The Coming King | Matthew 21:1-17
Brian Hedges | March 28, 2021
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to the Gospel According to St. Matthew, Matthew 21. Today, as you know, is the beginning of Holy Week; this is Palm Sunday. This week we celebrate and remember together the final week of the Lord Jesus Christ. Palm Sunday is the Sunday where we remember the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem, and then of course we will gather again on Good Friday as we think about the cross and the resurrection of Christ, and then next Sunday, my favorite Sunday of the year, Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
What we’re going to do over these next three weeks is just a short little series in Matthew’s Gospel called Christ the King. If you know the Gospel of Matthew, you know that Matthew is really concerned about the kingdom of heaven. There’s a lot about the kingdom in the Gospel of Matthew, and he really begins by showing us the birth of Jesus as the King, and throughout the Gospel he is concerned to show us how Christ is fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures and the types and patterns of the Old Testament, and that Jesus really is the true King of Israel, he is the King of the Jews, and indeed, he is the King of the world.
In this series we’re going to look at Christ the coming King (today), Christ the crucified King (on Friday), and then Christ the risen King (on Easter Sunday). This morning we’re in Matthew 21, and what I want to do is read verses 1-17. Here’s the context. This is the third and final year of Jesus’s three-year ministry. This is his final trip into Jerusalem, the final time that he comes to Jerusalem, and in many ways it is the climax of his ministry. It is just at this point in his ministry that Jesus is really getting public acclaim as the Messiah, as the Son of David. In fact, in Matthew 20 he has just healed two blind men in Jericho who have called him the Son of David.
Up until this point in his ministry, Jesus has pretty much been hushing that. When people recognized him as the Messiah, he essentially said, “Don’t tell anybody who I am; don’t tell anybody that I’m the Christ.” But now something changes, there’s a shift in Jesus’s strategy, and as he rides into Jerusalem he rides in as the King. What Jesus does when he comes into Jerusalem tells us a lot about his kingship, and I think what we’re going to discover this morning in this passage is that he’s a very different kind of King. He’s a King who surprises us in all kinds of ways and really breaks all of the categories that we have for thinking about kingship.
I’m going to read Matthew 21:1-17, and then we’re going to look at three things about the kingship of Jesus. Let’s read the text, Matthew 21:1-17.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
‘Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.”’
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
‘“Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise”?’
“And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.”
This is God’s word.
Three things I want you to see about Jesus the King: the uniqueness of the king, the agenda of the king, and the followers of the king. The uniqueness of the King has to do with Jesus’ character, the agenda of the King has to do with his mission, and the followers of the King has to do with his people, the citizens of his kingdom.
1. The Uniqueness of the King
This is really all of verses 1-11. This is Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem, and what we see here are certain things about Jesus’ character. In fact, you see a number of things coming together and combining, coalescing in Jesus that make him utterly unique. He completely shatters all of our categories for thinning about kings and kingdoms and authority.
This is important, because most of the time when we think about kings, we don’t have a particularly positive outlook on kings. After all, we live in a nation that was born in rebellion to a king, right? We don’t think of kings in a positive light, and increasingly in our culture we are antiauthoritarian, anti-authority. That’s because we have seen authority abused in so many ways, haven’t we? We’ve seen authority abused in the government, we’ve seen it abused in the church, we’ve seen it abused on college campuses, in the workplaces, and in the home. In every dimension where there is human authority in human society, we’ve seen the misuse, the distortion, and the abuse of it; so we’re suspicious of authority, we’re suspicious of kings and kingship.
But what we see in Jesus is a completely different kind of king. He is utterly unique. Notice several things here.
(1) First of all, he acts with intentionality. You see that in those first several verses, as he is giving very detailed instructions and plans, directions, to his disciples in verses 1-3. There’s real intentionality here.
In fact, this is one of the distinguishing features of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as opposed to John, as D.A. Carson points out in his commentary. It’s that Jesus arranged for the ride on the colt. He says, “The ride on the colt, because it was planned, could only be an acted parable, a deliberate act of self-disclosure for those with eyes to see.” In other words, Jesus is very intentional, and he’s setting the stage here to do something that is deeply symbolic.
