Triumphant? Yes, Triumphant! (Matthew 21:1-11)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning to the Gospel of Matthew. We will be taking a break from Genesis for the next two weeks, and on this Palm Sunday morning, we are going to be looking specifically at Matthew 21:1-11 where Matthew describes for us what is known as “The Triumphal Entry of Jesus.” If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on page 826.

As some of you know, we signed James Eli up for T-Ball this year. He turned five in January and we thought it was time to get him into an organized sport of some kind. But, after a few weeks and a couple of games, I must admit that I am not sure whether T-Ball is actually meant to be a sport for the kids, or whether it is meant to be comedy and entertainment for the parents. Even though I insisted that I would not be a coach, I have ended up as one anyway, which truthfully has been fun. As I coach, I get a different perspective on things than I would if I were just sitting in the stands. The truth is, if I were sitting in the stands, I would probably give 90% of my attention to watching my own son, right? That’s just how it works. But, as a coach, there are times where I have actually missed something that he did during the game, and have to get details from Lara and watch a video that she or Mary Tanner made. For example, when he’s batting, while I get to see him hit the ball, I am also responsible for making sure the kid standing next to me on third base knows to run to home plate, so I don’t get to see him run to first base. But, I do get to see the kid on third run home, which is something I would have probably missed if I were sitting in the stands. And so, what this means, is that while we are all watching the same game, every parent and every coach has a slightly different perspective and would probably describe how the game played out in slightly different ways. And that is kind of how it is with the four gospel accounts we have in our Bibles.

You see, in his infinite wisdom, God gave us four separate gospel accounts—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And each of those gospel writers tells the story of Jesus from a slightly different perspective with a slightly different emphasis. But, when taken together and viewed from the unique perspective of each gospel writer, by giving us four separate accounts, God has given us a complete picture of Jesus Christ. Yes, because of the various personalities and different writing styles and emphases of each of these four writers, we have a fuller picture of Jesus than what we would have had if God chose to give us only one gospel account.

Just like in a courtroom where witnesses are called and a more complete picture of what took place at a crime scene develops as you call more witnesses and they report what they saw from their unique perspective, as we read the four gospel accounts, our understanding of the story and life of Jesus is enhanced in some way by the unique perspective of each of the four gospel writers.

Now because each of the gospel writers had their own perspectives and desired to emphasize certain aspects and characteristics of Jesus in their individual gospel accounts, it is rare that a specific story about Jesus will show up in all four gospel accounts. Most of the time you will find a story about Jesus in two or three of the gospels, and sometimes only in a single gospel, but rarely will a story or event be included in all four (only 11 or 12 times). The story in our passage for today, however, about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, is one of those stories included by each of the gospel writers. And its inclusion in all four gospels should signal to us that this was a very special and significant event in Jesus’s life.

But just what was so significant about this event? And what exactly do we mean when we say “Triumphant”? Because if you were present in Jerusalem for the five or six days following this so-called triumphal entry, it probably would have been difficult for you to see how Jesus accomplished anything we would call triumphant. Basically, from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in, it would appear that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and that he made a lot of folks mad, and by doing so he got himself killed… end of story. But we know that is not the end of the story, and that there is a reason we call this “The Triumphal Entry.” And that is what I want to talk about with you today. I want to answer the question: What exactly did Jesus triumph over when he came into Jerusalem?

Lara has a funny story from back when she used to teach Kindergarten in Birmingham. It was Easter Week one year, and the school district she taught in included Good Friday as one the school holidays that year. A day or two before Good Friday, Lara was explaining to the class that they would have a holiday that Friday and would not be in school. Well, one the children asked Lara what the holiday was and she told him it was called Good Friday. Well, the boy continued to press Lara wanting to know what Good Friday was all about and so she told him that Good Friday was a day Christians recognize each year in memory of the day Jesus died on the cross. And at that point the boy looked at Lara shocked and confused and said: “Jesus died?” And after Lara told him that Jesus had indeed died on a cross, he paused for a few seconds and asked: “Well why do they call it Good?”

And I guess that is the same question I am wanting to answer about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. If Jesus’s purpose for coming into Jerusalem was to go to the cross and die, why then do we call his entry into Jerusalem “Triumphant?”

