King and Prophet - Matthew 21:1-11 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is great to worship with you this morning. If you have a palm, wave it; I love that. “Why do we have palms?”—Thank you, Linda, by the way, for getting us these. All over the world, people are waving palm branches before Easter and have done so for centuries. Why? Let’s read why.
I have asked E.E. and J. E. to read for us. We will be reading from Matthew chapter 21, starting at verse 1. We are reading the English Standard Version of the Bible. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s Word. Would you stand now, if you are able?
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Thank you. Let’s pray. God, I need your help. Help me to deliver your Word with clarity and conviction. May you get glory and praise. You are worthy. We love you. I love you. AMEN. You may be seated.
The reason we wave palm branches is because of this passage. It was what the Jewish people did 2000 years ago. This practice wasn't like going to Hawaii and getting a lai, or even the exclusive red carpet treatment for the Academy Awards. The crowd went wild because of Jesus.
Did this group know what they were doing? I don’t think exactly. We read that some questioned, “Who was he?” Does that invalidate the significance of what the crowd did or said? No. They were onto something that can change our lives forever and refocus our days in good ways. Let’s walk through the text to hear what it says and means.
I see two sections in these eleven verses: Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem, verses 1 through 9, and Jesus’s arrival, verses 10 and 11. The rising tension in this short story is that Jesus requested two unnamed followers to go into the nearby village and find a donkey and its child. He tells them to take both from their owner and bring them back to him. If this owner asks why, he tells them to answer, “The Lord needs them.” That statement would be enough for the owner to allow this loan.
SAWYER GARDEN CENTER
Picture sending one of the teens to Sawyer Garden Center right now on foot. He or she arrives and heads to the back of the lot. The student hops in the Garden Center’s work truck and starts the engine. A store worker approaches saying, “What do you think you are doing with the truck?” Then the teen responds, “The Lord needs it.” Do you think the worker would let the teen drive off with the vehicle? The employee would call the police. Yet, in this village, the owner allows these followers to take their donkeys. Why? The reason relates to why the crowds waved palm branches, took off their outerwear, and let the donkeys trample them, and why they shouted “Hosanna” and called Jesus Son of David. What was the reason? It was Jesus’s identity: he was a king and a prophet. If you want to remember anything this morning, remember that. He was a king and a prophet.
POINT NUMBER 1: JESUS IS KING
Look at verse 1. We see he was a king. That is the first point. Jesus is King.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem” (Matthew 21:1).
Stop there. Jerusalem was significant. Remember, it was not any old city. It was the capital. It was the DC of Israel, the Big Apple of New York, the Windy City of Illinois, the center of culture, and the wheel's hub. What was so special about Jerusalem? It had two key architectural features: the Temple and the palace. King Jesus was going home and headed to the Temple.
Thousands of years before, at this iconic location, Abraham, offered a sacrifice of his one and only son, Isaac. God stopped him and provided a substitute, a ram. Abraham’s family line continued on becoming the people of Israel. They migrated to Egypt, where eventually the Egyptians enslaved them. They lived under that oppressive reality for hundreds of years. Then God raised up Moses. Moses spoke on God’s behalf, as a prophet, to the Pharaoh. God freed them from the bondage of oppression. He led them on a journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land. Moses died on the cusp of entry into the land. Joshua took over. When Joshua died, God appointed judges to rule. After a while, the nation demanded a king like every other nation. God agreed and had the prophet Samuel anoint Saul. Later, Saul sinned against God in pride. Then, God raised up another king, David, to take Saul’s place. He was a man after God’s own heart. David selected Jerusalem as the capital. His son, Solomon, built the first Temple there. Jerusalem was the historic City on the Hill, the City of David, the City of Zion.
Look at verse 4, Matthew connected Jesus’s approach and entrance to a 500-year-old prophecy.
“This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4).
What prophet? Zechariah. Matthew Zechariah chapter 9 verse 9. Zechariah called God’s people to repent: to turn from their sin. They were waiting for a special king to free them from oppression and injustice and lead them spiritually. Zechariah spoke for God to God’s people. He wrote,
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you” (Matthew 21:5).
Who was this king? Matthew identified him in retrospect: Jesus.
WE SEE THIS
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God predicted this coming king. He did this through Jacob blessing his twelve sons. Here is what he said of his son Judah,
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49:10–11)
Prophecies and blessings can be a tad bit confusing. However, did you hear and see the parallels? Judah would have a scepter and rule. Scepters are for kings. The staff was a ruler’s staff. We know Judah died in Egypt as a shepherd with his brothers, not on a throne as royalty. This blessing concerned his descendants. From the line of Judah would come kings. Why does that matter? Matthew tells us from the get-go, in chapter 1 of his biography of Jesus, this,
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah (Matthew 1:1–2).
So, this ancestor of Judah, son of David, was making his way to Jerusalem. The crowd went wild (as they have in previous appointments 2 Kings 9:13). They cut off palm branches and threw them on the ground.
POOR STEWARDSHIP = CARE
However, that was not all they threw. They laid their cloaks on the ground as well. Why? It seems wasteful. Yet, it made sense to their culture. It was like the chivalrous practice of young men putting their coats over puddles so young ladies wouldn’t have to step in them. The palms and cloaks were expressions of care.
We see another gesture like this when a woman came to Jesus and anointed him. She found him at a dinner party, interrupted by putting some top-shelf perfume on him. It was a shocker and smelled equally so. Judas Iscariot complained that it was a waste and should instead be sold to give to the poor. Jesus countered they would always have the poor, but not him. He saw this wasteful gesture as commendable. It was a cultural expression of care and recognition.