What is he doing as he arranges for this colt and then rides into Jerusalem? Well, first of all, he’s fulfilling prophecy. You see that in verses 4-5, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [the prophet here is Zechariah, Zechariah 9:9], saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey…”’” Jesus obviously knows this passage, and he is fulfilling the symbolism here as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.
In fact, when you read this passage, there are multiple Old Testament quotations and illusions, and this is true throughout the Gospel of Matthew. Over and over again, Matthew is concerned to show us that Jesus is the King who comes to fulfill what was said in the Scriptures. He comes to fulfill all of the typology of kingship that we have in the Old Testament to show that he is the true King. As Spurgeon one time said, “Our prince treads along a path paved with prophecies.” There’s prophecy all along the way.
He’s also claiming here to claim kingship. As I mentioned before, up until this point we’ve had the messianic secret; Jesus has basically said to those who recognized him as the Christ, “Don’t tell anybody! Let’s keep it a secret. The time hasn’t come.”
But now the time has come, and Jesus is ready to claim kingship, and he does that by riding into Jerusalem and by receiving all of the acclamation. Here is the Son of David, here is the Messiah, here is the Christ.
Then, as we’re going to see, his actions here also I think set off the chain of events that lead directly to the cross. Jesus himself is the catalyst to that chain of events. He knows exactly what he’s doing every step of the way, and what he does is calculated to do exactly what must be done in Jerusalem to lead things up to this final head of confrontation, which will end in his crucifixion. He acts with intentionality.
(2) Secondly, he claims authority. I basically already said it. He claims kingship. He claims the authority of a king by riding into Jerusalem, and the people obviously recognize this. They recognize it as they are quoting from Psalm 118:9-10, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
When he enters into the city, what are they doing? They are throwing their cloaks and they’re throwing branches into the road. Now, that was also a symbolic act. The background for that is 200 years prior, in the Maccabean revolt, when Judas and Simon Maccabeus, these brothers, expelled the Syrians from Jerusalem. When they did, they came with palm branches. That was one of the symbols of their retaking Jerusalem.
Well, the people understood this. So their expectations here are that Jesus is coming as a military conqueror. Here is a great captain. Here’s someone who’s going to gather an army and he’s going to push the Roman boot off of the Jewish neck. That’s what they’re expecting. They are looking for a messiah, a king, who they have conceived of in worldly terms, a king who will win victory by the point of the sword and the spear. And Jesus is going to completely confound their expectations.
(3) He claims authority, but he uses his authority with humility. He displays humility in everything he does. We see this especially in the fact that he comes riding on the colt of a donkey. “Behold, your king is coming to you,” verse 5, “humble, and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
Think about this for a minute. Have you ever seen some great epic film, some great epic movie, where the leader of the army is riding on a donkey into battle? It’s comical. No! Kings ride into battle on stallions, on a white charger! They come in a chariot, right? They come with all the force and the power of this great majestic horse! That’s not what Jesus does. He comes on the foal of a donkey.
Why is he doing that? One of the commentaries (Stanley Hauerwas) says this. He says it’s a parody. He says it parodies the entry of kings and armies. He says, “Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities riding on asses, but on fearsome horses. This king does not and will not triumph through force of arms.”
When you think about this in contrast to the custom in ancient Rome, it’s especially stark, because Roman emperors and generals, when they had won conquests over the nations and they would come back into Rome, there would be a parade with the booty and the spoils of war, with all these chariots, with all these soldiers, the armies; there would be flags, there would be incense burned before them—I mean, it was absolute pageantry. That’s the picture that people were used to. That’s how a conqueror would ride into the capital city, and that’s not what Jesus does. He comes humbly; he comes gently; he comes mounted on the colt of a donkey.
He comes with humility, and this is going to be really important for understanding Jesus’ way of being King. He is not a tyrant king, he is not a violent king; he is the servant King.
(4) Because Jesus comes with his humility, it brings perplexity, because people are puzzled. “Who is this?” they say in verse 10. “Who is this man who has come?” They’re confounded by Jesus and by his actions. He is unique, one-of-a-kind, utterly distinct from any other kingly figure, and he breaks the categories that people have for kingship.
Now, we have to apply this ourselves. When we think about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the King, what does that mean for us? I think we just need to ask ourselves a couple of questions.
