Places of the Passion: Bethphage
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 21:1–21:11
Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday
April 10, 2022
“Places of the Passion: Bethphage”
“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’” (Matthew 21:10). Ever since that first Palm Sunday, people have been asking this same question: who is this Jesus? Everybody has an opinion on that! Is Jesus a moral example of how we are to live? Is Jesus a teacher for the ages? Is Jesus what the crowds said when he entered Jerusalem: “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11)? Who is Jesus? That’s what we want to find out for ourselves as we follow Jesus to all the places of his Passion. Today on Palm Sunday, we go to where it begins, Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Let’s go back to where it all started on that first Palm Sunday. Matthew’s account in the Gospel lesson for today tells us what this looked like as Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Matthew 21:5). So Jesus is a king, but not the kind of king that the world thinks of. Note that Matthew does not include a key part of Zechariah’s prophecy, which says: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). So why does Matthew leave this out? To emphasize Jesus’ humility. In riding a donkey instead of a war horse, Jesus makes clear what kind of king he is. He is not a conquering military commander, but he is a king who washes feet (John 13:1ff.). He is a king who comes not to be served, but to serve and to offer his life as ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Though he is rich beyond imagination, Jesus became poor for our sake so that we might become rich through him (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus doesn’t enter into Jerusalem to marshal an army, but to stretch out his arms on the tree of the cross, all for us and for our salvation. As today’s Epistle makes clear, Jesus came to humble himself and become obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11). This is the kind of king we have: One whose crown was not gold, but thorns, and whose throne was the wood of the cross. What started off at Bethphage on that first Palm Sunday would end at Golgotha on the day we call Good Friday.
The word “Hosanna” is so much a part of Palm Sunday. It is a Hebrew word that means, “Save us now!” That word, coupled together with palm branches – an ancient sign of victory – said it all. Jesus is the King who saves, and he does it be entering Jerusalem to shed his blood and give his life on the cross. Remember when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy and decided to divorce her quietly? An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and reassured him: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Jesus’ name, Yeshua, means “the Lord saves.” Jesus is what his name says; he is the One who saves; the Savior. What Jesus has saved us from is a downward, deathward spiral of a meaningless existence; life apart from God. Jesus has saved us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, as Luther says, “not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death” (Explanation of the Second Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism). This is Jesus’ gift to you.
We have an answer to the question the people asked on that first Palm Sunday or who may ask today: “Who is this?” We know who this is! This is Jesus, our King and our Savior. As we begin this Holy Week, let us walk together as we follow Jesus from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We cannot arrive at the joy of resurrection on Easter morning without first going through the cross of suffering and death on Good Friday. Who is this? Because we know who this is, let us “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; doing this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Let us point them to Jesus – always. Amen.