Palm Sunday: The Week the Angels Fell Silent: Matthew 21:1-11

2000 years ago Jerusalem was under a siege and one man set out on a lonely road to do something about it. Only 14 miles long. A day's journey, up-hill, Jericho to Jerusalem. A one way ticket. But its not the road that should capture our attention but the man who is walking it. Jesus is out in front leading the way, setting the pace. Mark tells us, the disciples are astonished, those following are afraid. Nowhere else do we find Jesus walking ahead. Perhaps he wanted to be alone. He had set his face resolute for Jerusalem. He knew what lay before him. His destiny. He had been born for that journey. If you want to know someone's heart, observe their final journey. As Jesus and his disciples enter Bethany just over the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem, the props and players for Friday's drama are already in position. Six inch iron nails lie in a bucket. A wooden cross-beam leans against a shed wall. Thorn branches dangle from a trellis awaiting the weaving of a soldiers fingers. The players are nearing the stage. Pilate is having sleepless nights over the mass of Passover pilgrims on their way - estimated at 2 million. Annas and Caiaphas are restless. Judas views His master with furtive eyes. A servant girl is collecting wood for the Pretorium night guard. A centurion is signing in for the week's duty, awaiting the next round of crucifixions. Players and props.
Only this isn't a play, its a divine plan. A plan begun even before Adam drew his first breath. The journey to Jerusalem didn't begin in Jericho. It didn't begin in Galilee, Nazareth or Bethlehem. The journey to the cross began long before. At the sound of the first bite of the apple in the garden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary. Jesus is on a journey. His final journey. The angels are holding their breath. For hinged on this week is the door of eternity. Lets walk with Him. Lets see how Jesus spent his final days. Let's see what mattered to God. If you would know Christ, ponder His final days. The Apostles give over between one quarter and a third of their gospels to tell what happened that final week. Jesus knew the finality of Friday. Pay day. He had read the last chapter before it was written and heard the final chorus before it was sung. As a result we have here distilled truths, deliberate deeds. Each step calculated. Every act premeditated. Knowing Jesus had just one more week with His disciples, what did Jesus tell them? Knowing this would be his last visit to the Temple, how did he act? Conscious that the last sand was slipping through the hour glass, what mattered? Enter the holy week and observe. Feel His passion. Laughing as children sing. Weeping as Jerusalem ignores. Scorning as priests accuse. Pleading as disciples snore.
Feel His passion. Sense His power. Blind eyes... seeing. Fruitless tree... withering. Money changers... scampering. Religious leaders... cowering. Tomb... opening. Feel His passion, sense His power, Hear His promise. Death has no more power. Defeat holds no prisoners. Fear has no control. For God has come, God has come into your world... to take you home. Let's follow Jesus this week on His final journey. For by observing His, we may learn to be ready to make ours. Today we begin with Palm Sunday.

1. The Guy with the Donkey - The Preparation for the King (21:1-7)
And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me. And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them..... (21:1–7)

When I get to heaven this is one person I'd like to meet. I want to ask Him how he knew? Did he know it was Jesus who wanted his donkey? Did he have a vision? Did he meet an angel? Was it the conviction in the voice of the disciples when he challenged them? Was it hard to give? I want to ask that question because sometimes its hard for me. I wonder how he felt seeing Jesus ride away on his donkey? Was he proud? Surprised? Nervous he might not see it again?
It would be so much easier if there was a vision or an angel or a word of command instead of that still small voice of inner conviction. Sometimes when God wants something I act like I don't know He needs it. Someone else can give it. Sometimes I don't give because I don't know for sure, and then I feel bad because I've missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don't give because I am selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear Him and obey Him and feel honoured that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus into another place. Some times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a blind bit of difference in the long run. Maybe you have these questions too. All of us have a donkey. You and I have many things in our lives, which, if given back to God, could like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing, or play a musical instrument, or manage a database or speak Swahili or write a cheque. Which ever, that's your donkey. Some see it as a gift, others as a talent, a privilege, a trust. Whichever it is, and it may be all of these, your donkey belongs to Him. It really does belong to Him. It belonged to him before he gave it to you and it remains his until the day he asks for it back, with interest. The donkey was His and your life is too. The wording of the instruction to the disciples is quite plain. Read 21:3.The language Jesus used is the language of a royal levy. It was an ancient law which required the citizen to render to the king any item or service he or one of his emissaries might need. In making such a demand, Jesus is claiming to be King.
He is speaking as one with authority - with the right to the possessions of His subjects. It could be that God wants to mount your donkey and enter the walls of another city, another nation, another heart. Will you let Him? Will you give it or will you hesitate? That guy who gave Jesus the donkey is just one in a long line of folks who gave little things to a big God. Scripture is quite a gallery of donkey-givers. Someone once suggested that there will be a museum in heaven. An exhibition to honour God's uncommon use of the common. Its a place you won't want to miss. There'll be Rahab's rope, Paul's bucket, David's sling, the little boys loaves and fish. I don't know if these items will be there. But one thing I am confident - the people who gave them will be. God uses tiny seeds to reap great harvests. It is on the backs of donkeys that He rides - not steeds or chariots - just simple donkeys. Jesus did not come in wealth but in poverty; He did not come in grandeur but in meekness; and He did not come to slay Israel's enemies but to save all mankind. Nothing could have been more appropriate than that the Bearer of the world's sin burden would enter God's holy city riding on a lowly beast of burden.The guy with the Donkey - The preparation for the King.