Ask yourself this question: Are you following the real Jesus, the Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture? This passage confronts us with a Jesus who breaks all of our categories for thinking about power and authority. Here’s someone who is a king and a servant; he has sovereignty but also humility; he has authority but also gentleness. Here’s someone who is truly God and truly man. As we sang this morning, he is the Lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but he’s also the Lamb who was slain.
You have to take Jesus in all of that. You have to take Jesus with both dimensions of this character. This is who he is, and you can’t take Jesus as he really is—you can’t take the real Jesus unless you take the whole Jesus.
Listen, if I were to come to your house, knock on the door, and you were to invite me in, and you said, “Listen, Brian can come in but Hedges has to stay out,” that’s not going to work, because that’s who I am. I am Brian Hedges. In the same way, you can’t say, “I want Jesus to come in, but keep the kingship out, keep the Christ out. I want a savior, but I don’t want his lordship.” You can’t do that with Jesus. You can’t divide him in half, you can’t take him in pieces, you can’t take him in slices. You take the whole Jesus or you don’t get Jesus at all.
For some cultures, what that means is they have to really reckon with the lowly, gentle, humble Jesus. They’re ready to embrace a conquering king, but not a king who dies on a cross. For other cultures, and maybe this is more true in our culture, we love the Jesus who gives himself for the life of the world, but sometimes we struggle with the Jesus who demands absolute allegiance and obedience to his teaching. Jesus says that he is Lord, and, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ if you don’t do the things that I say?” We can’t take Jesus as Savior without also bending the knee and saying, “Yes, you are my Lord.” Do you follow the real Jesus?
The second question is this: Are you following this Jesus? Following Jesus means imitating him. The servant’s not above his master. We are called to be like Christ.
In fact, just the chapter before, in Matthew 20, Jesus teaches his disciples directly about how they are to think about greatness. The context here in Matthew 20 is the disciples are arguing who’s going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; you know, who’s going to sit on the right, who’s going to sit on the left. Listen to what Jesus says to them in Matthew 20:25 and following.
“Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Are you following this Jesus? Are you embracing servanthood as the way of being a Christian? Are you quick to serve or resistant to serve because you don’t like people encroaching on your time, on your energy, on your prerogatives, choosing how you want to spend your life? When you think about your influence, if you are a figure who has authority—this could be an employer, this could be a teacher, this could be a husband, a father, a parent, anybody who has any kind of authoritative influence in their sphere of influence—how do you use that authority? Are you approachable? Are you easy to entreat? Do you lord it over others, or are you the servant? Are you leading by example? Are you leading with gentleness, with kindness, with humility? Jesus is the kind of authority figure that children were so comfortable with him that they ran and jumped into his lap. Are we like that?
He is a unique kind of king, and when we embrace his kingship it should completely change the way we wear and use our authority or influence, it should make us humble and gentle like him.
2. The Agenda of the King
Okay, the uniqueness of the king, and then number two, the agenda of the king, or his mission. What’s his mission?
You know when a new President is elected there’s always talk now about the first 100 days. What are the first 100 days going to be? Those first 100 days when a new President is in office shows you something about his agenda, about his policy, what are the changes he’s going to bring; it’s been this way ever since FDR and his first 100 days, when he started all kinds of new policies to deal with the Great Depression.
Well, here’s Jesus, and he’s publicly recognized as the king, and what’s the first thing he does? The first thing Jesus does as he’s recognized as a king, as he’s riding into his city, into Jerusalem, the first thing he does I think tells us something about his agenda. What does it tell us? What does he do?
Here’s what he does. He comes to the temple and he does two things: He cleans it out and he heals the lame and the blind. Or we might say he comes with judgment and with salvation. That’s the agenda. That is the agenda, the mission of King Jesus. It’s judgment and salvation.
(1) First of all, judgment; he cleanses the temple. Look at verses 12-13. “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple. And he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’”
Once again, this is a symbolic act, and it’s unmistakable what he’s doing. Jesus comes in and he starts rearranging the furniture in the temple. Now listen, if you came to my house and started rearranging the furniture, I would say, “Wait, wait, wait a minute! There are only two people that can rearrange the furniture in this house, and that’s me and Holly.” And Holly might say there’s only one person that can rearrange.
Seriously, you can’t rearrange the furniture unless it’s your house, right? And Jesus comes in and he says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” and he starts throwing the moneychangers out.
