A Curious Incident
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A Curious Incident

Matthew 21:1–11  (ID: 3488)

Jesus’ humble yet triumphant entry into Jerusalem fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and openly declared His messiahship. Examining the various reactions to the Lord’s arrival, Alistair Begg challenges us to consider our personal response to Christ. Is He a prophet who reinforces our hopes or the King who rules in our hearts? In today’s morally, socially, and politically conflicted world, genuine peace, freedom, and fulfillment can only be found when we submit to Jesus, the one true King.

Sermon Transcript: Print

Matthew 21:1

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘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.”’

“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks 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 were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Father, as we turn now to your Word, the Bible, we pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine to us the printed page; that our hearts may be the very ones that we seek to be, as we have said in our song; and that you will meet with us in these moments. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, I think it would be a brave or a foolish individual prepared to suggest that the answer—that the answer to our religious, political, moral, social predicament in the land of the free and the home of the brave—that the answer to all of that is to be found in a king. In a king. Because, after all, we fought a Revolutionary War in order to be rid of the king—now, that king, of course, being King George. And it would be no surprise—it should be no surprise—given our preoccupation with the story of the kings of Israel, that on this particular Sunday that we refer to as Palm Sunday, we would look at this passage of Scripture, which introduces us to the true King, to the good King, to Jesus, who is the King. And although the material will be, for many of us, familiar, we come to look at it with an investigative and hopefully a submissive spirit.

It is, I suggest to you, a curious incident. It is a curious incident—curious in the sense that it invites our attention. It invites our investigation as an incident which in itself is strange; it’s novel; it’s actually in many ways unexpected. The fact that we may be familiar with it does not alter any of that at all. And so, what I want to do by way of a framework is work through this passage, first of all considering the description, and then considering the explanation, and then considering the reaction—the reaction that took place then and the reaction that needs to take place now.

The Description

So, the description is there for us. Actually, this is one description of four descriptions. Each of the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) all cover this particular incident. Details vary from the correspondent to the correspondent, as it were, in much the same way that an incident in time covered by four or five different newspapers may disagree, as it were, in terms of the points of emphasis—not on the main emphasis, not on the central focus, but on little things. We won’t get tied up on that, but, for example, here in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew is the only one who mentions that there is both a donkey and a colt. And you see that he has identified this; others have decided that that is actually extraneous material, because it’s not the central issue.

Now, we’re told that the destination is Jerusalem. You can see that there. Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, and en route to Jerusalem, he has drawn near to Bethphage, a tiny little place, a kind of suburb of a suburb. Bethany was Jesus’ favorite place. He had no home of his own. He went regularly to Bethany, as we hear in the Gospels, because there his friend Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, had their home, and he spent time there. And this little Bethphage place no longer exists, much like the hamlet in which my father was born in the extreme north of Scotland. I went looking for it on one occasion and only found ruins and crumbles lying around. It was there—it was clearly there—but it is no longer anything other than a shadow of itself. Nevertheless, it was a tiny place, and a tiny place on the Mount of Olives, and it was near Bethany.

And it is to that little place that the clear instruction is given to the disciples. You can see, it’s very straightforward: “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” In other words, the instruction that is given here is clearly deliberate. There is no sense in which it is a sort of spur-of-the-moment idea—that Jesus says, “Hey, by the way, why don’t you just go…” No, no. It’s clearly very purposeful on the part of Jesus, as we will see.

Again, in terms of a little detail, Luke in his Gospel points out that when Jesus sent for this transportation, it was “a colt …, on which no one ha[d] ever [previously] sat.”[1] In other words, they were not to get it out of the used colt department. They were not to buy… You can’t call it “used” anymore; it’s “previously owned.” That’s it. Yeah, pre-owned. They were not to go to the pre-owned department. They were to go to the unridden department. Well, that seems rather interesting. In the Old Testament, you discover that animals for religious purposes, that were to be set apart for particular use in that way, were never to come from the pre-owned pool. They were always to be in this way. And Luke, in his eye for detail, mentions that.