The bottom line was Jesus was (and is) a king worthy of such actions. We honor kings. And Jesus was not an ordinary king. He was a long-awaited king. God predicted his arrival a thousand years before to this king David we already talked about. God said to him,
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:11–14)
Jesus was that offspring. He was and is the Son of God. He is the proverbial Temple.
JESUS ACTED LIKE A KING
We know he was the Son of God because Jesus called himself that as well and acted like it. He commanded, and his men obeyed. He said go, and they went. He was not merely a good teacher and miracle worker. He was Christ the King; the Messiah.
PILATE ASKS ABOUT JESUS’S KINGSHIP
Not everyone agreed. He threatened the status quo. In fact, this threat was a threat to the Roman rule was the charge that led to his death. Pilate was the Roman regional official investigating this claim, had an interesting interchange with Jesus less than a week after this triumphal arrival.
Pilate… said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33–37)
So, what is Jesus saying? He is a king. However, his kingdom is qualitatively different from Caesar’s, Pharaoh’s, or the President’s reign. His kingship is unique and spiritual. It was not of this world.
We also learn his kingship is one of humility.
“Humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matthew 21:5).
Jesus didn’t arrive on a warhorse or chariot. He came with no bodyguard or army. He was meek and mild, gentle and lowly. The Bible says,
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
He was humble. He left Heaven and entered the world as a baby, born in a barn, to nondescript parents, who became refugees for about a decade. He lived in obscurity. When he began his ministry, it was with no fanfare or pomp. Every time ministry seemed to go well; he would disappear. He would not bend to the masses’ pressure to put on a show. He wasn’t living for money or popularity. People or power didn't motivate him. He had a mission. His mission was to die, the innocent for the guilty. That was how humble he was.
At the same time, he did have power. He will one day exhibit that power. John, one of his closest followers and writer of much of the New Testament.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11–16)
Who is this Word of God? Who rides this white horse? Who is faithful? Who is true? Who is righteous? Who has eyes of fire? Who wears this crown? Who leads the armies of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Who is that? King Jesus! Friends, he is supreme, humble, as well as powerful. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
So, what? We are back to our question, what difference does Palm Sunday make? Why do we wave palm branches? Why acknowledge Jesus asking? Because this humble and powerful king is worthy of all praise. Let me ask you this, “Do you believe that? Is he your king?” If he is, how do you demonstrate it? What is your life is evidence that he is your king? Could someone identify him as your king? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Do you keep his commandments? That begs the question: What are his commandments? One, is to take up your cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). What does that mean? It means following Jesus above everything else. That may mean you have to die what you want to do. Another command is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–38). Do you? Do you love God and do you love those around you? Is Jesus your king? If he is, follow him, obey him. He is worthy.
Perhaps, you worry it is too difficult. Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you, my burden is light (Matthew 11:29). How can Jesus ask us to die, and it is a light thing? I think it is light because we don’t have to go on this journey alone. He promised to be with you and me. He sent his Holy Spirit to help us. We have each other. We have his Words. We can do this with his help. Will Jesus be your King today? Will you follow him this week?
That is my first point. My second point is Jesus is a prophet. What does that mean? A prophet speaks for God. Prophets can at times tell the future and do miracles. Jesus did. Even in these few verses, we see that he knew in the village there were two donkeys; his disciples would find them: a mother and a colt. He knew the owner would let the disciples take them. He knew if he or she questioned, his answer would suffice. The story unfolds exactly as he predicted and ends, acknowledging Jesus as a prophet.
“Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10–11).
Jesus was a prophet. The book of Hebrews says Jesus is greater than the greatest (Hebrews 3:3–4). God spoke to Moses personally. Moses had such an intimate relationship with God that they had to veil his face because the glory of God radiated off his face so much. He intervened for God’s people again and again and again. He was the prophet par excellence. At the end of his life, God said to him,
“I will raise up for them [his people] a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).
Whom was God going to raise up after Moses? Islam says, “Mohamed” (Quran 7:157). The Bible says this is Jesus (Acts 3:20–22, 7:37). During Jesus’s life, he only spoke what God the Father told him to say. He healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed the storms, fed the thousands, and raised the dead. He knew in advance Judas would betray him. He predicted his own death on multiple occasions. He even predicted his resurrection. He knew the future. He was unique and unlike any other prophet before or since.
So, what do we do with this prophet from Nazareth of Galilee? Listen. Do you listen? He speaks to us through his Word and the Holy Spirit. Will you listen to him? What is he saying? What is he saying to you? Listen.
This is a holy week. We are going to have the sanctuary open for you to come in and listen. Join us. We are going to reflect on his life and death and resurrection with Good Friday and Sunday to celebrate his rising.
NEW TO YOU
Perhaps, this is all new. Great. We have room for you at this church. Come and join us. Meet this King who lives, and reigns in power and humility, and calls us to listen and obey.
Possibly you know you have not obeyed and feel embarrassed or ashamed. You are not alone. The people in verse 9 cried out a word that I think is helpful: Hosanna. What does that mean? Hosanna is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word. It is a cry for God to save. It was a quote from Psalm 118. The people were calling out for God to save them. Back in Jesus’s day, people wanted political and economic freedom. What kind of help do you need? Today, you might want financial freedom, medical intervention, or relational wisdom. But that doesn’t go deep into what we ultimately need. We need help deep down dealing with our guilt and shame. Hear this, this is why Jesus came to Jerusalem so long ago. He loves you and wants to help you with your guilt and shame. He loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, into the world. He died to forgive sins. He did that so all who believe in him might not perish but have everlasting life. You can receive that blessing by turning from your sin, trusting in his death, and acknowledging him as your king and prophet. You can cry "Hosanna. God, save me" in your heart now, and he will. Turn to him. Tell him you want to listen and follow him, as our King of kings and prophesied Prophet. Will you do that? Join us in listening and following our Prophet and King Jesus.