What is he doing? He is claiming lordship, he is claiming kingship, he is claiming that this temple is his temple, and he is dealing with the corruption. He says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’” quoting Isaiah 56, “but you make it a den of robbers.” Virtually all the commentators point out that that word “robbers” is a word that probably means bandits or revolutionaries. So it seems like what’s going on here is that the temple had become a place of both commercial enterprise—you have the moneylenders, the money tables, the buying and the selling—and it had become a place of political aspiration and ambition, kind of a hotbed of political activity.
You think about that for a minute and think about the American church. Commercialisation and politicizing the church. I mean, that’s what the American church has done. It makes you wonder what Jesus would say to us.
Another way that you see Jesus bringing judgment (I didn’t read this before, but it’s in verses 18-19) is that Jesus, when he leaves the temple, he does something else. He comes to a fig tree. Verse 18 says, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And the fig tree withered at once.”
Again, the commentaries seem to recognize this, and it’s especially clear in the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel, where the story of the fig tree brackets the story of the cleansing of the temple. So what seems to be clearly going on here is that Jesus, in cursing the barren fig tree that has leaves, you expect it to have fruit but there’s no fruit—in cursing the barren fig tree, Jesus is symbolically showing his condemnation of the hypocrisy and the barrenness of the Judaism of the temple. Now, it’s not condemnation of all Jews (many of his followers were Jews), but it’s a condemnation of the hypocritical religion that was the official religion there in the temple.
D.A. Carson says, “The cursing of the fig tree is an acted parable cursing hypocrites.”
Jesus comes with judgment, and the judgment is not here judgment on the dirty, rotten Gentiles who have overrun Jerusalem, it’s judgment on the people of God who are hypocritical in their religion.
Now, you know, when people object to Christianity—if you ever have conversations with non-Christians, these are the kinds of things people are going to say. “Well, you know, people in church are so hypocritical. The church is full of hypocrites. What about all the bad things that have been done in the name of Jesus?” The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, witch hunts, burning heretics at the stake—all of this negative stuff that’s been done in the name of Jesus. “The church is full of hypocrites; I don’t want anything to do with it.”
You know what the answer to that is? The most simple answer to that is that Jesus actually denounces hypocrisy and godless religion and the abuse of power more severely than anybody else. Nobody denounces it more severely than Jesus does. Jesus judges hypocritical religion! Jesus is hard on hypocrites, and he brings judgment.
It does provoke some self-examination, doesn’t it? Are we like the barren fig tree, leaves—a lot of show—but no fruit? The real test of the authenticity of our faith is if there’s fruit.
What is fruit? Well, just think about the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s love and joy and peace and longsuffering and kindness and goodness. It’s these qualities that we see embodied in Jesus. To follow Jesus means to become more like Jesus. If that’s not happening, we have lots of leaves, lots of activity, but not fruit.
Well, Jesus comes and he curses the hypocrisy, he judges the temple, and that’s part of his agenda: it’s to clean house. He comes with judgment.
(2) But that’s not all. Notice this also in verse 14: he comes in salvation, he comes to heal the blind and the lame. Verse 14 says, “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.”
This is the last time that we read of Jesus healing in the Gospel of Matthew. There have been many healing miracles before this, but this is the last time, it’s the final time that he heals. Every time we see Jesus healing in the Gospels, it shows us several things.
It shows us Jesus’ compassion on the needy. These were real miracles. Jesus actually did heal people. People who were blind, he made them see; they were lame, he made them walk again; they were deaf, and he gave them hearing. Right? They were dumb and he loosened their tongues so that they could speak. Every time we read about these miracles, we’re reading about the real, tangible compassion of Jesus Christ for hurting, needy people, and it shows us his heart. He is the gentle, lowly Savior, and he comes to minister to the needy, and we see him doing that here.
But I think also the healing miracles in the Gospel are pictures. They are historical, they’re real miracles, but they are also pictures of salvation. So, Blaise Pascal, who wrote that wonderful collection of thoughts called the Pensées, said that the figure used in the gospel for the state of the soul that is sick is that of sick bodies. But because one body cannot be sick enough to express it properly, he said there had to be more than one. Thus we find the deaf man, the dumb man, the blind man, the paralytic, dead Lazarus, the man possessed of a devil; all these put together are in the sick soul.
