- Dr. Bob Phillips, Pastor
The Final Challenge
It was a Sunday, the last one before Passover. Jesus of Nazareth is consciously making preparations to enter Jerusalem as the Messiah.
This act is traditionally known as "The Triumphal Entry." It would be better described as "The Final Challenge." By this act, and his assault on the temple enterprise, Jesus will finally and directly challenge the authorities in Jerusalem as well as the religious system they had constructed.
In essence, he was declaring, "I am the Messiah. What will you do about it?" This, together with his assault on the corruption of the temple, is the final act which led to the Cross before the week was out. How little indeed did the high priest Caiaphas realize the truth when he spoke to the Sanhedrin, "It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." But the Apostle John knew, when he later wrote, "Not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."
Matthew writes: "Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, "The Lord needs them," and he will send them at once.'"
Mark and Luke mention only the colt, and noted that it was one on which no one had ever sat, while John simply referred to it as a young donkey, and Jesus would be the first ever to ride him.
If they were challenged, the disciples were instructed to say, "The Lord needs them" and they would be allowed to proceed.
Some suggest this was all arranged beforehand, while others believe it was a matter of Jesus' divine foreknowledge. It really doesn't matter, because neither view changes the significance of the event itself.
What did Jesus mean by instructing the disciples to say, "The Lord needs them?" The word "Lord" could mean an owner or master; it could refer to God; or it could refer even to Jesus himself. Context determines meaning, but the context here is vague.
Did "lord" refer to the owner of the animals and was the owner someone Jesus knew?
Then again, God is the owner of all things as Psalm 24:1 tells us: "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein."
But also, Jesus is the true Master of all property and can rightfully demand its use at any time. And here, he wanted the use of a donkey's colt that had never been ridden. Such an animal was worthy of a king and fit for a sacred purpose.
So, as Matthew continues: "The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them." They were indeed challenged as they untied the colt - and by the owners themselves, as Luke informs us. When the disciples answered as Jesus had instructed, they were allowed to continue their mission.
When they returned with the animals, the disciples threw their cloaks on the colt and Jesus sat on them. As he began to descend from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, the crowd of pilgrims who had come for Passover began to spread their own cloaks on the road while others cut palm branches and spread them in Jesus' path - an act which demonstrated they viewed him as a king.
As enthusiasm built, the crowd began shouting, referring to Jesus as "the Son of David." Others referred to "the coming kingdom of our father David," while still others acclaimed Jesus as "the King who comes in the name of the Lord" and "the King of Israel." This was dangerous stuff.
The reason the crowd voiced such acclamations, as noted by Luke, was because of all the mighty works they had seen Jesus do. John referred particularly to the recent act wherein Jesus called Lazarus, a resident of nearby Bethany, out of his tomb after having been dead for four days.
The commotion was so great that Matthew observed, "when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, 'Who is this?" to which others answered, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."
The word translated "stirred up" was used also in Greek to refer to earthquakes. It was a seismic shock that rippled throughout the city and it shook the religious authorities to the core.
Luke recalls the Pharisees in the crowd ordered Jesus to silence his disciples and rebuke them for their acclamations, to which Jesus replied, "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
Seeing they were losing control, John tells us the Pharisees complained in frustration to each other, "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him."
As he drew near the city, Luke tells us Jesus wept over it because he could foresee its total destruction and widespread slaughter, a horrifying act carried out by the Romans some forty years later, when blood literally ran in the streets.
Jesus' deliberate actions that day were a direct challenge to the religious status quo and filled with what the authorities saw as having clear Messianic implications.
His approach from the Mount of Olives itself had apocalyptic overtones as the prophet Zechariah had associated Olivet with the Messiah coming to judge his enemies.
Further, Jesus came into the city by the Eastern Gate, through which Jewish tradition said the Messiah would enter Jerusalem.
Then there was Zechariah's prophecy, referred to by Matthew: "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"
So, what does this event in Jesus' life say to us today?
It tells us that Jesus of Nazareth remains an unsettling and disturbing person. He asserts his authority as King and calls all men to surrender in faith to him as Lord and Savior. His right to make such a claim is found in his life, his teachings, and his deeds. God the Father proved the validity of that claim following Jesus' crucifixion by raising his Son from the dead and exalting him to the Father's right hand.
We see also that the powers of this world hate Jesus and continue to reject him and his claim upon us. It hates him because, by his character and teachings he exposes our corrupt and fallen condition, stripping us bare and revealing each of us for what we truly are. That character and those teachings uncover things about ourselves that we would rather ignore and not confront. But he does not allow us the luxury of self-deception. And how quickly the cries of "Hosanna!" are turned into cries of "Crucify him!"
Jesus is hated also because he is not the King the human race desires. Men want a bread and wonders messiah, as did the people in Jerusalem that day. He has been falsely appropriated by Marxists, Communists, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans and everyone who wants a celestial Santa Claus or Heavenly Fireman.
Men want to be saved in their sins, not from them. They want salvation without repentance and heaven without holiness, not realizing that a fallen race, worthy only of eternal damnation, must be transformed and made fit for a sinless heaven and to be able to enter into the presence of a holy God.
Along with its hatred of Jesus is the world's hatred of his followers and its unrelenting efforts to silence their witness as to who he is, to what he has done, and to his non-negotiable and exclusive claims upon their lives, their faith, and their loyalty. Every day governments and religions oppress and destroy those whose allegiance is to Christ above all else. Those who would follow him in our age must be ready to face this hatred with all its cruel manifestations.
We further see in this episode in Jesus' life his broken-heartedness over the doomed state of mankind, whether the Jews of his day who would suffer the horrors of the fall of Jerusalem in a few short years, or of those across the ages who face the greater horrors of eternal conscious suffering in the torments of hell. This is why he went to the Cross - that lost men, women, and children may be forgiven their sins and reconciled to God their Maker before it becomes too late.
To the city of Jerusalem he said as he wept, "If only you had known . . ." Therein lies the urgency of Christ's followers to publish the Good News of redemption and salvation as the gift of God through Jesus Christ - a gift obtained through repentance and faith in him as the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus Christ, God the Son, has a rightful claim on all we are and have, for he is Possessor of heaven and earth, having received eternal dominion from God the Father as Redeemer and Lord of all creation.
Who is Jesus to you - personally? A bread and wonders messiah? Celestial fireman? Cosmic Santa Claus? Good and wise religious leader? Mythical figure? It would be wise of you to consider him as Scripture presents him - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the only way by whom guilty sinners may be reconciled to a holy God.
To a world lying in darkness Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of man's dreams - the true Desire of Nations. There is no other and to reject him is to reject the only avenue to life that is open before us. All other ways lead to death.
We know how the people of Jesus' day responded to him. How will you respond?