our passage from Matthew: “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!”
Now, Jesus isn’t so much interested in overturning tables or our buildings of worship. But he is interested in overturning us. And if we consider how the NT uses the language of the temple to describe the people of God—as in, we and not some building are God’s temple—Jesus also seeks to cleanse our hearts and rid our lives of corrupting forces.
So if we were to ask again: What kind of king is Jesus? One who wants to rule on the throne of our hearts. Jesus wants to be reign in our lives. He wants to be not only the king of all creation but of each of us in particular. The question is: are we willing to have Christ on the throne of our hearts? Are we willing to put him first in our lives?
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”
Now there’s another very interesting aspect to what Jesus does in the temple. I already mentioned that the money changers and the merchants were doing their business in the court of the Gentiles. A Gentile is someone who is not Jewish. And this is the designated place where Gentiles could worship. Yet now this area meant for worship was overrun by livestock.
This violates God’s purpose for his people in another profound way. The nation of Israel was called to be a light to all other nations, to represent the ways of God to all other people. Moreover, they were called to be a blessing to the nations. Yet here we see the opposite. Here we see an abandonment of the very mission to which they had been called. And this is a calling that extends all the way back to the calling of Abram in Genesis 12. God says to Abram: I will bless you . . . and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. In Isaiah 49:6 God says to his people: I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.
Yet right here in the temple—the physical structure where God was present with his people—Gentiles were unable to worship. Those in charge of the temple and what went on in it had forsaken their calling. The building had become more important than the purpose for the building. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus comes into this area of the temple and begins overturning tables? Is it any wonder he made a whip out of cords and drove out the animals and the people? Jesus was zealous for God his Father. He was zealous that the temple would fulfill its purpose as a place of worship and prayer. He was zealous for the calling of God’s people: to be a light to all nations and a blessing to all people.
Sometimes we as people of faith become so preoccupied with our survival in a world that sees us as increasingly irrelevant that we neglect our calling. We set aside our God-given mission. But if this Jesus who entered Jerusalem and then went into the temple is God’s messiah, the divine king, then what does this mean for us? If Jesus is our king, what kind of people are we supposed to be?
So let’s ask the question one more time: What kind of king is Jesus? One who blesses others through us.
Let’s think about this way. If we are called to bless people who do not know Jesus as their king, then that means we have to go about this beyond the walls of this building. Because people who don’t know and love Jesus already aren’t just going to come into this building. Not unless we have loved and blessed them into the building. Maybe think about it like this. Unless they see Jesus at work through our lives, they’re not going to be interested in having Jesus in their lives.
And having Jesus bless others through us doesn’t require a huge budget, attractive programs or events, or, for that matter, even a building. But it does require willing hearts. It does require a willingness to let Jesus into our lives more and more. It requires love. It requires faith. Because Jesus can bless others through any one of us who already know him. It’s not a calling for people with extra-special gifts. It’s a calling for all of God’s people.
How can we seek to bless others in our community? How can we demonstrate that Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts? How can we show other people that it is through Jesus that God has come into our world and that he is the kind of king that we actually need?
Of course, we would do well to remember where Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the temple will lead him—because this is where we must be prepared to go also: to the cross. Letting Jesus sit on the throne of our hearts means dying to ourselves: to our priorities, to our dreams and ambitions, to our desires and wants. Jesus wants to rid us of all of our selfishness and whatever keeps us from following him. After all, he says to us: take up your cross and follow me.
This means that not every attempt to bless others in the name of Jesus will be welcome. Anyone who follows Jesus can expect opposition and even hostility. Following Jesus is going to get harder not easier. But remember the words of the crowds as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
At GotQuestions.org I found this quote: “The story of the triumphal entry is one of contrasts, and those contrasts contain applications to believers. It is the story of the King who came as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a prancing steed, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble. Jesus Christ comes not to conquer by force as earthly kings but by love, grace, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people. His is not a kingdom of armies and splendor but of lowliness and servanthood. He conquers not nations but hearts and minds. His message is one of peace with God, not of temporal peace. If Jesus has made a triumphal entry into our hearts, He reigns there in peace and love. As His followers, we exhibit those same qualities, and the world sees the true King living and reigning in triumph in us.”
When we leave this building and go back into our lives, into our homes, into our community, we do so as those who go in the name of the Lord. And those who go in the name of the Lord Jesus—in the name of king Jesus—are blessed. Blessed by what we are called to do for God. And most of all blessed by what God in Christ has done—and indeed will do—for us.