Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who Is This?

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Zechariah 3:1-2, 6-9; 2 Samuel 7:11b-16; Matthew 21:1-16

    ALL WEEK PILGRIMS HAD been surging into Jerusalem.  The Passover was near, and hour by hour more and more people approached the gates to the city.

    But today, five days before the Feast, something was happening on the road from the Mount of Olives that was out of the ordinary even for this holiday time.  Down from the Mount rolled a stream of pilgrims shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"   "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  And "Hosanna in the highest!"

    All this clamour seemed to be addressed to a Man riding in the midst of the crowd, seated on a young donkey with its mother close by.  The exultant pilgrims were cutting branches off the palm trees and spreading them  and their own cloaks on the road in front of Him.  Closer and closer to the city the loud and excited procession approached, until the Man and His supporters swept in through the city gate and into the Temple courts.  Still they cried out, "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  And the Man rode on, tall and regal on the cloak-draped beast, the very image of a King taking possession of what was His own.

    On Jerusalem and her citizens the impression was nothing short of seismic.  From one end of the city to the other the news spread, and their hearts were shaken to the depths.  "Who is this who has come?" they asked.  "Who is this?"

    From the Man's crowd of supporters the reply came, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

    Who is this?  Who is this Jesus?  People are still asking the question today.  Every year about this time unbelievers with little scholarship and less reverence claim to answer that question with their latest ideas.  They say, "He was an ordinary man buried in his family tomb."  Or, "He was a co-conspirator with Judas trying to gain political control."  Or, "Jesus was the husband of Mary Magdalene."  You've heard all the sensationalist theories, and I hope you know they're only good for making the authors money off of people fool enough to believe their lies. 

    But the question is still remains: Who is this?  Who is the One who rode into Jerusalem that Sunday afternoon so many centuries ago? 

    We don't need to come up with new theories: the Scripture itself answers question.  Not just with a few facts about a Rabbi who once walked the hills of Galilee and Judea; no, the Word of God shows us the living Jesus and reveals who He is for us today and will be forever.

    Who is this, riding into Jerusalem?  The Galilean crowds say to the people of the city, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." 

    Could they have meant that Jesus was the prophet from Nazareth, so no one would confuse Him with some other prophets of God that were around?

    No.  Absolutely not.  Everyone knew that John the Baptist was the first prophet God had sent the Jews since the death of the prophet Malachi over four hundred years before.  From then until John, no person had spoken in the name of the Lord, at least not with God's approval.  But for the previous three years Jesus of Nazareth had been proving by His words and miracles that He had every right to speak in the name of the Lord.  He was the only prophet worthy of the name in Israel. Jesus, moreover, had shown Himself to be greater than any prophet who had come before.  His words were more authoritative than those of Moses.  His miracles were more wonderful and divine than those of Elijah and Elisha.  He was not simply a prophet, He was the Prophet.

    As we read from the Book of Deuteronomy, fourteen centuries before Jesus walked this earth the Lord God put His words into the mouth of His servant Moses.  Moses said, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him."

    What does it mean to say "a prophet like Moses"?  Hear what the Lord Himself said about Moses, as it is written in Numbers 12, verses 6-8a:

    When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
          I reveal myself to him in visions,
         I speak to him in dreams.
    But this is not true of my servant Moses;
          he is faithful in all my house.
    With him I speak face to face,
         clearly and not in riddles;
           he sees the form of the LORD.

The promised "prophet like Moses" would speak with the Lord face to face.  He would hear and know the word of the Lord directly, and not through dreams and visions.  He would be "faithful in all God's house," and would declare the message of God fearlessly, without worrying what people might say or do to him.  The great Prophet to come would be one of the children of Israel. And the Lord commanded that the people must listen to him.

    Jesus was and is the Prophet like Moses whom the Jews had been awaiting for so long.  The cheering Galileans who marched beside Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem that day knew He was.  And by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our ears are opened to receive Him as the Prophet, too.

    The Apostle John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  The Greek for "the Word was with God" can be translated "the Word was before the face of," or "face to face with God."  From all eternity, Christ the Lord beheld the form and face of the Father directly, without needing any go-between.  As a Man on this earth that relationship and direct communication between Himself and the Father continued unbroken until the agony of the Cross.  John reports that Jesus said, "My teaching is not my own.  It comes from him who sent me.  If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out if my teaching comes from God or not."  Jesus received the word of God directly and He proclaimed it faithfully.  Just as with Moses, and even more than Moses, Jesus' word was and is the will of God for His chosen people.  The Lord said through Moses in the desert,

    I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

Who is this,  riding into Jerusalem?  It is Jesus Christ, God's final and greatest Prophet. And to Jesus all mankind must listen, and Him all mankind must obey.

