Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries


Jesus Enters Jerusalem  audio

Matt 21:1-27 

Everyone likes a parade don’t they? Whether it’s the Moomba Parade or the Anzac Day Parade, or the Grand Final Parade, we all love to get out and watch our heroes. Probably for some Australians the greatest parades are when the Queen comes to visit - or these days William and Kate. People come out in their thousands with flags to wave, cheering as they pass by. 

Well that’s a bit like what happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The city was buzzing. The word had got around. Jesus, the great teacher and healer was coming to Jerusalem, despite the danger from the Jewish leaders. Word was that he'd even been talking about death, predicting that he was going to be crucified, and saying that people had to be willing to take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. But that hadn’t stopped him from teaching and healing people and he was still arguing with the Pharisees.

So when Jesus came to Bethphage, a small village at the top of the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, the crowds were ready. When he appeared at the gates of Jerusalem riding a donkey they got really excited. They took off their cloaks and threw them on the ground in front of him. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. They started crying out "Hosanna". That is: "God save you". Just like Australians waving their flags and crying out "God save the Queen" as she drives by. But notice they call him the Son of David. They clearly recognised that here was the one they’d been waiting for. They may well have been hoping for a showdown with the Romans, because they also cried out "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord " Jesus’ arrival on a donkey would have reminded them of the arrival of Solomon, as he rode into Jerusalem on David’s own mule, to claim the crown. Perhaps they thought that here at last was the one whom God had sent to oppose the Roman occupation. So they were very excited.

Now before we look at what he did on entering Jerusalem let me ask you, why do you think Jesus suddenly went so public? Up until now his ministry had always been hidden. Just a few chapters before, we read that Jesus didn't want them to tell anyone who he was.

So what was Jesus doing? Well, think about the fact that he chooses to ride a donkey. As I just said, when Solomon needed to establish his claim to the throne at the time of David’s death, he climbed on David’s own mule and rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of the people, “Long live King Solomon!” (1 Kings 1:32-35). But there’s more to it than just that. In Zechariah 9 we have a prophecy of a king arriving on a donkey:  "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" Jesus is clearly referencing that prophecy when he sends his disciples off to find the donkey and its colt. Jesus is making a public claim to be that Messianic figure promised by Zechariah. It's as if he's saying, "Here’s the King that God promised all those years before."

Now as I said a few minutes ago, there would have been some in the crowd who recognised this symbolic act for what it was. But what they thought it symbolised wasn't what Jesus had in mind. They were looking for a King who’d come and liberate them from the Romans. But that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. That passage from Zechariah 9 is very significant. It continues: “10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” You see, the King that Zechariah talks about is gentle and humble. He doesn't enter Jerusalem on a war horse or riding a chariot. He enters on a humble donkey, a beast of burden whose role is to serve, not to conquer. He carries with him his own authority, given to him by God, not earned by defeating his enemies. And perhaps the key phrase here is that he comes to them righteous and having salvation. The salvation that Jesus the King will bring will be a salvation based on his righteousness, which he'll impart to those who have faith in him. And it’s a salvation that'll come from his submission to death; from his being not a conquering King, but a Servant King.

The sad thing about this symbolic act of Jesus is that rather than sparking the faith of the people, it actually highlights their lack of faith. Despite the great opportunities they'd had in the past, as God's special people, to hear God's word and to understand the nature of the salvation he was offering, they'd failed to grasp it. As the next two incidents in the passage indicate, they'd failed to understand the breadth of God’s grace in providing a Temple for all nations to worship in and they’d failed to bear fruit that belongs to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes into the city and enters the Temple and he isn’t impressed! In fact he’s very angry; and not because the Temple’s a bit messy. No his anger is at their attitude to worship. Despite everything the nation had been through, their attitude to worship was as flawed as it had ever been. The Temple was to have been a house of prayer for people of all nations, but they’d made it a den of thieves, designed to rip those people off. So the nations would no longer come to them to be fed.

But to show that God’s grace hasn’t been lost by their failure, Jesus stops and offers healing to the blind and lame – another sign of the coming of the Messiah.

