One thing I ask … to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord… (Psalm 27:4)
Matthew 21:1-11 sermon, “Behold, Your King!”
Purple and green. We see a lot of those colors before us. Purple, the color of royalty on our banners and altar. Green, the color of palm branches that symbolized victory and were laid before Jesus this Palm Sunday…
God’s Old Testament people wanted the purple and the green. They wanted a king and a king who would bring them success and victory – the purple and the green. They said, “We want a king. We want him to lead us like other nations. We want him to go before us and fight our battles.” Sadly, those were the words of rejection. They had rejected the LORD as their leader. God led them. God fought for them and delivered them from their enemies. But they served false gods instead and when things became chaotic and corrupt, they asked for a king, the purple and the green.
We, however, need a king. And no that’s not some political campaign on my part, pushing for a form of monarchy in our country. We need a king – and it’s also because of rejection that we need him. In our spiritual defeat and oppression from sin and Satan, we need the purple and the green, a king to save the day, one who will fight our battles. And as we celebrate Palm Sunday today, God does something remarkable. He sends his Son to Jerusalem and proclaims to us, “Behold, Your King.”
By Palm Sunday, Jesus was already seemed quite the candidate for a king. He was very popular, especially in the northern region of Galilee where he had spent so much of his teaching and healing ministry. Add to that the fact that many of those Galileans had traveled south to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, so even more supporters were present who knew him and thought highly of him. Add to that the fact that one week earlier, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, an event to which the whole world seemed to take notice. So Jesus looked like an excellent candidate to be King, the Son of David.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus wasn’t a candidate. He wasn’t trying to make a run at the throne. He was the King. He had the throne. That’s what Matthew first shares with us, so that we don’t lay our branches before the latest and greatest, the people’s choice, but that we might lay our branches before THE KING.
Matthew first shows us the King through something only the disciples probably observed. Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
What a strange way to get a donkey. Couldn’t Jesus have just said, “Let’s walk over here” and found a donkey himself and jumped on without saying anything more? That would still have fulfilled the prophecy! But instead, Jesus gave testimony to his disciples and us about himself. It’s a reminder that he’s not just a candidate, but the King of kings. The man these disciples followed knew everything. Jesus knew where the donkeys were, that they were tied up and not running around behind a fence. He knew the colt upon which he would ride was hiding out by its mother’s side. He knew someone would stop and ask them what they were doing. And he knew that person would not object, but would also send the animals immediately since “the Lord needs them.”
So the message through Matthew is clear – “Behold, your King!” who spoke of things no mere human could possibly know about and yet it all turned out just as he said.
And if that weren’t enough, Jesus at the same time fulfilled something else he had spoken through Zechariah 500 years earlier: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” By riding in on a colt, Jesus made a big statement that he was the promised Messiah, though no one made the connection at the time. But later, the Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of these things and lead Matthew to check off yet another prophecy of the Messiah fulfilled in Jesus – “Behold, your King!”
The Gospel of Matthew was written largely for a Jewish audience, people who were waiting for the Messiah, people who knew the Old Testament promises, but yet people perhaps still wondering about the Messiah – “when? Who?” By the Spirit, Matthew frequently interrupts history to say, “God said the Messiah would do this. Here’s the passage Jesus just fulfilled. Behold, your King.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary, Matthew said, “the virgin will be with child and give birth to a son…” Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with the little boy Jesus until the death of King Herod, and when they returned, Matthew reminds us of the prophecy “Out of Egypt I called my son.” They went to live in Nazareth, and Matthew adds, “Just as it is written, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” When Jesus went about in Galilee and Zebulun and Naphtali in northern Israel, Matthew reprints Isaiah’s prophecy that in the land of Galilee a light has dawned. When Jesus forgave people their sins and cured their diseases, Matthew copies Isaiah 53 – “he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Jesus spoke in parables, and Matthew pauses to say, “It is written, ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things.’”
And here Matthew again is inspired to remind us when Jesus came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, “this is just what the Lord spoke through Zechariah 500 years ago about the Messiah!”
But on Palm Sunday, nobody got that part. Neither the crowd nor the disciples made the connection to Zechariah’s prophecy right away. But that wasn’t the only thing they were not able to understand yet. They wouldn’t understand why the one who had spoken with so much authority earlier, now stood silent before his accusers. They wouldn’t understand why the one who fed thousands and brought the dead back to life wouldn’t save himself, let alone all Israel, from the Romans.
But today, the Spirit teaches us here to behold our King, to see the purple and the green together in Jesus, so that we get this most important part of history right. When Jesus winds up suffering and dying, it’s not that he didn’t know his future. It’s not that he didn’t understand what was coming. It’s that he gave up the easy route for you. He gave up the glory. He gave up the escape route from suffering hell and the cross. He gave that all up, set it all aside. He came for us as a “gentle” King. No weapons at his side. No shield of angels to defend him. He became the kind of person you felt you could take advantage of and do with him whatever you want. He let himself be mistreated. [How humiliating!] He let himself be crucified. [How disgraceful and shameful to be executed in that way.] He knew it was all there waiting for him in Jerusalem. He gave up everything to become the curse, to become our sin for us, to taste death for us.
Because of God’s Word, we too know that Jesus’ glory was not fake or some grand deception. His glory was always that of a King – but a glory laid aside for you and me. The Jesus once transfigured and soon disfigured is the King for us. He is YOUR King who fights for you and brings you salvation! God is simply telling us today, “Behold, the King! Take note of this unique moment when Jesus shows the glory he has, his omniscience and fulfillment of every prophecy.” In your hearts lay your palm branches before him, giving thanks to God and shouting, “Hosanna!” Give him a purple and green reception – worship him as your King of victory.
That first Palm Sunday, Jesus had a purple and green reception. But some only wanted Jesus for a bread king. Some wanted him to lead them in the fight against Rome. Some wanted him for his miracles, and of course, some knew Jesus “had the words of everlasting life.” When the disciples and crowds honored Jesus and praised God and shouted their “Hosannas,” we’re not told what they hoped for in their hearts. We’re not told exactly what they expected to happen when Jesus reached Jerusalem. But that remains a very important question for us. Matthew wants us to “behold the King,” but for what? What do we want from him?
- Are you looking for an easier life? Are you looking only for your daily bread?
- Are you looking for a loving Jesus who will deal “gently” with your sinful lifestyle and not condemn it?
- Are you looking for a miracle worker and anything less means he’s a disappointment or a fraud?
- And if Jesus doesn’t give you what you seek, is he suddenly out of the running? Does he lose your vote?
We have journeyed through this Lenten season to get to this point – Holy Week. By now we have seen how every single victory over Satan, every single power Jesus displays, every perfect act of obedience to God – I need it from my King. Without him, I have no victory, no power, no righteousness. I need his every victory and power, I have need of his obedience, I have need of his suffering and death and resurrection. I need his mercy and grace every day and his daily strength in the battle against sin. I have need of such a King!
That is what makes Palm Sunday so special. For today, we behold him, with purple and green; we see our King who comes to us and for us. The King we need comes to us in the Supper, and we shout and sing, “Blessed is he, blessed is he, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (sung to tune in CW, Common Service). Fellow believers, rejoice this day that the King you need comes riding on a colt into Jerusalem for you. “Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.