Updated: May 14, 2020
Homily on Matthew 21:1-11 by Sue Noble
In 2018 during a trip to South Africa I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. At the entrance to the museum we were given a ticket with the words BLACK or WHITE printed on it. According to the designated colour you entered the museum through one of two different turnstiles and along two parallel corridors partitioned by wire mesh. Numerous placards, public signs, and government policies hung on the mesh. They were the regulations enforced on black Africans during the time of Apartheid. It was sobering.
During the apartheid regime all South African people had to carry a citizen card of racial identification. Until Nelson Mandela changed the course of history, this card, determined the pathway of individuals for life...
Two very different pathways for South Africans were driven through the heart of its people by way of government legislation and law enforcement. The outcome of that was life determining for everyone, but tragically for those with dark skin it led to suffering, death, discrimination, lack of opportunity and loss of dignity. The gateway to the museum was symbolic of the gateway to life, for those living under the Aparteid regime.
On Palm Sunday we celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, most likely through a stone gateway! Was Jesus a divisive figure in his time? Were his words and actions life determining for those around Him? And did they choose a path of following Christ or of rejecting him? Who did people say that he was?
The two readings for this week; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11 help us answer these questions and the even BIGGER question; Who do I say that He is?
These readings reveal truths about who Christ was. They mirror each other, provide beautiful metaphors of God, and a wonderful connection between the Old and New Testament. From these passages, we can learn three important facts about Jesus:
1) Jesus is the coming King
In Matthew we read that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Why did He choose a donkey and a colt? Jesus knew the people of His time would be familiar with the Old Testament scripture in Zechariah: “See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was boldly declaring Himself as King. By choosing to enter on a donkey, He was in effect, saying to the crowd, I AM the fulfilment of your scripture. I am THAT king. This fulfilment was happening before their very eyes. And many people exclaimed “Hosanna” meaning ‘save now’ because they were keen to embrace the fulfilment of this scripture too.
It is interesting that psalm 118, describes those processing to the temple in King David’s time, as waving branches in their hands as they made their way to the altar to celebrate the victory of a kingly figure.
The crowd that surrounded Jesus on his entry to Jerusalem knew the Old Testament and many applied it to Jesus. There were those who welcomed and acclaimed Jesus as King and were swept up in the excitement!
But on this occasion Jesus was also affirming his humility... as the Messiah. What they did not understand was where Jesus’ kingship would lead Him... to death, to make atonement for sin, for humanity. Jesus did come, not as a warring King on a horse or chariot but as a gentle and peaceable king who came to serve and to save. Jesus had come as their spiritual king, their SERVANT king. This same crowd cried out only a few days later when Jesus stood on trial, “Crucify Him”. A divisive figure? Very likely.
We read in Matthew: “The whole city was stirred and asked: Who is this man?” He is the King.
2) Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s kingdom
An exploration into the context of Psalm 118, helps form our second point.
Some commentators believe it to be written by David after his troubles with Saul had ceased and he was vindicated as King of Israel. The psalm has an air of excitement about it. David is processing to the tabernacle (which would have been a tent at this time) to give thanks to God for his salvation and for answering David in his time of need.
This psalm would later have been sung by the Israelites to celebrate the Passover and it may have been a picture to them of how God had previously rescued His people from Egypt at the time of the Exodus and of their eventual journey’s end at Mount Zion. The Israelites would have used David’s psalm in their worship.
This psalm is likely to have been one of the last psalms Christ sang as he shared the Passover meal with His disciples before his death. (Mk 14:26). It is a psalm that was well known to Jews in Jesus’ time and was part of their scripture and liturgy also.
In v 22. David is in the tabernacle giving thanks to God. After having been rejected by his people and through God’s marvellous work he has now become the central figure, the King...the cornerstone of the nation of Israel. He says:”The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. The Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
Who else has described themselves in such terms? Here we find a beautiful connection between Old and New Testament. Only a few paragraphs later in chapter 11 of Matthew, Jesus makes reference to Himself using this very same Old Testament scripture. He says to those around Him:” Have you never read this in the scripture? Why does He choose this passage? He is impressing on them that He is the fulfilment of this scripture. He is the keystone that holds everything together. Just as the capstone is the centre stone in the top of an arch, holding the whole arch together, Christ is not only co-creator with God the Father, of all that has been made, not only the one through whom we come to know God, but He is the head of the church, his spiritual body, the one that UNITES all believers with God.
In Acts, Peter quotes this verse in relation to Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Jesus is foundational for our faith. There is no life without Christ. There is no church. There is no other way to know the Father. This was God’s plan from the beginning of time. Jesus was the fulfilment of God’s plan to bring all of humanity and creation, back to Himself. ... and it was happening right before the eyes of those in Jerusalem. Life determining? Most certainly!
And how did the religious leaders react to these words? They were incensed. They rejected him as Messiah and also His intimations that they had got it all wrong. They began to plot ways of arresting him. A divisive figure? Absolutely.
Who is this man? He is the cornerstone of God’s kingdom.
3) Jesus is the gateway to righteousness and salvation.
Verses 20-21 of Psalm 118 are the key to our third point. David says to those in the tabernacle:
“Open for me the gates of righteousness. I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous may enter. I will give thanks for you answered me; you have become my salvation.” David is keen to enter the gates of God’s temple. In his time, only the righteous could enter, those who had been circumcised according to Jewish custom, who had followed the law. The people needed to make sacrifices to God, which would be offered by the priests on their behalf and these sacrifices would ‘cover their sins’ restoring them to a right relationship with God. David knew this salvation!
Here is another wonderful connection between Old & New Testament and a beautiful metaphor of Christ. When Jesus entered Jerusalem he would have come through a gate on his way to the temple. BUT... extraordinarily, Jesus’ procession has a deeper meaning. Christ Himself IS the gate. He is the way through which we can be put right with God. He became that sacrifice for us. He Himself is our righteousness. He became our high priest and sacrificed himself on our behalf. We no longer have to strive to earn favour with God, to make our lives more respectable to Him. As Rev Clyde mentioned to us in a sermon a few weeks ago. ‘What makes us right with God, is Christ’s death. God does not count sin against us if we have faith in Jesus. This is God’s marvellous work offered to us in grace’. In Ephesians 2 we read: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin—it is by grace you have been saved. .... through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Who is this man? He is our gateway to righteousness and salvation.
The account of Jesus’ entry through the gate into the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11 ) that we celebrate on Palm Sunday, and Psalm 118 teach us three important facts about Jesus. Jesus is the coming King, the cornerstone of God’s kingdom, and the gateway to righteousness and salvation. Accepting these facts about who Jesus was and is, and choosing to follow Jesus, will have a profound impact upon the pathway of our own life.
As we enter the gate to worship on Palm Sunday, we are encouraged to reflect on these questions – What path to life have I chosen, and have I determined to follow Jesus? Do I recognise Christ as King, the only way to know the Father and through whom I have salvation? Is Christ my cornerstone, the one in whom I trust to hold me and everything together? Am I building my faith on the humble Son who by grace, came to put me right with God?
Who do I say He is?
5th April 2020