24. March 2013
Matthew 21:1-9; Zechariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11
“Ride on, ride on, in majesty. Ride on in lowly pomp to die.” The words of this hymn echo a unique confession of St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry. Only St. Matthew records the prophecy of Zechariah explicitly: “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.’” (Matt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9) St. Luke combines Zechariah’s prophecy with the song of the angels creating Sanctus. St. Mark emphasizes the kingship of Jesus as the Son of David. St. John quotes Zechariah but leaves out one pertinent detail which St. Matthew includes.
Only Matthew tells us that Jesus enters “lowly” or “humble.” Only this Evangelist wants us to know Christ specifically as humble. The others focus our attention to our Lord’s kingship, the pageantry, the palms, and the conversation with the owner of the donkey. St. John remarks that the disciples were confused by the use of a donkey. St. Matthew uniquely explains its purpose and points us to Christ’s character of humility. “Ride on in lowly pomp to die.”
It’s almost as if the other Evangelists did not know how to understand Zechariah. They saw the animal but missed it’s significance with the other fanfare and pomp. Ceremony, ritual, and drama can either reinforce or distract from the truth. This is often true of traditions. The pomp and circumstance can overwhelm the purpose. Not with Palm Sunday. The manner of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was not indifferent but confesses the truth. St. Matthew stops to consider the choice of a donkey and what it means for us.
Had Christ ridden in on a horse, all those of the crowd and the onlookers in Jerusalem would believe He came as a king into war. It would be tantamount to arming the disciples with clubs and swords. The palm branches already had Jerusalem confused. 180 years previous, such celebration came when Simon regained Jerusalem through military campaign. And they sing a Psalm (118:26) clearly asking God to grant them success in what they think is a pending revolt. “O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus is intentional in his pageantry. He asks His disciples to 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. Yet, the disciples did not understand. St. John records: His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. For now, the disciples, Jerusalem, and all those who came for the feast thought Him an earthly king. They came to see His signs and His triumph. But the donkey they did not understand until later.
Why the particularity of the donkey? Jesus’ kingdom is not of Jerusalem or this world. Thus, He enters not on a bold stallion but a humble ass. He comes not as the conquering king of war but as the king of peace. He does not enter armed with steel but with the Word of the Father. He comes not to take life but to give up His own life as a ransom for His murderers.
Never did Moses or the Prophets ascribe the character of humility to God. The poor, the meek, the lowly were poor sinners like you and me. But Matthew helps us see that Christ comes as our dear brother, taking on our flesh along with its weaknesses. He makes himself a servant that we would be made princes. He exalts the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. He gives his life that we would live in Him.
“Ride on in lowly pomp to die.” Child-like faith sees what is true in the midst of things we often cannot understand. Such faith is not afraid to have reason and expectation challenged. Unlike all Jerusalem who expected a triumphant Messiah, a destroyer of Rome, and a conquerer of the nations, the infants and nursing babies know Jesus and thus know God rightly. They know their God in the Christ incarnate, riding a donkey, dying for their sins.
Earlier Jesus declared: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” (Matthew 11:25) The only people who understood Jesus rightly were the children. They continued the Psalm long after the parade was over. They kept singing “Hosanna” while Jesus overturned the moneychanger’s tables and kicked out the pigeon sellers. The chief priests and scribes were indignant. The kids got it. The Jews said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.”
These babies believed Jesus. They trusted His Word. They weren’t distracted by expectations or creaturely hopes but saw in it the truth. Jesus said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30) Thus the children followed Jesus into the temple, singing their annoying hosannas, along with the blind and the lame. They followed to receive their servant King, the humble king born to die.
Jesus’ humility began at His incarnation. He humbled himself to be born of a virgin. He was baptized not because of sin but to take away sin. His humility broke all social castes. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” His kingdom was not limited to the “chosen” or the “righteous” or to “Israel.” He humbly comes for the sick, the outcast, the foreigner, the sinner, and the children.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus still comes in humility. He humbly does the Father’s bidding for you. He washes you clean of sin with plain water combined with the Word. He declares you righteous through lowly preachers. He feeds you with eternal life in His body and blood riding on ordinary bread and wine. Thus, the donkey was the most fitting beast of burden to carry our Lord into Jerusalem. It confesses was Zechariah foretold, Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly… It confesses the truth that Jesus is the king of peace, the suffering Servant, and our brother. “Ride on, ride on, in majesty. Ride on in lowly pomp to die.”
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church