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"How can This Be... the Messiah?"

People had been hoping for one for a long time – someone to save them from occupation and oppression, from violence and violation, from helplessness and hopelessness.

by Jean Charlot, 1933
[1] by Jean Charlot, 1933

​Matthew 21:1-11

April 2, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright “Can this be the Messiah?” That was the question on everyone’s lips.

People had been hoping for one for a long time – someone to save them from occupation and oppression, from violence and violation, from helplessness and hopelessness. The prophet Zechariah had given them a spotting guide – like a birdwatchers’ book: Matthew quotes part of it: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” But the prophet gives more detail to indicate the kind of Messiah being promised: Here is Eugene Peterson’s version from the Message: “[God says,] I’ve had it with war – no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. [Your king] will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.”[2] And then there is this from later in Zechariah: “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives … And the Lord will become king over all the earth …”[3]

 

No wonder some were convinced Jesus was the Messiah. Just look at the evidence: Jesus had a record of doing things only the Lord could do. He rode into Jerusalem like a victorious king, leading a wave of people, not unlike Pilate who, we’re told, also marched into the city that day, but from the other side, leading armed troops. To fulfill the prophecy, Jesus was mounted on a donkey, like Solomon before him, and was coming from the Mount of Olives. And so the “crowds of the convinced” shouted “Hosanna!” – save us! And they waved palm branches, just like they did for the Feast of Sukkot, “signaling their hope that, like Moses, he would lead a new exodus and deliver them from bondage!”[4] And they threw their cloaks down to fashion him a welcome mat.

 

But not everyone.

Matthew tells us that “the city was in turmoil, asking ‘Who is this?’” They do not know him – he is from Nazareth and city folks pay little attention to country bumpkins who have dazzled the rubes at county fairs but wither under the bright lights. They do not recognize him, or perhaps they have just ceased listening to the prophets. They do not welcome him … for they fear he will upset things, just as they worried back when the Magi visited all those years ago. After all, Rome is firmly in control and will not accept a rival. And the religious leaders, who’ve been burned before by false messiahs, have their doubts. As the week unfolds … the high priest, Caiaphas, will send an armed crowd to arrest Jesus and ask him if he is the Messiah, and then shout “Blasphemy” at his answer! the Roman governor, Pilate, will ask him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and then wash his hands of him, handing him over to be crucified.

 

So people were divided about whether Jesus was the Messiah. I think those who doubted did so because they were happy enough with the way things were or because they could not see how a man from Galilee could make any difference. I think those who shouted “Hosanna!” did so because they were desperate for someone to save them and believed that God was finally answering their prayers. That kind of division has been repeated. Carol Frances Johnston writes, “[When Lincoln visited] Richmond the day after it fell: as soon as Lincoln stepped on Rockets wharf, Black people recognized him, and came running by the hundreds, yelling and singing and praising [both] Lincoln and God. Few whites were out. For the enslaved, the Jubilee had come! Black papers reported this; white papers, I believe, ignored it.”

 

You are here because at some point you joined your voice to those shouting “Save us!” Save us from our sin – that which robs us of our peace and tears at our relationships! Save us from isolation and loneliness – and make us a people, your people! Save us from hunger, body and soul, that leaves us craving enough or wanting more. Save us from fear of death and fear of living boldly, by giving us an eternal kingdom to dedicate our lives toward building! Save us from selfishness, by filling us with a love for our neighbors that leads us to action! Save us from violence, from the wounds inflicted by hate, from anger’s poison, by bringing your kingdom of love and justice and grace into our midst. It is not easy to shout like that – to raise your voice when everything conspires toward silence and the status quo. It is not easy to join in the shouting when it casts the city into turmoil. It is not easy to raise your voice when it is a lone cry in the wilderness or on the road, in the marketplace or the school or the worship space. People look at you funny. But perhaps it is easier when you join your voice to others who are already shouting or singing, when you are becoming part of a movement or a spontaneous choir. Perhaps it is easier when you are shouting about something your heart’s been longing to see. Perhaps it is easier when you sense you are welcoming God into your life! But whether it is hard or easy, this is the day to join in and say, Hosanna! Save us! For this is the Messiah! Amen.

[1] “Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem” by He Qi [2] These two quotes are from Zechariah 9:9 and 9:10 [3] From Zechariah 14:3-4a and 9a [4] From “PALMS AND PASSION: SALT'S COMMENTARY FOR PALM/PASSION SUNDAY” 3/27/23
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