Monday, September 26, 2011

Matthew 21:1–11

Matthew 21:1–11 (ESV): The Triumphal Entry


In this passage Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and when they get close Jesus sends two of the disciples into a nearby village to get him a donkey and its colt. He tells them that they will see the donkey and its colt as soon as they get to the village, and they are to simply take them—that if anyone questions them on it, they should simply tell them that “the Lord needs them” (verse 3 (ESV)), and the questioner will drop their objections and let the disciples take the animals.

So the two disciples do as Jesus has told them, and when they return with the animals they spread their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. (The passage says that Jesus “sat on them” (verse 7 (ESV)), and based on the context one might think that maybe it means he sat on the two animals, but the ESV Study Bible says that, based on the Greek, the “them” being referred to is the cloaks, not the animals. Even without a working knowledge of Greek, common sense should probably lead us to the same conclusion.)

The crowd takes the disciples’ example, and starts spreading their own cloaks on the road for the animals to walk on, while others do the same with branches from nearby trees. The excitement builds from there:

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!” 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.” (verses 9–11 (ESV))
Matthew tells us that this is all taking place to fulfill a prophecy given in Zechariah 9:9 (ESV).


We should not think, based on this passage, that all of these people who are rejoicing at Jesus’ arrival are actually his followers. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that many of these same people will be calling for his crucifixion in a few days—whether because of a change of heart, or because of mob mentality. (In fact, mob mentality probably plays into this scene as well.) Most of those who are giving any thought to this are thinking that Jesus is coming as a political and military leader, who will free the Jews from the Romans; when that turns out not to be the case, they turn on him. With the benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus’ real purpose on this planet was far better than political goals.

However, regardless of the true motives behind this praise and exultation, and regardless of how short-lived it is, it’s also engineered by God. We are told in Luke that even if the people hadn’t cooperated, “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 (ESV)). For one brief moment Jesus is being treated as the king he truly is, not because he is tired of serving us—his biggest act of service is still to come—but perhaps as a reminder that he is not just a servant. He is the mighty king, not just of Israel, or the world, but of everything.

And yet… when I read this passage, I don’t usually read it with joy or exultation (though perhaps I should). I read it in more of a melancholy mood, as I contemplate what is about to come. I read it with the realization that the people involved don’t even understand what they’re cheering for—but that if they did, they might cheer all the more. This praise and worship and exultation of Jesus was deserved but short-lived. Hopefully in our Sunday worship services and other events where we corporately worship God we are carrying on this exultation, and doing it with proper motivations in our hearts. We do, after all, have the Holy Spirit, and He will help us to worship God in a way that these people couldn’t have dreamed of.
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