Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-17
When Bev and I went to Manitoba last month, we were watching the weather very carefully. We wanted to be able to pack efficiently for the trip, to not take too much stuff with us.
A few days out, and the weather looked half decent. Overnight lows maybe around -5C, daytime highs about +5C. Things were looking good. So we packed up and headed to Windsor to drop the kids off the day before we flew out.
That evening, as we were talking with my parents, I got a message from a friend who lives in Winnipeg. “Hopefully the snow storm doesn’t disrupt your plans too much!”
Snow storm? Did she really say “snow storm”?
We should have known better, after all we’re talking about March in Canada, but we didn’t pack for a snow storm! All we could do is shrug our shoulders and hope for the best.
Now thankfully the storm just missed Winnipeg, so our fights were right on time, no issues at all. But then we picked up our rental car and began to make the one hour drive, or what should have been a one hour drive, to the town the retreat was at. I say “should have been” because they did get the storm.
Now the storm had passed in the morning, but by the time we were driving in the evening the roads were pure ice. And of course I turned down the offer of snow tires on the rental. We seriously could have skated. The Trans Canada highway was also closed, because of the ice. Not that we were going that way, but the other highways were also just as bad.
The closer we got to our destination, the worse the roads were. To the point we were doing 20kph as we passed a couple of snow plows, which were going even slower. Not that there was anything they could do, except push some of the blowing snow off the ice. Which I’m not sure was the best plan, but it did help get rid of the small drifts that were forming. Keep in mind there aren’t a lot of trees, and there’s no hills, so the wind just keeps blowing and the snow just keeps on moving.
After a long drive we finally made it to our accommodations, and thankfully our host had everything we needed for our first night and we didn’t need to go back out on those terrible roads.
Also thankfully it all melted the next day and the roads became passable once again, which is good because on the Saturday morning is was -20C… which we also were not packed for.
Journeys into places and towns we know can change from day to day, especially here in Canada. Sometimes even from hour to hour. We can’t be sure we know what the journey will hold for us. Yet here we are, continuing to move forward with the trust that everything will be okay. Being the optimist that I am, I felt that despite the rocky start to our trip when we made it to Manitoba, everything would turn out just fine. And it did! Even better than we had anticipated!
But what about the journey we just heard Jesus take? He’s coming into Jerusalem, on a road he’s probably taken plenty of times before, into a city he knows very well. But this time it’s very different.
For three years Jesus has been wandering around the countryside, in and out of town and cities. He’s been teaching, preaching, healing people, all sorts of wonderful things. And he’s amassed a bit of a following.
Now with Passover approaching, Jerusalem is busier than usual. Jews from all over the land are coming to celebrate the Passover in their holy city. And given the growing popularity of Jesus, even people who haven’t seen him know his name, there is quite a crowd around when Jesus makes his way into the city.
As Jesus rides into the town on a donkey the crowds line the street and cheer for him. But before we get into that, have you ever been reading something and a word pops out at you that maybe you hadn’t noticed before and you just can’t seem to make sense of it?
That happened to me when I was reading this passage. It was verse 7 which I tripped over. The verse says, “They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.”
Do you see what I’ve tripped over? They brought the donkey and the colt, put their cloaks on them, then Jesus sat on them. As I read this, I scratched my head and wondered how Jesus managed to sit on both animals. Then it dawned on me, he sat on their cloaks. Took a while, but I figured it out. I think translators could have done a better job here.
But any way, back to the celebration as Jesus comes into Jerusalem. While Matthew doesn’t highlight that it’s the days just ahead of the Passover, we know it is. And we know the city is beginning to fill up with Jews. Jerusalem, while an important city, is not a large one. Most of the year it’s likely about 25,000 people strong. But during the Passover, the streets are crowded as people from all over come to celebrate the Passover. So, you can imagine things can be a little bit tense and the Romans have increased their security levels.
Then all of a sudden Jesus rides on into town on a donkey and the crowds go wild as they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
There are a number of words in this which would cause one to take notice. Especially if one were watching for signs of some sort of rebellious uprising.
They call Jesus the “Son of David.” Isn’t the Messiah supposed to be a son of David? Yes, he sure is! This is a worrisome statement. Especially if he’s coming in the name of the Lord!
And the people are worshiping him. They are laying down their cloaks and cutting off palm branches in a sort of red carpet type display. They are also worshiping him “in the highest”.
And finally there’s the use of the word ‘hosanna’. They are crying out for Jesus to save them.
The Son of David, being worshiped and asked to save the people. This is going to attract some attention from the authorities.