Well, let’s see what the Bible has to say about it. If you haven’t already, please turn with me now to Matthew 21, where we find Matthew’s version of this story in verses 1 to 11. Please follow along as I read.

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “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.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1–11 ESV)

The Triumphal Entry

So, the scene described here is one that is full of excitement and energy. It is the scene of a king riding into town to the praise and rejoicing of his people. It is the scene of a triumphant and victorious king returning from battle. The people are throwing their garments to the ground and waving palm branches while hailing Jesus as the long-awaited heir of their beloved King David. There are high hopes that Jesus is indeed Israel’s promised and much anticipated Messiah.1

And this was Jesus’s intention. It was Jesus’s intention to make this exact sort of announcement about himself as he came into Jerusalem in this special way for this one last time. Up to this point, Jesus had intentionally been a bit secretive in public about who he was and what his intentions were. He indicated on multiple occasions that he was being secretive because his time had not yet arrived (John 2:4; 7:6-8, 30; 8:20; 13:1). But now it has. And Jesus is letting the secret out. By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus intended to boldly and publicly proclaim that the King of Israel, the Jewish Messiah, had finally arrived. And he had arrived in the precise way the Old Testament prophecies had promised that he would. Matthew actually refers to one of these prophecies in verse 5.

Turn with me to Zechariah 9:9. Zechariah is pretty easy to find because it is the next to the last book of the Old Testament. So turn back one book to Malachi and then back one more book to Zechariah. Then look with me at 9:9 where Zechariah is speaking of a day when Israel’s Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a divine rescue mission. (Page 797 in the pew Bibles.)

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. (Zechariah 9:9 ESV)

And so apparently, when the crowd of people see Jesus riding into Jerusalem in this way, they made the connection. They get who Jesus is claiming to be. As one commentator explains, at this point in Jewish history, “Messianic fervor was high.”2 In other words the people of Israel were looking for their Messiah. And so when Jesus comes into Jerusalem in this way, they get it. They understand the announcement he is making. And they are rightly excited.

When the magi or wisemen originally came to Jerusalem after the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us in the second chapter of his gospel (2:3) that King Herod and the rest of the people of Jerusalem were troubled. And now, once again, as King Jesus rides into Jerusalem in Matthew 21, Matthew tells us in verse 10 that “the whole city was stirred up.” Now, the word translated “stirred up” in this verse, is a Greek word from which we get our English word “seismic.”3 And so the picture Matthew is trying to paint for us here is one where the whole city of Jerusalem was shaking with excitement as Jesus arrived in this kinglike way.

And we also see in verses 8 and 9 that the crowds treat Jesus like the King he is claiming to be (see 2 Kings 9:13). Let’s read them again. Matthew tells us that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem:

8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!” (Matthew 21:8-9 ESV)

By shouting these things in verse 9, the crowds are making clear that they understand what Jesus is claiming here. The crowd acknowledges that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem as a king. And not just any king, but a king in the line of David, the long-awaited Messianic King of Israel who has come to rescue his people.

The word “Hosanna” was originally a Hebrew expression that meant something along the lines of “Save us now.”4 It was a cry for help and deliverance. And this is what the people were shouting and hoping for—a Messianic King who has come to save them. And they have laid out the “red carpet” so to speak, by spreading their garments and palm branches on the road, welcoming this great Davidic King who has come to save them.

Saved From What?

But save them from what? Unfortunately, this is where in their fervor and excitement, the crowds got it all wrong. You see, what the crowds were celebrating and hoping for on this day, was the arrival of a political figure who was coming to reestablish David’s kingdom by military force. And, so the problem for Jesus, is that his interest was not in the political realm, and he was certainly not interested in military force. Jesus has come to Jerusalem in a humble and peaceful way, not as a military leader on the back of a warhorse, but as a humble servant-leader on the on the back of a donkey. One commentator explains that Jesus is the “Messiah indeed, but a Messiah whose triumphal route leads to suffering and humiliation, not to a show of force.”5 In other words, Jesus has come to Jerusalem to die.

And so obviously, this is not what the crowds were looking for. Jesus did not turn out to be who the crowds wanted. They were looking for freedom from Rome. They were looking for a king who would reestablish God’s true kingdom right here and right now and who would send the Romans forces away in the process. And so, once the adoring crowds begin to figure out that Jesus is not what they were hoping for and expecting, their excitement about him wanes. And in just a few short days, the cries of “Hosanna!” are turned into cries of “Crucify him!”

