Philip Casmer

Behold, Your King!

by Philip Casmer on April 2nd, 2023
Matthew 21:1–11

Cosmas sat in the warm square of sun at the threshold of his father’s courtyard, the ornate double-door stood open to the street. Cool, fresh Spring air poured in. On it, floating like petals on the breeze, the laughter of a pretty Hebrew girl passing by, holding her father’s hand. Cosmas flashed his winningest smile. She blushed and turned away, into the familiar family travel-party. “Ah…Spring in Jerusalem,” he thought, “pretty girls galore and not a one for me!” Not for a Gentile boy, even a handsome one. Even if his father, a physician, had mended many a Jewish pilgrim’s ankle or crushed toe and seen to their children’s fevers by the score over the years. A physician’s services were often in need when pilgrims packed the streets. And, at this time of year, by the tens of thousands, pilgrims made an unending stream before Cosmas’ door – here for Passover. 

Cosmas shook his head and bent back to sorting ingredients and tools for his father. Down the street the first notes of the song caught his ear again – the Hallel. He knew a little Hebrew, enough to know they were praising their God, asking for salvation. Not his god, mind you, but it made him smile anyway. It was catchy and by the end of the day he’d have heard it 100 times. They sang it, the residents of Jerusalem to the pilgrims who passed and they replied – a joyful back and forth. Clear and strong, the voice sang out, “אָנָּ֣א יְ֭הוָה הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א” – and almost everyone in the street sang back – “אָֽנָּ֥א יְ֝הוָ֗ה הַצְלִ֘יחָ֥ה נָּֽא׃” And, on the hosannas went… His own face reflecting their joy, Cosmas turned back to work, he saw the pretty girl was singing along too…

Holding her father’s hand, Miriam blushed and turned away from the handsome boy in the sunlit doorway. She loved their visits to Jerusalem. So many sights, smells, sounds – interesting people. Almost every year, for Passover they came. It was a fair distance from Cana, but worth it. Her father’s reminder brought a smile to her lips, “People come for Pesach from all around the Great Sea…you think you travel far! And, from Father Abraham to Moses,” resting his hands on her shoulders, his brown eyes gleaming, “great journeys are in our blood!” Thankfully, she thought, their great journey was almost at its end – her feet hurt. Her uncle’s spacious home was just blocks away. She could see the arch they’d pass just before the turn. And then, food and rest and a week for the feast.

The song broke her thoughtfulness. Only a few hundred feet into the city and she’d heard it three times already. She turned, smiling, and sang back the response… a delighted giggle escaped her lips as it carried on: the joy was infectious – all her family singing as they walked – swaying and smiling. And just as she was about to raise the next line, someone was shaking her arm, tugging her hand. She turned… “You have to come! Come with me! He’s coming, they say… the rabbi, from Nazareth! Come!” It was Ahava, her cousin – she was 10 years old to Miriam’s 11 – eyes wide as cups, bright with excitement. 

Miriam felt a thrill at her word… She’d seen the rabbi herself – remembered that night when he healed all the sick in Cana, a line trailing out the door, how she’d snuck out and peered through the window and watched… She’d listened to him one afternoon in the calf-high grass on a hillside near Bethsaida, heard his blessed message; she and thousands went home snacking on bread and fish some said he made, but… 

She dragged her gaze from Ahava’s waiting face and up to her father’s. Like parents do, he’d heard everything. He smiled and nodded. “Be safe. Stay together…” Before the words were fully out they were off, running, threading through the crowd, back toward the gates. As they broke through, onto the road, wound down into the valley Hinnom and up the other slope, she realized it was others of her cousins, and others she didn’t know – not only children, but men and women too – caught up in the excitement. A great multitude – hundreds, perhaps – walked back along the road, faces bright with afternoon sun, squinting up across toward another crowd spilling over the crest of Olivet – and in its midst a man riding a donkey’s colt – the rabbi! As they swam upstream in the pilgrim river, the song rose again… “LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success! – hosanna!”

