Matthew 21:1-17 ESV
We call the Sunday before Easter “Palm Sunday” because it marks the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowds spread their coats and palm branches on the road, proclaiming that this Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would bring salvation to Israel, the Son of David, the promised prophet! But this event is significant, not only because of the people’s recognition of who Jesus is but also because it marks Jesus’ own active proclamation about who He is and the nature of His Kingship.
So let’s look at what the people were saying about Jesus and then we will look at what Jesus was saying about Jesus and the nature of His kingdom and kingship.
Kingdom and Kingship
The People Proclaim
The language in verse 9 is unmistakeable. First of all this “Hosanna… Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” is drawn right from Psalm 118. Hosanna is a exclamation of praise and it literally means “Save us!” So the people are quoting Psalm 118.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
This crowd believes they were welcoming God’s salvation. And they add the words, “to the Son of David.” This crowd understood that God’s salvation would come through the promised Messiah, the Son of David. They understood that the Old Testament prophecies said the Messiah would come from the line of David. And they were drawing from many Old Testament texts. For example,
2 Samuel 7:16
And your house [speaking to David] and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
So they see this Jesus who had been preaching, ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ and had done the mighty acts of healing the diseased and afflicted, He had feed thousands, He had preached with authority, and now He was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey they understand that this was meant to fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So the crowd is hailing Jesus as He enters Jerusalem as the Messianic King promised by God to Israel who would restore Israel and usher in justice and righteousness and peace from this time forth and forevermore. There no mistake here they believed that this man was the longed for savior.
And notice that Jesus Himself openly accepts the declarations of the people. In fact, this section makes plain that Jesus was in fact seeking to demonstrate for all to see that He was claiming to be the promised Messiah and King. There is no question about what Jesus is doing here. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to fulfill Zechariah 9 – precisely to make this statement. And the text says in verse 10 -14,
And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money – changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
The people are not mistaking Jesus’ intention here. Jesus is proclaiming loud and clear, “Behold, your king has come, righteous and having salvation!” But, if we needed any more evidence that this is Jesus’ agenda, in verses 15 and 16 we read,
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant [angry/annoyed], and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
The chief priest and scribes are like, “What are you doing man?!? Do you realize that these people think you are claiming to be the Messiah?” In Luke it records for us that they tell Jesus to rebuke these followers, tell them to stop this nonsense. Do you hear what these are saying?
The end of verse 16,
And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
Jesus isn’t about to stop them from shouting, because what they are shouting is exactly right! The people got the message Jesus was sending: Behold, your king has come!
Expectations and Disappointments
The only problem was, the people didn’t understand the things they were shouting about. The words coming out of their mouths were true. The Messiah and King had come. But their expectations about what the Messiah and King would do and accomplish were missing an absolutely crucial element. What they expected the Messiah to do, Jesus had not come to do – at least not in the way they thought.
The tragedy is that the Messianic hope for many in Israel had been diminished down to a shadow of its true glory. The glory and power and might of the King and His kingdom and the salvation He came to accomplish had been reduced in the thinking of many in Israel to a hollow shell of the real thing.
Many in Israel were hoping for a political revolution. They wanted freedom from foreign oppression. They wanted Rome out and they wanted to possess the land God had given to His people forever. They wanted to reestablish the geo-political kingdom of Israel with power and glory – as in the days of Solomon when the glory of Israel was the envy of the nations. They wanted prosperity. They wanted their fig trees to blossom and fruit on the vine. They wanted the produce of their olive to thrive and their fields to succeed. They wanted flocks and herds. They wanted strength and blessing and peace.
This, they believed, was what the Messiah should have brought. So, when they were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were thinking that He would be the one deliver all of this.
But the carpenter from Nazareth brought none of those things – at least not like they thought. In fact His activities and claims were likely to bring more difficulty for Israel not less.
It is incredible that as this crowd is quoting from Psalm 118 verses 25-26 on this Palm Sunday, the leaders are at the same time fulfilling Psalm 118 verse 22.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
And in just a few short days this crowd will be joining their leaders in rejecting the cornerstone and they will be shouting out, “Crucify him!”
