March 6 – Matthew 21:1-11

Almost every year, around Easter, we turn to the Triumphal Entry (we did this same exact passage in 2020). But this year, in our Citizens series, the passage is hyper relevant—for the past eight weeks we’ve been talking about the Kingdom of God, and this week we behold the King himself entering his capital and surrounded by fanfare. In reading it we celebrate but we also anticipate the irony, because within a week the jubilant crowds will go from yelling “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”
Lent Guide: At Ash Wednesday we handed out a Lent Guide for the Lenten Season this year. You’ll notice liturgies in there for eating together as a community group, so scroll down below the questions for tips on how to do that effectively. Also we’ll have more copies of the guide on hand this Sunday, and you can get it online right here: Lenten Journey.
To start, everything about this passage tells us, “Jesus is King.” It might not say that in as many words, but all the signs and symbols are there. First, Jesus came to Jerusalem, the ancient seat of Israel’s greatest king, David, and he did so during the Passover festival when Jerusalem was packed full of people. Second, he rode in specifically on a donkey, calling to mind the Messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9:9, quoted in verse 5.

Third, the people responded to him as a king symbolically, by laying their garments on the ground before him like the people did for King Jehu (2 Kings 9:13) and sporting freshly cut palm branches. Many of our Bibles read something like, “branches from trees,” but these were specifically palm fronds (cf. John 12:13). Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel that could be found on everything from coinage to synagogue decorations—the reference is quite blatant. Finally, the people were crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, literally referring to him as an heir to the throne.

All these signs and symbols point to Jesus as king. And note that Jesus wasn’t just declaring himself king as a bare fact but telling us what kind of king he was. This is one of the purposes of the prophecy from Zechariah: Jesus was showing that the one true King of Israel was humble and lowly.

We might have expected a show of wealth or might from such a king, assuming a chariot or stretch limo a better fit for a king than a donkey. But riding in like a conqueror doesn’t do much for an oppressed people. Think about Israel at this time, constricted by the tight hand of Rome, which was just one more in a long line of oppressors. Over a few millennia their nation had seen a parade of Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman conquerors, all enslaving them or subjugating them to some degree. Liberation, for them, came not as a master but as a servant.

However, the crowds had no idea what they needed liberation from. There they were, out in the streets waving palm branches, ready to attend Jesus’ coronation in hopes of getting out from under Roman rule. But it’s clear they don’t really know who they were receiving; in verse 11 the refer to him simply as “the prophet Jesus.” And in just five days they’ll be disappointed to find out that Jesus isn’t the king they expected, and they’ll start clamoring for his execution.

But here’s the craziest thing about this passage to me: Jesus knew they would turn on him. He’d been talking for ages about how he would be mocked and killed (ex. Matt. 16:21). And he let them praise him. He let them call him king. Why? Well, perhaps in part because what they said was true. Whether they knew what they were proclaiming or not, whether they were earnest or just caught up in the spectacle, for one brief moment everyone treated Jesus like he deserved to be treated and rebellious mankind finally welcomed God in their midst. But also, perhaps in part, Jesus is communicating precisely who he is: the savior of the undeserving. He is the God who comes near to those who reject him, who wrongly mock him and wrongly praise him, who will even lay down his life for those who spit in his face.

And he does the same for us. In the times we worship him and the times we turn on him, he is the same humble savior come to rescue us. He looks past our hypocrisy, mixed motives, and fickle devotion not merely to expose it but to have mercy on us. We’ll hit this in our discussion and hopefully see how, even in the times we reject his rule, Jesus is the same loving, patient, and purposeful servant-king come to save us.

Questions for Discussion
• Can someone read Matthew 21:1-11 for us?

• What stands out to you from this passage?

• What did the people in Jerusalem seem to think about Jesus?

• What do you think Jesus was wanting to communicate about himself?

• Within a week these same crowds will yell for Jesus to be crucified (Matt. 27:22-23). Why do you think they rejected their king?

• In what situations or habits are you most prone to rejecting Jesus’ rule in your life?

• How does Jesus meet you in those moments?

• What are you hoping to get out of the Lent season this year?

Lent Feasting Liturgies

This year our theme for Lent is Feasting in the Wilderness, a motif that recurs in the Bible (think manna, or the feeding of the 5000), and the liturgy for Wednesdays in this year’s Lent Guide is a liturgy for Feasting (though by that we just mean eating together). The hope for the Feasting liturgy is to encourage our church, particularly in community groups, to gather and rejoice over how God has provided for us on every level, from the food we eat to the saving work of Jesus on the cross.

So, for CGs, here are four logistical things on how to do these Feasting liturgies:

1. Try including a meal (if you don’t already) with your community group gatherings during the five weeks between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week (so between March 6 and April 9). I realize that isn’t feasible for every group, but there are a number of things you can do to make it way more manageable, like having a rotation of people who will cook each week, throwing a good ol’ potluck, pooling money to order dinner, or by having people bring their own food and just eating together.

2. When you get ready to eat, use one of the liturgies where you would normally have someone pray for your food. Note, there are portions to be read by either one person or everyone in the room, so it’ll help to have extra copies on hand so folks can read their part (also read through it beforehand so you’ll have things prepared; no lie, two days involve glass clinking).

3. The communications team placed the Feasting liturgy on Wednesday for ease of use, but for groups that don’t meet on Wednesdays, feel free to swap the Feasting liturgy with the liturgy for your normal meeting day; ex. if you meet on Thursdays, do the Presence liturgy on your own on Wednesday and the Feasting liturgy together on Thursday.

4. Feel free to treat this like you do the weekly discussion questions – you can add to these Feasting liturgies for your group, edit/modify them, or write your own. If you think something else will better fit your group or particular events in the lives of your group members, please do so.

This is the first time we’ve done something like this as a church, so if we’ve missed anything in these logistics, or if you have further questions, just let me know! You can email me at Hopefully these liturgies, and the treat of eating together with your community, make Lent a joyful season this year for you and our church.