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April 14, 2019, 2:00 PM

Easter 2019 - The Triumphal Entry

            Easter is absolutely THE most extraordinary holiday of the year. Christmas is for sure a remarkable season, filled with family and remembrances of the Christ child, lots of gifts and it always seems to be a lot more festive than Easter. But then it’s also a lot more commercialized. Thanksgiving is a lot of food, family and friends just like Easter, but really it’s only about us here in the United States and Easter…. Well it’s not just global; it’s meant to capture all mankind. Fourth of July is another awesome celebration, but it only remembers the liberation of a single country, not the freedom from sin for all humanity.


            Nope Easter is set apart from all the rest. Why? Because it celebrates the only time in the history of forever that a man has been resurrected from death, never to die a natural death. Now Jesus wasn’t the only resurrection. Remember for instance He raised Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus’s life eventually ended in physical death. We know that Jesus overcame death and later ascended into heaven.


            But I think sometimes we tend to gloss over this story and kind of lose sight of the depth of what took place in that final week and ultimately on the third day. I’m not saying we take it for granted. The event of Easter calls more people to attend church than any other day, even Christmas Eve or Mother’s day. Not only is it tradition, but we want to believe in the miraculous. It captures our sense of mystery and the supernatural.


            But I think we often lose sight of the gravity of the circumstances surrounding Jesus death and then His resurrection and how all those events unfolded. Today sets the stage for all of it. Palm Sunday, the day Jesus arrives in Jerusalem… on a donkey…


            So let’s turn to our Scripture, Matthew 21:1-11. It’s the story of Jesus’s triumphal entrance into the city of Jerusalem. But hailed as the Messiah, He rides in on a donkey; the lowliest in the family of equines; the least royal mount He could’ve ridden in on --- just one more of His lessons in humility. So let’s read, Matthew 21:1-11.

                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.”


            Just a little bit of scenery here to add some perspective to the story. The previous chapter has Jesus and His entourage leaving out of Jericho where He healed two blind men on the roadside. Now the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was an uphill climb of about 15 miles, ascending nearly 3,000 feet through a dry, arid desert. It was an 8 hour walk, so Jesus and His followers were ready to hit the road and hoped to reach their destination by nightfall to avoid the risk of being robbed on a road known for just that very thing.

            As they approached Jerusalem on the back side of the Mount of Olives, they would have passed through Bethany, a small town about 2 miles Southeast of Jerusalem, where Jesus stayed during His final week. Rising about 2,600 feet above sea level is the Mount of Olives, covered with groves of olive trees, just to the east of Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed lies at the foot of the Mount of Olives, just above the Kidron Valley.


            Now according to the traditional accounting of that last week, Jesus and His disciples arrived in Bethany on Friday afternoon and celebrated the Sabbath, beginning Friday evening at sundown and ending Saturday evening at sundown. Afterwards there would have been a celebration in Bethany where Scripture says Mary anointed Jesus’s feet. Then on Sunday morning, Jesus instructed His disciples to make preparations to enter Jerusalem.  That’s where our Scripture begins.


            Jesus sends two disciples into the city of Bethphage to bring back the donkey that He would ride into Jerusalem and a colt. Just a quick point here about this little village of Bethphage; it’s been renamed and today it’s called el-Azariyeh after Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead in that area. The Hebrew phrase ‘bet pagey’ or Bethphage means “house of the early fig.” A little further in this chapter we read about Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree because it had no fruit for the travelers. Maybe the reason for the name change? Makes sense doesn’t it? 



            Well, Jesus tells them if you meet with any resistance at all, just say “the Lord needs them.” This might not seem like a high impact statement to us, because we know today that Jesus is Lord. But at that time the world was still watching, hoping for the coming of the messiah. And in just these few words Jesus said a mountain. Now maybe they really didn’t get exactly what He meant at that moment, but this is exactly what happened during the celebration of the Passover.


            During that annual season, excitement about the messiah would always reach its high point. Pilgrims from all over, including the Diaspora, Israelites that had been displaced since the days of captivity, would crowd into the city elevating the frenzy. And then this particular season, with the recent raising of Lazarus from the dead the spotlight right on Jesus. Was He the Messiah? His words in our Scripture --- “tell them the Lord needs them” --- are saying just that, I AM your Messiah.

            And just like He said in Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” That’s exactly what He was doing in His preparation, calling for the donkey and colt. He was fulfilling Zechariah’s prophesy. (Zech 9:9-10)

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.

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

            Do you see the importance here of not just knowing Scripture --- being able to quote it and think you’ve got it ---  but to fully understand its truth?  That’s exactly what Jesus is saying – talking to those in the context of His day, ‘If you truly understand Scripture, the law, the prophets, you’ll see that I am the Messiah and I bring peace, not war. Instead of a chariot, I ride in on the humblest of animals to symbolize humility; to show that I’m not some warlord, which is exactly what Zechariah prophesied. And that’s why I’m here, to fulfill prophesy. Open your eyes!


            You Pharisees, you hypocrites can quote Scripture, but in your pride, your arrogance, YOU ARE blind, you don’t understand. You don’t search for truth; you seek only self-righteousness.’ And it was that message that He repeated over and over, that so many people would hear, but would never really grasp His truth. What they ultimately heard was a radical, a lunatic who sought to change the cultural status quo; challenging the Sanhedrin’s authority and its control over the law. 

            In Jesus’s own words, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth you do not believe me (John 8:43-45).”

