daily biblical sermons

Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem to atone for the sins of the world
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, April 05, 2020
Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 21, Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 26:14-27:16


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“They [Jesus’ disciples] brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he [Jesus] sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:7-9).



Today is Palm Sunday, the day when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem, riding on an ass to consummate the work of his life, by suffering and dying in reparation for the sins of the world, whereby all that put their faith in him will be saved from their sins.



 Jesus, who normally led a very humble life, walking about from Galilee to Jerusalem, a four to five day walk, seems not to even have had an ass or a donkey to ride on, for when about to enter Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world and desiring to enter for so important a mission in a public and triumphal way, he had to borrow a donkey from an unknown person.



He hardly needed a donkey as a means of transport, for he had already walked five days from Galilee to Bethany, and now had only two more miles to go to enter Jerusalem from the east. He borrowed a donkey because of its Old Testament symbolism to make an especially meaningful final entrance into the holy city to die on a cross for the salvation of the world.



When King David was old and wanted to enthrone his son Solomon as king in his place, he told his servants, “Cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon; and let the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” (1 Kings 1:33-34). Jesus riding into the city on an ass symbolized that he is the messianic King, the longed for Son of David, as the crowd sang on that day, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).



Also the prophet Zechariah, whom St. Matthew quotes in today’s gospel, prophesied that the coming Messiah will ride on an ass in both triumph and humility to bring peace to the world: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9-10).



Jesus now invokes this Old Testament symbolism of messianic kingship, since he no longer has any reason to conceal his true identity, for the climax of his life has finally come, to die for the sins of the world. So Jesus openly enters the holy city as its promised future King and messianic Savior, the longed for Son of David who was to come.



Another sign of receiving kingship is to place your garments on the ground before the new king so that he might walk on them, for when a prophet came with a flask of oil to the commander Jehu and took him into a private room, he “poured the oil on his head, saying to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, I anoint you King over the people of the Lord, over Israel’” (2 Kings 9:6). When Jehu came out of the private room and told his fellow commanders what had happened, “then in haste every man of them took his garment, and put it under him [under Jehu] on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king’” (2 Kings 9:13). Therefore Jesus’ disciples and followers “spread their garments on the ground” (Matthew 21:8) before Jesus as he passed by on his donkey into the holy city, proclaiming him as the messianic King.



“The plain truth is, that our Lord knew well that the time of His earthly ministry was drawing to a close. He knew that the hour was approaching when He must finish the mighty work He came to do, by dying for our sins upon the cross. He knew that His last journey had been accomplished, and that there remained nothing now in His earthly ministry, but to be offered as a sacrifice on Calvary. Knowing all this, He no longer, as in time past, sought secrecy. Knowing all this, He thought it good to enter the place where He was to be delivered to death, with peculiar solemnity and publicity. It was not fitting that the Lamb of God should come to be slain on Calvary privately and silently. Before the great sacrifice for the sins of the world was offered up, it was right that every eye should be fixed on the victim. It was suitable that the crowning act of our Lord’s life should be done with as much notoriety as possible. Therefore it was that He made this public entry. Therefore it was that He attracted to himself the eyes of the wondering multitude … The atoning blood of the Lamb of God was about to be shed. The deed was not to be ‘done in a corner’” (Acts 26:26). (JC Ryle, 1816-1900, emphasis added).



This was the climax of Jesus earthly life. This was the ultimate reason that he was sent into the world. After completing the first part of his ministry of teaching the multitudes many things and confirming the truth of his claims about himself by his many miracles, he now formally, openly, and solemnly enters the holy city as its messianic King to perform the act of salvation for which he was sent into the world.



Jesus the Messiah has been sent into the world to take on himself the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:6) to suffer their punishment to save all who would put their faith in him from suffering this punishment. Indeed, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Because this iniquity must be punished, “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).



In other words, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin [to have our sins put on him] who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [so that we might become righteous with God’s own righteousness]” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus suffered for our sins, making full reparation for them, thereby atoning for them so that we who were ungodly sinners might become righteous, not with our own righteousness, earned by our own good works, but rather that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is, when we put our faith in Jesus, God will consider his death for our sins as serving our death sentence for them for us to enable us to go free from further punishment, and this is done in a perfectly just way, because our sins aren’t just brushed aside, but have been thoroughly, duly, and justly punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross.



So we now have the righteousness of God within us, not our own righteousness, earned by our own good works, as St. Paul says, I wish to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law [keeping], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).



This happens because Christ takes the rap for us for our sins. We who are sinners are cursed by the law of God to die for our sins, for this is just. But Christ steps in and takes the curse of the law, which was upon us, upon himself and becomes accursed himself on the cross, bearing the curse of our punishment for our sins for us so that, when we put our faith in him, we might be released from this curse of punishment, as St. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).



St. Paul says this in another way, when he says that God condemned our sins in Jesus’ flesh in order to fulfill the requirement of the law for us that we should be punished for our sins. He says, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned [punished] sin in the flesh [of Christ], in order that the just requirement of the law [that we suffer and die in punishment for our sins] might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3-4).



This means that Christ was made a propitiation for our sins. In other words, Christ propitiated or rendered God propitious or favorable to us (at God’s own initiative (Romans 8:32)) by satisfying divine justice on our behalf for our sins by suffering the just punishment for them for us on the cross. So Jesus Christ is the one “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25 NKJV).



This means that God seemed unjust in the Old Testament, because he simply overlooked or passed over people’s sins without justly and fully punishing them. But Christ’s death shows that God is all just after all, because on the cross God punished all those former sins in the flesh of his Son, and so God’s justice is demonstrated. The Son therefore propitiates God, that is, renders him propitious or favorable to us, because our debt of punishment for our sins is paid for us by Christ on the cross. So we now stand before God, by faith, with our debt for our sins paid. This reconciles us with God.



So “he himself [Jesus Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree [the cross], that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). In doing this Jesus is like a lamb of sacrifice, for in the Jewish sacrifices for sins a sinner put his hand on the head of the animal, indicating it as his representative and substitute, and then he killed it, indicating that the animal had vicariously suffered his [the sinner’s] death sentence for him. Then the priest sprinkled the blood around the altar, and atonement was made.



St. Peter says, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). So Christ’s blood shed on the cross was the ransom price paid to God that released us from the weight and chains of our sins and guilt, because it made full reparation for them by serving our death sentence for them for us. Therefore when we put our faith in Christ, we are ransomed from our sins and made children of God.



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