2. The Crowd with their Cloaks: The Presentation to the King (21:8-9)

And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!" (21:8–9)

Little did the people know who came to celebrate the Passover that among them was the Passover Lamb Himself. It was an ancient custom (see 2 Kings 9:13) for citizens to throw their garments in the road for their monarch to ride over, symbolising their respect for him and their submission to his authority. It was as if to say, "We place ourselves at your feet, even to walk over if necessary."
The Hebrew word 'hosanna' is a plea meaning "save now." But the crowd that day wasn't interested in Jesus saving their souls but only in His saving their nation. They were quoting from Psalm 118, a psalm of deliverance, sometimes called the conqueror's psalm. More than a hundred years earlier, the Jews had hailed Jonathan Maccabeus with the same psalm after he delivered the Acre from Syrian domination. Now they were about to celebrate Passover, which commemorated the Lord's miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.
What better occasion than for the Lord's Messiah to make the ultimate and final deliverance of His people from tyranny? But Jesus did not come to conquer Rome but to conquer sin. He did not come to destroy Rome but to destroy death. He did not come to make war with Rome but to make peace with God. They proclaimed Jesus a king, but they did not understand what kind of kingdom. They did not realise any more than Pilate or many Jews today that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). That is why, when it dawned on them a few days later that they turned against Jesus. The people wanted Jesus on their own terms, and they would not bow to a King who was not of their liking. But Jesus would not deliver them on their terms, and so they would not be delivered on His. Many people today are open to a Jesus who they think will give them what they want - insulation from life's storms - material security, personal peace, affluence, health and a long life - we have almost made these our rights. Like the multitude at the triumphal entry, some will loudly acclaim Jesus as long as He performs to their expectation.
But like the multitude a few days later, they will deny Him when tragedy strikes, when unemployment or redundancy, divorce, a premature death, a national tragedy reveals and upturns their shallow roots. How could a loving God allow it? When our circumstances and His Word confronts us with our sin and our mortality, above all our need of a Saviour, will we too turn away? The Romans were godless and cruel oppressors, and the Lord would not allow them to survive indefinitely.
But they were not His people's greatest enemy, anymore than the Serbian government are ours, but merely an ugly social personification of it. Their greatest enemy was sin, and from that they refused to be delivered. Ironically God would allow the Temple of His chosen people to be destroyed long before He allowed their pagan oppressors to be destroyed. He would, in fact, use those cruel pagans to do it. Why? Because Jesus He had not come at that time to be crowned but to be crucified. He will, one day, in a way that is perfectly fitting.
The times of rejection will be over, and at His name, "every knee [will] bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and … every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10–11). For now it is our privilege to do so freely and without compulsion, in adoration, thanks and praise. The guy with the donkey. The crowd with their cloaks,

3. The Hypocrites in the Temple: The Pronouncement of the King (21:12-17)

How often do you get telephone calls from strangers trying to sell you something? Its disappointing when you think someone is interested in you, only to find they are interested in your money. When salespeople do it, its irritating. When people do it in the name of religion is immoral. It is sad but true that religion is used for profit and prestige. There are two results to this kind of behaviour - people are exploited and God is infuriated. There is no better example of this than what happened at the temple. The first place Jesus visited in Jerusalem was the temple. What did He see? People in the temple making a franchise out of faith. It was Passover week. The highlight of the Jewish calendar. People came from all regions and many countries to participate. On arrival they were obliged to meet two requirements. First, an animal sacrifice - usually a dove. The dove had to be perfect, without blemish. The animal could be brought from anywhere, but odds were that if you bought a sacrifice elsewhere, it would be declared substandard by the Temple authorities. Under the guise of keeping the sacrifice pure, they fleeced the flock - at their inflated price. Second, the people had to pay a tax, a temple tax. Due every year. During Passover, the tax had to be rendered in local currency. Knowing many foreigners would be in Jerusalem to pay the tax, moneychangers were sanctioned to exchange foreign money for local in the temple itself. It is not difficult to see what angered Jesus. Pilgrims journeyed days to meet with God, to witness the Holy, to worship His Majesty. But before they were taken into the presence of God, they were taken to the cleaners. Want to anger God? Get in the way of people who want to meet Him. Put your rules and regulations before their needs. In this demonstration of divine anger,

3.1 Jesus Asserted Divine Authority

and 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. (21:12b)