You see, by riding into Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was forcing the Jewish religious leaders to make a decision. They must either acknowledge that he is their Messiah or they must kill him before he brings down their whole religious system. And ultimately, what they decided was that Jesus was a provocative, blasphemer claiming to be God, and so he must be killed. But, their problem was that they were living under Roman rule, and Rome was a civilized society where you couldn’t just kill someone because you didn’t like what they were claiming about themselves. And, Rome certainly would not have been concerned about these Jewish religious issues. And, they certainly wouldn’t have executed Jesus for what he was claiming about himself.

And so, the Jewish leaders had to come up with some other charge against Jesus—one that Rome would not tolerate. So they decided that if Jesus was going to boldly and publicly make this claim to be the King of the Jews, that this was the evidence they would use against him in the Roman court led by Pontius Pilate. Yes, they would charge Jesus with being a political revolutionary who was a danger to the Roman empire. They would charge him with rebellion against Caesar. And that is why, even though Pilate did not see Jesus as a real threat to Rome, he had soldiers nail a sign on the cross above the head of Jesus which read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). In other words, this man is on this cross because he is challenging the authority of Caesar.6

And so just a few days after triumphantly riding into Jerusalem as its king, Jesus finds himself on a Roman cross slowly dying a shameful death reserved for the worst sort of criminals. And again we might ask: “What is so triumphant about that? How can we call it a triumphant entry if Jesus was killed just a few days later. What did he really accomplish in all of this?”

Well to answer that question, we need to consider the rest of the story. Or the story behind the story. It is the greatest story that has ever been told. It is a story written by God before the foundation of the world. It was his plan from all of eternity past to redeem his people and exalt his Son to the highest throne of honor and glory, and the way he would do this was by sending his Son to die on a Roman cross.

Triumph Over Satan

And the first part of this story behind the story is that by riding into Jerusalem with his face set toward the cross where he would ultimately die, Jesus triumphantly defeated Satan and his demonic forces of evil.

Now, it only make sense to think that Satan must have surely been gloating as he saw Jesus being flogged and led to the cross to die. Surely he thought he had won. In Satan’s mind God’s plan had been foiled. Jesus was hanging there dying on that cross, and so God had accomplished nothing by coming to earth and putting on human flesh. That is certainly what Satan must have thought. But little did Satan know this was all a part of God’s plan to crush his nasty, serpent head. Little did Satan know that God was turning Satan’s plan back on his own head and Satan was falling into his own trap.

In Genesis 3:15, right after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, we have God’s first promise of redemption. Speaking to Satan God says:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

Yes, Jesus was bruised on that cross. But Satan’s head was crushed. The cross came down on the head of Satan like a shovel on the head of a snake. As we read in Colossians 2:15, on the cross:

[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ]. (Colossians 2:15 ESV)

Regarding this verse, the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon once said, “It tells us that the cross was Jesus Christ’s field of triumph. There he fought, and there he conquered, too. As a victor on the cross he divided the spoil.”

And that is true. By triumphantly riding into Jerusalem and willingly heading toward the cross, Jesus decisively defeated Satan and his demonic forces and removed them of their ability to accuse Christians before God.7 The cross was Satan’s plan to destroy God’s plan of salvation, but little did Satan know that the cross was God’s plan to destroy Satan and his demonic forces of evil. And so as Christians, we “have the certainty of victory over Satan.”8 In Christ we are more than conquerors. Satan’s evil schemes against us can never prevail because, in Christ, God has defeated Satan and ruined his plans to destroy us. On the cross, contrary to what it seemed, Christ was not defeated, but he was triumphant and victorious over Satan and his evil schemes.

Triumph Over Sin

But the triumph of Jesus on the cross does not stop there. On the cross Jesus also triumphed over sin. In 1 Peter 3:18 we read:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18 ESV)

Yes, the righteous dying for the unrighteous is how Christ triumphed over sin. Christ suffered for sins. He died for our sins—The Great Exchange. Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that:

For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

Through his triumphant victory over sin on the cross, Jesus has brought us to God. Jesus has taken away our sin and clothed us with a righteousness that is not our own. He has clothed us with his righteousness.

