Divine Authority Asserted

Matthew 21:1-17

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / April 13, 2003


            The most important life ever lived was the life of Jesus Christ, and the most important part of that life was the final week of it. We have come to regard this week as ‘Holy Week’.


            I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate the name given to this week. If you asked me to provide a name for any other week, I would likely answer ‘Busy Week’.


Are you not tired of running around, day after day, week after week? Wouldn’t you love to have a week where the only thing your church required of you was for you to come and worship the Almighty? We have prepared such a week. There are no meetings to attend. This is a week for worship.


This final week of Jesus’ life is so important that the Gospels give a disproportionate amount of space to it. Jesus lived 33 years, and His active ministry occupied 3 of those years, yet the Gospels focus their attention on the final 8 days. Taken together, there are 89 chapters in the Gospels, but 291/2 of those recount what happened between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.


This historic week begins with what we often call the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Though I will be dealing primarily with the text in Matthew, it is important to note that all four Gospels describe this event.


Matthew's account begins quite ordinarily in Bethphage, which is a suburb of Jerusalem (v.1). Jesus tells His disciples to enter the village to get a donkey and a colt for Him (v.2). What we should note, first of all, is that Jesus planned this event. This is our first clue that, after veiling His kingship for a season, Jesus is going to assert His Divine authority—Jesus is about to make known His kingship in a manner congruent with the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures.


Now, if you were to read all four Gospels, you would notice that only Matthew mentions the second donkey. It is not unusual that the other Gospel writers leave out this detail because the donkey, of course, is NOT the emphasis of the story. Why does Matthew include the second donkey then? Likely because Matthew is known for being meticulous when it comes to documenting the fulfillment of prophecy. Zechariah's prophecy mentions two donkeys and so Matthew is careful to point out that the disciples brought two donkeys--exactly as it was prophesied.


Zechariah had prophesied, "Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" (Zech.9:9; Mt.21:5). Jesus instructs the disciples to bring a donkey and a colt, and so they do exactly that--just as it had been prophesied.


So the first reason we have the retrieval of two donkeys is to fulfill prophecy. But why donkeys? Is there any significance in the choice of animal? There is indeed. The fulfillment of prophecy here points to Jesus as being a certain type of king.


What kind of animal is a donkey? Zechariah calls them "a beast of burden"(Zech.9:9). This "beast of burden" points to what kind of king Jesus is. The donkey, quite clearly, contrasts the horse. If Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a horse we would get a very different picture of what kind of king Jesus was meant to be. Perhaps the image of Jesus riding on a horse would have reinforced the prevalent notion that Israel's leader would be a great military force—someone who would overthrow the Roman regime.


But this is not what Jesus wanted to portray. Instead, Jesus sent a very different message to the multitude when He entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. Jesus portrayed Himself as a humble, serving king.


When Jesus and the disciples entered Jerusalem, we are told that "the multitude spread their garments on the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road"(v.8).


It is John's Gospel that informs us that these branches were palm branches (Jn.12:13), but what was the idea here? Why was this massive crowd stripping off their outer garments and throwing them on the road? Well, thankfully, we have another biblical precedent to provide us a clue.


In 2Kings 9, the prophet Elisha sends a messenger to give a Word from the Lord to Jehu. After pouring oil over Jehu, the messenger said to him in verse 12, 'Thus says the Lord, "I have anointed you king over Israel"'. After that declaration, everyone who was present took their garment and placed it under Jehu's steps, and they blew the trumpet, shouting, "Jehu is king!"(9:13).


So what does this mean for Jesus' entry into Jerusalem? It would imply that the multitude recognized Jesus as some sort of king. Like in the case of Jehu, the garments and palm branches served as an improvised red carpet.


Can you picture the scene? A man of ordinary appearance; riding a caravan of two donkeys; a crowd in front throwing down their garments and palm branches; a crowd behind yelling "Save us Son of David!" Jesus enters Jerusalem, people begin to leave their homes and shops to see what all the racket is about. They begin asking one simple question: "Who is this?"(v.10).

Did the multitude following Jesus really know who He was? The clues are there: two donkeys; the garments and the palm branches; the cries of "Save us!"; calling Him "the Son of David". So what did the multitudes make of this? The multitudes replied, saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee"(v.11).


"Prophet"? Who said anything about a prophet? It is true that Jesus is a prophet, but He is much more than that. Upon His entry to Jerusalem, Jesus presents Himself as the fulfillment of ancient prophecy—prophecy that would identify Him as promised Messiah; prophecy that would identify Him as the King of the Jews.


Jesus continues to assert His Divine authority as the setting shifts to the temple. It is here, in the temple, where we are reminded that the gentleness of Jesus does not preclude Him from having an intense passion for His Father’s glory.


Jesus enters the temple and acts in an extraordinary way. Matthew records how Jesus “cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.”(Mt. 21:13). John’s Gospel describes this scene with even greater detail—telling how Jesus made a whip to drive out the merchants.


Jesus, "meek and mild", with a whip, flipping tables, yelling at merchants. What is going on here? What message is Jesus trying to send? It seems obvious that Jesus was objecting to the commercialization of the temple, but that doesn’t explain the rampage. I mean, why not just give them a harsh word and be on your way? What gives Jesus the right to object in such a destructive manner?


Jesus has every right to cast out the merchants if the house of the Lord belongs to Him.


Surely, this is another demonstration of His authority.


Jesus may be meek and gentle, but His authority is not to be trifled with. His grace is not to be presumed upon.


There is much we can learn from ‘the triumphal entry’; there is an application for us as we reflect on ‘the cleansing of the temple’: Jesus has supreme authority. This means, inevitably, that He has authority over our lives.


It is not enough for us to simply recognize His authority, but we must lay down the palm branches of our heart for Jesus. Our challenge is to allow Jesus Christ the King, to be our King—that is, we must let Him rule in our hearts.


Perhaps you have heard the saying, ‘He marches to the beat of his own drum.’ Or, perhaps you have heard it said, ‘So-and-so is a law unto himself.’ Friends, this should never describe the Christian. The Christian marches to the beat of his Masters’ drum.  The Christian is to abide by God’s law.


I do not mean to suggest that we regress into some sort of legalism whereby we follow a bunch of rules in order to avoid ridicule or punishment. What I am saying, what I do want to remind you of, is that the One who went to the cross for you also bids you, “Follow Me.


‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’—we all like to sing that, don’t we? Do you remember what Jesus said about what it means to be friends with Him? He says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you”(Jn. 15:14).


Do you see the connection between Christ’s authority and our responsibility? If Jesus is King, then He is also our King. If the authority of Christ extends to all things, it extends also to our lives.


Friends, the authority of Christ is not something to dread. The authority of Christ allows us to trust in the promise that He is indeed “our refuge and strength; a very present help in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1).


The One who bids us, “Follow Me” is a loving Authority. So great is His love for us that He became one of us and paid the penalty for our sin. Surely, this is a God we can entrust our lives to. Amen.