read Matthew 21. Last winter a man kept cutting off tree limbs in New York at night. Security cameras caught the villain at work, but the police had trouble apprehending him. The media was obsessed with his crime. Why? Perhaps because many people think there is something inherently sacred about trees. We may have never seen a poem lovely as a tree. Druids worship trees. Neighbors don’t talk for years after one cuts down the tree of another.
So why did Christ’s followers cut down tree branches and spread them on the road before him? I know there was a Jewish tradition of doing this, but why do it for Christ?
Apparently, there was something about the man from Nazareth in Galilee entering Jerusalem that day that made people want to cut down branches for him. They wanted to spread their garments on the road before him. Scripture says they saw in Jesus that day the fulfillment of the prophecy: “Look, your King is coming to you.”
When the people in the city heard and saw the procession, they all had the same question. It’s a question that echoes down the ages. It’s a question that many people ask today about Jesus: “Who is this?”
It’s a good question. Who is Jesus? In this chapter, Jesus reveals himself as a man of authority. He shows his authority over an unbroken colt, a corrupt Temple, and a fruitless fig tree. When the religious leaders ask him for the source of his authority, he asks them a question back: Did John’s authority come from heaven or was it merely human?
Similarly, Jesus will meet our question about who he is, with a question back: Who do you think I am? Do you think my authority comes from God, or am I merely human?
It’s the million dollar question. For as the religious leaders recognize, if Jesus’ authority really came from God, then we should obey Him. Jesus meets the religious leaders’ questions with two parables about authority. In the first parable, Jesus points out that obedience has nothing to do with what you say: obedience is the act of obeying. The implication is that even if we say we think Jesus is God’s Son, our words don’t mean anything unless we start to try to obey him.
In Jesus’ second parable, he talks of tenant farmers who refuse to pay the vineyard owner his share of the crops. Instead they kill his servants, and murder his son. To bear good fruit, Jesus implies, is to believe and obey Jesus and treat him as the Son of God.
Does the fact that Jesus asks for our obedience make Jesus a megalomaniac? It helps to look at just what kind of a King Jesus is here. While the book of Revelations says Jesus will come again riding on a white horse, his triumphal procession into Jerusalem is one of humility: he is riding a colt. And while he “knocked over” the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, his passion is directed at people who are taking advantage of sacrifice. This is not an instance of dictatorial rage, but rather of passionate love: don’t you get it, he is asking. I’m about to sacrifice myself for your sins? Finally, when Jesus curses the fig tree, it’s because the tree is not bearing any fruit.
The picture of Christ the King therefore, is of a humble, passionate, loving God who wants his people to bear fruit. Jesus wants the best for us. He wants each of us to fulfill the destiny for which God made us. The Bible teaches that humans have an enemy who wants to do everything he can to prevent us from achieving our destinies. Christ came that we might have an abundant life instead.
As God’s Son, Jesus had ultimate authority over all things, but instead of using that authority to advance his own agenda, he humbled himself to the point of death upon a cross. Jesus died so that we might live. He rode a donkey, so we could ride on a white horse. The man for whom one day the trees will sing and dance, was nailed to a tree out of love. Personally, when I see a tree, I see an image of myself: I see a living creature that is bent and twisted, and yet beautiful because of God’s love.
Jesus is not afraid of our questions. He welcomes them. He wants us to ask him: Who are you? He is has nothing to be afraid of. He knows He’s God. He knows nothing else will fulfill us the way He can. He just wants us to know it, too. And asking the question is the very first step.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on November 3, 2011