To make the scene a little more intense, Jesus goes straight to the temple, but he’s not there to worship or offer sacrifices, as the Jews are all doing. He’s there to throw out the trash. He chases out the capitalists, so to speak. The one’s who are profiting off of the people who simply want to come and be part of the festival and do what they have been doing to honour God’s work from many generations. The Passover remembers the Israelites being saved from the Egyptians, it’s not a commercial enterprise.
So Jesus chases these people out, and then what does he do? He began healing people who came to him. For free! Imagine!
Even as Jesus is in the temple, the people keep calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” And the chief priests were not amused. This is a rebellion, and they can see it. And they have its leader right in the middle of their territory, the temple.
I think you can see this is a very politically and emotionally charged time for everyone in the city.
Jesus has ridden into the city, he’s cleaned out the temple of sinful activities and he’s healed people, all right in front of the religious leaders. It’s almost like he’s taunting them at times, but we know that’s not what Jesus is like. But he is clearly making a statement.
Jesus has a brief encounter with the priests when they ask him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
Jesus replies, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
Then Jesus heads back out of the city for the night.
Jesus, in his response to the priests is quoting from Psalm 8, which they would know very well. God has raised up these people to praise what he is doing. So they are praising Jesus, because he is doing what God has told him to do.
This is not how the chief priests, nor the Romans, would like to see the festival begin.
Let’s take a moment to remember what the Passover is all about.
Passover is a festival remembering how God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians.
Remember how God called Moses to lead them out while he was living in exile, and how he called to him from a burning bush. From there Moses went back to Egypt, went up to the Pharaoh and demanded he release the Israelites from slavery.
But the Pharaoh denied the request. And God responded by sending plagues into Egypt. 7 plagues of increasing severity. Until finally God warned Moses that the final plague was going to be the death of the first-born son of every family. But God gave Moses the plan as to how the Israelites would be spared from this plague.
They were to take a lamb and sacrifice it. As part of the sacrifice they would take the blood of the lamb and wipe it on their door frames, so that the plague would know this is an Israelite home. In other words, death would pass over that house. And that is indeed what happened, and the Pharaoh, in the distress of losing his own first-born son, told the Israelites to get out of his land.
Thus beginning a whole other adventure for the Israelites. That is a very brief history of the Passover.
Knowing this little bit about Passover is helpful in our understanding of the language we use later this week, Holy Week, which takes us to Good Friday.
On Good Friday we remember Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins, which happens on Passover and from there, on Easter morning, we celebrate the new life we receive in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Go back for a moment to what we remember about Passover. The lamb was sacrificed so that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, would escape death.
On Good Friday we often refer to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who died. Who died on Friday so that on Sunday we would have new life, escaping death, the death of sin.
Jesus died so that we may escape the death the world holds over us. The death our sin brings upon us, because Jesus died for all sin. He died for the sins of our past. He died for our sins today. And he died for our sins still to be committed. And in him we receive new life, a life of closeness to our Father in heaven, until we join with him for all eternity.
All of this may be our’s when we turn to Jesus as our source of life.
To start my message today, I talked about how we can’t always know where life will lead us, even if we are traveling roads we know very well.
But Jesus knew very well what he was up to when he entered the city of Jerusalem. He was prepared to send a message to the religious leaders that he was ready to take back what they had taken from God. That is his children. They found themselves overly attached to rituals and had forgotten the true meaning of being faithful to God. Their egos, their pride had taken control of the church.
And Jesus was ready to show how far God was willing to go to get it back. To show people it’s more about relationship, relationship with God and with one another, than about power and control. He was willing to go so far that Jesus would give up all his power and his control so that God’s plan could be completed.
He knew where this road into Jerusalem was leading. He knew it was leading to his death on the cross. And he was willing to go there. He went there for you so that you would know how much his Father was willing to sacrifice so that you would know he loves you and wants to be in relationship with you.
Do you know that today?
Do you know that in just a couple of days God’s son will lose his life so you can keep your own?
Jesus died for a purpose. It was all part of God’s plan to bring his children back to him. And your life is in his plan. Jesus offers himself for you because he loves you.
All that’s left to do is to reach out to Jesus and receive it.
Let us pray,
As hard as it may be for us to understand at times why you would do such a thing, we thank you for dying so we may be saved.
Thank you Jesus for the gift of your life so we may have life for all eternity with you in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. We may look at our own lives and think we could never be worthy of such a sacrifice because of our own sin, yet that is the reason why you went to the cross.
We are not worthy, but when we entrust our lives to you, when we allow you to rule our hearts as our Lord and our Saviour, you make us worthy. It is your cross which frees us. It is your blood which cleanses us. And it your resurrection which gives us new life.
Thank you Lord Jesus. May this love transform us, cleanse us and heal us. May our cheers for “Hosanna, save us!” never be silenced.
We pray this in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.