Out of Jericho and into Jerusalem

 Please read Matthew 20: 29 – 21:17 and then pray; Almighty God, as I come before your Word, grant me the ability to understand more about the height, length, depth, and breadth of your love through the sufferings and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 On the 22nd and 23rd March, it was a delight and privilege for our Church to warmly welcome children from Heron and Abbeymead Primary Schools to Experience Easter. What a fabulous time we enjoyed presenting the story of Holy Week to these excited children! Each child learned a great deal about the key moments of Holy Week by visiting various staging posts set up around our Church. They were invited to go through the week step by step, beginning with Palm Sunday and Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, and ending at the scene of the empty tomb. This is the journey we make this week, and it begins today as we sing and cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The last time I preached here, we were reflecting on the stages of the journey Israel took after the exodus from Egypt. We particularly focused on the stage that took the whole company of Israel to Rephidim where there was no water to drink. (Exodus 17: 1-7) Today, we are back again considering this idea of the stages in an important journey – this time a journey to a cruel cross. Today we will consider the final two stages of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem – the journey from Jericho to the Mount of Olives, and then the short journey down the Mount of Olives and into the capital city of itself.

Jericho was about 16 miles from Jerusalem and it was to be the last major city Jesus visited before reaching Jerusalem in time for the annual feast of Passover. It was in Jericho that Jesus met Zacchaeus the diminutive chief tax collector and explained to the people that he had come “to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus made time to seek and to save Zacchaeus whilst passing through Jericho on his way to his passion. And on his way out of Jericho, Jesus stopped to heal two blind men, one of whom was called Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46) What is particularly interesting about this story of the healing of the blind men is the way it shares many of the key features of the story of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Here are some of the common features in both stories.

Both involved large crowds – one large crowd leaving the city of Jericho (20:29) with Jesus – and the other entering the city of Jerusalem with Jesus. The crowd entering Jerusalem had multiplied in size!

Both involved loud shouting, two blind men shouting out at the top of their voices for mercy, hoping Jesus would stop for them and restore their sight – and then most of the Jerusalem crowd shouting Hosanna as Jesus descended the Mount of Olives with joy and in triumph.

In both stories, there are those who want the noise of the shouting to end. The blind men were told to be quiet by the irritated crowd and disciples who were in a rush to get to Jerusalem following on behind Jesus. In Jerusalem the children should be silenced because their shouting of “Hosanna to the Son of David” angered and upset the nervous and edgy Pharisees. (21:15) Can we cut out the noise please! We have no time for it; we are in a hurry; (crowd speaking to the two blind men whilst leaving Jericho) or in the case of the Pharisees, there is no need for this racket! Jesus is not the Messiah!

In both stories there is the mention of cloaks. Outside Jericho, Bartimaeus leaves his valuable cloak behind as he makes his way toward Jesus who had stopped for him and his companion (Mark 10:50). On the Mount of Olives cloaks are placed on the donkey and her colt, and on the road itself, along with palm branches, so that it might be carpeted for the arrival and honour of the King. (21: 7-8)

Finally, there is the compassionate healing of the blind in both stories. The two blind men are healed by Jesus, and they then follow him seeing and enjoying the trip toward Jerusalem. In Jerusalem itself, Jesus again finds time to respond mercifully and compassionately and heals the blind and the lame (21:14) he finds in the temple area. The compassionate healing ministry of Jesus never ceased from the first day of his ministry to the last one. He was even set to heal a man when being violently arrested on the following Thursday night, his last act of compassion. (Luke 22:50-51) Mercy constantly flowed from Jesus toward the sick and suffering. So many souls benefitted from a powerful and compassionate healing touch that always transformed its desperate target

Now there was a distinct pause in the journey Jesus made to Jerusalem, and it came as they approached Bethphage, a small village on/near the Mount of Olives. The journey is about to take a different turn – not in direction but in type. The Lord Jesus Christ will walk no more. Up until now, this lengthy journey to Jerusalem which has taken many weeks, had been entirely on foot. However, the descent from the Mount of Olives will see Jesus ride on a colt of a donkey. He will ride on this humble beast for the final 2-mile leg of his epic journey!

