Crucifixion: What’s in a Name?
4/13/2017 12:41:14 AM
“Crucifixion: What’s in a Name?”
April 9, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-17
[pic] What’s in a name? Do names really matter? That is the question Juliet wrestles with when she discovers that the love of her life, Romeo, has the wrong last name, Montague. The young man she loves is the member of a family that is arch-rivals of her own family. The problem, then, is not so much in the name Romeo bears but what it means. Being a Montague, Romeo Montague, means his family and her family are enemies, which means he and she ought to be enemies. And so their love is doomed from the very start. If you are not familiar with Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, you probably know it’s a love story, but might not know it is a tragedy! That means that in the end everybody dies! (Spoiler alert! But you’ve had about 400 years to read the play yourself, so I don’t feel bad if I’ve ruined the ending for you.) It turns out that what a name signifies is, in fact, important after all!
Juliet didn’t know a name was important, but Matthew did. Matthew, the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament, knew that names are, in fact, important! What’s in a name? A great deal of significance! And that significance is what we are going to take a look at today, this Palm Sunday.
[pic] Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem in triumph. The people heading to Jerusalem for the Passover festival laid their coats and palm branches on the road in front of Jesus as a sign of victory and as a way to honour Jesus whom they believed to be the coming Messiah or Saviour of the Jewish people. Because they laid palm branches on the road we call it Palm Sunday.
Growing up with this tradition, we tend to read the passages in the Gospels describing these events in isolation from what is around them. We tend to go to the section on Palm Sunday, or the Triumphal Entry [into Jerusalem], and just read those passages. But that’s now how the original authors of the Gospels intended for them to be read. The Gospel writers had no chapter breaks or verses in their works. Those numbers were added later to help people find specific passages. While useful most of the time, sometimes it means we read chunks of Scripture without seeing what the author of the book intended.
This is just such a passage in Matthew. So today we are going to look at a broader section of Matthew than just the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. By way of context, I will tell you what comes at the end of Matthew 20, then we will read the first part of Chapter 21 together.
By way of context, let me describe to you what happened as Jesus approached Jerusalem. Jesus and his followers had been in the city Jericho. Matthew tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem, two blind beggars were sitting by the roadside. [pic] Mark tells us that one of them was named Bartimaeus. When these two heard that Jesus was walking past, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Even when shushed by the crowd they cried out louder, “Son of David have mercy on us!”
Jesus paused and called to them, asking what they wanted. They said that they wanted their sight. Jesus touched their eyes and they were healed, they received their sight, and in response they followed him.
Why is this significant? The significance is in the name they use to call Jesus. They did not call out, “Jesus have mercy on us!” They called out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” What does that matter? (In most cases) Son of David was a term reserved for the Messiah, the Saviour. At the very beginning of Matthew, Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, is called “son of David,” (Matthew 1:20) but in that context it is clear that Joseph is being referred to as a descendant of David. But the rest of the uses of “Son of David” in Matthew are all cases in which the person equates the Son of David with the Messiah, even if they are asking a question, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 22:42)
Matthew is being explicit with these two blind men. They call out to Jesus as “Son of David” revealing their belief that he is the Messiah, and Jesus heals them! If Jesus was not the Messiah, if he was not the Son of David in this sense, he would not have accepted their praise in this way. If he didn’t believe or know that he was
the Saviour, he would not have let them refer to him that way. He would have corrected them and probably wouldn’t have healed them. (For instance, if he was a great prophet with the power to heal but not the Messiah.)
So here is Jesus, finally accepting people calling him Son of David, or Messiah and not telling them to be quiet or to keep it a secret! And remember, David was the great King in Israel’s history. The title “Son of David” meant Messiah but carried with it the undertones of political kingship. David was the great warrior king, who slew Goliath and tens of thousands of Philistines. He was the conquering king who conquered Jerusalem and built a palace there and arranged for the temple to be built there by Solomon. So when the blind men cried out “Son of David” it would have evoked all these themes and ideas in those who heard them.
Bearing this in mind, remembering that Matthew put no chapter break in his Gospel, read what follows immediately after the two blind men’s healing. Turn with me to Matthew 21:1-17.
What It Says
Matthew crafts his account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem masterfully. He moves from one scene, to another scene, to another scene each one shaping the reader’s understanding that Jesus is the Messiah. As we mentioned, he began with the blind men who actually “saw” the truth better than the crowds who could see. The two beggars cry out to Jesus, “Son of David have mercy on us!”
Then, Jesus approaches Jerusalem by way of the Mount of Olives. Zechariah 14:4 speaks of the Day of the Lord and Messianic figure standing on the Mount of Olives to battle Israel’s enemies. From here, Jesus sends two of his disciples into Bethpage to procure a mount for Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Notice that whenever Jesus sends his disciples out he sends them in pairs! Jesus never intended us to serve him in isolation. He always expects us to work together.