Clear instruction followed by faithful execution. The disciples, we’re told in verse 6, “went and did as Jesus had directed them.” That’s actually a feature of what it means to be a disciple. Seven people this evening will be baptized. A number of you have not been baptized. Apparently, you are a disciple who has decided that you don’t have to do what Jesus said. Perhaps you’ll come this evening and give some serious thought to it. The disciples did as they were told. That is what disciples do. Obedience is a mark of our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. And if they were to encounter any pushback, says Jesus, they should simply say, “The Lord needs them.”

Now, every so often when I play with my children—now my grandchildren—I say, “Yes, but what is the password?” And the password is often “fish-n-chips.” This may well have been a password: “All you need to say to them is ‘The Lord needs them,’ and they’ll know: ‘Oh. I gotcha.’” Now, some people want to make it a very miraculous thing, that… Of course it is a miraculous thing! Jesus knows everything. And so, whatever way you take it, it unfolds as per the plan. They “went and did as Jesus … directed them.”

And “they brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks.” It says here that Jesus “sat on them.” Every so often you have a bright spark from Sunday school class who says, “Oh, you mean that he sat on both of them?” No, all you need to do is read the English language and you will discover that “cloaks” is the antecedent. And when it says that “he sat on them,” it means he sat on the cloaks that he has just mentioned. The cloaks went on both of them, and he sat on the colt, and on the colt was a cloak, and on top of the cloak he sat.

The action was unique. Was unique. Those of you who have read the Gospels know that there is nowhere else in the entire Gospel record in which we read of Jesus riding on anything at all. And once again, this points to the unique nature of what is taking place here. This is not something that is haphazard. It is not something contrived in a moment. It is something that is directly related to what the prophets have said and what Jesus now, in fulfillment of those prophecies, is actually making clear.

You will notice that Matthew goes on to tell us by way of description that on the short distance—and it was a short distance, about a mile or so down the Mount of Olives—the whole air was filled with the sights and the sounds of acclamation and of joy and the way in which these cloaks and these branches were mingled with the enthusiasm of the crowd. And we’re told that they were praising God “for all the mighty works that they had seen”:[2] “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, … cut branches from the trees … spread them on the road,” and they praised God in this way.

Now, the things that they had just seen were multiple. But most recently, if your Bible is open, you can see that prior to this, Matthew records the healing of two blind men. And as he had gone out of Jericho, a great crowd had followed him there, and two men, blind, were sitting by the roadside, and they cried out to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy upon us!” And he heard their cry, and he asked them, “What do you want me to do?” They said, “We would like to see.” And he said, “Then you shall see,” and immediately they recovered their sight, and they followed him.[3] And they followed him. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they were in this crowd—that they were part of the group, and now they are part and parcel of this great acclamation.

“Well,” you say, “well, that makes perfect sense.” You know, after all, they had had a miracle. And the people had seen miracles. And some of you are here this morning, you’re saying, “If I could see a miracle, then I would believe as well. But I haven’t seen any miracle at all.” Well, I want you to know that even if you saw a miracle, you wouldn’t believe. And I’ll tell you why I know: because many people saw miracles, and it didn’t compel them to believe.

In fact, in John’s Gospel, as he recalls these scenes, as he tells of what has unfolded, he records how Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, has declared to Martha and Mary, you know, that he is “the resurrection and the life.”[4] Well, that wasn’t met by a great affirmation on the part of people. There were a lot of people who were bemused by it, but those who didn’t like Jesus, didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, were completely opposed to it. In fact, this is what John says: “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” Well, that makes sense. It was a phenomenon. “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well.” So they not only want to kill Jesus, but they want to kill the person who is evidence of the power of Jesus, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”[5]

By nature, we do not seek God. By nature, we do not long for God. By nature, we do not choose to believe in God, even though someone were to perform a miracle before us.