            We hear those same words today. There is a very real spiritual battle that’s being waged. We can see the obvious. We’ve talked about the persecution in China and the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria. Closer to home believers face the hostility of hatred and racism. On June 17, 2015 Dylan Roof, a 21 year old white supremacist opened fire killing 9 members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. First he befriended them. Then coldly and methodically he began to murder them. But in the truest form of Christ, that incredible body of believers that was left found the courage to forgive him.


            And then just within the last 2 weeks, 3 historically black Louisiana churches were burned to the ground by the son a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy. The three churches in the heart of south central Louisiana were all set on fire within in a 10 day period. St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre was burned to the ground on March 26; then Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and, then just two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas. Now this young man, Holden Matthews, doesn’t claim supremacy and the real motives are unclear right now, but there’s no doubt he was driven by hatred for God’s Creation.


            The obvious battles are on the surface. The hate, the violence, persecution, killing – all are clearly the work of Satan and those that are in his control. But the real battle today is right here…. inside each one of us. We’re all of us in different places in our lives. We’ve all taken different paths to get to this very moment in time and we’re all here at the same time fighting the same battles. Satan’s lies are perpetuated all around us and even those of us armed for spiritual battle are caught off guard.

            Those that are driven by hate like Dylan Roof and Holden Matthews through whatever series of events in their lives have clearly succumbed completely to Satan’s lies.                      “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31).” The truth is… the real battle has already been won. Christ fought that battle for us. He overcame the Cross. He defeated death. And His Spirit is alive in each of today calling us to defend the Truth that He died for. And we will only know that Truth when we come to know Him as our Lord and Savior.


            When His disciples returned with the donkey and the colt, Jesus mounted up and rode victoriously through the crowd. I think back to all the pictures I saw as kid – people lining the street; palm leaves so thick on the ground you couldn’t see the stones; branches held high, arched over His head as He approached the gates of the city.


            All to the fanfare of a king. Shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Those shouts of praise and adoration preceded Him causing a stir in the city. And then He arrived. People asked what’s going on? What’s all the commotion? Then they saw, ‘Oh, it’s Jesus, that prophet from Nazareth.’ No mention that He might be the Messiah. Thoughts had changed. Completely lost on the crowd.


            An article in the November 9, 2016 edition of New York magazine spoke to what happens to our mind when we’re disappointed. The article states the obvious, it’s “one of life’s toughest emotional experiences.” Sure it hurts. Somebody you love deeply scars you through abuse or cheating.

            You get smeared in some scandal totally outside your control. The son or daughter you’ve loved and sacrificed for, storms out in anger, screaming I don’t ever want to see you again. The little things; a forgotten birthday or a not so white lie from someone you love and trust. All these things are part of life, but that doesn’t make any of them easier to accept or understand.


            But the article says the experience is physiological, not just emotional. This sense of disappointment is linked to our levels of dopamine: the chemical in the brain that’s released during moments of pleasure. And the science of it says dopamine doesn’t just respond to an experience, it actually anticipates that experience.


            Our brain creates expectations about some future thing that we desire. Before it even happens, our brain starts pumping these dopamine levels higher and higher in anticipation of what’s coming. And then when the event actually occurs we get a double dose of this dopamine. But then on the other hand, if it doesn’t happen – or worse, we get snubbed or left out or hurt somehow – those dopamine levels plummet.


            Instead of receiving a double shot, we crash – suddenly all the dopamine is gone. We’re left empty. Not only is the pleasure erased, but we’ve gone from an expectation of a 10 to a perceived reality of a negative 10. Figuratively we hit a brick wall.  Maybe that’s a little bit of what happened to the crowd in Jerusalem. Jesus, the man they thought just might be the Messiah, rode in on a donkey instead of a warhorse. Prophesy, but they didn’t get it.

            They expected a conquering hero; someone to lead them to a physical  victory from Roman oppression. What they got instead was a small man on a donkey preaching humility and compassion. They didn’t get it. They were expecting someone bigger than life who would bring them victory in the here and now. Jesus’s life existed for the hereafter. They didn’t get it.


            Christ will never meet our earthly expectations. They’re too small. They got exactly what they wanted, but in their nearsightedness He didn’t meet their standards for an earthly ruler. But then His kingdom isn’t here. We can’t see it. We can’t feel it. And we can’t touch it. They didn’t understand what they had and the crowd that cheered Him as Messiah would soon trade His life for that of a thief.


            Jesus would later tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from this world… I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.


            And then Pilate would ask him, What is truth?  (John 18:36-38).” Pilate didn’t get it. The people didn’t get it. How many of us today ask that same question. What is truth?






            Jesus accepted his destiny with courage and in humility bore the sacrifice for the sin of all of us who cursed him and spat on Him.  He was beaten and broken – died on a cross. They still didn’t get it. He rose from the dead. A man just like them – one of them – sealed in tomb and rose from the grave. Not only didn’t they get it, they denied it. All of it. Tried to rationalize it all the way through, but they had hit a brick wall. The dopamine that the crowd had collectively built to a 10, suddenly crashed and Christ became the target of their disappointment.  


            Do you get it? Do you accept it? Or do you try to rationalize it; try to understand it in absolute terms that make sense in your own linear, boxed in world. We’re not expected to fully comprehend all of it. That’s why it’s called supernatural. We’re dealing with infinite and eternal. The only way to accept it is by faith. All we have to do is believe in the reality that it happened. It all unfolded just like Scripture tells us. That’s truth. And through faith in that truth, which is Jesus Christ, we are saved.


            Now I’m going to be down front here, if any of you want to make a decision to know Christ in a more intimate way, please come forward. But we’re going to be here for a while today, so if you don’t feel comfortable walking down here in front of all these people, please grab me later and let’s talk. Don’t let another day go by without knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.




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