“Who is This?” / Matthew 21:1-11

Today is Palm Sunday – it recounts what all four gospels call The Triumphal Entry. Let me try to give you some idea of what happened that day almost 2,000 years ago. To begin, Jerusalem was packed with people. he Jewish nation was celebrating a most important occasion – Passover.

Passover took place when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and Moses was their leader. Moses had demanded that Pharaoh allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. God sent ten plagues to Egypt, but Pharaoh still refused. Finally, God sent an angel of death over all the Egyptian households – all the first-born sons in every Egyptian household were killed, but in every Jewish household, the sons were spared.

With this event, Pharaoh finally let the Israelites leave slavery and oppression in Egypt and begin their journey to the Promised Land.

Following their deliverance from 400 years of slavery, Jewish law declared that every adult male who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was required to attend Passover. Other documents uncovered from this time record that, at a particular Passover, 250,000 lambs were slain one year. According to Jewish law, each lamb could take care of up to 10 persons – this meant that as many as 2.5 million persons were in the city.

Jesus has passed thru Jericho, and is now walking the 17 miles to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was also 3,000 ft. higher than Jericho, so it must have been quite a hike! The road passed thru Bethany and nearby Bethphage, which means “house of figs.” Next, he crossed over the Mt. of Olives, then thru the Kidron Valley. In some accounts, it says Jesus “set his face like flint” as he headed to Jerusalem.

Let’s look at today’s passage, Matthew 21:1-11: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey,  and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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 heaven!” 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.”

What can we say about these events?

First, we know the Entry was carefully planned – Jesus has known from all eternity that this day would come.

Second, the Entry was act of glorious defiance and courage. If we read other accounts, we know there was a price on his head. John 11:57: But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.

Third, it was a deliberate claim of his kingship. It was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Something else we need to remember – I have mentioned this in my Bible studies, and perhaps in my sermons too. Recall that whenever Jesus performed a miracle, he often told folks not to say anything.

This is called the Messianic Secret. Jesus did not want folks to only be attracted to him because of his miracles or other dramatic events. But now, the lid has been blown off completely – Jesus now openly declared his kingship.

Traditionally, whenever a King returned from battle, he either came riding on a horse, the symbol of war; or he came on a donkey, the symbol of peace. But a king nevertheless!

The fact that the donkey had never been ridden was also of significance, and word would have gotten around about that as well. The city was packed, and Jesus was received like a king. There were no longer any secrets.

By spreading their cloaks, as well as palm branches on the ground, the crowd was acknowledging the kingship of Jesus. We see this in 2 Kings 9, as well as (as we read) Zechariah 9. Also, this was done when Judas Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem.

Verse 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 heaven!”

Now, let’s get serious – what do you think “Hosanna” means? Does it mean HEY! WAY TO GO! GREAT! WOW! YIPPEE!

Well let me tell you what it means – the words come primarily from Psalm 118:25-26: O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.

“Hosanna” transliterates the Hebrew expression that originally was a cry for help: “Save!” We find it also in 2 Samuel and 2 Kings. Over time, it became an invocation of blessing and even an acclamation, the latter being the meaning here.

“Son of David” is obviously messianic and stresses the kingly role Jesus was to play as Messiah.

Needless to say, if you are a Jewish religious leader, you are upset:

  • The donkey
  • The crowds
  • The palm branches
  • The cloaks
  • Hosanna!

Remember, we know how the week ends…

Verses 10-11: 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.”

Many scholars believe Jesus entered Jerusalem through what is now called Saint Stephen’s gate, near the north entrance to the outer court of the temple. News of Jesus’ presence is inevitably disturbing.

“Who is this?” does not mean that Jesus was unknown in Jerusalem, and needed to be identified. Instead, the people were asking, “Who is this causing all this excitement?” That’s a good question!

The answer of the crowds accurately reflects the historical setting. Many saw Jesus as a prophet, “from Nazareth in Galilee.” Nazareth was his hometown, and Galilee was his primary field of ministry.

The phrase might also have meant surprise that a prophet should come from so unlikely a place. In the beginning of John, when Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, he replies, “Nazareth! Can anything good from there!”

Some of us might have been guilty if we ever said anything negative about West Virginia, or something like that.

My friends, let us ask again, “Who is this?” Is Jesus just a popular, charismatic young man from a small town? Is he a prophet? Is he somehow connected to “the man upstairs?” or your “co-pilot?”

Are we to simply stand and cheer this event? Why are we jumping up and down for joy? Is this just another case of mob behavior?

In a few days, this same man, whom we have just cheered, will be:

  • Betrayed by one he loved
  • Abandoned by his friends
  • Unfairly arrested by the religious establishment
  • Illegally tried in the middle of the night, and sentenced
  • Executed between two criminals
  • Buried in a borrowed grave

“Who is this?”

My brothers and sisters, who is this indeed.

It’s easy for us to join the crowds and cheer him on. But when it comes to Thursday and Friday, a mere 4 days away…

“Who is this?”

One last thing – in the Hebrew, “Hosanna in the highest” is probably equivalent to “Glory to God in the highest.” That’s what the angels said at his birth. Like the angels, we need to praise God in the highest heavens for sending the Messiah.

But what did we say the word “Hosanna” also means? SAVE – SAVE – SAVE.

Not only should we praise God in the highest heavens for sending Jesus, but if “Hosanna” is to keep its original meaning and force, we should be crying out to him for deliverance.

So, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, what do we need to be saying?




Answer the question yourself: “Who is this?”