Well, so the obvious reality of the power of Jesus was not sufficient to compel belief. By nature, we do not seek God. By nature, we do not long for God. By nature, we do not choose to believe in God, even though someone were to perform a miracle before us. But you see, what was happening, again, was that God was fulfilling his word. Isaiah the prophet had looked to a day in which the deaf will hear and, after a lifetime of darkness, the blind will see.[6] And the people in that day said, “I wonder how this will be.” And now the people in this day, in Jesus’ day, are seeing the evidences of God coming and breaking into time. If God were to break into time, you would expect him to do these amazing things—which is, of course, exactly what has happened.

And so the description we can leave. It’s filled with pilgrim chants. It’s the kind of thing that you read in the Psalms as the psalmist describes going up to Jerusalem for the feasts. And in Psalm 118 they cried out, “Save us, we pray …. Blessed [be] he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[7] Now, we can leave the description there, and you can read the parallel passages on your own.

The Explanation

Then in verses 4 and 5—and the description surrounds verses 4 and 5—we are given this explanation. Matthew, in providing this explanation, “This took place to fulfill…” (in other words, “Let me explain to you why this has happened”) is confirming, if you like, the deliberate nature of the incident. It “took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet.” And what was spoken by the prophet Zechariah we have read already this morning; we needn’t go back to it. In other words, what took place was to fulfill God’s plan. When we studied the Gospel of Mark, we reminded ourselves of the way in which Mark begins his Gospel with this straightforward declaration. And Jesus steps forward, and he says, “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand; [now] repent and believe [the good news].”[8] And here you see the evidence of this, all this time later.

Once again, the words of the psalmist, which we read, again, earlier in the service from Psalm 48 are coming to pass. Let me just reread them from Psalm 48: “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God,” Mount Zion, “the joy of [the whole] earth.”[9] And so what is happening is into the city of God, God himself comes. Into the city of God, the King comes—Jesus, who in his coming had entered the world in a veiled way. It would have been very, very difficult for somebody to actually discover that what had taken place in Bethlehem was the invasion in time of the Creator of time, God himself. After all, babies were born all over the place. Surely it was a strange place to be born and so on. The circumstances varied from person to person. But people would have been hard-pressed. Hard-pressed. On that occasion, his glory is veiled. On this occasion, it is as though he removes the veil, and he enters Jerusalem in an open declaration of his messiahship.

Now, again, if you think about your reading of the Gospel, you know that in the Gospels, time and time again, we’re told that Jesus removed himself from the crowd; that they came wishing to make him a king, and he took himself away from all of that. And as you read that, you say, “Well, I thought he came to be the King. Why would he do that?” Well, because their expectations were so skewed. He recognized that he was moving according to the plan and purpose of God. There is a time for everything. And in his time, he sets himself away in order that at the right time he may reveal himself in this way. And so it is that as we read on through into the Easter story, you find the very same thing unfolding. Before Pilate: Pilate says to him, “So, are you a king?” And he says, “You say that I’m a king. Yeah. Yeah.”[10]

Well, the result of this, of course, is not immediate clarity. You would think, “Well, people say, ‘Well, okay, I put all the pieces of the jigsaw together, and I understand it perfectly.’” But no. The pieces of the jigsaw were coming together in the minds of those who encounter this in the first instance. Many of them would have been brought up with an awareness of all the kings that had preceded in the nation of Israel and so on.

And we know, because we’ve been studying this (at least I hope we do), that the kings of Israel, even the best of them—whether it was Saul or David or Solomon—even the best of them finally flunked out and left the people saying, “Well, you know, we had thought that a king would be the answer.” They had a succession of individuals that were put there by God’s plan. And in the succession program, they went for a little while, and it seemed to be good, and then they had to come up with somebody else. They give the Democrats a shot at it, and then they give the Republicans a shot at it, and then they gave them another one, and then went back to the Democrats, and then went somewhere else. And eventually, when it was all said and done, no one was any further forward than when they had started the whole program. And that’s the end of the story of the book of Judges.