Jesus tells his two agents that they will find a mother donkey with her colt tied up inside the city. He gives them what appears to be a password of sorts should the owner ask them what they are doing. Perhaps he had made previous arrangements with the owner. Perhaps his prophetic abilities allowed him to foresee that the donkeys were there. Matthew doesn’t tell us. Regardless of his method, though, Jesus intentionally obtains a donkey to ride into Jerusalem.
Matthew points out for us that this is in fulfilment of another OT passage looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Matthew quotes for us from Isaiah and Zechariah. Borrowing from Isaiah 62:11, Matthew uses the phrase, ““Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes!’” He then follows up with Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Take note, however, what Matthew leaves out from Zechariah 9. In that passage the prophet says, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey….” Matthew intentionally leaves out the phrase, “righteous and victorious.” Why? Two reasons I think. First, he wants to emphasize the humble nature of Jesus entering Jerusalem. [Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew Vol 2, p. 355] “Righteous and victorious” lends itself too easily to the military images of the Messiah that the people were expecting. But, furthermore, Jesus is not yet victorious! He will not be victorious until a week later when he has been resurrected from the dead!
The two disciples obey Jesus. Again, take note, “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.” What a great verse! What a great verse we overlook so easily! How often do we “go and do just as Jesus instructed us?” We are not told which 2 disciples carried out this mission. Their names are lost to history. But their names are not lost to God! Jesus’ obedient disciples are never forgotten by him. God grant us to be so obedient, even when the instructions sound strange!
They brought the 2 donkeys to Jesus for him to ride. He rode on the colt, the young donkey, but the mother donkey was brought along to help keep the young donkey calm. It wasn’t used to being ridden and the crowd was huge. The presence of its mother would have made the ride a lot smoother!
The disciples lay their cloaks on the donkey to form a kind of saddle for Jesus to sit on. Then, the crowd lining the road into Jerusalem, there to welcome the pilgrims coming to the city for the Passover festival, paid Jesus a tremendous honour! They laid their cloaks on the ground in front of him, forming a kind of red carpet for him to ride into the city. Others cut palm branches and laid them on the road too, adding to the “red carpet” so to speak.
Again, Matthew is demonstrating his skill in telling the story. Why? Because this is not the first time people have laid their cloaks down on a road as a sign of honour! In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu is anointed to be the king of Israel, the soldiers he is leading hear of it and lay their cloaks down on the steps for him to walk on as the new king. So, when the people do this for Jesus it is with this idea in mind! They are declaring through their actions that Jesus is literally the Anointed One, the Messiah!
Then the crowds start to chant and sing. They sing snippets from a number of OT passages, each of which has Messianic overtones. They sing “Hosanna” which means “God save.” It’s kind of like how we say today, “God save the Queen!” It’s a sign of honour to the person. [Bruner, p. 356] Interestingly, none of the OT usage of “hosanna” is connected to the Son of David. [Bruner, p. 356] Instead, Hosanna and Son of David are blended here, “God save this Son of David.”
When Jesus got to Jerusalem, the whole city quivered with excitement! They asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” A couple things here. First, Jesus or “Joshua” was a common name at the time, so they needed to clarify “which Joshua.” So they identified him as “Jesus of Nazareth,” but Nazareth was such a small town that for the people in the big city they had to clarify, “Nazareth in Galilee.” [Bruner, p. 357]
It is interesting that they refer to Jesus as “the prophet.” They’ve been referring to him as the Messiah, so why do they call him a prophet? Actually, this is yet another reference to the Messiah! In Deut18:15-18 God promises to send a prophet in the future who will be like Moses! Later on, people associated this Moses-like prophet with the Messiah. Why? Because God used Moses to lead his people out of captivity in Egypt. Their hope was that the future prophet would lead them out of captivity from Rome!
So, in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we see that there are numerous references to Jesus as the Messiah! In fact, the Messiah references go back even to Jesus’s departure from Jericho when he healed the blind men. But the Messianic references don’t stop here either. Matthew tells us that upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. When he got there he was horrified by what was going on in the outer courts, the court of the Gentiles. There, the merchants had set up shop. They had sacrifices to sell to the pilgrims and they had Jerusalem coins to exchange with people who had brought the wrong currency to give in the temple.
In and of themselves, the merchants were not doing anything wrong. People often travelled great distances on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Bringing appropriate sacrifices that far was impractical. Also, coming from abroad meant they may not have local currency for offerings either. So these merchants were offering legitimate services. The problem is that they were inside the temple. They were doing this in a place that was intended to be a place of worship and prayer, not commerce!
