The Crowd

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The crowd moves quickly from "Hosanna" to "Crucify." The human heart is a fickle thing precisely because while we like the idea of a king, we also want to be our own king. We are left to ask: Will we bow our knee to the King or scoff at the one on the cross?

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Scripture Reading - Matthew 21:1-11

Matthew 21:1–11 ESV
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”


In the church calendar, we look at the triumphal entry and the start of Holy Week
In the gospels, it represents a shift
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all track Jesus life, his teachings, and his miracles
But they do so in vastly different ways reflecting vastly different primary audiences
Did you know there is only one miracle that is recorded by all four gospels?
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all recount
But as we turn to Holy Week and the events leading up to and including Jesus’ death and resurrection, all four gospel writers start to zoom in and slow down
John does so much that he hits the triumphal entry in chapter 12 of 21 - nearly half his gospel!
I share that for two reasons
to emphasize the priority of these events to all four gospel writers
because I’m going to reference the others along the way


With that said, let me lead with the thesis this morning
I almost set led me start with my conclusion, but some of you may have thought I’m almost done and getting you out early!
As the crowd moves from “Hosanna” to “Crucify”, so our hearts are inclined the same way
Will we be people who bend our knee to the king or who scoff at the innocent man on the cross?
Who do we say that Jesus is?

Retell the Story

Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem, both literally and figuratively
Literally in that he is physically on his way there
Figuratively as he knows his death is imminent - his time has come
So he sends 2 of the disciples on ahead and tells them they will find a donkey and its colt and to bring them to him
He tells the disciples that if anyone asks, just tell them that “the Lord needs them”
Now, let me pause: how did Jesus know there would be a colt there?
2 options
Option 1: Miracle knowledge - He is the Second Person of the Trinity and he knows something no one else could know
Options 2: Preplanning - He could have planned ahead and made an arrangement
Reality: Text never tells us so while it is an interesting question, it is not one we can answer definitively
Disciples bring the colt to Jesus and he rides into town on it
As he does, the crowd lays the cloaks on the ground, cuts palm fronds and places them on the ground
Basically, first century equivalent of rolling out the red carpet
As they, that is, the crowd, do so, they are shouting
Matthew 21:9 “And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!””
Mark 11:9-10 “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!””
Luke 19:38 “saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
John 12:13 “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””
This is, essentially, a victory parade
With crowds in front and behind
With all the shouts
This is a parade, a spectacle, an event


So that’s what happened
Now let’s zoom in on two important focal points - the symbolism of the donkey and the crowd

The Symbolism of the Donkey

For those present, the symbolism of Jesus riding in on a donkey was clear, unmistakeable, and intentional
It may seem like an odd picture to us, but the implications were not lost on anyone there
It was:
A fulfillment of prophecy
A declaration of royalty
A picture of sovereignty

Fulfillment of prophecy

Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is deliberately, intentionally fulfilling this prophecy from Zechariah
And, again, the crowd recognizes it immediately as both Matthew and John include parts of that Zechariah passage in their recounting of the triumphal entry
Jesus is the king who was prophecies long ago to come riding on a donkey

A Declaration of Royalty

Riding the donkey here is also a declaration of royalty
When a king or a great leader would enter a city, his entry was marked by fanfare
Enter on a war horse or in a chariot - something notable and worthy of his stature
People would go before him and follow after him offering praises
Would often go to a local temple either to offer a sacrifice to the local gods or to correct some wrong/abuses
In this sense, Jesus’ triumphal entry follows the script and yet totally upends it
People went before him and followed him offering praises
Right after this he, if we continued on in Matthew, he goes to the temple and is the famous account of his cleansing of the temple
So in that sense, it is right on script for the arrival of a dignitary or a king
And yet, he comes in not on a war horse, not on a royal steed, not in a chariot
But on a donkey - and not just any donkey, a colt - a foal, a young donkey
Nothing glorious, nothing glamorous - but unmistakeable
His declaration of royalty - of kingship
He arrives not as the political hero that will overthrow Rome but as the suffering servant who would overthrow death itself
And again, no one misses the implication
When we read the Matthew language of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” we may not necessarily interpret that as a kingly declaration
And that is where the other gospels help us
Mark - “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
John - “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
Jesus’ arrival here is a declaration of royalty

