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“Who is this, Jesus?” “Who is this, Jesus?”

The man I met on the Temple Mount and his son
The man I met on the Temple Mount and his son
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“Who is this, Jesus?”

Posted on Sun, Apr 9, 2017

Matthew 21:1-11 Palm Sunday

April 9, 2017


Passion Sunday


Gospel Text: Matthew 21:1-11 “Who is this, Jesus?”

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead 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, just say this, “The Lord needs them.”  And he will send them immediately.’  4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
 humble, and mounted on a donkey,
 and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ 
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’  11 The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’



I remember visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most holy site in Islam.  We visited the mosque and enjoyed the beauty and respectful atmosphere, and as usual, I was the last one to leave … As I was leaving there was a gentle Muslim man, his young son in tow, who desperately want it to talk to me as soon as he learned that I was a Christian pastor.  He came up to me and asked with a good degree of intensity, “how can you believe that Jesus is God?”  My confirmation lesson voice was engaged and without thinking I began talking about how through the death and resurrection of Christ our sins were forgiven and we have the gift of eternal life… and that answer is what set him off.  I even thought for a nano-second, that I should try to explain the Trinity… yeah right.  He began to shout, “How could God become a human and allow himself to suffer?!?! Why would God ever allow human beings to cause him to suffer and then nail him to a cross!?’” From his perspective as a person who is determined to be ‘submissive’ to God’s grace and faithfulness, the main question he would ask of us is, “Who is this Jesus?”  


By the tone of his voice and the fact that our tour guide was yelling at me to leave the grounds as our time is up … I had to excuse myself as courteously as possible, but he continued to follow me all the way to the gate telling me that it is impossible for humans to even think that god could become human, let alone killing god… for him it is an absurd abomination! I was called to the exit, but I will never forget this man, and the look on his very confused little son as he chased me, and demanded justification for my faith.  What would you have done if you were in my shoes?


In todays Gospel Lesson according to Matthew, and referring to Jesus after they saw His follower’s welcome as if they were welcoming a king, the people asked, “Who is this?”  This is the same kind of question the man on the Temple Mount today was asking me, as well as the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem 2000 years ago, only a few meters from where I met the man on the Temple Mount.  “Who is this Jesus, who has caused such a fuss, who you call God, yet humans were able to crucify?  What a pathetic god.  He couldn't even save himself.  What was he thinking?!”


Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was using parables to explain the concept of the “Kingdom of God,” and then as he was leaving Jericho which was only about seven few miles away, he healed two blind people.  I am sure the word of his amazing teaching and the healing of the blind men, made it to Jerusalem before he did.  And I am sure more people began to ask, “Who is the man, Jesus?”


But even before they arrived, Jesus was preparing for the most important meal he would share with his disciples, his last Passover Meal.  There seems to be anticipation and hurriedness as Jesus commands two disciples to go on and, ‘find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.’  The time of Jesus’ passion has begun, and the world will never be the same again.  At this point, the final phase and completion of Jesus’ mission is in full swing, there is no turning back, even for Jesus.  He knows what will happen after his joyous and triumphant entry…


This story is found in other Gospels, but Matthew has a strong point he wants to make sure his readers understand.  The prophesy about the Messiah must be fulfilled as it is written.  The prophesy was from Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


Theologians have been wrestling with the translation in Zechariah since it was probably printed.  Donkey or a colt/horse, can’t be both, which one?  That is how it is written. Was Matthew insisting that Jesus had to ride two animals in order to fulfill the prophesy?  No, and the common modern theme preached on this text seems to stress that the image of Jesus riding a donkey was a sign that Jesus was a “humble” king.  We resonate with this thought, but seeing Jesus like this would not have been understood or appreciated for Matthew’s readers.  Nowadays, we like to talk about how humble Jesus must have appeared to the average person, but just teaching this view wasn't Matthew’s intention at all.  The text says they fetched two animals, threw their garments on two animals, and Matthew seems to say Jesus entered Jerusalem riding two animals.  There wasn't some kind of misunderstanding or poetic parallelism going on here, again Matthew was making sure the picture he describes exactly portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of prophesy and is truly the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the Gentiles.  Plus, and here is the point people miss because they only want to think that the picture is portraying a humble Jesus; Matthew is picturing Jesus the way ancient oriental gods and kings were frequently depicted: enthroned above a pair of animals.  This is the posture of a king entering a mighty city, and this is the image that would have resonated with the people of the early church.  Jesus does however; enter meekly but with royal grandeur.  


Second of all, and this is related to the apocalyptic understanding of Jesus’ triumphant entry; In those days, a donkey was much more than a beast of burden fit only for pulling the plow or the threshing shed.  I was also fit for kings, especially for a king depicted in the ‘end times.’  Why the final king?  Because when the king enters the holy city riding a donkey he comes to inaugurate the age of peace and so utterly renounces chariots and horses, bows and swords (Matthew 26:51-56).  


The people of Jerusalem pick up on the royal style of Jesus immediately, and wave palm fronds in joyous welcome!  As a sign of amazing respect and humility they also spread their garments on the road.  The palm fronds and garments being spread before the approaching Jesus also kept the dust down and was a sign of hospitality and welcome.


But what really began to upset the situation for the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers was when Jesus’ followers specifically began to sing out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  The people are before Jesus, and following Jesus, singing, “Hosanna” which means, “Save us!  We beseech thee O Lord!”  The word “Hosanna” is of course an expression of praise, but it is a praise of deliverance that is at hand and finitely anticipated.  There is EXPECTATION in the word “hosanna.”  And because it is clear the people see Jesus as a King David like character and that they have unequivically demonstrated that they expect ‘results’ according to their expectations, the religious leaders are immediately afraid for their positions of authority, the order of the temple, and even keeping the status quo as it was… to their favor.


The question is, “what kind of deliverance do they want and expect?” or, “What kind of deliverance does God see that they need most of all?”


Matthew finally tells us, “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, or stirred.”  The literal translation for the word, “turmoil,” is to mean, “shaken to its foundations!”


Just with the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at this time in history, the holy city of Jerusalem was shaken to its foundations… was it shaken with joy?  With fear and trembling?  Or, with great foreboding?


The people cry out, “Who is this?”  They have expectations, but their expectations aren’t in line with God’s intentions.  And what happens when human expectations aren’t met?  Whether two years old, or ninety years old, there is sometimes, anger, misunderstanding, retribution, disappointment… for Jesus, it was the Cross.  But we know the end of the story, and we will celebrate Jesus’ victory over death on Easter morning.  But from that day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem so many years ago, like a bolt of lightning, Jesus of Nazareth now crackles in Jerusalem. And the city, with its lawyers and priests, its aristocrats and bureaucrats, face something totally new in this upstart rabbi with his fresh talk of the Kingdom of God and his unbound care for the outcast, orphan and widows.  Who is this?  A prophet?  More than a prophet?  A king?  What kind of king?  Who is this Jesus?


Jesus did not fulfill the desires and expectations of the people of Jerusalem, but that didn't matter.  What mattered was that Jesus was obedient to fulfilling God’s plan for our forgiveness and salvation… that is all that matters.  That is who Jesus is … Amen.

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