A Sermon on Matthew 21:1-11, prepared by Joe on April 5, 2020
One thing I like about studying a passage more than once is that I get to zero in on the parts I didn’t understand the first time around. So, this last week I began to study Zechariah and figure out why that quote about Jesus coming on a donkey is so important. This quote was obviously important to Jesus. Look how much trouble he went to get a donkey so that he would remind people of the King in the Zechariah passage. Not only did Jesus go to a lot of trouble to get that donkey, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus went to a lot of trouble to get this donkey. I’m sure Jesus made arrangements for stuff we never hear about. But here Matthew slows the action right down, and tells us step by step how Jesus got ahold of this donkey. It's as though Matthew is saying, “pay attention to this. This was really important to Jesus.” I’ve always thought that the main point of the donkey was to show what kind of king Jesus is — a peaceful king, humble king. That’s true, but I believe Jesus is telling is something quite a bit more. Jesus had read and thought quite deeply about what the prophet Zechariah had written down. When Jesus gets on the donkey, he doesn’t want us to only look at that specific passage in Zechariah 9 which says, “here comes your King, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding one a donkey.” He doesn’t want us to simply think, “Oh, Jesus was humble and move on.” Jesus gets on the donkey because he wants us to know that he is the king Zechariah has been talking about. Zechariah doesn’t only talk about that king in this passage. This king keeps reappearing throughout the rest of the prophetic book. Jesus is saying, “I am that king.” This King had the unique sending a massive signal alerting us that everything that happens over the next week need to be understood in light of the last five chapters of Zechariah. In chapters 9-14, Zechariah is mysteriously telling us how the Kingdom shall come about through God’s anointed King. When he gets on that Donkey, Jesus is saying, “Watch carefully. This is what Zechariah said would happen.
Matthew tells us that Jesus gets on that donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah’s words “Look now! Here comes your king; He’s humble, mounted on a donkey, Yes, on a foal its young.” Yet when Jesus jumps on that donkey, he is not only fulfilling those specific words in Zechariah 9. In getting on the donkey, Jesus says, “Look, I am the King that Zechariah looked forward to meeting”. And if you went home ad read the rest of Matthew Gospel, if you read everything Matthew tells us that Jesus said and did the last week of His life, and you read that alongside the last 6 chapters of Zechariah, you would see that Jesus really is the King that God told Zechariah was coming. And Jesus wants us to know who he is. So, Jesus begins by climbing onto that donkey and riding into Jerusalem. But let me tell you a few stories from Zechariah about who this King is. Zechariah tells us that this King is also a shepherd. Being a shepherd is difficult in the best of times, but this Shepherd King will have the added misfortune of being rejected by His flock. That alone should cause you to sit up and pay attention. The flock (representing Israel) rejects the Shepherd that God’s anointed to lead them. Because the flock will no longer follow the Shepherd, the merchants pay the Shepherd King his wages for his work. But the merchants thought they’d play a joke on the Shepherd King — they only pay him thirty pieces of silver — the price of a slave. But the Lord was with the Shepherd King, and the God tells the Shepherd King to throw the coins onto the temple floor, toss them to the potter in the temple. If you have this story in mind while reading the Gospels, you might be surprised that Judas betrayed edJesus for thirty silver coins — the price of the slave. Jesus took that money and also threw the money into the temple. Those priests took the money and bought the Potters field. In climbing on that donkey, riding to Jerusalem, Jesus knew from Zechariah what was coming. He knew he was to be rejected by the people and betrayed for the price of a slave.
Keep reading what Zechariah wrote alongside what Matthew wrote. You’ll be surprised again when you get to Zechariah 12. Once again you meet this rejected Shepherd King. Listen, God says ““Then I will pour out a spirit of compassion and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died”. The one that they pierced. They will look on the one that they pierced. In climbing on that donkey, riding to Jerusalem, Jesus knew from Zechariah what was coming. He knew He was about to be pierced by his flock. Yet this Zechariah passage is even more mysterious. In it God says, “they will look on me whom they have pierced”. This rejected shepherd isn’t only their King, but God himself.
Zechariah tells us more stories about this Shepherd King, or maybe I should say God tells us more stories. In Zechariah 13, God speaks, saying “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me! Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Again a mysterious twist is happening. A paradox. God describes the shepherd as His man, His shepherd. Yet this shepherd is to be struck down, by the very sword of God himself. And in that moment, the sheep will scatter. The Shepherd shall find himself totally abandoned, by God and people. So, right before His arrest, He says to His disciples, “you are all going to stumble and fall tonight because of me. This is what the Bible says, you see: “I shall strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” And the disciples are scattered, three times Peter denies that he even knew Jesus. Yet, that is not where the true desolation comes from. The true desolation comes from his experience of rejection not only from his people, but from God. And so Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In climbing on that donkey, riding to Jerusalem, Jesus knew from Zechariah what was coming.
So, why on earth would Jesus climb on that donkey and head for Jerusalem. If you knew that’s what awaited you, would you take his place? Knowing what’s ahead, why does he ride on? He gives us His clearest answer at that first Lord’s Supper. Jesus takes the cup and after giving thanks, He gave it to them. “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In climbing on that donkey, Jesus knew from Zechariah why he needed to Go. In Zechariah 9, God says, As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope.” Jesus had thought deeply on Zechariah before climbing on that donkey. Jesus knew His blood was the blood of the Covenant. Jesus knew that it was His blood that would bring prisoners freedom. Jesus knew His blood would transform us from prisoners to prisoners of hope, soon to be set free.
When Jesus climbs on that donkey He’s not just simply trying to make a statement about political power, saying I’m not like those kings who ride war horses. Jesus climbs onto that donkey to let us know that He is the Shepherd King Zechariah foretold. Jesus climbs onto that donkey to say pay attention — we are about to see our Shepherd King rejected, betrayed, and pierced for our sins. While on the donkey, Jesus is saying “This is who I am and this is what I must do.” That’s why Jesus went to so much trouble to secure that donkey.
When you first read everything that happened right before He died, it seems that Jesus had very little control over what happened. Yet Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen, and he road into that hell with his eyes fully opened. Jesus’ triumphal entry on that donkey was meant to proclaim, “I know what’s coming, and you are worth it, you prisoners of hope.”
The book of Zechariah does not end with rejection, betrayal, blood and sacrifice. After the King is stuck down, the prophecy closes with these words, “The lord my God will come” and the LORD will become King over all the earth.” The chapter says that the special place of God will no longer be in the most sacred part of the temple, the Holy of Holies. So, Zechariah looks forward to the day when the Spirit will break through the temple walls and spread through the entire earth. Jesus, in his last act on earth, inaugurates this hope. “And when Jesus cried out in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.
In climbing on that donkey, Jesus did so with a purpose. He had studied deeply the words in Zechariah, and He knew what he must do. To those without the eyes of faith, they saw the triumphal entry degenerate into a humiliating, disgraceful, God-foresaken, meaningless death. At the moment when Jesus looked most out of control, most vulnerable, most desolate, wracked with pain — that was the moment he was fulfilling his dread purpose. It happened precisely he knew that it would happen. It happened precisely as he intended it would happen. And it happened precisely as he knew it must happen. In climbing on that donkey, riding to Jerusalem, Jesus knew what was coming. We don’t know what is coming over the next days, weeks, months or years. When the chaos of life unfolds, will you continue to follow Jesus with faith, the Faith Jesus had as he climbed upon that donkey? The faith that even though you are currently called to journey through the valley of death, your Shepherd King will lead you through to there other side, into His Kingdom of peace.