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March 25, 2018

Sermon Matthew 21:1-3 . . . “Bible places:  the Golden Gate”

“Bible places:  the Golden Gate”

Matthew 21:1-3

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The Golden Gate is a body of water that lies on the west coast of California, leading from San Francisco Bay out to the Pacific Ocean.

For years, it was the home of Spanish colonists as well as a number of other local people.  The Europeans didn’t discover it till late in the 1700s, probably because of its often thick and heavy fog.  For years, it was called, “Mouth of the Port of San Francisco.”  But just as soon as men struck gold in California, it got a new name.  As American explorer John Fremont wrote, “To this Gate I give the name of ‘Chrysopylae,’ or ‘Golden Gate,’ a gate to trade with the Orient.”

And while you may not know much about San Francisco’s “Golden Gate,” you probably do know something about its bridge—the Golden Gate Bridge.  In its time, it was the longest and tallest bridge in the world.  Even today, some call it the most beautiful bridge in the world.

Who would have thought that a gate could be so important?

Israel’s capital, the city of Jerusalem, had its own share of gates too.  There were, after all, eight of them.  To the north, there was Herod’s Gate and the Damascus Gate.  To the west, there was the Joppa Gate.  To the south, there was the Dung Gate, which, appropriately so, led out to the city dump.  There was a fish gate and a sheep gate.  There was even a water gate (having nothing to do with politics, of course)!

But of all the gates that surrounded that ancient city of Jerusalem, the most important of all was called, in Hebrew, “The Gate of Mercy.”  It was the Eastern Gate, the Beautiful Gate, the Golden Gate, the very gate through which Jesus came on that first Palm Sunday.

But before I say anything more, let me take you to the text, to Matthew chapter 21, on page 1049.  I’ll start where it says, “The Triumphal Entry,” chapter 21, verse 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.”

The day began like any other day, with an early sunrise, and the sound of merchants setting up their wares.  Bethany wasn’t a large town, or hardly even a town at all—more like a village, really, a cluster of homes.  Farmers gathered seed for their fields, for it was time to till and plant.  Children woke up hungry.

But in one home, things were different, because Jesus was there.  It was the home of Mary and Martha—two sisters who lived together—along with their brother, Lazarus.  It was a place Jesus had visited many times before.

But this time, it was different.  This time He turned a funeral into a celebration, a celebration that had gone on well into the night.

Now morning had come.  And it was clear that Jesus wouldn’t stay any longer.  No one—not even the most perceptive among His disciples—could have known what was about to happen on that clear, bright Sunday morning. 

And it all started with this—as Jesus said in verse 2:  “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and colt with her.  Untie them and bring them to Me.”

Donkey?  Colt?  

As far back as I can remember, I’ve never ridden a donkey, much less one that’s never been broken.  But if you don’t mind me saying, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.  After all, donkeys have a well-earned reputation of being stubborn.  If they’re good for anything, it’s baggage, not people.

Even more, not only was this the first time anyone had ever ridden this colt, it was surrounded by thousands who shouted, “Hosanna!”

And think of who they’ve come to see—Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel.  If only He would make their wars and hostility cease, they prayed, and be rid of Rome with her taxes and laws.  Now was the time for prosperity and peace.

And when they saw Jesus, they couldn’t help but shout and sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  

He healed the sick and He raised the dead.  He fed thousands with fish and bread.  Now there was only one thing left to do and that was to proclaim Him King.  It had all, finally, come down to this.

Throughout His three years of ministry, Jesus avoided every opportunity like this.  He refused to be recognized.  He healed a leper, then told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone.”  He made a blind man see, then said, “See that no one knows about this.”  He even told His disciples to not tell anyone that He was the Christ.

But now this!  Now it was Palm Sunday and He seemed to welcome their cries of anticipation and joy!

If we had there in Jerusalem that day, I can’t help but wonder what we would have thought of Jesus.  After all, He seemed to be so little of the King He claimed to be.  What kind of king chases moneychangers with a whip and shouts, “How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market”?  What kind of king stoops to wash His disciples’ feet?  What king falls to the ground in a garden and prays, with sweat like great drops of blood, “Father, let this cup pass from Me”?  

As He stood in judgment before Pontius Pilate, even Pilate wondered.  He said, “Are You the King of the Jews?”  And Jesus replied, “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about Me?”

And whether it was simply cowardice or a smooth political move, Pilate sentenced Him to the cross.  And over Him he had written in three languages, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  

What a strange kind of King He seemed to be.

But it is that which we so boldly confess today.  In spite of the donkey, the cross, and the crown of thorns, we too join in that triumphant, Messianic song of praise:  “Blessed is He!  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

On the foothills of the Alatoo Range in northern Kyrgyzstan, there’s a spot that looks up toward the towering Celestial Mountains, and down across the valley to the city of Bishkek.  It’s there that the locals have built a monument to honor the Kyrgyz people.  They call it, “Ata-Beyit,” a name that means, “Grave of our fathers.”

But this monument is different than most monuments.  While most monuments typically commemorate national victories and achievements, this was built to remember defeat, in fact, three defeats that happened on that very hill.

First, there was the defeat of 1916, when Tsar Nicholas II ordered all Kyrgyz men to fight in the Russian army.  And it was there on that mountain that one hundred thousand died, on account of a brutal winter and the heavy cost of war.

A second monument recalls what happened in 1938, when Joseph Stalin led one hundred and thirty-seven teachers, writers, and artists to that hill to be put to death.

And a third monument remembers eighty-four youths who were killed in 2010, simply for protesting against the regime, hoping for freedom.

Nothing but defeat and tears happened on that mountain.  Still the people chose that place to remember.  Despite oppression by their worst enemies, and tears from their most painful experiences, the Kyrgyz people will always remember.

On the foothills, just outside another city, there’s a site we’ll always remember for its tears and its unthinkable injustice.  And while we are moved by its terrible tragedy, we’ll remember it because of its magnificence in that tragedy.

For it was on that hill that we, by His wounds, are healed.  In the place of death, there is life.  In the place of unspeakable tragedy, there is unbreakable victory.

And while the Kyrgyz people have Ata-Beyit, we’ll always have Calvary.

One more thing.  There is that question—why did Jesus enter Jerusalem by the Golden Gate?  Why not Herod’s Gate or the Damascus Gate?  Why not the sheep gate?

The answer’s found two thousand, six hundred years before, in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 43.  For it was there that the prophet said:  “Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east.  And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east.  And the sound of His coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with His glory.”

And he said:  “As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.”

As David wrote in Psalm 24:  “Lift up your heads, O gates!  And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory!”

 

Lord Jesus, on that first Palm Sunday, many shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”, yet could not understand who You really were.  Reign in our hearts, Lord Jesus, and enable us to know You to be both Lord and God.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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