The children who’ve come in to the city with the crowds are still crying out Hosanna to the Son of David and the religious authorities hear this as blasphemy. They ask Jesus “Do you hear what they’re saying?” He replies with a quote from Psalm 8: “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself.”

Do you think maybe Jesus is trying his hardest to warn them about who it is that they’re plotting to kill? Giving them one last chance to repent?

Well, he may be but he then leaves the city, perhaps as a sign that the city has been rejected by him.

The next day as he's going towards the Temple, Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf but when he goes to see if there's any fruit on it, he finds nothing but leaves. So he says "may no fruit ever come from you again." Now this isn't just a fit of pique. He isn't throwing a tantrum because he really felt like a fig and was disappointed. No, Jesus is making a statement, not about the fig tree, but about the nation of Israel. They've had their chance. They've got all the outward signs of belonging to God's kingdom, but the fruit isn't there, and so their opportunity, their place of privilege, is about to be removed.

Notice how he responds when the disciples express their surprise that the fig tree has withered away instantly. He says “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” Jesus wants his disciples to understand that if they have faith in him they can do amazing things. This incident with the fig tree is both a sign of judgement on the people of Israel and an object lesson for the disciples. A time will come when they’ll have to trust God to do amazing things for them, to rescue them from prison, from shipwrecks; to allow them to speak with confidence to crowds of people about Jesus; to heal the sick and wounded the way Jesus did; and the key to that would be their faith in Jesus.

Let’s not forget, though, the warning of Hebrews 11, that great chapter about faith. It ends its list of great men and women of faith with these words: “36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; …” You see, Jesus’ promise that you’ll receive whatever you ask isn’t a magic formula that’ll take away the troubles of this fallen world. Sadly this verse has been used by some preachers who’ve offered a gospel of health and prosperity; and people flocked to them. That message is much more popular than one that speaks of suffering and death, of taking up your cross to follow Jesus. Teachers who see life in black and white terms will be far more popular than those who are working through the ambiguities and struggles of life.

But you see, those people forget how, just three days later, Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from him, but then added, "but nevertheless your will not mine be done." Even as he encouraged his disciples to have complete faith in God when they pray, Jesus knew that not every prayer we pray will be answered in the way we want. You see the essence of faith is belief in the true and living God; that is, the true and living God, and his son Jesus Christ. If our faith is in a God who suffers because of the nature of this fallen world, then there are going to be times when we too will suffer. If our faith is in a Messiah who conquers through weakness, then there are going to be times when we too will be called to persevere in weakness. And there are going to be times when we'll have to wait patiently, like the first disciples, to see how God will bring about the salvation that we're longing for, even when on the surface it looks like nothing's happening, or worse still, like God's cause is failing.

But having said that, we're in a much better position than the first disciples, because we can look back and see how God's salvation has worked out, so far at least. We can have confidence in this servant King. We can have confidence in the gospel we proclaim: not because the logic of it is so compelling, though I think it is, but because we see that this servant King comes bearing righteousness and salvation for all who accept him as their King; because we know that this suffering servant who died has also been raised to eternal life, and now offers that life to all people; because we know that although at times God seems to work in strange ways, and at times seems to be slow in doing what we hope he'll do, in the end he does carry his plans to completion.

There's a certain weakness in the gospel that doesn't fit with modern expectations of success and power. Jesus isn't the sort of figure that Nike or Solo or Coca-Cola would sign up for an advertising campaign. I mean, who rides a donkey!? It looks ridiculous. You wouldn't find the TV channels fighting over the television rights for his entry into the city. But let's remember that it's his very weakness that's his power. It's his submission even to death that leads to life for us and for any who'll come to him in faith. So let’s be encouraged to have confidence in this King who rides a donkey, to pray to God in the midst of our struggles, knowing that he understands, and that despite his appearance of weakness, he in fact has great power to save those who believe in him.

Let’s make sure that we’re bearing fruit that reflects this King who comes in humility and weakness to bring us life. And let’s continue to worship the God who emptied himself and took on human form, until he returns, when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess him to be Jesus Christ, the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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