This angers Jesus and he clears them out by force! But this, too, is a Messianic image! Clearing the temple was a symbolic sequel to entering the city on a donkey. The picture of Jesus as the Saviour continues! As he clears the temple, Jesus quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah both, the two major prophets of the OT. [Bruner, p. 360] Isaiah says God’s house will be a house of prayer. Jeremiah condemns the people for living sinful lives then coming to the temple thinking their sacrifices and worship were acceptable to God because they followed the right rituals. [Bruner p. 362]
Amazingly, no sooner does Jesus kick out the wealthy from the temple, that the poor, blind and lame people enter it! And Jesus heals them! In David’s day, when he conquered Jerusalem, he referred to his enemies as “blind and lame.” That was in 2 Sam 5:8. That passage in 2 Samuel makes reference, “That is why to this day it is said the blind and lame cannot enter the palace.” For a time, at least, the blind and lame were not allowed in the temple either. But here is Jesus, the Son of David, welcoming the blind and lame into the temple and healing them. Given the frequent references to “Son of David” in this passage, it is likely this healing of the blind and lame in Jerusalem was another reference to Jesus as the Messiah. Certainly at least some of the people would have made this connection. Matthew seems to be making it. [R. T. France, Matthew, p. 302]
While this was going on, children began singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David” just like the crowds had outside the city. The chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant! They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what they are saying?!?” They expect Jesus to tell the children to be quiet. Instead, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 to them. That Psalm reads, “You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” This, however, is scandalous.
Why? Because the Psalm is talking about the children praising God. Jesus connects praise for God with praise for himself! No wonder the chief priests were scandalized! The children are saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” a messianic message. Then Jesus goes over that by saying the Psalms, which speak of children praising God, is a reference to children praising him!
So what we see, here, in Matthew 21, is a series of references, words and actions that all point to Jesus being the Messiah, the promised saviour of God’s people. They are stacked up one after another after another. For a Jewish reader, these would be loud and clear! We don’t always see them right away, because we are not first century Jews, but they are there.
What It Means
So if there are all these OT references in this passage, if the triumphal entry and the clearing of the temple are linked, what does it mean? What are we supposed to learn from this? How do we understand what Matthew is trying to say?
For the first time in his ministry, Jesus isn’t shying away from the title Messiah. He doesn’t tell people calling him Son of David to be quiet. He doesn’t stop the people from laying their cloaks on the road or shouting “Hosanna!” In fact, Jesus intentionally rides into Jerusalem on a donkey- a deliberate act of fulfilment. The people didn’t produce a donkey and place Jesus on it. He sought out a donkey and rode it intentionally. [Bruner, p. 353] He is deliberately bringing to mind the image of royalty entering the city (people walked into Jerusalem except for royalty who rode [Bruner, p. 355]), but further than that, by riding a donkey he is bringing to mind the passage in Zechariah.
But, even while he embraces his role as Messiah in public, he is subtly changing or challenging the people’s expectations. The people wanted a conquering king, a military hero who would throw off Roman occupation. But Jesus rode in on a donkey, a sign of peace and humility, in contrast to a horse which would have been a sign of power and military might. [Bruner, p. 354] Matthew, by skipping a few terms in his quotation of Zechariah, is emphasizing this peaceful, humble side of Jesus’ identity as Messiah, in contrast to a “righteous and victorious” Messiah. [France, p. 298]
Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, from the donkey to the temple, is a series of “deliberately staged ‘demonstrations,’ a sequence of symbolic actions designed to have an unmistakeable impact on the already suspicious Jerusalem authorities.” [France, p. 296] He is being provocative, he is being very “Messiah-like.” But even as he is provoking a response from the authorities, he is also subtly challenging the people’s expectations of the Messiah. There is a remarkable series of contrasts or tensions in Jesus’ depiction of the Messiah. There is tension between humility by riding a donkey, yet authority in clearing the temple. He is both the loving Messiah and the judging Messiah. [Bruner, p. 360] He heals the blind and the lame, but he challenged the religious leaders. He speaks of his Father’s house being a house of prayer, and he zealously protects the worship of God in the temple, but then he takes a Psalm which speaks of children worshipping God and applies it to himself! He protects God’s worship and then accepts worship belonging to God! What a series of contrasts!
So what does this mean? Jesus knew he was the Messiah, but that he was a different kind of Messiah than expected. He defied expectations. His role was not what the people wanted. He wasn’t a political saviour, a military leader, or even a religious leader. His role was not to save from oppression or even from false worship. His role was to save from something much bigger, much deeper- sin itself.
And as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, we see these contrasts continue. In fact, the contrasts we see here actually prepare us for what happens a week later- the greatest contrasts of all! The Son of God, the Saviour, dies on a cross! How is that possible?!? How does the Saviour not get saved? How does the Saviour die? How does God’s Son, the sinless one die? This is what Matthew is preparing us for with his series of contrasts when Jesus (finally) publically accepts his role as Messiah.
Why It Matters
So why does all this matter? We’ve seen some OT references. We see that Jesus wasn’t a political saviour. So what? Why does this matter?
