[This sermon was delivered at Lee Arrendale Women’s State Prison on Palm Sunday, 4/9/17. The text is not grammatically precise but reflects the manner in which it was voiced.]
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that God needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Well, it was about that time. Jesus had been walking on the face of the earth for 33 years, his whole life pointing to this one moment. He preached, he prophesied, and he proclaimed the Kingdom of God. But now, the time was drawing near to finish what he started when he came to the earth. So he gathered his disciples around him and said to them, “It’s about that time. It’s time to go to Jerusalem where they will hand me over to be killed on a cross.” The disciples, of course, did not understand what he was talking about. But I have a feeling they could sense that something big was about to happen. So they gathered up their things and set out from Jericho towards Jerusalem – because it was about that time.
They travelled 18 miles on foot to get to Jerusalem, and just before they got there, they stopped on the Mount of Olives at Bethphage, a small village where Jesus would sometimes stay overnight with relatives. This small village of Bethphage overlooks the entire city of Jerusalem – a magnificent view of the holy city. And Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and knew what was about to happen when he went in. But he knew he had to do it.
Let me tell you something about ancient Jerusalem. The Jews had made their home there, but the Roman army had invaded the city to rule over them. The people were held captive by the soldiers who claimed they were there to protect them. The Roman army was ruled by tyrannical governors who did everything they could to oppress the unruly people of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people lived under the domination of an empire that wanted nothing more than to keep them under control. You can’t be too loud, you can’t voice your opinion, you can’t mess up a room inspection; and if you do, you’ll get rebuked. Jesus could see all of this from the Mount of Olives. He could look out and see the Holy Temple where God’s people worshiped – but he could also see the tall, towering, and terrifying outpost of the Roman army that sent a strong message of who was in control. Yes, God’s people lived in such captivity under the Romans that it was almost like Jerusalem was one giant jail cell.
Jesus could see all of this going on from the Mount of Olives. He knew that his people were suffering inside of their jail cell of Jerusalem, that they were treated like they were less than human, that soldiers would do more to belittle them rather than to protect them, and that they couldn’t fully be who they were called to be without being put down by the Roman government. Jesus knew all of this. And Jesus loved his people so much that when they were held in captivity, Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to make his daughters and sons feel loved and cherished and cared for and worthy to be called God’s children. So he stood on the Mount of Olives and looked out over the jailed city of Jerusalem and saw the condition of his people, and said to his disciples, “Send out to get a donkey, because I’m going in, even if I have to go through a barbed wire gate.”
In this passage that we have heard, Jesus is like the ultimate first responder at a tragedy – when everyone else runs away out of fear, Jesus runs in to save the people. He is the fireman who looks at the building going up in flames, and while everyone else is running away to avoid danger, he runs right into the fire. He is like the brave paramedics during 9/11 who look at the cloud of smoke in New York City, and while everyone else is running away, he runs right into the rubble. He is like the brave missionaries in Africa, who when everyone else is running away from the hunger and thirst and sickness, he runs right in. And let every woman in this room hear – when everyone else is running away from your life – your parole officer, your lawyer, your friends, your former employers, your hometown, your church, and even your family – when everyone else runs away, Jesus sees the disaster and runs right in. Jesus is willing to do whatever it takes to let his daughters know that they are loved and cherished and cared for and worthy to be called God’s children – even if he has to run through the barbed wire gate while everyone else runs out. And so he overlooks Jerusalem and tells his disciples, “I’m going in.”
But, thanks be to God, Jesus can’t seem to do anything quietly. He and the disciples could have easily walked right into Jerusalem on foot. There were thousands of pilgrims pouring into the city for Passover. He could have blended right in with the crowd. But that’s not what Jesus does. Why? Because it was about that time. It was time for Jesus to finish what he started, to go to the cross for the redemption of God’s people. And knowing that his time was coming, Jesus remembered a prophecy from long ago. It came from the prophet Zechariah in the ninth chapter: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” You see, it was prophesied from long ago that Israel’s true king wouldn’t come with power and might on a war horse, but would come with love and humility on the back of a humble and meek donkey. So he told two of his disciples to go out to a nearby village and untie a donkey and its colt and bring them back. And Jesus instructs them that if anyone says to them, “man, what are you tryna do with my donkey?” all they had to say was, “God needs them.” It’s like Jesus had supernatural control of the situation. Nothing was going to stop him from accomplishing God’s plan for salvation.
In the same way people may try to question you when you are being obedient to God. But God knows this, and God is whispering in the ears of those who try to oppose God’s plan, “don’t worry; this is all happening to fulfill my purposes.” God had complete control of the situation, just like he knows everything about ours. And the disciples trusted that Jesus knew what he was doing, and were therefore obedient to him. So they brought back the donkey and its colt to Jesus. They immediately laid their garments on them for Jesus to sit on. You see, Jesus could have just walked right into the jail cell of Jerusalem, but he knew that it was about that time, that the prophecy was being fulfilled. So he decided to do something big! Riding in on the donkey wasn’t just a flashy performance; it wasn’t just Jesus saying, “Hey, look how humble and meek I am.” NO! It was a bold announcement in which Jesus said to Israel, “Do you remember that humble king prophesied from so long ago? Well I am that king! – and I am riding through the barbed wire gate to get to my people.”
