Text: Matthew 20:17-28; 21:1-11
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
The Greatest Conqueror
Who was history’s greatest conqueror? Napoleon Bonaparte? Genghis Khan? Julius Caesar? Alexander the Great? Alexander the Great was undefeated in battle. By the age of 30, he had created one of history’s largest empires, stretching from Greece to India.
What about Jesus? You might not think of Jesus as a conqueror, but he defeated three powerful enemies: pride, sin, and death. Jesus is history’s greatest conqueror.
One enemy we all have is pride. It was pride that led to humanity’s first sin. Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). It could be argued that all sin is rooted in our pride. Having humility is extremely difficult for us. (Sometimes people think they’re humble, but in reality they’re proud of their “humility.”) How can we conquer pride?
The First Palm Sunday
Five days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call this day Palm Sunday. The event itself is known as the triumphal entry.  The people “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the ground” (v. 8). John’s Gospel tells us that the branches were “branches of palm trees” (John 12:13). About two hundred years earlier, a Jewish rebel group known as the Maccabees liberated Judea from Antiochus and the Greeks. One of their victories was celebrated with “palm-branches” (1 Macc. 13:51). In Jesus’ day, the Jews were under the power of Rome, and they were looking for the Messiah to defeat the Romans.
The excited crowd cried out, “Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9). “Hosanna” literally means “save us.”  However, by the first century it had become a cry of praise to God.  Regardless, it’s clear that the people had salvation on their minds. The first part of v. 5 (“Say to the daughter of Zion”) is a quote from Isaiah 62:11, which goes on to say, “Behold, your salvation comes.” The people were correct in believing that Jesus had come to bring salvation, but they were confused as to what kind of salvation Jesus would achieve.
In v. 5, Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, which describes the coming king as “humble and mounted on a donkey.”  The people in Jerusalem shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 9). “The Son of David” was a messianic title. John writes that the people called Jesus “the King of Israel” (John 12:13). The people were correct in believing that Jesus was their King, but they were confused as to what kind of King he was.
What kind of King was Jesus? A humble King who came to serve. What kind of salvation did Jesus come to bring? A salvation from the consequences of our sins. How would Jesus bring this salvation? Through his death on a cross.
During the previous week, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, asked (via their mother) Jesus for positions of prominence in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-21). The other disciples were indignant at James and John (v. 24)—probably because they wanted the same thing. Jesus rebuked all twelve of his disciples, saying,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 25-28).If our Lord lived as a humble servant, who are we to be filled with pride? The apostle Paul used the example of Jesus’ humility when urging the Philippians to be humble. He wrote, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He encouraged them to be humble by reminding them that Jesus, the God-man, “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8). It’s been said that humility is “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” That’s the attitude that Jesus had. He even washed his disciples’ dirty feet (John 13:5)—as they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest! We are quick to condemn the disciples for their pride, but don’t we often act the same? When we think about the humility of Jesus, doesn’t our pride seem so foolish, so awful, so out of place?
Jesus could didn’t allow pride to prevent him from completing his earthly mission. He conquered pride. How can we conquer pride? We must be changed by the gospel. The gospel moves us to humbly serve others.
 All four Gospels give an account of the triumphal entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19).
 The praise of the people was inspired by Psalm 118:25-26: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.”
 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew (NAC), 313.
 The Greek word for “humble” (praus) is found four times in the NT, and is also translated as “meek” and “gentle.”
 The “donkey” of Zechariah 9:9 is contrasted with the “war horse” of Zechariah 9:10.