The idea is that every time you read of a healing miracle in the Gospels, it’s also giving us a picture of what Jesus does. He causes the blind to see; he causes the spiritually blind to see. He causes the lame to walk, and those who are paralyzed by their sin, he makes them walk again, he makes them whole again. It’s a picture of salvation.
Not only that, the healing miracles are also a sign of his kingship. They are showing the power of the saving reign of God in Jesus Christ! Here is the king who comes with a kingdom that will make all things new. He will make the sad things in the world untrue, he will bring healing in his reign.
Don’t you remember in The Lord of the Rings when the king of Gondor, and he’s known by his power to heal? Now, if you’ve only seen the movie, you have to watch the extended edition of The Return of the King, because that’s where you get the Houses of Healing. Here’s a statement from the book: “The hands of a king are healing hands, and thus shall the rightful king be known.”
Well, the same could be said of Jesus. “The hands of a king are healing hands.” His kingship is known by the transforming power that he unleashed in the world as he brought healing, redemption, and salvation.
Wesley had it right in that old hymn:
“Hear him, ye deaf;
His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ.
Ye blind, behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.”
This is the agenda of the King, the mission of the King. Once again, when we understand this, we understand who he is (he is the servant king, humble authority), and we understand what he came to do (to judge sin and to save sinners), when we understand that, it shapes how we respond to him. In fact, it shapes the very options we have. It basically leaves you with only two options, and it rules out every other option.
It leaves you with two options. You can either reject him or you can receive him. You can bend the knee in obedience and submission or you can raise the clenched fist in rebellion. As Tim Keller says it, you can crown him or you can kill him.
Here’s what you can’t do. You can’t just keep liking Jesus as if he is a good philosopher, a great moral teacher, like all the other great sages of the world—you can’t do that. Jesus doesn’t leave you with that option, because he didn’t come to just make life a little bit better. He came to bring revolution, he came to deal with the great enemy of the human race, the enemies of sin and death; and he came to claim the rights of kingship, and he came to die as a sacrifice for sinners and to rescue them for himself. You either receive that Jesus with all that he came to do or you reject him. The agenda of the King.
3. The Followers of the King
We’ve seen the uniqueness of the King, his character; we’ve seen his agenda or his mission; and now, thirdly, the followers of the King, verses 15-16. This has to do with citizens. What does it mean to be a citizen in the kingdom of Christ? Look at verse 15.
It says, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant.” Get the contrast. You have children praising him, you have chief priests and scribes; these are the religious leaders, and they’re angry. They were indignant. Verse 16: “And they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them [quoting Psalm 8], ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise”?’”
It was really something that when you see Jesus, how people responded to him, the most religious people of the day rejected him, and it was the weak, the poor, the children, women, the disenfranchised; these were the people who received him—by and large. There are a few exceptions. Every once in a while you’ll have a Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea who will follow him; but most of the time it wasn’t the upper echelon of society, and it wasn’t the religious elite; it was the poor and the weak and the needy.
I think it’s significant here that children respond with praise. It shows us who the true followers of Christ are. It shows us what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom. Here’s what it means: It means that you have to become like a little child.
I think this is true because of everything else the Gospel of Matthew says. Let me read you three passages that are significant, all of which come before this one. Matthew 11:25-26; Jesus has just denounced the cities that have rejected him. Then he says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Matthew 18:1-3: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” What does Jesus do? He calls a child, puts him in the middle of the disciples, and he says, verse 3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus says you can’t be in the kingdom unless you turn, unless you’re converted, is the old word; unless you’re converted and become like a child. It’s basically the same idea as John 3: unless you are born again, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God. You have to start all over again! You have to be humbled, you have to come in like a little child.
Listen to Matthew 19:13-15. “Then children were brought to him, that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.”
Listen, this shows us that citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is for the weak, not the strong; for the humble, not the proud; for the childlike, not the warrior-like.
One of the truest measures of our Christianity, brothers and sisters, is how we treat the least of these. You see what Jesus does with children? You see how comfortable—listen, read through the Gospels. Seriously, you should do this! Read through the Gospels and highlight every single time you see Jesus interact with the poor, the sick, women, children, or non-Jews, people of other races or nationalities. Look at how Jesus treats these people. Then ask yourself, “Is this how I treat the marginalized in our society? Is this how I treat people who are different from me? Is this how I treat people who have less cultural power?” One of the truest measures of our Christianity is how we treat children, the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised of society.
