Left to your imagination, what would Jesus look like?
In Matthew 21:1-22 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with an adoring crowd shouting joyfully and laying palm branches on the road. They shout “Hosanna!” which is a Hebrew expression for “Save!” and an exclamation of praise.
If you would like to get a sense for the setting of the Palm Sunday processional, here’s a brief video on the Golden Gate in Jerusalem that documents an extraordinary archaeological find.
One theme throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is on a mission, and that mission includes the fulfillment of prophesies made centuries before He appeared on earth. In this case, the parade was foretold by the prophet Zechariah—who prescribed a donkey for the processional. Not some big chariot, not with a military escort as a show of power, not on the elbow of a king, not on a great horse, but on a donkey—as a display of humility.
If you’re painting a portrait of Jesus, it’s best to leave out the opulent and accentuate the meek. From cradle to grave Jesus is all about humility. God values humility. So much for prosperity theology.
But Jesus hasn’t come for a parade celebration. The great healer soon makes it clear there’s a new sheriff in town. His mission includes taking on the “den of robbers” and overturning tables and benches at the temple, as prophesied in Jeremiah 7:6-16. This is angry Jesus. Not some glad-handing pitchman. Not some pious religious official decked out in priestly habiliments. Not some mild-mannered milquetoast.
Wrapping up today’s devotional verses, in Matthew 21:18-22 Jesus gives us an object lesson in power. In wilting the fig tree Jesus demonstrates power over living things and the consequences for being unproductive. He teaches that if we have faith and do not doubt, our belief will be rewarded through prayer. (There are lots of people trying to cash in on that promise without fully appreciating the qualifiers.)
Among the many things that impress me about the trustworthiness of the Gospels—and Matthew’s Gospel in particular—is the picture they paint of Jesus, and specifically how far off this picture is from something you and I would expect to find in classical heroic literature. In heroic literature the good guy answers questions directly. With Jesus, most questions directed at Him are answered with questions. One of my favorite Bible expositors, Michael Card, says plainly in Part 2 of this video that Jesus disappointed practically everyone who came to Him. That’s a provocative statement, but hear Michael Card out. Everyone wanted something from Jesus, and He frequently gave them something other than what they asked for. He spoke in parables, which confused them, and most often when they questioned Him, He would respond with a deeper, more directed question that got to the heart of the matter. He seldom gave them exactly what they asked for immediately. He was full of rebukes. Not a picture of a classical hero, but a trustworthy picture of God in the flesh.
If you were to paint a portrait of Jesus, capturing all these qualities and values, there’s just one more thing to remember—this is paint-by-numbers. Jesus had to fulfill hundreds of prophecies. And as exemplified in Matthew 21, these prophecies are very strict plumb lines that we should hold up to examine Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. As Lee Strobel points out in this video, mathematician Peter Stoner determined the odds of any one person in all of human history fulfilling just 48 ancient prophesies pertaining to the Messiah are one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. That’s an astoundingly specific fingerprint!