    Who is this, who enters the Temple area in such righteous zeal?  This Jesus acts as if He had the right to drive out those buying and selling there.  Wasn't it the priests of Israel, and especially the high priest, whose duty it was to make sure that the temple of God remained a house of prayer for all nations?  For the Temple was where the people met with God.  It was the place where the sacrifices were offered to make atonement for sin.  As Solomon prayed at the first Temple's dedication, "May your eyes, [O Lord], be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your name there. . . . Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive."  The high priest was charged with keeping himself and the Temple holy and pure.  And only he might carry the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, to turn away God's wrath so the people might live. 

    But as we read in the book of the prophet Zechariah, the high priests of Israel were sinful men themselves.  Joshua was high priest in Jerusalem after the people returned from exile in Babylon, and humanly-speaking, he was a pretty good man.  But even he is covered with such sin, his robes are so dirty before the Lord, that Satan in strict justice has every right to accuse him.  But the Lord rebukes Satan, and says that Joshua is a burning stick snatched from the fire.  The Lord then addresses Joshua and says,

     "Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  . . . and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day."

This Joshua and his fellow priests are men symbolic of things to come, in the day when God would send the righteous Branch of Jesse spoken of by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, through whom God would remove His people's sin in a single day.   Joshua and the other priests were emblems of the great and perfect High Priest to come.  The robes of this High Priest would be pure and His sacrifice for sin would be perfectly acceptable to God.  The name Joshua itself means "Jehovah saves," and it's the Hebrew version of the Greek name "Jesus."  The writer of the book of Hebrews says that Jesus is our High Priest forever.  Jesus is the One who is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."  He is the One who sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.  He is the One who serves in the sanctuary of heaven, in the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.  He is the One who has the right to cleanse the Temple, the right to encourage the praises of the children shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David!"-- even though the impure and faithless chief priests of His day wanted Him to keep them quiet. 

    Who is this, striding into the Temple and overturning the tables of the moneychangers?  It is Jesus, our great High Priest, who took the blood of His own body into the Holy of Holies of heaven, and made full atonement for all our sins.

    And who is this, whom the crowds on the road and the children in the Temple hail as the Son of David?

    As we read in our selection from 2 Samuel, God promised King David that

    I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.

In the ordinary course of this world, God fulfilled this promise first of all in David's son Solomon.  He was born of David, his kingdom was established, and he built the house for God's name.  And God kept on keeping this promise in David's grandson and great-grandson and great-great-grandsons.  When it was necessary, God punished them "with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men," but David's line was never destroyed.  Even in the days of the Exile, the Davidic line continued, and ever since, the Jews had looked forward to the coming of the ultimate King of Israel, "great David's greater Son."  For in him God would keep His promise to David, in which He said, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." 

    And now, on this first Palm Sunday afternoon, men, women, and little children are crying out to Jesus, "Hosanna to the Son of David"  "Hosanna!" they cry.  "Save us!"  And Jesus accepts their praise.  Before His conception, the angel told His mother Mary that her Son would sit forever on the throne of His father David.  All through His ministry,  Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God and in His commands and parables He made it clear that He Himself was the ruler of that kingdom.  Jesus before Pilate declared that He was a king, and not just a king of any single nation in this world; He was king of a kingdom that transcends this world, a kingdom that will endure before God forever.

    Who is this, riding into Jerusalem like a king ready to take His throne?  It is Jesus, the Son of David, the One to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Who is this Jesus?  He is our King, enthroned on the Cross where He won the victory over Satan, sin, and death.  Under His gracious rulership we bow in humble joy and receive health, bounty, nurture, and peace that nothing on earth can give.  He is our High Priest, and the Cross was the bloody altar where He offered Himself up as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.  In His broken body and shed blood alone we find redemption and are cleansed to stand in the presence of God.   He is our Prophet, the Prophet, and from the Cross His blood speaks the divine word of judgment against sin and the gracious word of hope for ransomed sinners.   From His mouth and His alone we receive the true meaning of the Scriptures and are called to eternal life.

    Jesus is your Prophet, Priest, and King, and He is mine.  So come to His Supper, all you who are baptised into His name.  At His Table He comes to you humbly, no longer on a donkey, but in these elements of bread and wine; on these He has promised to set His seal. Lift up your hearts to heaven and receive Him by faith, with thanksgiving. 

    Hosanna to you, Christ Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Blessed are You who come in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Amen.

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