You say, “I didn’t know they had Democrats in Judges, or Republicans.” No, they didn’t. I’m just playing with that. You understand? But the end of it was everybody did what was right in their own eyes, because they didn’t have a king.[11] So they say, “Well then, let’s have a king. Maybe the king is the answer.”[12] And so they have these kings. And the kings do fairly well. One falls morally. One falls religiously. One falls politically. And the succession plan leaves them with nothing at the end of it, except to find themselves saying, “There must be something better than this”—or, actually, “There must be someone better than this.”

And so, through the period of darkness and silence in the intertestamental period, the picture is growing and growing, and the people are waiting, waiting, and hoping for one who will come. And when they put together what the Davidic kings have recorded alongside what the psalmists have to say and alongside what the prophets have said, they realize that whoever this is, this is somebody larger than life. The fulfillment of this has to be somebody who breaks the boundaries of everything that has ever gone before. And, of course, that is exactly what we find.

And so it is that, you remember, when the seeking party come from China or wherever they were—the wise men—when they came saying, “We’re looking for the king of the Jews; we’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to worship him”—and you remember the result of that was that Herod was greatly troubled, because he was a king.[13] And those of us who are sitting on our own throne—which is each of us by nature—we don’t want to hear of any King that might actually come to displace us and take our seat and reign over us. So he was troubled. He was troubled because the expectation of the people was that they were waiting for the consolation of Israel. They were waiting for the one who would come who would actually fulfill this expectation which had run through all these lines and for so long.

Herod was troubled; Simeon was completed. You remember that amazing encounter when Mary and Joseph bring this little King-boy into the temple? And Simeon, who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,”[14] takes the child in his arms, and he says something really strange. He says, “I can die now.”[15] What? I mean, of all the things you say when you get the chance to hold somebody’s newborn, I never heard anybody say that. But Simeon said it. And he explained why: because “my eyes have seen your salvation.”[16] What a curious thing to say! “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”[17] “I’ve seen your salvation. I can die now.”

“Well,” you say, “that is amazing, isn’t it?” Well, Charles Wesley got it perfectly in his hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” when he writes:

Born your people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now your gracious kingdom bring.

And he goes on to speak of “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth you are.”[18]

The Reaction

Well, I leave you with that as well. We will proceed further into Good Friday and to Easter Sunday, God willing, in terms of explanation. But from the description, which I think is straightforward, the explanation that is clear, we turn, then, to the reaction.

Now, there is a twofold reaction, obviously. There’s the reaction of the people on the journey. But we’re referring now to what is taking place and described for us in verse 10, in terms of the reaction “when he entered Jerusalem.” And as I said, I want to consider it in terms of then and also in terms of now.

Then, what did they make of it? What did they make of it? Well, we’ve already noted that the impact in Jerusalem on the occasion of Jesus’ birth was for the whole place to be troubled. Remember it says, “And then Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.”[19] If anybody had been in Jerusalem at that time, the buzz would have been: “There is something that has happened out there in the hills of Bethlehem that is so revolutionary. We’re not sure just what is involved, but there have been people coming from all across the globe, it would seem, and the shepherds are really agitated, and oh, it’s amazing!”

And, of course, it led to Herod’s attempt to destroy the plan and purpose of God by the execution of boys under the age of two. That’s how much the Evil One hates the unfolding plan of redemption in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not simply some kind of marginal philosophical construct that we may consider and ignore, but it is the very confrontation between life and death, between freedom and bondage, ultimately between God and the devil and between heaven and hell.

And on this occasion “the whole city [is] stirred up.” “Stirred up.” In other words, they recognize that there’s more to this than meets the eye. There was something about the manner in which this has all taken place. There had been nothing like it before, and there seemed to be meaning in the manner in which Jesus had arrived.