A Picture of Sovereignty

The Scriptures are full of places we can see God’s sovereign hand where he is pleased to used never-before-used things for his good purposes
But especially we see this in the life of Jesus
He was born of the Virgin Mary
She was, in that sense, untouched and yet used mightily of God
After his death, he is laid in a tomb that had never been used before
And here, he rides in on a colt that had never been ridden previously
2 implications here
To be unused is to be reserved for sacred purposes
No one would ride the mount of a king
Everything about Jesus’ entry is a picture of his sovereign plan of redemption at work
While it would be the path of death for Jesus, it is his plan and never goes outside of his sovereign oversight


Having seen the significance and symbolism of riding in on a donkey, let’s shift now to look at the crowd

The Crowd

Repeated words
You’ve heard me say before that one way to help understand the point of a passage is to notice the words that are repeated
Verse 8 - “Most of the crowd...”
Verse 9 - “And the crowds...”
Verse 11 - “And the crowds...”
3 times in this passage we read about the crowd
So what are we to make of that?

The crowd understands Jesus to be a king

Have you ever heard anyone make a comment like, “Jesus never said he was a king” or “Jesus never said he was God”
But look at how the people around him respond
They start praising him as the fulfillment of the promise that the Son of David would reign forever!
Even the Pharisees understand
Luke 19:39 “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.””
The Pharisees want Jesus to shut them up because they understood the significance of what was happening, even if they rejected it

The crowd is fickle

Fast forward just a few days and a few chapters and we get to the sham of trial Jesus was put through leading up to his crucifixion
Pilate senses something is off - even Pilate’s wife tells him to stay away and that Jesus is innocent
Pilate thinks he has an out - every year, by ritual, the governor would release a prisoner
So Pilate offers the people to release either Jesus, who was innocent, or the infamous, notorious criminal Barrabas
Why do we fast forward to that passage?
Matthew 27, recounting this event, just like our text in Matthew 21, uses the word “crowd” 3 times
Interesting parallelism there, right?
Now, obviously we can’t guarantee that it is the exact same crowd
But I do believe it is an intentional word choice to draw the two passages together
And why would Matthew want us to connect the two passages?
Consider Matthew 27:20 “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.”
Did you hear that? The crowd was persuaded to call for destruction of Jesus
One day the crowd is declaring “Hosanna”
Just a few days later the crowd is declaring “Crucify”
One day the crowd is recognizing him as king
Just a few days later the crowd wants to destroy him

And what about you?

The human heart is a fickle thing
So do we count ourselves among the crowd? Both crowds?
We are very much like the crowd bouncing between praise and cursing
We recognize Jesus is king but do not want to bow our knee to him
We recognize that we are sovereign over ourselves and yet we don’t want him to be King over us
Luke 9:18-20 “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.””
Notice again here the word, Crowd
It is good and right that we declare, “Hosanna”
It is good and right that we proclaim all glory, laud and honor belong to him
And yet, it is good and right to recognize the fickleness of our own heart prone
How easily we are persuaded to pursue our own ends, our own purposes or other gods
Yet none of them is worthy of our Hosanna
None of them is Blessed
So let us return to our thesis for this morning
As the crowd moves from “Hosanna” to “Crucify”, so our hearts are inclined the same way
Will we be people who bend our knee to the king or who scoff at the innocent man on the cross?
Who do we say that Jesus is? Who do you say that Jesus is?
May this Palm Sunday - this Holy Week - be an opportunity for you to count yourselves among the scoffers, among the crowd crying, “Crucify”
And may it be an opportunity for you to find that Jesus is the King who rules and reigns over all and who loves you and has conquered sin on your behalf, even when your heart is inclined away
May you, with Peter, declare that Jesus is “the Christ of God”


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