They rightly identified the Messiah, but He was not the Messiah they expected. He disappointed them and they rejected Him. He did not do what they wanted Him to do. He was a failure. And all the joy that this crowd felt at His arrival turned to rage when He did not meet their expectations. “He’s fake. He’s a fraud. He’s a phony. He’s a failure. He a fool. Away with this man. We hate the sight of him. A murderer is more tolerable than this fraud! He brought none of the things he promised! Crucify him!”
The Nature of the King and His Work
Why was the cornerstone rejected? Why was God’s perfect provision despised?
It was because the leaders of Israel and this crowd failed to see the depths of their poverty. They failed to see the true enemy and how radically they themselves were enslaved. They were not simply oppressed by Roman swords and soldiers, they were enslaved to sin and they were children of the Devil, just like the rest of mankind. But to this deep poverty and slavery they were completely blind.
Their problem was not that they were without political power or gold and silver, but that they were impoverished toward God along with the rest of mankind. They were blind to the fact that they lacked the righteousness without which no one will see the Lord because they believed that they had it in themselves to establish that righteousness through the Law.
They did not know how sick they were and so they did not see their own need for a physician. They misdiagnosed what ailed them. They did not see their need for a New and Better Covenant. They did not see their need for a better priesthood to offer a better sacrifice. They did not see the weakness or purpose of the Law given at Sinai. They did not see the need for a spiritual re-birth or the need to have the Spirit of God engraved on the tablets of their hearts. They failed to see the spiritual nature of the Kingdom God and they had set their hope on shadows rather than on the substance. They were concerned about the outside of the cup when the inside was filthy.
The kingdom of God is not defined by the outward and physical.
The people wanted and outward and physical salvation. But God had sent a Savior to save from a far more significant problem.
The Messiah did not ride in with the strength of an amy on stallions. He rode in on a donkey, lowly and humble (Matthew 21:5). He brought with Him no external glory. The Son of David was the King who died under a curse, rejected and despised. The Master came, but not to be served. He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Yes, He did come as the King triumphant and He did do battle with our enemies, but not in the way we thought! The true glory of the kingdom was only available to us after the suffering of the Righteous and Holy One.
Of course the outward and physical is not a challenge for our God – recall: creation, the flood, barren wombs made fruitful, plagues, pillars of clouds and fire, parting the Red Sea, bitter water made sweet, bread from heaven, and on and on. And yes, He will bring consummation and final fulness soon enough, but the rescue that Jesus accomplished was the needed victory over sin and death. He was restoring Life to wicked and undeserving, dead humanity. He was getting us to glory, who don’t deserve to be there.
If He had come with judgement and sword as Israel wanted rather than in mercy and service none of them would ever have entered that glory – and neither would we.
So He did come to conquer. He did come to heal the deepest wounds. He came to restore the years that the locust had eaten. He came to establish real and lasting peace and to rescue a people who had been in chains of deep darkness. He came to transfer them to His Kingdom were they will shine with His righteousness forever.
The great Lord and Master over all did not come on a stallion or with a sword (Praise God!), but in lowliness and humility and love to save and to rescue by being the required sacrifice for our sins. He came to suffer in order to bring many sons to glory. He came first to do battle with sin and death and the Devil and to make a people worthy of the kingdom.
And this is the age of filling the kingdom with ransomed souls. This is why the final glory has not yet come – because God is gathering the citizens of the kingdom. It is the patience and grace of God that delays the final consummation so that many may enter through Jesus Christ the Righteous and Holy One.
Expectations and Disappointments
Israel’s expectations failed to account for their true need: salvation from sin and death. They failed to see that the glory of the kingdom is know God Himself, to be with Him in righteousness. The question for us is this: What are our expectations of the Messiah?
Do we grasp the nature of the kingdom of God? Do we grasp the nature of our need?Do we know that this is the hour of grace?