Why the change? Why the introduction of a colt for Jesus to ride at this late point? This is deliberate! This is deliberately planned. This is to fulfil what was spoken of in the prophets. During the last week of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead – people are going to see ancient prophecy after ancient prophecy fulfilled. There is to be an avalanche in the fulfilment of ancient prophecy, and of prophecies made by Jesus himself concerning his own rejection, suffering, death and rising again. But it all begins here – with this little donkey and the ride into Jerusalem.

Jesus sends two of his disciples to fetch the donkey and its colt. They will be tied up waiting for collection. Such details are configured into the eternal salvation plans of God. Just as an upper room will be ready later in the week for the Thursday night Passover gathering, so the donkey and colt will be ready to be collected this Sunday. The two disciples find things just as Jesus said they would be. They obediently bring the donkey and her colt to Jesus. Cloaks are placed over both beasts. Jesus is lifted onto the colt who was no doubt comforted and calmed by the presence of his mother. And now before the eyes of this gigantic and excited crowd of pilgrims, Jesus rides out in lowly majesty in fulfilment of ancient prophecy – prophecy primarily from Zechariah but also from Isaiah;

Say to the Daughter of Zion (Isaiah 62:11), “See your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey.”  (Zechariah 9:9)

Notice the prophecy is fulfilled exactly. Jesus rides on the colt, the foal of a donkey. This is the promised King; this is Messiah. Here is the long-awaited son of David, entering Jerusalem as promised and in the manner that it was promised. See your King and the way he comes into Jerusalem! They must see their King and notice the manner in which he arrives to conquer. He comes riding on the type of beast which speaks not of power and prestige, but of humility, peace, meekness, and gentleness. Jesus is the Messiah King who embraces the way of humility, the way of peace and the way of gentleness and compassion. This has been shown throughout his life, his teaching, and his ministry, but now it is magnified on this final journey down the slopes of the Mount of Olives as he rides on a borrowed colt. He conquers and wins human hearts through service and self-sacrifice.

In the build up to this week, and during this week you will see the humble servant King. You will see Jesus washing the dirty feet of his own servants. You will see Jesus kneel in a garden to pray and surrender before His Father’s will. You will also see a man of peace. He will not resist his arrest and he will tell his followers to put their swords away. He will forgive his enemies from a cross to which they have demanded that he be pinned. You will see gentleness and compassion as he continues to heal the sick and notice the poor – like the widow who places her tow copper coins into the temple collection. This is your King. This is our God – the Servant King. Unique indeed!

King Charles III may or may not arrive in the Gold Stage Coach for his coronation on May 6th at Westminster Abbey. He will though certainly arrive in style and with great pomp and ceremony. He will not be coming down the Mall on a donkey. And yet this is how the King of all Kings arrives to the rapturous acclaim of the crowds, who shout in unison – “Hosanna” – which meant – “Save us.” They were looking and hoping for deliverance and salvation. Is this Sunday to be the day of salvation? The following Sunday will be such a day as a stone is rolled away from a sealed and guarded tomb!

The day on which salvation was achieved was coming. It is Palm Sunday today – but Friday beckons. Passover is due to take place very soon. When the lambs are slaughtered for the great feast of Passover – a greater Lamb will be slaughtered in order that the sins of the entire world might be taken away. Christ will be the ultimate divine/human Passover Lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) Isaiah had prophesied this;

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  (Isaiah 53:7)

 This Lamb of God did not protest his innocence, he did not bleat or resist or argue in any way; he humbly accepted death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) The Good Shepherd willingly laid down his life for his sheep. (John 10: 17-18). He died in our place, for our sin, for our sake. He took our punishment upon himself. He bore the wrath of God against sin. Peter who would deny him three times on the night of his arrest later wrote;

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep gone astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(1 Peter 2: 23-25)