This shows us that becoming a citizen of the kingdom requires being reduced to this humble place of absolute dependence on Christ, becoming like a little child, giving up the old self and being remade in his image, being born again, a complete, radical, inside-out transformation. This is what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom.
Okay, we’ve seen the uniqueness of King Jesus, we’ve seen his mission, his agenda (which is judgment and salvation), and now we’ve seen what it means to be a citizen of his kingdom; it means to be converted, to become like a little children.
Where will all of this lead? Where will Jesus’ actions on Palm Sunday lead? You already know the answer. It becomes very clear as you read these last eight chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. These actions will lead from Jesus claiming ownership in the temple to actually being tried and condemned. In Matthew 21, Jesus is the King riding into Jerusalem, but by Matthew 26-27 he is the King who is on trial in his own city. Jesus, who comes into Jerusalem, doesn’t end up ascending a throne, he ends up ascending a cross. He holds not a scepter, but a reed in his hand, mock regalia; he’s crowned not with a crown of gold but with a crown of thorns. Jesus in Matthew 21 condemns the temple, he curses the fig tree, but by the time you get to the end of the Gospel we see Jesus himself not just bringing judgment, but we see Jesus taking judgment on himself, and the one who cursed the fig tree so that it died is now hung on a tree, and he bears the curse. This is where it leads. It leads to the cross.
I would say that when you look at the cross, what you actually see is all of these aspects of Jesus that we’ve talked about this morning, they all come to their climax in the cross, because at the cross you see Jesus with both the greatest sovereignty and authority—he says in the Gospel of John, “I lay down my life for the sheep; nobody takes it from me. I lay it down, and I’ll take it up again.” He’s not a victim, he goes to the cross willingly; he goes as a king dying for his subjects. But we see not only his greatest authority, we also see his greatest humility. Here is the servant of the Lord who goes to the cross, he humbles himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, Paul says.
We see at the cross the agenda, the mission of the kingdom coming to fruition—judgment and salvation, but now the judgment’s coming down on him, as he takes judgment for the sins of the world and the salvation goes out to us.
I want to end with a wonderful poem that George Herbert wrote. Has anybody ever read George Herbert? Surely there are a few. Okay, there are a few hands. Listen, if you like poetry, you should read George Herbert; if you don’t like poetry, you probably still should read George Herbert. I think he’s the greatest poet in the English language. He wrote this wonderful poem called “The Agony.”
The thing about old English poetry is it can be kind of hard to understand; I understand that. So let me explain the poem and then read it to you. “The Agony” is three stanzas, and in the first stanza Herbert is saying that there are two things that cannot be measured by human means. You can’t measure two things: those two things are sin and love.
In the second stanza he shows that you see the depth of sin by looking at Christ suffering for us; and in the third stanza you see the depth of love by looking at Jesus on the cross. It goes like this.
“Philosophers have measur'd mountains,
Fathom'd the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk'd with a staff to heav'n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.
“Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev'ry vein.
“Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.”
Jesus endured the cross because of our sin and because of his love, and for him it was pain; for us it is the very wine of blessedness. This is the kingdom that he brings. Let’s pray.
Gracious God and Father, we thank you once again for the gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus. We thank you for the cross, for all that it signifies. We thank you that Jesus is the kind of King that dies for his people. We thank you that our sins were judged on the cross so that we could be saved.
My prayer for us this morning is that each one of us would be like little children, and that we would abandon any attempts to save ourselves and instead we would depend wholly and completely on Jesus, receiving him as he is, embracing him for what he has done, and humbly submitting to him as Savior and Lord. For any who do not know Christ this morning, may today be the day of salvation, and may they embrace Jesus as Savior.
As we come to the Lord’s table, may we come with our memories and our hearts deeply stirred. May we see there in the emblems of bread and juice the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. May we see the cost of our redemption, and may we respond with faith, with trust in Christ this morning. We pray that as we worship and as we take these elements that you would draw near to us as we draw near to you, and that you would be glorified. We ask it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.