Setting Captives Free

Setting Captives Free

Matthew 21:1-11

Dr. Jim Denison

This week has brought great victory to our coalition forces in Iraq. You’ll always remember the Saddam statue’s fall in Baghdad on Wednesday. Now we begin the process of rebuilding that nation. In that light, this story may be of interest to you.

When in England at a conference, Colin Powell was asked by the former Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were an example of empire-building by President Bush and America.

The Secretary of State replied, “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years, as recently as the last year in Afghanistan, and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in.”

For instance, 65,000 young Americans were killed liberating France from Hitler, and lie buried in French soil. It is the same around the world.

With such courage, Americans and others have set captives free again this week in Iraq. You have watched the Iraqi people on television, as I have. So many are responding in joy, welcoming our troops with gratitude. Some reject our presence, and some are apathetic. These either don’t want to be free, or don’t know that they are.

Hold that thought, and join the crowds with me at the first Palm Sunday.

Join the crowd

The Israel of Jesus’ day was an occupied country, under the heel of their Roman oppressors. Caesar could be as despotic as Saddam Hussein, his troops as cruel. So when Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem on Sunday, April 12, in the year A.D. 29, the crowds went wild with joy. They believed their Messiah had come—the one sent from God to liberate them from the evil Romans and set them free.

Had there been no joy that day, it would have been for one of two reasons. Either they didn’t want to be freed from Rome—thus the religious authorities’ rejection of Jesus. Or they didn’t believe they were—thus the apathy of those who watched this parade but refused its joy.

They missed the only One who could fulfill God’s plan for their freedom.

Matthew shows us that Palm Sunday “took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet” (v. 4), Zechariah’s prediction, made 567 years earlier.

Jesus made preparations for this event before it occurred, sending his disciples ahead to find the donkey he would ride into the Holy City. Jesus prepared on that day, but he began before the first day was created—he is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

This fact proves that he is “the Lord” (v. 3), the only time in Matthew’s gospel where this title is applied to Jesus. Those who missed the joy of Palm Sunday missed the only One who could fulfill God’s plan for their freedom.

They missed the only One who would die for that freedom.

A Roman conqueror rode into a city in a chariot drawn by four horses, with a slave holding his crown above his head.—on white horses.

Jesus came on a donkey. He chose to. He had just walked the 15 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, up an elevation of some 3,000 feet, through some of the most difficult landscape to be found anywhere in the world. He could have walked into the city. But he rode a donkey, a beast of suffering, a symbol of peace. He came as one “gentle” (v. 5)—the word means strength under submission. He came humbled before the Lord, and those he had been sent to save.

These crowds wanted a military ruler. If Jesus had been the Messiah they wanted, he would have set them free from Rome. But they would still have been slaves. Slaves to sin, to Satan, to death. So would we be.

So he died for them, and for each of us. Christ “died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

He “laid down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

He “was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

He “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

He “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own” (Titus 2:14).

He has “freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5).

He “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

He “died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

The word of God is true: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Some were overjoyed at his coming. Some were apathetic. Some rejected him. It is still the same today. We are each one in one of those crowds, this moment.

Choose your crowd

Which is yours? Let’s find out.

How did you feel about coming to worship today? As you got up this morning, what if your Sunday school teacher or a staff member had called your house to say that worship was cancelled. A water main broke, flooding the Sanctuary, and the service was impossible. How would you have felt—one less thing to do? Or a joyous opportunity missed?

How do you feel about the Christian faith in general this morning?

Many in the Arab world interpret America’s war in Iraq as another Christian crusade against Muslims.

Last Sunday’s “High Profile” in the Dallas Morning News profiled a lawyer who built a successful AIDS housing program. The column always asks among other questions, “If I could change one thing about myself, I’d ….” The man being profiled answered, “I’d rid myself of the Judeo-Christian and Western hang-ups that stunted my growth as a human being.”