He rode into Jerusalem knowing what was ahead – knowing that according to the prophet Zechariah, the Shepherd (Jesus) would be struck, and the sheep of the flock (his closest disciples) would be scattered once he had been arrested. (Matthew 26:31). This is exactly what happened. Every prophecy was fulfilled to the finest detail. His rejection, suffering, torment, and pain was detailed by both Psalmist and Prophet. He died according to the Scriptures, but he was also destined to rise gain according to the same Scriptures! (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4 and Luke 24: 25-26). When talking to two disciples after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said this to them;

How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24: 25-27)

 The riding on a colt into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9) was destined to be. The betrayal of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver was destined to be. (Zechariah 11:12) The casting of lots for a dying Saviour’s clothing was destined to be. (Psalm 22:18) The hurling of insults at the foot of the cross was destined to be – along with the mocking and spitting and bitter vitriol (Psalm 22: 7-8, Isaiah 50:6). It was all foretold. So much in the Old Testament ultimately pointed forward to a particular Friday and a particular Sunday in the history of this world. In yet another prophetic Psalm which details the events of Palm Sunday we read these words which are often quoted in the New Testament;

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:22-24)

 That day that we are to rejoice in is none other than Easter Sunday – the great and glorious day of resurrection and eternal hope. The Stone that was rejected on the Friday – became the Capstone itself – the most important Stone of all – through the glorious and all-powerful resurrection on the Sunday following. All planned! All foretold! All fulfilled! God raised His Son from death to life! This Mighty Stone is seen as precious or as a major stumbling block by people then and now! Jesus is either our Rock of Salvation or a Stone that will crush us by the weight of its holiness and justice. (1 Peter 2: 6-8)

Let me briefly return to our text in Matthew 21 for a final thought. We are told by Matthew that after Jesus had entered Jerusalem – the whole city was stirred. (v 11) Interestingly, if you go back to the early pages of this gospel we hear of another occasion when all Jerusalem was stirred up. This was when the mysterious Magi brought the news to Herod that the King of the Jews had been born. In Matthew 2: 3 we read this; the Magi had travelled to Jerusalem; Jesus was to for the final week of his life;

When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.

News of Jesus’s birth stirred this ancient city and its rather pathetic and cruel King. Jerusalem was now disturbed by the final arrival of this King of the Jews who had been born thirty-three years earlier.  Jerusalem would be stirred further as the week went on. It would be stirred a little later as Jesus with righteous anger and holy zeal cleansed the temple. It would be stirred by his authoritative teaching and the way he non-plussed the Pharisees and the Sadducees making them look foolish by his wisdom and biblical insight. By the Friday the people would be stirred into calling out for the release of a notorious rebel and murderer (Barabbas) and demanding the crucifixion of the King of the Jews who was a man of peace and gentleness – their very own Messiah. And when that man was brutally crucified, and the sky grew black and the earth shook violently through an earthquake, splitting rocks all around this City of sorrow, and when the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom – the city was stirred and disturbed more than ever. Why was it so stirred, and why did people tremble so much? The centurion at the foot of the cross answers that question: Surely, he was the Son of God! (Matthew 27:54)

 That is where Holy Week leads us to, or should lead us to. It should lead us all to fall on our knees and cry out with gratitude, love, godly fear and wonder;

Surely – Jesus is the Son of God. He is worthy of all worship! Once the slain Lamb, now the enthroned One, but still bearing the scars. (Revelation 5:6)

 And after making such a confession, we must then surrender to his Lordship over our lives. This King who was clothed in humility, gentleness, peace, and love must become our King. His ways must become our ways as we live for his glory and serve our struggling pain-filled world with humility and compassion. And we must also trust Him to be our personal Saviour, knowing that on the cross He conquered sin and the devil for us, and then death itself was destroyed as he rose in triumph, completely victorious. Rightly do we sing;

Ride on, ride on in majesty! Your last and fiercest strife is nigh;

the Father on His sapphire throne awaits His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on in majesty! in lowly pomp ride on to die;

bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, Your power, and reign.  (Henry H Milman)

God be with us as we journey once again through this blessed and momentous week. Amen

Rev Peter J Clarkson (2.4.23)