This is Jesus.

One of life’s great satisfactions is arriving at a destination we look forward to after a very long journey. In the gospels, Jesus’ long journey began in a place called Caesarea Philippi; at this crucial juncture in his ministry he asked his disciples about his identity. His follower, Peter, got the correct answer – ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’.

But surprisingly, Jesus followed this great revelation with discussion about going to Jerusalem and suffering and dying. The disciples tried to dissuade, but Jesus was resolute and ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9.51). He went to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world.

It’s difficult to know how Jesus felt about arriving; it was by the plan of God and with the full knowledge that his actions over the next seven days would result in salvation for many people. But this arrival would have understandably been marked by apprehension; Jesus came to Jerusalem to die. Before his betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion, Jesus was welcomed and greeted as a king. We read about this arrival in Matthew 21.21-11.

The details of this episode are not difficult to understand: Jesus approaches Jerusalem, He sends two disciples to bring a donkey and her colt to him, he gets rides the colt down from the mount of olives, while he is riding the crowds are shouting. He finally enters Jerusalem proper – that is, he goes through one of the gates of this walled city; the people of Jerusalem want to know what’s going on? But let’s reflect more deeply on these events.

1. Jesus

Remember, what we read in this text on Palm Sunday is the culmination of a journey that begin with the question of Jesus’ identity, and now he’s going to going to demonstrate that identity in unimaginable ways. For the reader, however, Matthew doesn’t want us to miss the fact that Jesus IS NOT just a prophet, Jesus is the king. And so he quotes this passage from Zechariah 9.9:

Say to the daughter of Zion,‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’

There are two parts of this prophecy to notice. The second part is what Jesus physically fulfils – he rides into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. The significance of this riding is captured in the first key idea – your king is coming to you.

This prophecy is speaking to Zion – originally one of the hills in Jerusalem but it came to mean the city itself. And so this prophecy is a message to Jerusalmen – YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU.

Now – the biblical background for this is that King David, the one who first conquered the Jebusite stronghold that was on Mount Zion and renamed it the City of David – David had to feel Jerusalem when his son Absalom orchestrated a coup. After David defeated Absalom, he returned to Jerusalem – not triumphantly on a horse, but riding on a donkey.

And so the prophet picks up that theme and points to Jesus, the Son of David – the King of all kings – and says He is going to come into the city riding on a donkey. So that’s the biblical significance.

But the situational significance is that Jesus has just walked over a hundred miles from Ceaserea Philipi. Why would he go through with this intentional, planned and out of the ordinary way to enter Jerusalem?

This was an intentional declaration by Jesus – I am the king about whom Zechariah prophesied. As the only one riding an animal, Jesus would have stood out amongst his supporters who were all on foot. Whereas previously Jesus had kept his true identity hidden, now he was openly declaring to the world – to those who could see and hear – I am the Son of David, I am the promised Messiah.
 
The people got the right answer, but they didn’t fully understand the question. That is, the people knew Jesus was special, but they didn’t fully understand the kind of Messiah that he was; they recognised that he was prophet and king – they didn’t understand he was both the priest and the sacrifice that would atone for the sins of the world. But at this stage – that’s OK – they had the right guy – they were following the correct king – they just didn’t fully understand him.

2. JUBILATION

Look at verses 8-9:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!”

Now the first thing that we have to clear up is WHO is the crowd that was with Jesus? In short, this is the crowd that had come with Jesus from Galilee, that is, his core followers, plus those that have joined in along the way.

Remember, he has not yet entered Jerusalem. This is important. It is not the people of Jersualem who are celebrating. Sometimes we wonder, how could the same crowd the cried out HOSANNA! To the king on Sunday cry out ‘Crucify Him!’ on Friday? The short answer, they didn’t’. We’ll get to the city of Jerusalem in a moment, but this crowd is outside Jerusalem and has come with Jesus.

Now, to understand this crowd it helps to look at the immediate context. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem after having come through Jericho.  When Jesus left Galilee he came down through Jordon Valley arriving at the city of Jericho, the last stop on the way to Jerusalem.

Jericho is about 15 miles from Jerusalem, and it includes an elevation increase of about 3, 400 feet. It’s not an easy walk – it takes about 8 hours, but there was a growing crowd that made this journey.

There were to things that happened in Jericho that would have caused the crowds to swell. First, there was a guy name Zacchaeus – was a tax collector, an extortioner – and Jesus breaks into his live and saves him and gives him forgiveness. Not only was this good for Zacchaeus, but it was demonstration that anyone who repented could come into the kingdom of God. Jesus explained like this: I have come to seek and save the lost.

Now, if you’re as messed up as I am – that’s good news! And so Jesus was demonstrating that the kingdom of God isn’t just for people who are spiritual – the kingdom of God is for sinners who repent.

But the second thing that happened would have swelled the crowds even more. As he was leaving the city Jesus healed two blind men. He had said early in his ministry that the Spirit of God was upon him to open the eyes of the blind. And he did.

And so this crowd has been growing, this crowd has been watching Jesus do great stuff, and now, as he is on the verge of entering Jerusalem, and they break out in JUBILATION!

Remember, these were not the Jerusalem crowds, these were the crowds that came with Jesus. And they came with shouting.