"I've had enough" was written all over the Messiah's face. In he stormed. Doves flapped and tables flew. People scampered and traders scattered. Without warning and without resistance, Jesus cast out both the traders and their customers. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The whole Temple was in confusion and disarray, animals running loose, doves flying around, money rolling across the courtyard. This was no impulsive temper tantrum. It was a deliberate act with an intentional message. "Cash in on my people and you answer to me" God will never hold guiltless those who exploit the privilege of worship. Perhaps there is a message here for some of our Cathedral authorities.Jesus asserted His divine authority. In doing so,

3.2 Jesus Fulfilled Divine Scripture

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." (21:13)

As He so often did, Jesus vindicated what He was doing by appealing to the Word of God, here quoting from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7, "My house shall be called a house of prayer." Mark adds the phrase "for all the nations" (Mark 11:17). Instead of being a place where all people could come and worship unmolested and protected, the Temple had become a place where they were ripped off and exploited. Like the sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages this robbery was sanctioned and legitimised by the religious authorities. You've all seen them. The talk is smooth. The vocabulary eloquent. The appearance genuine. They want to get on your television. They are already on your radio. They are appearing at a stadium near you. They stain the reputation of Christianity. They manipulate the easily deceived. And our Lord unmasks them here. How do we recognise them? Two trademarks give them away. First, they are not governed by God but by greed. They work independently of His Church. Listen carefully to the television evangelist, analyse the words of the radio preacher. Note the emphasis of the message. What is their burden? Your salvation or your donation? Is money always needed yesterday? Are you promised health if you give and hell if you don't? If so, ignore them. A second characteristic of ecclesiastical con men is that they are building their own religious empires. The most blatant ones do so in their own names. Medicine men tell you to stay out of the pharmacy. They don't want you trying other treatments. Neither do charlatans. They present themselves as God's anointed. They complain that the mainline churches can't stomach them, but in reality they are lone wolves on the prowl. They have franchised their approach and want to patent it. Only they can give you what you need. Their bread and butter is the promise of the inside track on guidance, the short cut to success, the tantalising promise of healing, for a price. Just as the dove-sellers were intolerant of imported birds, so religious charlatans want to cultivate an exclusive clientele of loyal chequebooks. Remember why Jesus purged the Temple. Those closest to it may be furthest from it. Jesus asserted divine authority; Jesus fulfilled divine Scripture

3.3 Jesus Demonstrated Divine Power

And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (21:14)

Just as the wicked and unrepentant can expect God's anger, those who humbly seek for His truth and His help can expect His compassion. The diseased and the crippled, most of whom were necessarily beggars, continually gathered at the Temple, hoping for the gift of a few denarii. They were despised, Like Glenn Hoddle's Medium, they were considered to be suffering as a result of sin - either theirs or their parents (see John 9:2). The selfish leaders of the Temple had little time for them either (see Matt. 23:4). Jesus, however, compassionately healed those who came to Him. He never turned them away or chided them. Like the blind and the lame who came to Jesus in the Temple, we may come to Him now with reverence but also perfect confidence, knowing that He will never turn us away or condemn us, if we admit our spiritual poverty and seek His grace. Jesus asserted divine authority, he fulfilled divine scripture, he demonstrated divine power, and lastly,

3.4 Jesus Accepted Divine Worship

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant, and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes you have ordained praise for Yourself'?" And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there. (21:15–17):

The chief priests and scribes saw all the wonderful things that Jesus had done. They heard the children who were crying out in the temple, just as their parents had done the day before. They well knew that "Son of David" was a messianic title and that the Messiah would perform such miracles and wonders as Jesus had. But their reaction was so different.

"Do You hear what these are saying? Don't You realise that these children, like the rabble yesterday, are calling You the Messiah? Why don't You stop them? How can You stand there accepting acclaim that belongs only to God? How can You tolerate such blasphemy?"

Jesus first replied simply "Yes". He was fully aware of what was being said, and He was fully aware of its meaning and significance. "But," He went on to ask the learned men, "have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise'?" Jesus silenced the Jewish leaders by quoting the Bible to them.
You know, the saddest thing I learn from this passage is this. Jesus will not remain where He is unwanted. The greatest indictment of this passage comes in verse 17. "and he left them..." Although every person is accountable to God, He forces Himself on no one. And although salvation is first of all by God's sovereign initiative and power, no person is saved unwillingly. Because the unbelieving priests and scribes would not receive Him, He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there, to be with His dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and the other disciples who trusted in and loved Him. And that is where He dwells today. If you want to know someone's heart observe that person's final journey. Is there a Jerusalem on your horizon? Are you a brief journey away from painful encounters? Are you experiencing what another disciple John called "The dark night of the soul"? Learn a lesson from your master. Don't try and follow Jesus without trusting in Him. Draw His strength from the same promises of God He trusted in. When you are confused remember God said "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11). If you feel crushed by the weight of yesterdays failures remember "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1) On those nights when you wonder where God is remember He said, "I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5). If you think you can fall beyond God's love, understand you can only fall into His grace, "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ... know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:18-19). Next time you find yourself on a Jericho road marching toward Jerusalem, put the promises of God on your lips. Let us pray.

I am grateful to Max Lucado for the content and ideas behind this sermon.