“The Triumphal Entry” (Guest Post from Tiffany Pickett)

{Tiffany is a dear friend of mine from college. She is attending McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. This post is a sermon of hers, which I loved so much I asked for her permission to share it. I hope it resonates with you as it did me.}

Let us hear the word of the Lord from Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead 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, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”  This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
 humble, and mounted on a donkey,
 and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;  they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowdspread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is the word of the Lord.

“Yes. Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”  Singing this song week after week during Sunday School as we crafted with cotton balls, tried not to eat paste, and created art with popsicle sticks, told us what every child needs to know about Jesus.  Jesus loves me, he loves you, he loves all moms, dads, brothers, and sisters all over the world. This simple truth created a foundation for faith in Jesus.

When the angst filled days of youth came we knew Jesus as the only one who understood. With rampant emotions, friendships overflowing with drama and insecurities all around, we knew Jesus as the confidant who would listen to our fears, comfort us during distress and be a shoulder to cry on.  Jesus understood our need to impress the older boy on the basketball team, the fight with our friend Brittany over the boy on the basketball team, feeling rejected by the prettiest girl in our class, and he understood when our parents just did not get us.

Now we are no longer in our youth and we seek out the answers to who really is Jesus. Diligently seeking out these answers through research, reading commentary after commentary, and studying the Bible cover to cover should facilitate a great knowledge of Jesus. As we swim deeper into the waters of theological education, the water keeps becoming murkier and muddier until we can’t be sure if we know anything about Jesus at all. Was Jesus the conquering hero of the crusades we learn about in Church History?  Is Jesus somewhere in the antiquated teachings of those such as Augustine, Calvin, and Luther?  Which side was Jesus on during the Fundamentalist takeover?  Does Jesus really want us to refuse to serve and care for those different from us in race, gender, ethnicity, social status and sexual orientation? If so many versions of Jesus exist with such conflicting opinions then acting like Jesus can take on many shapes and forms.

Distortions of the historical Jesus and his teachings come from misunderstanding, or not even reading, what Jesus has to say. I’m fairly certain that during the Crusades they didn’t find a seal of approval by Jesus for murdering thousands in his name, especially considering how Jesus said something like “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” Belittling women and their Spirit empowered gifts probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he thought the women in his life more than worthy to send them to share the news of his resurrection. Refusing to serve those whom we feel are living in sinful lifestyles isn’t what Jesus would have done, considering he hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes and even the outcasts of society. Imposing what we want Jesus to stand for, endorse and go along with only shows that we don’t know Jesus—and if we don’t know him, we aren’t ready to follow after his way.

When Jesus woke up early in the morning he mentally prepared for the day ahead. The dust from travel sticking to him as the heat of the day beat down upon him, the feel of the donkey underneath him bumping along as he rides into the city, the sounds of the palm leaves whispering in the wind while the people gather with a hum of excitement to welcome him into Jerusalem.  The sounds of cheering and pure adoration from the crowd of supporters saying “Hosanna!”, “Look at this important man!”, “He must be someone great!”, “Save us now!” Jesus hears the adoration. He hears their hopes, dreams, and longing for salvation from this Roman oppression in their cheers. I imagine Jesus feels frustrated, because he has been telling them all along, “Hey this is who I am—the Son of God; this is what I’ve come to do—bring in the kingdom of God and restore relationship with the Father, and then I’m coming back from the dead fulfilling the hope I came to bring. Everyone got it?

I don’t think they truly got it, though. This crowd knows Jesus as a prophet and as the Son of David.  They appear to support Jesus and be his followers, the ultimate cheerleaders. They cut down their palm branches, their makeshift pom poms, paving the way for a hero.  They were like the Muses in the Disney movie “Hercules” praising Hercules from going from a nobody, a zero, to someone great, a hero. Someone to overthrow the Roman government, a man who will bring change. Eugene Boring tells us that “When the crowds cry ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ and ‘This is the prophet,’ they use the right words, but they still miss the point. They have all of the notes and none of the music.”1 They wanted Jesus to be who they wanted Jesus to be, for Jesus to preach and teach what they wanted to hear, rather than what his true purpose and message was.  Jesus does not come to overthrow the government or become an earthly king. Jesus comes to give of himself for all so that we are in communion with God again.  Jesus sets in motion the actualization of the kingdom of God where there is justice, healing, and peace.

Many of the people in the crowd love Jesus, but so many of them put what they want to get out of Jesus above their faithfulness to him.  The mother prays for Jesus to bring a new rule for her children to grow up under; the farmer looks to Jesus for fair taxes under a new ruler; the rabbi seeks the conquering Messiah that has been promised in the texts he has devoted his whole life to studying. When the purpose of Jesus, the suffering servant, becomes a realization the fathers, sisters, wives and brothers choose to leave behind the knowledge that Jesus was bringing something special. Their knowledge of Jesus in the end failed to turn into action that modeled after Jesus’ teachings. Because Jesus, as victorious governmental game changer, did not actualize as the crowd wants and in the way they dream of they leave behind the experience of Jesus changing their lives and the truth of him they now know.  Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek may have slipped their minds when they shouted “Crucify” at him for not becoming the earthly Savior they desired.

Are we like the crowd and shout “Hosanna!” knowing this man on the donkey brings great things, yet failing to understand his truth and act upon it? Are we like the crowd as they seek Jesus just to glimpse his healing either for entertainment or maybe for some healing for themselves?  Are we the disciples and want to limit those who have access to Jesus, just as when they tried to keep children from bothering him? Are we the one who pulls the sword ready to stand and defend Jesus until the death when, if you have been listening, Jesus calls us to put away weapons and go in peace?

Just as Jesus gives hope to the crowd he also offers hope to his church. When we fail to model our lives, actions, feelings, thoughts, and intentions after Jesus we come up short. When we fail to try to understand other viewpoints than our own and pass judgment we fail to be like Jesus. When we put the name of Jesus on actions and ideas that oppress, discriminate and alienate others we fail to follow the teachings of Jesus.  When we fail to employ and explore peaceful conflict resolution instead of cheap violence we fall short of being like Jesus. When social norms and legalistic ethical systems matter more than loving people then we fail to be like Jesus. The life of a servant of Jesus must be centered around making our lives as close to the way of Jesus as possible.  Knowing the way of Jesus, his teachings, puts us in the right place to start, but staying there brings us short of where we need to be.

When a child learns to ride a bike they cannot simply learn the concept of pedaling, braking, steering, putting the kickstand down, and the ever-tricky bike balance.  The child must experience getting on the bike and going through the actions explained, and exampled by the teacher.  Only once the child can ride the bike successfully on his or her own will they be considered a legitimate bike rider.  The same can be said of being a follower of Jesus.  Jesus teaches us the ways of peace, love, forgiveness and even the sacrifice of loving our enemy.   However until we put into practice turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy times seven, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot truly be called a follower of Jesus. Until we put the way of the Kingdom of God above our own individual rights we are no more than members of the Jesus fan club. Until we treat all humans with dignity, respect and having equal worth we fail to follow in the path of Jesus. We must live the truth of Jesus until the world reflects his love, the world is transformed, our enemies become our brothers and sisters, and peace dwells among all. We must live the truth of Jesus at all times.

  1. M. Eugene Boring, “Matthew” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1995), 404. 

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