Flashback – What Happened?

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Matthew 21:1-11 (Palm Sunday)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Lead Me to the Cross.” The past five weeks we have been following Jesus’ last days to the cross. We have looked at his anointing for burial, his last supper with the disciples, his prayer for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane, his unjust trial before Caiaphas, and then finally last week we looked at his sufferings on the cross. These have been weighty passages of Scripture, tinged with tragedy, soaked with sadness.

But today we jump back to the Sunday before Jesus went to the cross. You’ve heard of throwback Thursday or flashback Friday. Well, today we flashback to Palm Sunday, and the contrast is striking. Instead of grief and sadness, there is excitement in the air! The mood is festive, joyful, and celebratory! And it makes you wonder? What happened? What happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday to bring about such a change of events?

As we shall see from today’s passage, a lot of it had to do with expectations. Jesus had one plan for what he would do when he got to Jerusalem, but the crowds had a very different plan. And anytime your plan is different from God’s plan, you will find yourself asking the same question: What happened? (Read Matthew 21:1-11 and pray.)

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So what are your plans in life? What do you plan to do? What do you hope to accomplish? Have you talked to God about it? Someone once said, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans!”

I don’t know what your plans are, but I do know that God has a plan for your life. And I know that if you follow God’s plan, your life will be so much better. God says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) God’s plan might not always make sense to you when it is happening, but his plan is always best. His plan is always right. And his plan usually looks quite different from your plan.

God’s plan and the people’s plan were different that first Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. And that is why when we flashback to Palm Sunday from the cross, we find ourselves asking, “What happened? What happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday?”

I. God’s plan (1-5)

Let’s take a look at God’s plan first. Jesus was following God’s plan for this day, and God’s plan was for Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a king, but not the kind of king the people were expecting.

   A. Jesus enters Jerusalem in gentleness and peace (1-3)

And so on Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem in gentleness and peace. Look at verses 1-3 with me:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, 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.” (Matthew 21:1-3)

When it comes to God’s plan for Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, let me give you a hint. It’s all about the donkey. It’s true! When they got close to Jerusalem, what does Jesus do? He sends two of his disciples ahead of him to get a donkey.

Now whether Jesus just knew supernaturally that this donkey would be there or whether he had prearranged with the owners, it doesn’t matter. The donkey is essential to God’s plan here, so Jesus sends the disciples off to get it. He tells them, “You will find a mother donkey together with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me.” He even tells them what to say if someone ties to stop them. “The Lord needs them.” Jesus needed the donkey and her colt. The donkey was a necessary part of God’s plan.

Now you might be wondering at this point, what’s so important about a donkey? Well, notice where Jesus is standing when he sends the disciples off to get the donkey. They are at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Bethphage is close to Bethany where Jesus worked his greatest miracle yet, the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. This miracle had many people wondering if Jesus was indeed the Messiah. And the Mount of Olives is an important geographical marker when it comes to Messianic prophecy. In the Old Testament one of the identifiers of the Messiah is that he comes from the Mount of Olives.

Up to this point Jesus has been hiding the fact that he is the Messiah from the people, but now he will make his identity known. He is the Messiah who has come giving sight to the blind and raising the dead. Jesus is the king who has come to his people, but he is not the kind of king the people are expecting. They are expecting a conquering king who will deliver them from the Roman Empire.

So what does the donkey have to do with it? When a king rode into a city on a donkey, that was a symbol of gentleness and peace. When Solomon became king, he rode a mule to his anointing. (1 Kings 1:38-40) A conquering king would ride into the city on a war horse, but a king who came in peace rode a donkey. Jesus presents himself to the people as Messiah, but a different type of Messiah than what the people were expecting. He has not come to make war but to make peace. And so he chooses the donkey.

   B. Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy (4-5)

Jesus also chose the donkey to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Look at verses 4-5:

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “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.’ ” (Matthew 21:4-5)

This prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 foretold that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem gentle and riding on a donkey. This is remarkable! God’s plan for the donkey stretched all the way back to the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Of course it goes back even further than that. There are images of the donkey in Messianic prophecies even back in the book of Genesis. (Genesis 49:10-11) God’s plan was to use the donkey all along. Like I said earlier, when it comes to God’s plan for Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it’s all about the donkey.

II. The people’s plan (6-9)

Well, that was God’s plan. How about the people’s plan?

