(The Sixth Sunday in Lent) March 28, 2010
Matthew 5:8, 21:1-11,14-16
161, 162, 370, 58(1-2)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at 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, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” …Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were 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 babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”
Dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever read a biography of a famous person? Have you ever read two biographies about the same person? If you have, you probably noticed that they were different. One biographer goes on and on about how great and noble a person was, while another might write about all the mistakes that person made. The fact is we see other people and events through the lenses of our own viewpoints, morals, experiences, and attitudes.
So when it comes to the most famous person of all time, Jesus Christ, it is not be surprising to find that people view Him in different ways. Some see Him as only a great lawgiver, some see Him as a fraud and a liar, some see Him (as we do) to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. How you see Him really depends on what is in your heart.
Today is the festival of Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem less than a week before He was crucified. All eyes were on Him when He arrived at the city gates, however, not all eyes saw the same thing when they looked at the person sitting on that donkey because not every heart had the same attitude toward Jesus.
We will take them one at a time—The Pharisees, the crowd, and then finally us. Whom do you see on the donkey?
What a scene it must have been that Sunday! Jesus asked His disciples to get Him an animal which He would ride into Jerusalem. Having found a colt tied to a gate outside in the street, they brought it to Him. From the villages of Bethany and Bethphage they traveled together on the caravan road toward the city. It was a rough mountain trail winding over rocks and loose stones, a steep drop-off on the left and the Mount of Olives on the right with fig trees here and there growing out of the rocky soil. A large crowd came out to meet Him. They were shouting and waving palm branches (a symbol of victory). Some of the people took off their cloaks and spread them on the ground for Him to walk on. What the prophet had said was coming true: “Tell the daughter of Zion, “Don’t be afraid! Look! Your King is coming to you, Gentle, riding on a donkey, the colt of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 NIV).
The Pharisees didn’t see the King of Israel riding into town. Their hearts were full of other thoughts. They were filled with jealousy. They saw in Jesus a man who had taken them out of the religious spotlight. “Look! The world is has gone after Him!” (John 12:19), they declare in anger. Up until now they had been the only game in town. They were the ones who told people how to live, who judged them, and created religious rules for others to follow. Now Jesus had come and there weren’t so many listening to the Pharisees anymore. They saw Jesus’ miracles like the raising of Lazarus, and they heard His gracious words of forgiveness and peace, and they were beginning to understand that the Pharisees were not the men of God that everyone thought they were.
The Pharisees were filled with hatred because Jesus’ Gospel was not their gospel. They preached a salvation by works—the holier a person lived, the better chance he had of getting to Heaven. Jesus preached a different Gospel. He said, “Believe in Me, and you will be saved.”
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God with authority over the Pharisees and all the Church and this the Pharisees absolutely could not stand. When they looked at who was riding the donkey, they did not see the Messiah. They did not see the One whom God had sent to save His people from their sins. They did not see the One who would accept the punishment of eternal death from the hand of the Father on behalf of all people. They did not see a Savior from their sins. They saw only a threat to their own political power and popularity.
The Pharisees’ hearts were full of bitterness, deceit, wickedness, and selfishness. As a result they were blind to the true nature of Jesus. They did not see Him as the glorious Son of God. They were not at all aware of the kindness and mercy He was trying to show them. They more than hated Him. They could only think of crucifying Him.
What about the people in that crowd? Whom did they see on the donkey? What was in their hearts? They were obviously not opposed to Jesus as the Pharisees were. In fact, we find in the crowd an infectious enthusiasm, spreading from person to person as Jesus drew nearer and nearer to the city. They were talking to each other and asking, “Who is this?” and the word was being spread among them, “This is the Prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” [vv.10-11]
The crowd was praising God joyfully and shouting loudly for all the mighty works they had seen Jesus do. Their shouts were shouts of praise and honor: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the Lord! He is the King of Israel! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!” Hosanna was in the hearts of these people, not the deceit and bitterness of the Pharisees. (Hosanna means “save” and it came to be used as an expression of praise for royalty, something like, “God save the king!”)
