Friday, May 24, 2013

Striking as Odd - Matthew 21:1-11

The Passage
1 When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
2 saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.
3 "If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'he Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them,
7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them, and He sat on the coats.
8 Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
9 The crowds were going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David;
Hosanna in the highest!"
10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?"
11 And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee."
Did Jesus Tell Them to Steal?
There are two issues we must address here: (1) What if Jesus were telling the disciples to steal the donkeys? and (2) Why He actually didn't tell them to do this.  Let's start with the former.
In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles are ordered by the Jewish leaders (who held religious and also some political power, including the authority to arrest people) to stop preaching the Gospel.  The apostles famously answered (in verse 29), "We must obey God rather than men."  The idea here is that, while God has indeed put these authorities in place and we are to obey them (Romans 13:1), that does not apply if what these authorities tell you to do violates what God has told you to do.  I.e., if a parent or a teacher or the government where you live (if you live in an oppressive country) tells you to do something that contradicts either Scripture or what you absolutely know in your heart that God is telling you, obey God.
So, if Jesus were telling the disciples to steal the donkeys (an act which was illegal), it would be okay...  But this is not what He was telling them, because stealing goes against God's own Law (Leviticus 19:11).
You see, we must remember that God is omniscient, and this passage reveals that Christ clearly knew exactly what would happen.  He told the disciples to take the donkeys because He knew that the owners would willingly give them up the instant they knew that God wanted them.  He didn't even invoke the fact that "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains" (Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26)..He only accepted what He knew would be freely given.
Also notice the incredible faithfulness of the people who gave up their donkeys!  I'm sure they knew it was a request legitimately from God and not just a scam.  So, they gave up two animals that must have been incredibly expensive and that they probably used a lot, not sure if they would get them back - all because Christ asked for them, and not even in person.  Let us also strive to have such willing hearts that God need only ask for our service once, and we obey immediately.
The Prophetic Realm
The capitalized section in verse 5 is an Old Testament reference to Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.  Wording differs because (1) They're splicing two verses together, and (2) those New Testament writers referenced out of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, in common use in Jesus's day), so the New Testament rendering we see is a translation of a translation, whereas the Old Testament renderings are simply a direct translation.
I'd like to share the entirety of Zechariah 9:9 with you, because I love the wording:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So that just points out a prophetic fulfillment, serving as evidence that Jesus truly is the Messiah.
But what's going on in Matthew 21:9 when the crowds start shouting similar language?  Well, they are referencing Psalm 118:26.  But what's particularly significant about this phrase is that only some of the Jews in Jerusalem were hailing Him as Messiah with these words - others were among those asking, "Who is this?" (Matthew 21:10), the Jewish leaders (Matthew 26:3-4), and the civilian Jews who demanded His execution (Matthew 27:11-26).  You see, Jesus declared that He would not return at the End of the Age until the larger block of the Jewish people recognize Him as their Messiah with this same phrase:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'"
One final note on this topic - do you know what the word Hosanna means?  It's literally, "Save, we pray," or put a little more commonly, "Save us, this we pray!"
Riding on a ... Colt?
I'd like you to imagine a couple of scenes for a moment.
First, the Messiah, God Himself, has come to Earth as a man.  He enters His city, where He is promised to reign forever.  He is worshipped by crowds...but these crowds are only a fraction of the entire city.  And He is riding on a baby donkey, its goofy ears twitching and its gait wobbly.  This is the story told in Matthew 21.
Second, the Messiah, God Himself, has come to Earth at the very end of the world.  He comes to Earth from the sky itself, riding a majestic white horse.  He is crowned a robed, and in His Glory.  He conquers the nations, and is followed by all His saints, also astride white horses.  This is the story told in Revelation 19.
The point of this contrast is to establish exactly that Christ came to do when He entered Jerusalem that first time.  He came to die.  He humbled Himself to the greatest extreme possible - from being God Almighty to being tortured and executed naked.  And He set the example that we are to follow, as well - humble, giving our lives up for Him if necessary.  Because the End's not here yet - there's still work to do.  So of course His "Triumphal Entry" looked a bit different that we might expect of the King of Kings - He was beginning a mission that we are still called to carry on.
Will you join Him - riding on ultimate humility, whatever the cost?
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a little donkey, so I pray that He may be willing to ride out before the people on such an unworthy instrument as I.
- A.W. Tozer
Do you know this amazing Messiah for yourself?  If not, click here to meet Him.

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