   A. The people welcome Jesus as their King (6-8)

Well first of all, the people welcome Jesus as their king. Look at verses 6-8:

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:6-8)

The disciples do exactly as Jesus instructed. They get the donkey and the colt, they place their cloaks on the animals, and Jesus rides the colt, the young donkey that had never been ridden before, in fulfillment of the Zechariah prophecy. The disciples knew what they were doing when they put Jesus on the donkey at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives entering Jerusalem. They were presenting Jesus as a king, and the crowd welcomed Jesus as a king.

First, they created a royal carpet of sorts by spreading their cloaks on the road before him. This custom went back to Old Testament times where the people would spread their cloaks on the ground before the approaching king. We read about it in 2 Kings 9:13: “They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13) Spreading your cloak on the ground before the king was a sign of submission to his authority, so when the people spread their cloaks on the ground before Jesus, they were welcoming him into Jerusalem as their king.

Others cut palm branches and spread them on the road. Palm branches were a sign of military victory, and so we begin to understand what kind of king the people expected in Jesus. If Palm Sunday was all about the donkey for Jesus, for the people it was all about the palms. Once again, they were looking for a military king who would deliver them from the power of Rome.

   B. The people proclaim Jesus as Messiah (9)

The people not only welcome Jesus as their king. They proclaim Jesus as Messiah. Look at verse 9:

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)

The crowd gets bigger as they approach Jerusalem, and now there are crowds of people ahead of Jesus as well as crowds of people following, and they are all shouting: “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna was a cry of salvation. It literally means, “Save us!” So the people were crying out, “Hosanna! Save us, Son of David!”

“Son of David” was a messianic title. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of David. The Messiah would be a King who would take the throne of his father David and reign forever. So when the people cried out, “Save us, Son of David,” they were proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” was a common greeting to pilgrims attending the feast at Jerusalem. But here the greeting took on additional overtones as the people recognized Jesus as the Messiah who came in the name of the Lord. (see Psalm 118:19-27) “Hosanna in the highest” took this even further. When Jesus was born, the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest!” – that is, all the way up to heaven where God dwells. “Hosanna in the highest” indicated that the people believed that Jesus had come from God. God had sent them the promised Messiah, and the people received Jesus as such.

   C. The people identify Jesus as the Prophet (10-11)

The people welcome Jesus as their King. They proclaim him as Messiah. And thirdly they identify him as the Prophet. Look at verses 10-11:

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred. This is not the first time the city of Jerusalem has been stirred by the arrival of Jesus. It also happened at his birth. Matthew tells us how Magi from the east came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:2-3)

Well now the whole city is stirred again. They see Jesus riding into the city on the donkey with the people laying their cloaks on the road and waving the palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and they ask, “Who is this?”

And the crowds answer: “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.” Moses told the people of Israel in the Old Testament, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15) Jesus was the prophet like Moses in fulfillment of this prophecy. And so when the people of Jerusalem ask, “Who is this?” the crowds answer, “This is Jesus the prophet.”

III. What happened?

On Palm Sunday the people welcomed Jesus as King, they proclaimed him as Messiah, and they identified him as the prophet. And on Good Friday they crucified him. So what happened? God’s plan was different than the people’s plan.

The people wanted a political Savior who would come into Jerusalem and set them free from the power of Rome. God’s plan was to send a spiritual Savior who would come into Jerusalem and set them free from the power of sin.

Remember God’s plan on Palm Sunday was all about the donkey. Jesus came to Jerusalem not in war but in peace. Somehow the people missed that part. Even the disciples didn’t put these things together until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We are all familiar with John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But John 3:17 is a really good verse, too. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) Jesus entered Jerusalem in gentleness and peace. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Even on Palm Sunday Jesus’ life and actions said to the Father: “Lead me to the cross.”

CONCLUSION: So back to our original question, do you have any plans? God has a plan. He had a plan for Jesus, and he has a plan for you. His plan is probably different than your plan, but I can guarantee you this. His plan is better than your plan.

The people’s plan for Jesus was to crown him as king right then and there. God’s plan was for Jesus to go to the cross. If Jesus had followed the people’s plan, he would never have gone to the cross, and you and I could never be saved.

God’s plan is different than your plan. It may not make sense to you at first. At certain points in your life you may even look back and ask, “What happened?” But you need to trust God and follow it through. He has a lot of experience with this.

God is all-knowing, all-loving and all-wise. God’s plan is better than your plan. Will you trust and follow him today?

© Ray Fowler

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