I wonder if we understand the things we’re shouting about today. I believe there are times that we expect Him to ride in on a stallion with sword in hand and defeat all our earthly problems. We expect the external, outward, and physical glory of health and restoration and prosperity. And when we don’t experience that in our lives do our shouts of joy turn to shouts of rage?
There is glory in being a ransomed child of God today, but that glory is not seen by the world. The world looks at us today celebrating a so called king riding on a donkey to die a brutal death on a cross as foolishness and a Jew looks at this bloodied king as an offense. But to those who are called, from both the Jews and the Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
If we look only at the present earthly results of the King’ work and expect the work of our King to mean prosperity now and external glory now and consummation now we will be disappointed our whole life through.
But if we see the work of the King in its true glory and understand why the delay, why Jesus did not come into Jerusalem with a sword, – if we see why, we will persevere in faith until He returns. The fullness is coming!
Our King did the hardest thing already. He purchased us for God at Calvary. We can have confident hope that our citizenship is in heaven, in the kingdom where righteousness and peace will never end and soon He will return to bring us to be with Him there.
But we live in an age when the kingdom is growing as we proclaim this message of salvation in Jesus Christ and people are saved from every nation and are added to the eternal kingdom’s citizenry. But the glory is not yet seen with the eyes. There is no external glory to be seen yet. And it is because God is full of grace. This is the age when the citizens of heaven follow their King in sufferings and sacrifice in order that many might enter the kingdom with us.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is a day to remember the glory of Christ and the true nature of His kingdom. It is a day to reorient ourselves Godward and a day to shout with joy and with understanding, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
A true celebration of Palm Sunday will be a recognition of and a love for the King in His true nature and intention. And it will be to recognize that because of our King’s work we are sons and heirs of the eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken. But it will also be to recognize that as citizens of heaven and servants of the King, we have a ministry of suffering to attend to. We too have an earthly ministry to complete. We are not the Messiah, but we are His servants, His heralds. We have a message for the world: Behold now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day if salvation!(2 Corinthians 6:2)
Jesus did not bring the sword and an army ready to bloody the nations, instead He came to be bloodied for the nations.
And we, His people, must understand that this is not the hour to expect consummation. This is still the hour of reconciliation. This is not yet the hour when sinners are made to face the final judgment, rather now are the precious moments when sinners are justified by faith is Christ. The fulness of the kingdom is coming, but here and now it grows and advances and heals and restores – not by any earthly power of men but by the power of the Word and Spirit as salvation in Jesus Christ is proclaimed to all people.
What are your expectations of Jesus’ ministry in this world today? Power and glory and honor and praise in this world? or do you see that now it is time to suffer and be humiliated and rejected for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in this world.
In his book, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke JC Ryle said,
The Lord Jesus, we should remark, did not tarry long on the Mount of Olives. His communion with Moses and Elijah was very short. He soon returned to his accustomed work of doing good to a sin-stricken world. In His life on earth, to receive honor and have visions of glory was the exception. To minister to others, to heal all who were oppressed by the devil, to do acts of mercy to sinners, was the rule. Happy are those Christians who have learned of Jesus to live for others more than for themselves, and who understand that is is ‘more blessed to give than to receive.”
Palm Sunday is about hailing our King, receiving His work by faith, and becoming like Him in this world as we wait for His return. We have an earthly ministry to attend to – not to receive honor and glory and praise here, but to be despised and rejected if necessary, to be strangers and aliens, to take up our cross and follow His to Calvary so that many others will be reconciled to their God through Jesus Christ.
Are we more about securing comforts in this world or about doing whatever necessary to secure the comfort of others forever? Are we more about the rewards of retirement in this world or about the eternal rewards kept for us in heaven? Are we more about protecting and preserving our lives in this world or about laying it down that others may live? Are we about building cheap and temporary kingdoms here or about receiving the kingdom that cannot be shaken?
May the brokenness and weakness of our Savior not be foolish or an offense to us.
Now we see only a tiny seed buried in the ground, but when it is grown it will be a mighty and fruitful tree. Now we suffer and die but soon the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father because our King has accomplished our salvation!
Let us rejoice: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.