St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-09-2017

Almost There, But Not Quite

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It was just this past Christmas Eve, also working from the Gospel of Matthew, that I pointed out the “conflict and contradiction” in the birth narrative. I mentioned how Matthew provides Jesus’ family lineage, on Joseph’s side, back to Abraham and includes King David and how that earthly lineage would be used to determine inheritance; including to the throne of the king. The contradiction is found in the fact that we are also told that Joseph isn’t Jesus’ biological father, God is! Thus, the earthly lineage is meaningless.

I also brought up the contradiction of the Magi seeing a star and determining that it announced the arrival of one “born to be the King of the Jews” held in contrast to scripture from Isaiah that forbids using the movement of the stars for divination.

I highlighted some other, similar, contradictions in that sermon; and the emphasis was on how the Magi, Herod, and we almost got it right in seeing Jesus as a “King”, almost… except that Jesus isn’t King of this world.

All of that was at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life; now, thirty -something years later and perhaps three years into his ministry, we still see the same conflict and contradiction. Jesus is about to make his, as we call it, ‘triumphant entry’ into Jerusalem, but as it plays out, the people will almost get it right, but not quite yet.

Jesus sets up the scene himself; instructing two disciples to go ahead of him where they will find a donkey and her colt, and to bring them to him. They do so; he mounts the animals and begins his ride into Jerusalem. With great pageantry, the crowds spread their cloaks and tree branches on the road, a gesture of welcoming a victorious king, and they shout their praises to him Just as they would to a victorious king returning from battle; “Hosanna to the Son – of – David”!

They almost had it right; but not quite yet.

In the same way as in his Nativity story, Matthew doesn’t spell it out for us, but he does give us a hint when he writes, “This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Just as any good Jew would see the nullification of Jesus’ lineage by the fact that he is not Joseph’s son; and just as any Jew worth his salt would recognize the conflict of astrological divination as part of a Jewish birth; so would they draw in the rest of the words from the brief reference to the Scripture of Zachariah where it is written…

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9, 10)

This reading starts with terms of victory and triumph in war but then, the part Matthew excluded, speaks of the destruction of implements of war and peace being the way of life for all nations, even to the ends of the earth.

Matthew further highlights the misunderstanding at the end of today’s reading; the people within the city ask “who is this?’ and the crowds respond “This is the prophet Jesus”!

The crowds were expecting a king to lead them in battle against, and liberate them from, the oppressive occupation of the Roman Empire. But Jesus is not that kind of king.

They greeted Jesus as a triumphant, victorious king. But Jesus’ fight isn’t over yet; he is just now charging into his final and greatest battle.

They almost had it right, but not quite yet.

As things play out, later in this week, it is important for us to remember all these things. Jesus was not born to be the King of the Jews; he did not ride into Jerusalem to become King of Judea; he was not intended to become king of any nation; he was not, and is not, a king of this world. He is the king of God’s Kingdom.

I almost got that right, but not quite yet.

When we hear Jesus speak of his Kingdom, or God’s Kingdom we tend to think in terms of heaven. In fact, Matthew uses the term “Kingdom of heaven” frequently in his account of the Gospel. But we, in this age, tend to think of heaven as another place, not of this world but something other-worldly.

This is truth; but it is not the complete truth. For when Jesus speaks of “this world” and the “other world” he is not separating them in terms of location but in terms of the way things are in “this world” according to our plan; and the way they should be in the world under God’s plan. And that is the world where Jesus is King.

Jesus came into this world to be a king, triumphant and victorious; but not in the terms we think of, rather, in God’s terms; not with chariots, war horses, and bows; but with peace and love. He came to be an alternative kind of king in an alternative kind of kingdom.

It is okay, then, that we celebrate this day, and it’s okay that we rejoice with the crowds; sing our Hosannas; and jubilantly wave our palms! It’s okay… as long as we are aware that we are not receiving a King who has been victorious but one entering the final battle in which he will be victorious; conquering death itself; and opening the gates for us also.

Without this awareness, without this mindfulness, we set ourselves up for debilitating disappointment when our “triumphant and victorious” king suddenly appears to be not so triumphant as he stands in before Pilot; not so victorious as he hangs dying on a cross causing our jubilant shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David” that we sing today into condemning shouts of “some king you turned out to be” before the end of the week.

Today, Jesus has almost made it right, but not quite yet.



Matthew 21:1-11
21:1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
21:2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
21:3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
21:4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
21:5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
21:6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
21:9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
21:10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”
21:11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Isaiah 50:4-9a
50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
50:5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
50:6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
50:7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
50:8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
50:9a It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?


Philippians 2:5-11
2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.