Fleeting Praises of the Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-11

By Daniel Mayfield

Darkness Clothing the Triumphal Entry

 

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 

    5     “Say to the daughter of Zion, 

        ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, 

humble, and mounted on a donkey, 

on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” 

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 

 

We’ve been building to this part of Matthew’s gospel for 101 weeks this morning, and yet the temptation is to read the above passage and see nothing but blue skies and rainbows, though the progression to this point says otherwise. The overall tenor of this section in the gospel is resoundingly positive—or so it would seem. For the first time, beyond Jesus’ disciples and isolated outliers, massive crowds of people are recognizing Jesus for who he is—the King, the Son of David, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. 

 

And yet, with much discernment and great lengths of meditation, I’m certain we aren’t to read the passage solely in that way. Sure, the truths on their surface levels will be discussed, but let me illustrate why the passage isn’t intended to be seen solely in a positive light: 

 

Imagine you’re watching a film in which you immediately feel a strong affinity for the main character. He is righteous and good and wise and true, and he has plans to do great good for many people with his God-given talents. However, in another scene set, say, in Moore, Oklahoma, you’re made aware of his wife’s plot to destroy his good name with slanderous accusations in order to inherit his fortune. If jurors are convinced, he will be hung. 

 

Now the scene flashes back to the main character who is making plans to go to Moore, Oklahoma! Suppose, then, that upon his arrival the town greets him with a major celebration. Nearly everyone is singing his praises. Glad songs of bluegrass music fill their air; the friendly notes of mandolins color the emotional landscape brightly, and countless people are jubilant for his arrival. 

 

As an insider who knows the plot, how do you feel amidst the dancing and music? Well, it wouldn’t feel as joyful as it should! The praises given him are certainly due; the sentiments are certainly true; but still something is off; you know these praises are temporary and futile. 

 

Prior to Matthew 21, Jesus had prepped his disciples for what would happen in Jerusalem. And this reception in Jerusalem is nothing like what Jesus prepped them for. From the moment Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (16:21). Peter rebuked him for saying so, but such was the reality. 

 

In 17:12, Jesus told Peter, James, and John that he would soon suffer at the hands of men; In 17:22-23, Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be killed by men; and in 20:18, Jesus said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 

 

So all that we know of Jerusalem to this point is contextualized by great suffering, persecution, and death for Jesus, the king.

 

Those are the undertones that should be picked up and used to color our understanding of the passage. Certainly that’s the way Matthew meant to orchestrate this gospel—otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to great lengths prior to Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem to tell us what would happen there. These passages and stories in Matthew are all leading us to this climactic point. And while the section is titled, “The Triumphal Entry,” it really isn’t. 

 

For this morning’s message, I want to demonstrate how easy it is to surround yourself with God, though know him not at all; how easy it is to worship God publicly on falsely predicated grounds. But first let’s briefly walk through the significance of the event from Jesus’ perspective, after which we can critique the world’s perspective. 

 

What Jesus Meant by His Entry

 

Jesus meant two things by this popular event, one of which the crowd obviously understood, the other which wouldn’t be understood by anybody until many days later. 

 

First, Jesus meant to say, “I am the king.” Jesus said to two disciples, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 

 

Some prophecies were fulfilled passively by what people did unknowingly, and other prophecies were calculated and intentional, and Jesus meant to ensure their fulfillment by his own activity. After Jesus told his disciples to bring him the donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’”

 

So the prophecy said the king would come to Israel on a donkey, and Jesus said, “I’m that king. So get me a donkey that I might fulfill this prophecy.” 

 

And the people were in agreement with Jesus on this point—they also thought he was the king, for they were shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9). 

 

But what Jesus meant to say secondly, they people neither understood, nor would they have appreciated it had they understood it. 

 

Second, Jesus meant to say, “I’m a different kind of king.” The kinds of kings people notoriously seek after are the tall, brawny warlords like Saul—the ones that just look kingly. Israel was oppressed by Rome and sought her former glory, so the time was ripe for a Samson-like judge to come sweeping down the plains to her rescue. 