Sometimes, in God’s mercy, he gives me an insight that proves to be somewhat profound. This week he gave me an insight that I didn’t recognize as that significant until Amy encouraged me and asked me to repeat it. Usually in the application section I ask the question, “How do we apply this to our lives?” But the insight I had
this week is that knowing God is the most important thing we can do in this life. We learn about God through His Word. So, when we hear a Biblical sermon, we should not ask, “How do I apply this to my life?” but rather, “How do I apply my life to this?”
So let’s explore that slightly different question today. How do we apply our lives to this? How do we apply our lives to Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the Messiah, but a humble one? How do we apply our lives to Jesus clearing the temple of commercialism? How do we apply our lives to the fact that Jesus accepted for himself praise for God?
Applying our lives to Jesus as the Messiah means looking to Jesus and only to Jesus for salvation. This means not counting on our own good behaviour for salvation. It means not counting on church attendance or being a “good person” to put us in God’s good books.
And remember, salvation means more than “going to heaven when we die.” Salvation is a transformation of our whole being and character. Salvation means being made to be like Jesus in our temperament, our desires, our will, thoughts and imagination.
So how do we apply our lives to this passage? We are to apply our lives to being like Jesus. And what do we see of Jesus here? Jesus was both humble and masterful. He humbly rode into Jerusalem, avoiding the appearance of authority. But when it came to the worship of God, Jesus was masterful about obliterating commercialism! Jesus would let nothing stand in the way of worshipping God. He removed barriers Jewish leaders put in the way of Gentiles praying to God, and if you read the Gospels and Acts carefully, there were a number of Gentiles who were interested in God who should have had access to the outer courts of the temple to pray!
Jesus exercised grace and judgement. He was gracious to the poor, the blind and the lame. He healed them. Interestingly, it was they who recognized Jesus for who he was! But Jesus exercised judgement against the religiously powerful, those who observed religion really well, the equivalent of the pastors and church deacons! They were the ones who didn’t see Jesus for who he truly was. They were offended by who Jesus really is.
How do we apply our lives to this? We, too, need to follow Jesus in humility. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” We are rarely meek. We don’t value being humble. We need to apply our lives to this!
Similarly, when it comes to the commercialization of worship, when it comes to mixing wealth with worship, we need to exercise judgment. We need to be ruthless in rooting out those things that interfere with worshipping God.
Let me give you something else to ponder in this regard. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus, the temple was the focal point of where God was present on earth. That made it the centre or the focal point of worship for God. But where does God live now? God lives in the hearts of his people. So the central focal point of worship for God is no longer the temple, but our hearts! So how do we apply our lives to this? We must be ruthless in cleansing our hearts of commercialism that corrupts our worship of God! Jesus cleared the temple so that it could be a “house of prayer.” Our hearts are the new temple. Are they houses of prayer?
Even as Jesus debated the religious leaders, challenging their flawed theology, he did it in the midst of healing the lame and blind. How do we apply our lives to this? Correct theology, correct doctrine, correct understanding of the Bible is vital! We must strive for it! But along the way, we cannot lose sight of ministering to the poor, the lame and the blind. We must not lose sight of our role in the lives of marginalized, broken people.
Similarly, as we minister to people, we must not abandon correct belief about God. We cannot abandon doctrine in the name of “acceptance” of people. We are to heal people through the love of Christ. We are not to “accept” the way broken people are broken. We are to work for its healing. And in order to do that, we must champion the truth about Jesus as found in his word and correct belief. We need to apply our lives to both correct belief and ministering to people.
This passage, taken in its entirety, reveals great truths about Jesus. Yes, he is the Messiah, but no, not the Messiah we expect. He is not the Saviour a lot of us want. He is not bound by our expectations or our desires. He is not bound to be what we want him to be. Rather, he is who we need him to be. He is the one who saves us from our sin, restores us to a right relationship with God and who works for our transformation to be the holy people we were intended to be from before creation.
As we prepare ourselves this week for Good Friday and Easter, this passage challenges us to take a close look at who Jesus really is. It challenges us to put aside our own pre-conceived notions of who Jesus is. It challenges us to put aside our desires for a Saviour and to examine who Jesus showed himself to be as our Saviour. We are invited to wrestle with the contrasts in Jesus: humble but masterful, zealous for correct worship of God while accepting God’s worship for himself, both ministering to outcasts and defending correct theology. He is both God and man. The greatest contrast is that it was through his humiliating death that he demonstrated his greatest power, it was through his weakness on the cross that he demonstrated God’s infinite love, it was through surrender that he obtained victory over sin, it was by being broken that he broke the power of death, it was through death that he brought eternal life. His life and death were a host of contrasts and he challenges us, in applying our lives to the truth that is Jesus, to be a host of contradictions too. Amen.
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