And at the very heart of it, of course, is the question of his identity: “[And] the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’” “Who is this?” You remember I told you last week of my meeting with my Jewish friend. And as we talked together last week, I said to them, “This is the question. Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Who is this person?” “Well,” they said, “he’s the prophet come from Nazareth.” Some people were saying, “I don’t know who it is,” and the crowd said, “Well, it’s the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

“Well,” you say, “well, they got the answer, didn’t they?” Well, they got part of the answer. They knew that he was a prophet. They knew that he came from Nazareth. But it is very clear from the story as it unfolds that the idea of his being a messianic King who would suffer and die was the last thing they expected and the last thing they wanted. They were not looking for a Messiah who would come under the subjugation of Rome. They were looking for a Messiah that would bring Rome down and would set them on a trajectory of victory and of power and of influence. And here he was: “In lowly pomp ride on to die.”[20]

And we should not imagine even for a moment that the disciples, who are caught up in this experience, in this curious incident, are able to say to one another, “Well, at least we get it, even if they don’t get it.” Because, again, if you read the parallel passages in John’s record, John tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first.” They didn’t understand it! They were part of it, and they didn’t get it! They’re part of the company that is heading into Jerusalem. “But when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him.”[21] In other words, in the resurrection, and subsequently in the ascension of Jesus, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, then they got it: “Ah! Now we see! Now we see that this was the piece of the puzzle and it was being unfolded and put in place.” They got it afterwards.

Incidentally, for those of you who are skeptics about things: Why do you think we even have a Gospel? Why would this ever have been written down? Why would this ever have been written down, apart from the resurrection? If there was no resurrection, the whole thing was finished. They’d have all died in a Palestinian tomb. The fact that the very Gospels were written is testimony to the reality of Jesus being glorified.

And the fact that the disciples themselves are prepared to cast themselves in a poor light is quite remarkable, isn’t it? If you’d been writing this, you would have said, “Of course, we understood this from the very beginning. I mean, we were the only people who got it on that occasion. I remember Peter and I were talking to one another, and we said, ‘It’s a shame these people don’t get it.’” No, no, no: “We didn’t get it either!” And neither will you, and neither will I, and neither will your kids until God opens your blind eyes and softens your hard hearts. There is no argument. There is no apologetic. There is no intellectual road to God. Only when he chooses to reveal himself through his Word in the person of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. “When Jesus was glorified, then we understood.” “If I am lifted up,” says Jesus, “I will draw people to me.”[22] He does the drawing. He is the one to whom we come.

Who do you say this good King riding on this colt is? That’s the question.

Now, again, I say to you: we can consider this further, because Good Friday is coming. But let me end by moving from the then to the now: the reaction not by observation, but the reaction of participation, if you like. The reaction then was as recorded. What is the reaction now? Or better still, what is your reaction now? What is your reaction? Remember, Jesus was inquiring of his disciples—earlier in Matthew it’s recorded—“Who do the people say that I am?” And there were a variety of answers. And Jesus pressed them; he said, “Yeah, but the real question is, who do you say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”[23] Do you realize that that’s a question for you to answer yourself? Not for your husband to answer for you. Not for your kids to take care of. Not for your great-grandpa who was a pastor. None of that. You and me. Who do you say this good King riding on this colt is? That’s the question.

Now, let’s end in that way. Is it unfair to suggest that more than a few of us are happy just to go with this answer? “Well, he’s a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Happy, if you like, to have him as someone to whom we might look who can reinforce our hopes, but not prepared to have him as a King who will rule in our hearts. People are very content today to have the idea of some kind of spiritual entity, call it or anything as you may—but in actual fact, it is in order that it might be for the fulfillment of my agenda, my plan, my security, my hopes, my satisfaction. And this King doesn’t leave that as an option.

It’s not difficult for us to recognize that the environment in which we live right now, towards the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, is an environment in which, both by our personal nature and the reinforcement of the culture, the idea is “You can have fulfillment, you can have peace, without submission to any authority.” You can find it, but you don’t need to pay any attention to any institution, to any clergyman, to any mom, to any dad, to any policeman, to any parent, to any authority at all. Fulfillment is to be found in the rejection of that. The highest good of the individual is then to be found in individual freedom (“I do what I want”), in individual happiness (“whatever makes me happy”), immediate gratification, self-expression, self-definition. No wonder we created selfies! It is perfect. It is the perfect metaphor for us at the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. At least we’re true to ourselves.