 

But Jesus rode in on a donkey, which is a sign of peace, not hostility. Jesus came in humbly, not in a Spirit-induced hunger for the enemy like David with Goliath. “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

 

This passage comes from Zechariah 9:9, a clear prophecy of Israel’s triumph over her enemies, but the following verse—Zechariah 9:10—says, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

 

Jesus means for peace; his coronation will not be christened by the bloodshed of Israel’s enemies. In fact, her warhorses are made obsolete, says the prophet! Peace is here. That’s why Jesus is riding on a donkey. Nobody charges into physical battle on a donkey. They can’t run fast and they’re too stubborn. Jesus is king, but he means to say, “I’m not the kind of king you’re expecting.” This is primarily so because his kingdom is not of this world! He’s spent a major part of his teaching instructing his disciples about the nature of the kingdom. 

 

So, as a brief side comment, we need to ask ourselves what kinds of battles we’re primarily engaged in? Battles for our own spirit against the forces of evil are a worthy effort. Battles for the purity of the church in a corrupted world are good uses of energy. Battles for the youth in our families and in the church are commendable. But if the vast majority of our energies are expended fighting for respect from peers, or fighting for my rights in the secular arena, or fighting for my political opinion on Facebook, or fighting for my preferences in marriage, we probably need to make some assessments. Those aren’t the kinds of battles Jesus fought. Remember, he didn’t actually owe Herod any taxes, but he said to Peter, “Pay them; so as not to cause offense.” The Pharisees wanted to argue semantics, and Jesus told Peter, “Leave them alone.” 

 

The point is, all kings fight battles; but Jesus was a different kind of king, so he fought different kinds of battles. Therefore, as his followers, we should primarily fight the way he fought and stop learning our battle techniques from the world. 

 

So far, we’ve analyzed the context of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, and we’ve exposed what he meant to do in this public statement of sorts; now let’s talk about the crowd’s response to him.

 

The Crowd’s Missing Context

 

First of all, it’s clear the crowd is doing a lot of things right. Verse 8 says, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Clothing wasn’t cheap in this age. Most people wouldn’t have had closets full of clothing. So, that the crowd would, as a majority, lay down their clothing in the street to be stepped on and pooped on by donkeys is a sign of their sincerity. 

 

Further, they understand Jesus to be the Messiah, for they called him “the Son of David!” They testified to the thesis of Matthew’s gospel—Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham (1:1). 

And still further, in their public proclamation, they’re quoting a Psalm that speaks to the salvation of God which rescues the distressed who are surrounded by enemies on all sides. 

 

They’re shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Now, look with me at Psalm 118:25-26: “Save us, we pray, O Lord!…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Now if you were to look in your Greek Bibles at the word translated, “Hosanna,” you’d just see the word, “Hosanna!” That’s because the word isn’t Greek—it’s Hebrew! Right there in Psalm 118:25, the words translated, “Save us,” are actually the Hebrew words “hosiya-na,” which literally translates to “save now!” 

 

If you were caught in the rapids and rushing downstream towards a hundred foot waterfall, you’d yell out, “Hosiya-na!” But over time the words stopped meaning “save now,” and they came to express the idea merely of salvation. The word is like an interjection that means “salvation!” If a helicopter swooped in to pick you out of the river, you’d yell, “Hosanna!” It’s just a totally joyful, jubilant, uninhibited shout of joy over safety. So the crowds are yelling, “Hosanna! The king is here!” 

 

They’ve been weighed heavy by Pharisees’ traditions and they’ve been burdened greatly by Roman oppression. They are worn out and beat up. And here’s Jesus, who is coming along to lift their burden and save them. So what they shout is quite fitting.

 

But here’s something I’ve been challenged by within this passage: One may say perfectly accurate words, though mean them in the wrong way. And though the crowd is speaking some things with perfect accuracy, I don’t think their intentions in the words are the same as the Psalmist meant them, nor are they the same as Jesus would apply them. 

