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Psalm 118:19-29 1
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. 20 This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter. 21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. 27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. 29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

clip_image110Background

In the book Ezra 3:10-11, we read that ” When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’” Now the words mentioned in Ezra are the first and last sentences of this Psalm, and it is possible, therefore, to conclude that the people chanted the whole of this song; and, moreover, that the use of this text on such occasions as were ordained by David, whom is believed to be its author. Born in 907 B.C., David reigns as king of Israel for 40 years, dying at age 70 in 837 B.C.

Biblical Truths

Makers of lectionaries see connections between the texts that are read together on a particular day. This psalm shares a theme with Palm Sunday: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (111:22). No first century earthly ruler would prefer a donkey to a chariot for use on coronation day. The Builder of the universe saw things differently. David saw God already making Israel to be the “chief cornerstone” in God’s building project. What the powers that be regard as useless and naïve turns out to be the absolutely essential component, of ordered dependable existence (“righteousness,” 111:19-20). What really holds the world together is not struggling contesting powers (military, economic, psychological), but the truly “righteous” person whom Judaism prizes, or to put it another way, the person of true “humility” whose unassuming genuineness glues together what has been wrongly torn apart.

When Solomon became king, it says in I Kings 1:38-39, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and put Solomon on King David’s mule and escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!”

One of the first prophecies in the Bible about the Messiah is associated with the donkey. Jacob prophesied in Genesis 49:10-11, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.”

Palm Sunday is a time to reflect on relations between power structures and the strength of genuine humility, between appearance and reality, between what is transitory and what endures. This Psalm is a thanksgiving liturgy accompanying a victory procession of the king and His people.

Items for Discussion

  • What characteristics of our God come forward to you through this story?
  • What is wrong with holding a position of authority by force and power?
  • What were the characteristics of those who you consider to be the greatest leaders?

 

Matthew 21:1-11
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ “ 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Background

The Gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. Scholars conjecture that it was written for the church at Antioch toward the end of the 1st century. It has been traditionally regarded as the earliest Gospel. It was written for Jewish Christians, the purpose being to prove that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. Much of the book is devoted to His teaching. The apostle Matthew, also called Levi, was the son of Alphaeus and the brother of the apostle James the Less, or, James, son of Alphaeus. By profession, Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus to follow Him. Matthew was a gifted writer, an ardent disciple, and was perhaps the best educated of any of the Twelve Apostles

The Romans had improved the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. It was just over 18 miles long, passing by Bethany and Bethpage, over the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley and into Jerusalem. This is the road that Jesus will use to enter Jerusalem.

Biblical Truths

Jesus has obviously arranged for his ride into Jerusalem, having rented the animal for a day. The donkey, literally “beast of burden”, was ridden by rulers in time of peace and serves to image Jesus as both the messiah and the one who fulfills scripture, but particularly as the king of peace. Only Matthew mentions two donkeys.

Jesus rides the young colt with its mother tagging alone. The disciples take off their outer garments and put them on the animals, and Jesus “sat on them.” The spreading of cloaks on the road by the crowd acknowledges Jesus’ kingship. The cutting of branches and spreading them before Jesus is a gesture similar to that offered to Simon Maccabaeus when he entered Jerusalem, a gesture of respect.

Jesus’ stay in Bethany most likely allowed the news of his approach to spread throughout Jerusalem. With pilgrims behind and crowds from Jerusalem coming out to meet him, Jesus moves toward the city. The crowd starts singing a pilgrims’ chant. It comes primarily from Psalm 118:25-26. “Hosanna” is an acclamation. “Son of David”, and “He who comes in the name of the Lord”, are both messianic titles. “Hosanna in the highest” is equivalent to “Glory to God in the highest.” So the crowd is certainly proclaiming Jesus as messiah, although as with all crowds, their judgment is fickle and superficial.

Items for Discussion

  • Why do you think Jesus chose to ride the colt rather than its mother?
  • What type of symbolism do you find in this story in Matthew? That is, who is the Jesus we love so much?
  • In what way does Palm Sunday support the glory of Easter Sunday?

Discussion Challenges

  • Does the modern Christian welcome Jesus into their lives as the peacemaker between themselves and God, or do they attempt to tell Him where to go?
  • In what way does the Old Testament help you with your Christian faith?
Additional Study Notes

Items for Discussion from Psalms

  • What characteristics of our God come forward to you through this story?
    • God seeks to establish a kingdom of peace, not chaos.
    • God is steadfast, patient, and accountable to His word.
    • God seeks to have us honor Him by choice, not His power.
    • God is in control of everything.
  • What is wrong with holding a position of authority by force and power?
    • Generally, this is temporal – the position cannot be held forever.
    • All people inherently desire to be free – this desire drives them away from obedience to rebellion.
  • What were the characteristics of those who you consider to be the greatest leaders?
    • Honest, ethical, moral
    • Humble, fair

Items for Discussion from Matthew

  • Why do you think Jesus chose to ride the colt rather than its mother?
    • This is an interesting question that is not directly answered in Scripture. However, as will all Scripture, this fact does have meaning. One may conclude that Jesus was sending us a message of who He was: the Lord, who stills the storm, stills the unbroken animal.
  • What type of symbolism do you find in this story in Matthew? That is, who is the Jesus we love so much?
    • The symbolism of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem portrays him as the Son of David, Prince of Peace.
    • More particularly, this acted-out parable portrays Jesus as the King of Peace. Jesus does not come to Jerusalem as if he were a glorious king seeking the adulation of the populous, nor does he come as a conquering king seeking vengeance. He comes in peace; in lowly humility he rides into the city. He comes to bring peace between mankind and God. He comes to break down the barriers that exist between the Creator and His creation. He comes that we may find a peace that passes all understanding.
    • The welcome given to Jesus by the disciples and the pilgrims on the Jericho road that “Palm” Sunday all those years ago is an example to follow. Jesus comes before us as the King of peace.
  • In what way does Palm Sunday support the glory of Easter Sunday?
    • It demonstrates the depravity of mankind and how quickly we can loose sight of our Messiah.
    • It defines the purpose of Christ’s death, to remove the inevitable sin from each of us.

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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