But isn’t it amazing that, in Matthew, Jesus didn’t want any old donkey? Did you hear it back in verse 2? Jesus doesn’t send for just any old donkey; Jesus sends for a mother and her child. He says, “Go get me a donkey and her colt.” Isn’t that amazing? I just want to point out two things here. Number one: it was the Passover in Jerusalem, which means there were thousands of pilgrims coming to the city that would need a donkey to ride on. Somebody out there would have eventually bought this momma donkey to ride on. But – this momma donkey wasn’t just bought by any random person; this momma donkey was specifically chosen by Jesus. She was going to have to go into the jail cell of Jerusalem anyways, but now she’s not going in alone; now she’s carrying Jesus with her. And Jesus takes special care to bring the momma’s child along with him. In the Kingdom of God, momma’s children don’t get left behind – even if they may be separated from their mother some day. That brings me to the second thing – not only does this momma donkey need Jesus; Jesus needs this momma donkey. He is entering the barbed wire gate to be handed over to the cross. He is afraid. But he takes strength in the loving and caring faithfulness of this mother. She is carrying a heavy burden, but Jesus can see that it’s God’s burden she’s carrying, and he is strengthened and encouraged because of it. Yes, Jesus needs this momma donkey for strength along the painful journey he was about to endure.
It was about that time. So Jesus mounted the donkey and began riding to Jerusalem, headed straight for the barbed wire gate to get to his people. He was prepared to suffer with them if that’s what it took. He was prepared to spend the rest of his life in the jail cell if that’s what it took. Because Jesus is intimately aware of our sorrows, and is willing to meet us in the middle of them. Jesus feels our pain with us, and isn’t afraid to suffer with us. It’s like that old African American spiritual says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrows. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; glory hallelujah.” But in the second verse the words change and it makes a huge difference: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; glory hallelujah.” Jesus knows the troubles and sorrows of his daughters, thanks be to God.
And as he started getting closer to the barbed wire gate, the crowds start gathering around him and praising him. They instantly remembered that prophecy of Zechariah that declared that the king would come humbly on a donkey. They instantly recognized that this Jesus is that humble king come to save us. So what did they do? Did they stand there and watch? No, they prepared the way for the king! This is the king who is coming not with weapons or armor or a horse. This king isn’t coming to whip Jerusalem into shape. He’s not coming with a loud voice telling you to walk in a single file line. This king is coming with mercy and forgiveness to let his daughters know how much they are loved and cherished and cared for and worthy to be called God’s children. So the crowds prepare the way for the king. This king deserves a royal procession. So they start cutting down the branches so the king can have a red carpet. But this red carpet isn’t soft and smooth; it’s made of branches. It’s rough and messy and leads straight to the barbed wire gate.
I don’t know if you’re able to see it – but do you know that Jesus is riding through the barbed wire gate of this place? Just like Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives and looked out over the jail cell of Jerusalem, Jesus also stands on the Mount of Georgia and looks out over Arrendale State Prison. He sees the hurt and pain of his daughters, and he sends out for mother and child and says, “I’m going in.” My only question for you this evening is this: are you willing to prepare the way? Verse 8 tells us that the crowds went out before Jesus and made a path clear with palm branches. They started singing praises to God. They shouted out, “Hosanna!” which means, “save us!” Hosanna in the highest heaven. More than that, they called Jesus the “Son of David.” The recognized that this is the one prophesied from long ago, the descendant of David, the humble king that has come to redeem God’s people. And so let me ask you – As Jesus walks through the barbed wire gate, are you preparing the way? Are you crying out, “Hosanna!” and laying down a red carpet, or are you watching from the sidelines as Jesus rides on by? Jesus has come through the barbed wire gate to reach you. He has come to tell each person in this room how much you are loved and cherished and cared for and worthy of being God’s daughter. So prepare the way! Make a path clear for him to ride in to this place this evening! Lay down branches of praise for the Lord and palm leaves of thanksgiving!
I’ve gotta wrap up or they’re gonna throw me out. Verse 10: “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Jesus’ little display caused quite the spectacle. The people in Jerusalem saw what was going on and then got a little anxious. This man was causing quite the ruckus. Remember, the people in Jerusalem had to be quiet and submissive or else the Romans would come and teach them a lesson. They had to stay silent. So they started coming up to the disciples that were following Jesus on the donkey and asking them, “Who is this man that’s causing such a stir? (We’re supposed to keep quiet or we’ll get in trouble!)”
Isn’t it amazing that, even inside the jail cell of Jerusalem, there were some who didn’t recognize that Jesus had come to reach them? They couldn’t see that this man had come to let them know how much God loves them. Do you know what I’m talking about, Arrendale? Do you know people that have yet to recognize that Jesus has come through this barbed wire gate to reach them? They see you praising and worshiping and crying out “Hosanna!” They even see you causing a little bit of a ruckus when you worship the Lord with gladness and throw down your branches to prepare the way for the humble king coming on a donkey. So they come up to you and say, “Who is this?” ….
What are you going to tell them, Arrendale? “Who is this?” This is God in the flesh come to save us, this is the humble king of kings come to reign over us with justice and mercy, this is the innocent Son of God come to die on a cross to forgive us, this is Jesus Christ the Lord who has come through the barbed wire gate into the jail cell to tell us how much he loves us and cherishes us and cares for us and tells us we are worthy to be called God’s children. Hosanna, thanks be to God, it’s about that time! Amen.