 

They’re shouting the good news of Jesus’ salvation, but only three verses before the verse they’re quoting, the Psalmist also said, “The stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone.” So, if we understand the Psalm properly, there is no salvation until after the stone (Jesus) has been rejected by men—which is going to come very shortly for Jesus.  

 

It’s easy to praise Jesus when he’s about to deliver you from all the pressing problems you personally dislike the most, but what if Jesus doesn’t mean to deliver you from those things right now? What if you’re in a bad job and Jesus wants you to stay there a while? What if you’re in a bad marriage and Jesus wants you to fight through it? What if you’re stuck in a podunk town and Jesus doesn’t have any plans to move you? Sure, he’ll save you, but his salvation may be different than what you thought. 

 

So there’s this principle that we can establish here: Proper praise, done in proper ways, may be improperly based. Let me illustrate it.

 

Imagine you’re a preacher, or your husband is a preacher, and you are about to wrap up a ten week series on the most challenging passages from Jesus, and your final message is a message on the grace of God—grace which covers imperfections; grace which overlooks short-comings; grace which strengthens believers to obey. And it just so happens that a family visited that morning who had just left a different church because they refused to hear that preacher’s challenging messages.

 

And so, after your message, they’re just singing your praises. “You are preaching Bible! You are a preacher who speaks the truth; that’s the kind of preaching we all need to hear!” And you’re feeling quite good about yourself and say, “Well, thank you! It’s great having you guys! Where are you from?” And they say, “Oh, we live in town…we’ve been attending the Miller street church for some time, but we couldn’t bear with their preaching any longer.” 

But you happen to know that church, and you’re good friends with the evangelist over there. You even agree with his messages and listen to them after he posts them each week! 

 

What is it that makes their compliment no longer hold any value? Well, it’s not that what they said was untrue. It was all true. You spoke a true, Biblical message, and it’s something everybody needs to hear! But they’re only praising your sermon because they don’t know the half of what else you preach. 

 

The crowd was that way with Jesus. Everything they said of him was true, but the way they understood those truths was greatly lacking. They wanted a Savior to deliver them from Roman oppression, not one who would deliver them from the biggest problem of all—sin and death. 

 

We can be that way with Jesus, too. We want him because he saves us from hell, but we don’t necessarily like how he’ll save us from hell. This passage tells us. Peace comes through death. 

 

Truly, the only way to bring peace to self, others, and the world is through death. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to declare peace, but he established it by laying himself bare to the hostility and hatred of both Jews and Gentiles. 

 

Real peace, as taught by Jesus in this text, comes when we remain humble, submissive to God, and meek in the face of great oppression. What causes riots? What causes feuds? What causes marital dissensions? Don’t they exist when two groups fight for their own way? But what happens when one dies? The fight dies with it. Peace comes through death. If one party dies, with whom will the other continue fighting? 

 

So, in a very real sense, when Jesus—God in the flesh—submitted himself to death, our hostility with God also died. The path to peace with God is secured by the death of God in the flesh, so that we can share in Jesus death, also. And the path to peace with man is surely found through death, but not the death of of enemy—the death of myself. 

 

When we shout, “Hosanna! Salvation!” we ought to know exactly what that means. It doesn’t mean Jesus saved us from hell so we can do however we think best. It means, Jesus is king. As king, I have no power to dictate my own terms. When Jesus speaks on a matter, I can’t say, “Well, I disagree with that part.” He’s king! 

 

The crowd had it right—he is king. But when we start forming ideas in our mind about what his kingship should look like, and it’s not even supported by his word, then our praise to him is worthless. So the challenge this morning is threefold: First, recognize that Jesus is the king of the universe; second, pray to God for understanding about what that means; third, submit to him. 

 

And after you do so, shout “hosanna!” unto His name. He is a mighty God who loves you dearly. He doesn’t ask you to die because he hates you, he asks you to die that you might live. Jesus did it first. Let us all follow in his steps, carrying our crosses of shame, and shouting “hosanna!” to God at the same time.

© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30