Not all sang. It was many, many on the road – merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, families. Many glanced askance at the strange crowd pushing the wrong way and singing aloud. Some were bent on business or just wanted to mind their own. Others had heard who was coming and cared not a bit. Much like those, just a half hour prior other side of Olivet in Bethphage, who’d watched curious and furtively muttered as two men led away Asher’s donkeys – mother and colt. Who could blame them? Even Peter and James – who’d followed their Lord’s word and found the animals just as he’d said and bore the stares of all the nosy travelers lodging there and brought the animals straightaway – even they didn’t fully understand, didn’t comprehend what was coming – what Jesus was going to do. 

It all began to happen as they met the rest at the road. Peter fell into that easy leadership again, directing the Twelve to saddle the animals with their cloaks, not knowing which Jesus would choose. Once he’d seated himself on the colt, it was out of Peter’s hands, as though God’s Spirit took it away… Jesus gave Peter one of those “are you ready for this?” gazes and urged the beast forward, leaving Peter standing there. A fervor ran through their crowd like fire in a summer field. Peter watched bewildered as others began to strip off their cloaks or cut branches from the palms. By the time Peter had gathered himself, Jesus was already 50 paces down the way, riding along at a gentle clip, speaking quietly to the colt. The crowd quickly swallowed him, walking in front and behind till they spilled over Olivet’s crest and rounded the bend and the Holy City broke into view. Gleaming white houses stacked the hill like blocks, sprawling palace, and golden temple mount… it wasn’t for that brilliant site that Peter’s eyes widened, but this: that an equally large group marched to meet them, singing in the afternoon sun, two pretty little girls grinning ear to ear and leading the way.

And, if it all weren’t amazing enough, now as for a king, those in the crowds began to plait together branches and cloaks across the road, carpeting his path. Other travelers moved aside – with wonder or disdain, some joined in. Palms waved to and fro, bouncing overhead, and voices lifted up a single song of “Hosannas” for this “Son of David”, and others shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And Peter didn’t know what to do with it; among his small and insufficient thoughts was this: it all seems rather prophetic…

In fact, as the kingly carpet paved Jesus’ way down the path across the valley and into the city – and more and more joined in and the song rose ever louder – that was the conclusion. Some knew who he was and despised such a display. Others thought they knew but truly didn’t… Most just didn’t know a thing. And finally, all of Jerusalem burned with the question, “Who is this?” “The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee…’” 

And so should you and I also ask: “Who is this?” And we should note that Matthew wrote to tell that he was not just “the prophet” but prophecy fulfilled. He wrote with prophetic words from Isaiah and Psalms…

  • “Say to Daughter Zion…” – to the Holy Jerusalem the prophets wrote, but Matthew drags it on into any other time, this place, for it applies also to every believer in God’s Messiah – to you he tells this story, you his sons and daughters, his beautiful city…
  • “See, your king comes…” – he says that we don’t have to go out and search it, we cannot seek him out ourselves; by his own choice comes to us; a ruler, mighty, regal – with nothing to fear because he is yours
  • “to you…” – to you who feel no kingly worth, you who doubt whether he ought to come, you who know by your sins that he shouldn’t… to you and me who are always about our business and might not have time or make it;…to you and me who sometimes get caught up in making this Jesus something other than he is – our friend, some teacher, granter-of-wishes; …to you and me who get distracted, who sometimes despair; …to you – however and whoever you are – he comes…
  • “gentle and riding on a donkey…” – there’s no doubt – it is kingly, it is overt, it is a new stage in Jesus ministry – not quiet, not unassuming, but in-your-face and here-I-am… But for the most humble thing: setting aside all his own power and interest, he sets into motion everything that will finally glorify God in his determination to pay for sins… yours and mine… to rule over them with might of his perfect life given in bloody payment, to power through sin’s death with explosive life, and to turn it all to you in gracious promise…

At the head of Holy Week – in anticipation of a Holy Thursday fellowship and that somber Friday so Good and for vibrant, promising Easter – on this Palm Sunday, run with the girls, wave the palms, sing the song. “Hosanna! / Save, God, please…” Here is his answer. Behold, your king! The Son of David. Jesus Christ. He comes in God’s name to do God’s work for our salvation. Watch and see.  

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