WHY Did Jesus Enter Jerusalem as a King?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

Palm Sunday
April 2, 2023

Scripture reading: Matthew 21:1-11

Of all the genres of movies and television shows, one of my favorites is the western.  In the various westerns, sooner or later, there is a scene when somebody is a’comin’ to town.  Everybody knows it.  Everybody is feeling a strong emotion.  Everybody has an opinion, from the lowliest stable hand to the bartender to the deputy sheriff of the town.  Somebody is a’comin’ to town and now things are gonna be different.

Sometimes this guy is a’comin’ on the noon stage.

Sometimes this guy is a’comin’ on the 3:10 train from Yuma.

Sometimes this guy is a’comin’ in with his gang.

And sometimes this guy is a’comin’ in alone.

And everybody…and I mean everybody knows when this guy hits town.

You may not see your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in just this way.  But you must admit, there are similarities.

Everybody knows who is a’comin’.

Everybody has an opinion.

Everybody is hurrying to the street to catch a glimpse.

And best of all: the faces of the bad guys look like their last meal wasn’t a good one.  So…

Let’s switch gears and talk about Jesus a’comin’ to town.

As we begin, we continue for another Sunday in our sermon series that began on Ash Wednesday.  Today’s “why” question is this:  

WHY Did Jesus Enter Jerusalem as a King?

To explore this question, we must first accept its premise:  Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as if he were King David or some conquering hero or the hero in some ancient epic tale of triumph who would be crowned king and would lead the people of God in triumphant victory over the powers of evil.

Jesus entered Jerusalem and everyone felt things were going to change.

At least…that’s what it LOOKED like.  That was not what Jesus had in mind.  But it sure LOOKED that way.

Picture this:

  • Jesus rides into town; he didn’t walk like he had for the previous three years of his ministry.
  • He didn’t have an army behind him, but the people of God thought God didn’t need any army to defeat evil…God only needed the eager and willing people.
  • Jesus had been building his reputation for the past three years.  He had spent that time deliberately avoiding Jerusalem while he preached, healed, performed miracles, cast out demons, and started a movement that really took off as he entered town.
  • Jesus usually told his followers not to tell anyone various things or that he was even there.  Yet, on this day, he was there for all to see…especially the three groups of wickedness that certainly be watching.  Almost like Jesus was up to something… 
  • When Jesus hit town, you can believe that the three groups I just alluded to were watching; they were the Romans, the Herodians, and the Sanhedrin.  Each group had good reason to fear Jesus…if for no other reason than he was so amazingly popular! Just by showing up, he was undermining their version of law and order, the way things had always been done, and (my personal favorite) “things are just fine; we don’t to change anything.  We’re doing okay now.”  Jesus was creating UNREST, which was something none of the three groups wanted.  They were all slaves to the status quo – even if they knew in their hearts that it was a rotten concept for the common people.
  • It also didn’t look like his disciples talked him into this, nor did it appear that Jesus was swept up in the events and the people took over for him.  Jesus was the one who “set his face on Jerusalem.”  Jesus was the one who sent a couple of his followers into town to borrow a young colt or the foal of a donkey… which just happened to fulfil the prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah.  Jesus was the one who timed it so that he and his merry band entered Jerusalem just at a time when a major Jewish festival was occurring – Passover – and the city would be packed with pilgrims from all over the Empire. 

But here’s the thing that no one looking knew anything about; here’s the thing that anyone watching that scene from a western that I described earlier;  

Jesus had an agenda…and it was a dangerous one

To enter just as the Messiah was described by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah was to invite immediate comparisons between Jesus and that Messiah by the members of the Sanhedrin – the elders and teachers who studied the Torah and knew it backwards and forwards.  Jesus was always willing to engage with them during his various travels, but you almost get the feeling Jesus was not in the mood to do that anymore.

Part of his agenda was to directly challenge the council of elders, chief priests, scribes, teachers of the law, Pharisees and Sadducees; those so-called leaders of the people of God who were more interested in the minute letter of the Law instead of the loving spirit of the Law.

Part of his agenda was to remind the people of God that fallible kings of the earth may occasionally be good people, but in the history of Israel, good kings were rare.  Trusting their Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and King was the ultimate good choice.  Trusting someone like King Herod only led to a corruption of the very idea of a king who cared for the people.  (And just in case you don’t think Herod was afraid when Jesus hit town, let’s all remember how all of Jerusalem and Herod’s ancestor reacted when the three Magi hit town and publicly asked, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?”)

And finally, part of his agenda was to challenge the powers of this world, namely the Roman Empire.  They may have tried him, condemned him, beaten him, and crucified him, but they could not DEFEAT him.  Because his kingdom was not of this world, as he explained to Pontius Pilate.

Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king with a dangerous agenda.  Because he was obedient to his Father in Heaven, that agenda unfolded over the next eight days of what we call today Holy Week.

But we know how that week ended.  Fortunately, we know the ending of this wonderful, amazing, miraculous story.  What we may not know is how all this relates to us today.

That’s a tough one.  It’s almost easier – and certainly clearer – to just describe what Jesus was up to, compare it to a scene in a western movie in which someone important comes to town, and leave it with a loud “HOSANNA!” 

But that would be a cheat.  And I don’t usually cheat at sermons.

The way all this relates to me is revealed when I consider how quickly the crowd in Jerusalem went from shouting “SAVE US!” to “CRUCIFY HIM!” in just five short days.  

It reveals how quickly any of us…all of us can be swayed by voices that go directly against what we know, what we feel, what we love, and what we understand.

It reveals how any of us might become part of the crowd at both ends of the Holy Week story: one day cheering and one day jeering.

It reminds me, that even as a kid, I struggled to yell in church, “Give us Barabbas!” when we read any of the passion narratives at the Good Friday services.  

It reminds me of how our Savior suffered and died virtually alone…and how he did all that for you, for all of us, and for me too.

It reminds me that, even though I wish with all my heart that we could do it, we can’t skip from the joy of Palm Sunday to the amazement and love of Easter Sunday without going through a few days in the middle that are filled with betrayal, sadness, fear, pain, and death.

And in the words of a non-believer I know quite well: “You mean, Jesus knew they were going to do all that to him – and he still went to Jerusalem anyway?”  

As we remember the joy and excitement of this day, Palm Sunday, let us pause and remember how our King entered Jerusalem – and how he left it in triumph on Easter Morning.