Jonathan Sachs, who was the Chief Rabbi until he died just in the last twelve months— Chief Rabbi in Britain—has a wonderful book entitled The Home We Build Together. And one of the chapters in it is entitled “The Defeat of Freedom in the Name of Freedom.” “The Defeat of Freedom in the Name of Freedom.” “I want to be free, like the bluebird flying high.”[24] No! Where is freedom to be found?

You say, “Well, it’s a very contemporary phenomenon.” No, no. Look how old some of my quotes are from my files. Look at this thing! That’s a newspaper. I wrote on it, “1976.” So, whatever age I was then—I don’t know. I was twenty, twenty-one. “When Marriage is Just a Cage.” “Marriage Is Just a Cage.” “I think the expectation”—the expectation of heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage—“I think the expectation,” writes Jill Tweedie, who was forty at the time, “I think this expectation goes against our deepest nature, stunting our growth, making demands upon us that require”—notice this—“that require distorted lives to fulfill.” In other words, in order to live as per God’s design, in order to live under the kingly rule of Christ in relationship to one example—namely, marriage itself—she says, “No, you gotta be messed up in order to deal with that.” And her closing line is “Outside the bonds of Christian marriage we will, I hope, learn for the first time what love is all about.” As long as we can be done with the authority stuff. As long as we can be sure that we are actually in charge.

You see, when morality—when morality—is simply a matter of individual choice (which is where we are), when there are no shared standards, when there is no natural law, when there is no Lawgiver who says, “This is how it is, this is how it works, this is my King, submit to him,” when there are no shared standards, there then can be no conversation. And when conversation ends, violence takes its place.

There’s no conversation in our country. There’s no dialogue. Dialogue is a thing of the past. You do not have people that are able to sit down and have a conversation on the basis of a shared conviction. All you have are people from one side or from another side, shouting to one another.

Let me end where I began. It would be a brave or a foolish man who was prepared to suggest what the Bible says—namely, that the answer to our political, moral, social, religious dilemma is to be found in a King. In a King. The good King! Aslan, for the C. S. Lewis readers. Is he scary? Yes. But he’s approachable. He’s not way up somewhere you have to go find him. He comes to you. He comes now riding on a colt, down there where children could see him, could touch his legs, could look and listen. This is how God comes. He still comes in this way.

The King, the Zechariah King, is the one who grants peace. In fact, I just need to quote it to you as we close, because it’s so very, very important we understand it. And here in Zechariah 9, isn’t it? Yeah. “Rejoice …, daughter of Zion,” and so on. It goes on to say, “And he shall speak peace to the nations; [and] his rule shall be from sea to sea.”[25] Do you get the juxtaposition of that? Peace and rule. The peace that may come to the nations is a peace that is found not in our autonomy, not in our making our own rules and establishing our own plans and achieving our own ambitions and taking to ourselves a religious guru, a god of our own making, that we can manipulate in order that he can make it possible for us to believe what we want to believe and to live with who we want to live with and do what we want to do. No, it doesn’t work that way. There’s no peace that is found down that road. No peace! No, the peace that comes is in submission to the righteous rule of God. To submit to the righteous rule of God.

How does God rule over us? He rules over us by his love. He rules over us by his law. He rules over us by his principles. He rules over us by his promises. He rules over us by his Son, the King.

You know, Nietzsche, who was, you know, very clever and very sad, in some of his material he talks about how—in one particular—he talks about this person jumps in and says to people, he says, you know, “We have murdered God. He is no more. He’s done. We have dealt with him. There is no God. We can live with that.” And then he goes on in the writing to say, “Is there without him any up or down? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?”[26] Is there an up? Is there a down? Is there a start? Is there an end? Nietzsche was proud in his atheism. He wrote that book at the end of the nineteenth century. Within seven years of writing that book, he went mad, and he lived the last eleven years of his life in care. Because, you see, you cannot find peace except under the rule of God. How does he rule over us? He rules over us by his love. He rules over us by his law. He rules over us by his principles. He rules over us by his promises. He rules over us by his Son, the King.