If Jesus had submitted himself to the desire of the crowds on the day he entered Jerusalem, by immediately establishing his kingdom on earth… ultimately there would have been a kingdom in the age to come with no people in it. In other words, the cross was necessary. Jesus had to endure what was about to come in order for sinful people to be delivered from their sin into God’s eternal kingdom. What the crowds wanted, and what his disciples even wanted, while it would have given them temporary happiness, ultimately would have doomed them to an eternity outside of the kingdom for which they were so desperately longing. In other words, the cross was necessary, friends. Because on the cross Jesus triumphed over the sin that had separated all of humankind from God.

Triumph Over The Old Testament Sacrificial System

And by triumphing over sin, Jesus also triumphed over the Old Testament system of perpetual sacrifices. Again, 1 Peter 3:18 tells us that Christ “suffered once for sins.” And Hebrews 9:12 expands on this. Turn with me to Hebrews 9 (page 1006 in the pew Bibles). In Hebrews 9:12, we see that unlike the Old Testament priests who had to make sacrifices on behalf of God’s people year after year,

[Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 ESV)

The fact is, if you will look further on with me to Hebrews 10:4, we see that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). And so, we see in Hebrews 10:9 that those sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament system have been abolished and done away with because of Jesus’s once and for all sacrifice on the cross. Hebrews 10:10 tells us that we have been sanctified (made holy) “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

So again, Jesus triumphed over this Old Testament system of sacrifices—a system that was but a shadow of the once and for all sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross. Yes, the Old Testament sacrificial system was only a foreshadowing of the once and for all sacrifice that was to come (Hebrews 10:1). It was a system that required sacrifices again and again and again because they could never truly take away sin. So Christ abolished the old to establish the new. And under the new covenant, we have been perfected by a single sacrifice, the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Yes, he triumphed over the old by establishing a new and better covenant through his death on the cross. And without the cross, we are still dead in our sins.

Conclusion

So the story behind the story is that by riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as its long-awaited King, and willingly placing himself on the cross, Jesus triumphed over Satan and his demonic forces, he triumphed over the sin in our lives that was separating us from God, and he also triumphed over the Old Testament sacrificial system that could never take away the sins of those under it. But that is not all of the story. There is more. In addition to all of these things, through his resurrection from the dead, Jesus triumphed over death.

When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” that was not a cry of defeat, it was a cry of victory. Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to win a victory and establish himself as king. But, he was coming not to win a political or military victory, he was coming to defeat Satan, he was coming to defeat sin. His kingdom would not be established immediately, but would be thousands of years in the making. Thousands of years of gospel preaching and disciple making. Thousands of years of filling his kingdom with worshippers.

And when he uttered those words, “it is finished,” Jesus knew that what he had come to do, had been done. He was triumphant. Satan had been defeated, sin had been defeated, and he also knew that in three days, by his resurrection from the dead, death would be defeated as well. And his triumph over death is the hope of Easter. We do not celebrate on Easter because Jesus died… we celebrate on Easter because he is risen. His death on the cross, as much as it accomplished, was not the end of the story. The greatest triumph of Jesus was yet to come, and we will celebrate it together next Sunday.

So, I hope that you will make plans to join us next Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of our triumphant and victorious and risen King. The Good News of Easter, friends, is that Jesus conquered death not only for himself, but for everyone who would ever place their hope and trust in him to do the same for them. Yes, because of Jesus, we too can be triumphant over the last great enemy. Because of Jesus, we too can face death knowing that one day, like Jesus, we will also rise again. That is the hope we have as Christians, and that is what Christians around the world will celebrate next Sunday. In our day to day lives, it may seem like there is a whole lot of defeat. But, as Christians we know that the victory is ours, that Jesus won it for us on the cross. That is what we will be celebrating next Sunday.

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  1. Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p. ↩︎
  2. D.A. Carson, Matthew: Chapters 13-28, EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 439. ↩︎
  3. R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 303. ↩︎
  4. France, 780. ↩︎
  5. France, 302. ↩︎
  6. For more on this topic see: John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 51. ↩︎
  7. Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p. ↩︎
  8. Bryan Chapell, eds. Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), n.p. ↩︎