There were many people in Jerusalem at the time—those who had made the special pilgrimage for the festival of the Passover which was to be celebrated that week. These people gave the kind of welcome that was given to groups of pilgrims arriving in the city. Only, they did it so much more so when this particular visitor made His appearance.
Perhaps the one word that would best describe the crowd that day is excitement—palm branches everywhere, branches cut from the trees in the field, coats spread out on the ground, shouts of “hosanna” ringing from everywhere as the people went out to meet Jesus while thinking of how He raised Lazarus and healed the sick. These people were excited in their hearts to see Jesus. They were full of wonder, amazement, and curiosity, and they were happy Jesus had come. The little children too were shouting their praises. When Jesus went into the temple He said “Out of the mouth of babies and infants you have perfected praise.” [v. 16]
The crowds were excited about the promised kingdom even though they didn’t fully understand what it was all about. They were caught up with a fervor and a zeal for this Prophet. Jesus accepted their words on this day and did not try to silence them because whether they knew it or not, they spoke the truth. When the crowds looked at who was on the donkey, they saw a person who stirred them emotionally—who made them feel good inside.
But what about you? Whom do you see on the donkey? Do you look with the heart of a Pharisee? With the heart of someone in the excited crowd?
We must all admit that our sinful flesh sides with the Pharisees. There is a part of us that does not like the things that Jesus said and did. Our Old Adam does not like Him telling us that we are sinners. Sometimes we grumble when He asks us to follow Him. Sometimes we complain when Jesus’ Word calls us to trust Him and do this or that, and when we do it we wonder if His way was the right way or not. Sometimes we feel that God should deal with us based on our own merit rather than on the merit of Christ, like when we become angry at Him when He sends us hardship. We think, “I’ve been good to you, Lord! What have I done to deserve this?”
We look at Him in anger too sometimes, like the Pharisees did, forgetting for a moment who He is: our dear and loving Savior.
What about the crowd? Surely they had a better view of the Man on the donkey! Are we like them? Yes, there are times when we see Jesus as someone who makes us very excited. Times when we are “on fire” for the Lord, as they say. We see Him and we are filled with emotion and joy over the things He has done. We read our Bibles every day for awhile and we feel like Jesus is really with us.
Now it’s not bad to be excited about Jesus. Maybe sometimes we really don’t show enough excitement about our faith and happiness in the Gospel, but Jesus needs to be more than just an emotional high for us. There are some churches, particularly the Pentecostal churches, that emphasize the emotions. They become very concerned that you feel Christ within you, that you feel the excitement of being saved, that you really get “worked up” over being a Christian. The evangelists on television love to play this angle too. They bring thousands of people together for their big crusades and everyone gets whipped up into a frenzy for the Lord. People are shouting “Hosanna” and waving their arms, happy to see Jesus. But what you find out so often is that once the emotion dies away, so does the faith because it was never really there to begin with.
Perhaps that was true for some of the crowd on Palm Sunday too. After all the shouting had died down and the branches were picked up, how many of them saw the Savior for who He really was, the Redeemer of the world? No doubt some did, but not all of them.
Our emotions go up and down. There will be times when we feel that we are really excited about Jesus and are ready to wave palm branches for Him up and down the street; and there will be times when our hearts are gloomy and we don’t feel much when we see the guy riding the donkey.
Thankfully, we do not see Jesus like the Pharisees did, nor do we depend on Him as a person who is only good for His excitement value and novelty. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts daily to make them pure hearts so that we are not blinded by the sins that lurk within us, but we rather see Jesus rightly as the lover of our souls and the One who will carry us to eternal glory. By taking our sins on Himself at the cross, He drowns the sinful nature in us and causes us to rise anew and live according to His will. God is working in us constantly to push away deceit and wickedness when it begins to grab a foothold in our hearts. He works through His Word and Sacraments to turn our hearts away from mere emotional feelings and, instead, to rest our hopes on the certainty of His suffering and death for our salvation.
Whenever we gather together for worship, the Spirit of God is purifying our hearts so that when we look at the Man on the donkey we don’t see just an ordinary man, but we see the face of God—God who has come to us as a human being, who has come to live and die for us. And a pure heart is a happy heart, as Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” [5:8] Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.