Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Lord's Prayer-Doxology"

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Zechariah 9:9-10

 

This morning, we’re going to attempt to integrate the closing words of our Lord’s Prayer – the entirety of which we’ve been studying for the past five Sundays – with the events of that first Palm Sunday when Jesus arrived in the city of Jerusalem for what would turn out to be His final and fateful visit. Let’s get under way by reading our lead passage from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 beginning at verse 1.

 

            (Read Matthew 21:111)

            This story is familiar to most Christians. Jesus and His disciples are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Passover which commemorates God’s protection of and provision for the Israelites as they were escaping their captivity in Egypt. This was a festival Jesus had attended with His family since He was a child, and had attended with His disciples the past two years. But this particular Passover would be much different from all others.

            As recorded by Matthew, Jesus and the disciples are nearing the city when Jesus instructs two of His cohort to do something odd. They are to enter a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem where they would find a donkey tied along with her colt. Their instructions were to unloose them and bring them to Jesus. They would presumably be asked by the owner or keeper of the animals why they were hijacking them. Their response was to simply be: “The Lord needs them.” Matthew inserts an editorial note that this action was a fulfillment of prophecy by Zechariah.        

The disciples do as they’re told. The owner or keeper complies. When the donkey and colt are brought to Jesus, cloaks are placed on their backs, and Jesus sits upon one or the other. [I would hope for the colt’s sake it was the donkey.] With that begins an impromptu parade as large crowds gather to catch a glimpse of this One who has been hailed as a prophet of God and a worker of miracles. While Jesus and His disciples wind their way through the masses, loud shouts go up: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven.” Matthew adds that the whole city was going wild over Jesus’ presence.

            There is a twist of irony in this whole episode. One thing that is clear throughout the entirety of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus, in spite of His fame and popularity, actually avoided the limelight as often as He could. In the earliest days of His ministry, it was typical that after healing a person of whatever was ailing them, Jesus would instruct the healed person to say nothing of His part in it, but rather to go to the priest, make sacrifice according to Jewish Law, and proclaim the great things God had done for him or her. In the latter days of His ministry, Jesus kept a low profile at least for safety’s sake, as there were some already calling for His life. All along, it seemed Jesus preferred to stay in the background, and when in public, consistently pointed above and beyond Himself to the “Kingdom,” “power,” and “glory” of the “Father in heaven.” So we have to wonder……. did Jesus really want such a parade? Beyond fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, did Jesus call for a humble donkey as a demonstration of just how humble He was? Or did Jesus call for a donkey because He didn’t want a lot of fuss and fanfare. I personally am hard pressed to imagine Jesus on the back of that donkey, head held high, doing that stupid celebrity wave, smiling at the crowds and kissing babies like a presidential candidate. That I believe is a worldly view. No. I imagine Jesus winding through the crowds, head mostly down, thinking to Himself: “Let’s get this over with. I’m not here to be worshiped and applauded. I am here to fulfill my destiny as Son of my Father in heaven, and to accomplish the work of God’s Kingdom for which I’ve been sent.” What immediately follows this glorious entry into Jerusalem makes it clear that Jesus was not running in some popularity contest. He at once went to the holy temple and drove out the merchants and money changers who were turning God’s “house of prayer” into the ultimate dog and pony show – trading and selling God’s grace like corn dogs at the circus.

            This raises for me another issue; an issue of how we increasingly do church in this 21st century. Not to be unfairly critical of the evangelical, charismatic, mega church movement which has become all the rage over the past several decades, I have to wonder: was it Jesus’ desire or expectation that auditoriums full of worshipers would someday be jumping up and down, dancing all around, lights flashing, amplifiers humming, electric guitars screeching, drums blazing, voices screaming “Jesus, Jesus, You’re our man!” like attendees at a rock concert. While this approach to worship is extremely popular with the younger, entertainment driven crowd, and I’m sure has its value, it seems so inconsistent with the Jesus of the gospels who said things like: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted;” “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first;” “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all;” and in response to the devil’s temptation to take hold of the kingdoms of the world and their splendor: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” I guess the question for me is, did Jesus ever envision Himself [or for that matter, those who would later be called to deliver His message] being in the center ring of a dog and pony show; the star of some massive, humanly engineered personality cult? I don’t think so. What makes Jesus the true, the faithful, the devoted, the unique Son of the living God, without guile or sin, is that He constantly pointed above and beyond Himself to the Kingdom of His Father in heaven. It is in the historical after thought and reflection of the church that we’ve taken Jesus off the back of the donkey and placed Him on the back of a stallion; taken Him out of the quiet and reverent places of prayer and devotion and placed Him at center stage with floodlights and cameras.

            In credit to historical afterthought, though, that’s how we received the ending of our Lord’s Prayer. What we call the Prayer’s “doxology,” which means “liturgical expression of praise and thanksgiving to God,” was not spoken by Jesus. The earliest manuscripts that have been found of both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel do not record the concluding words: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.” We must surmise that these words were added by early church editors or scribes who could not imagine closing the prayer on the note: “do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” So they provided a fitting liturgical close to such an awesome prayer. Yet at the same time, these words were in a sense spoken by Jesus as I believe the inspiration of His Holy Spirit led those early editors to add what they added. And these words are so wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was, how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, how Jesus prayed. They are certainly Christ breathed words. At any rate, our Lord’s Prayer ends in much the same way it opens – with acknowledgement of who it is we’re praying to: “Our Father in heaven” who is sovereign and supreme, divine Author and Authority, far above us yet as close as the next breath we draw; “Our Father in heaven” who indeed is “the Kingdom, the power, and the glory…… forever.”

            In closing out this series on this Palm Sunday, may this be our takeaway: As Jesus left to His disciples this perfect model for prayer, He taught that the primary focus of all prayer is for one to be riveted – first and last upon the supreme glory of Almighty God. Jesus was unambiguous in teaching us to ascribe all honor and all power to God, yielding everything to God. Never are we to pray, and never did Jesus pray: Mine “is the Kingdom, power, and glory,” but rather Thine is the Kingdom, power, and glory.” Cutting through the parade, the palm branches, and the shouts of “Hosanna,” this is the true message of both Palm Sunday, and of our Lord’s Prayer.