At the end—and this is the end—at the end of world history, Isaiah pictures the crisis that will unfold. And you can read this for yourself as your homework. But in Isaiah 24 and then in 26, he contrasts two cities. Two cities. And as I turn to this, just let me say: Isn’t this fascinating? Apparently… We talk about cities being stirred. We know about cities being stirred. We know about Portland. We know about Minneapolis. We know about cities being stirred—sadly, not stirred by the entry of King Jesus. To that end, we want to pray that the city of Cleveland will be stirred because the righteous King, having come to reign in the hearts of his people, is now revealed in the community of Cleveland as the one who grants peace under his dominion.

In chapter 24, he says, “Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate.” And he describes a city that is without meaning:

The wasted city is broken down;
 every house is shut up so that none can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets,[27]

and so on. That’s 24. And then in chapter 26 he describes another city, and this is “a strong city,” set up for

  as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
 that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter ….
You [will] keep him in perfect peace
 whose mind is stayed on you,
 because he trusts in you.[28]

“Oh,” you say, “is the answer then in a city? Is it in a place?” No, it’s in a person. It’s in the person of Jesus, the one true King, who invites us, bids us, to lay our authority and our autonomy at his feet—feet which bear the scars that are his because he has taken all of our rebellion, all of our sin, all of our selfishness upon himself.

We sang of it this morning: “In your kingdom broken lives are made new.”[29] Jesus, the King on the colt, becomes the King on the cross, broken in order that you and I might be fixed. How are we to be fixed? When we come to him, when we bow before him, when we acknowledge that he grants forgiveness, that he sets free—sets us free to be all that he planned for us to be. And here’s the deal: we will either serve him, or we will ultimately serve ourselves.

Well, I wonder if today is the day when some of us, perhaps a young person who’s got all their life in front of them, says, “You know, I’ve never really considered that Jesus is this King. I’ve been wearing my own little tin crown.” Well, take your tin crown off, and lay it down, and ask him to come and crown you as his follower and his friend.

Well, may it be so.

Just a moment of silence before our closing hymn.

Perhaps there’s someone just sitting there and saying, “Well, I don’t know what you do at this point.” Well, just talk to God from your heart, just from inside yourself. Perhaps you might say to him something along these lines: “Dear God, you know everything there is to know about me. I’m sorry for all that is wrong in me. Please forgive me. Thank you that Jesus came into the world and died for me. Thank you that he is the risen King. May he become my Lord and Savior. And help me to follow him for the rest of my life. Amen.”

[1] Luke 19:30 (ESV).

[2] Luke 19:37 (ESV).

[3] See Matthew 20:29–34.

[4] John 11:25 (ESV).

[5] John 12:9–11 (ESV).

[6] See Isaiah 29:18.

[7] Psalm 118:25–26 (ESV).

[8] Mark 1:15 (ESV).

[9] Psalm 48:1–2 (ESV).

[10] Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3 (paraphrased).

[11] See Judges 21:25.

[12] 1 Samuel 8:5 (paraphrased).

[13] See Matthew 2:2–3.

[14] Luke 2:25 (ESV).

[15] See Luke 2:29.

[16] Luke 2:30 (ESV).

[17] Julia Ward Howe, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1862).

[18] Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (1830). Language modernized.

[19] Matthew 2:3 (paraphrased).

[20] Henry Hart Milman, “Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!” (1827).

[21] John 12:16 (ESV).

[22] John 12:32 (paraphrased).

[23] See Matthew 16:13–15.

[24] Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, “I Wanna Be Free” (1967). Paraphrased.

[25] Zechariah 9:9–10 (ESV).

[26] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom (1882). Paraphrased.

[27] Isaiah 24:1, 10–11 (ESV).

[28] Isaiah 26:1–3 (ESV).

[29] Brenton Brown, “Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)” (2005).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.