The word Hosanna and the line Blessed is he who comes from the name of the Lord are from Psalm 118, verses 25 and 26. This comes from a group of Psalms, the Hallel psalms, 113-118, traditionally chanted at Israel’s major festivals. The latter part of Psalm 118 apparently describes a joyful pilgrimage – with green branches – into the temple, led by the king.

Hosanna is a Greek version of the Hebrew Hoshiana which means SAVE US NOW. But it was used as a general acclamation of praise similar to Hallelujah.

In summary, this moment of praise, this shouting, this declaration of HOSANNA, this recognition of Jesus as the SON OF DAVID – all of this meant that that the crowds that came with Jesus recognised him to be the promised Messiah.

But things did not go as they planned. And that brings us to the third ‘J’.

3. JERUSALEM

This is what we read in verses 10 and 11:

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.”

First, note that the whole city was stirred up. This reminds us what happened at the beginning of Matthew when Magi came to Jerusalem – the whole city was alarmed. So twic – at the beginning of his life and towards the end of his life, Jesus disturbs Jerusalem.

Second, even though Jesus had visited Jerusalem twice, most of hist ministry had been done in Galilee, and though some would have heard about him, the city as such did not know who He was.

Third, to put this in context, Judea, and thus Jerusalem, was directly under the control of Rome, whereas Galilee would have been under the rule of Herod.

And so the fact that a Galilean was being proclaimed as a king in a Roman province would have been interpreted as a political threat in Jerusalem. And the Sadducees – the religious-political group who ran the temple worked hard to maintain good relationships with the Romans.

But the people from Galilee didn’t point to Jesus as the King – that would have been too provocative. But what they did say was even more threatening to the religious establishment in Jerusalem. They called Jesus the prophet.

This title the prophet  would have reminded the people of the reference to the coming ‘prophet like Moses’ (Deuteronomy 18.15-19).  This was a different way of referring to the Messiah.

He is from Nazareth – and Galilee was at this time viewed like another country from the power centre of Jerusalem. So this would have felt like a foreign invasion. Judea is under threat from the northern province.

Even more importantly, he is a prophet: that is, more than political authority, he claims divine authority so that his coming is not merely a threat to the Romans but to the religious authority vested in the temple priesthood and the Sanhedrin.

So when the people of Jerusalem look out and see a Galilean crowd leading their prophet in a royal procession – yes, they were disturbed.

4. CONCLUSION

And this brings us to a very simple application. As I read this story, there were three responses people made to Jesus: Acceptors, Agnostics, and Antagonists.

Acceptors are those who recognised Jesus as both prophet and king and welcomed and worshipped him. It’s true they didn’t yet have a full understanding of what that meant, but they were following the right guy. There are Christians like that today – you may not fully understand what all this is about, but you know the answer is Jesus. That’s where these people were. Jesus ended up being a different kind of Messiah than the one they expected when he died for their sins. But at least they were following the right king and worshipping him.

Agnostics are those who simply couldn't be bothered: 'Maybe Jesus is the prophet, maybe he's not; I don’t know, and I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me either way'. That’s where many people live today. They are simply uninterested in reaching a definitive conclusion about Jesus. But here’s a man who claimed to be the Son of God, whose followers claimed he was raised from the dead and that they saw him in person. If Jesus really is who he claimed to be - if he was really raised from the dead, it changes everythingThe point is – neutrality is not an option. Unless you embrace him for who he is, you are rejecting him, even if you are trying to maintain an ‘I can’t be bothered’ perspective.

Finally, there are the antagonists, those who feel threatened by Jesus. When Jesus came into Jerusalem, he threatened the status quo. The antagonists were the power brokers in Jerusalem; if they recognised Jesus as king, it means they would have to give up authority. And so their answer was to kill Jesus. And it's quite similar today. It’s amazing to me how many people are antagonistic to Jesus. Here is God’s gift of himself for us, to us – and what do we do? We kill him. Now – there are two ways that we can be angagonistic to Jesus. The first is intellectual – we come up with a variety of really clever questions designed to poke holes in the veracity of the Jesus story. The other way we can be antagonistic is spiritual. We can simply refuse to submit to him; we say, No, Jesus is not my king.

So where are you in this journey?

Are you an acceptor – recognising that Jesus is the king who came to serve by dying for the sins of the world? Are you an agnostic – you really don’t care one way or the other and you’re trying to hide behind the myth of neutrality? Are you an antagonist – you recognise that Jesus’ claim to Lordship challenges your own self rule, and so you resist his authority so you can live life your own way.

So what do you do with this? AT LEAST  consider the possibility that Jesus is who he claimed to be. If you can prove conclusively that Jesus was wrong, or that he wasn't raised from the dead, ignore him. But if he really is who he said he is, there is only one appropriate response, and that is to humble yourself before God and recognise that HE is Lord.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem the first time, he came riding on a donkey, a humble servant giving his life as a ransom for the sins of the world. But according to Revelation 19, the second time he comes back, he’s riding on white horse and he has a big tattoo on his thigh, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The invitation of this text is to leave agnosticism and antagonism – to leave indifference and resistance – and join the chorus of those who acknowledge him – Hosanna in the Highest – Hosanna to the Son of David.