He’s Not My King!
As tanks have rolled through Iraq in recent weeks, you and I have witnessed a remarkable spectacle. We who were accustomed to fighting long wars against fascism and against communism have watched in wonder as the coalition forces tore through the enemy, achieving objective after objective impressively.
Of course we all want our soldiers to return home quickly. We want lasting freedom for the Iraqi people. But in light of such an impressive campaign in Iraq, you and I – who love a good display of force – can look at our military and say, “Now those are OUR forces!” with pride.
Americans, you and I included, are fascinated with those things that overload our senses and, to borrow the catchphrase, fill us with awe. We want mighty militaries and mighty football teams and mighty everything. If it’s big, if it’s loud, if it talks and walks boisterously, then it’s what we want.
But spare us the meek-and-humble things!
That’s why Palm Sunday confuses so many people.
This morning is Palm Sunday, the day on which we observe Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified. Today, we welcome our King into His holy city.
But he comes neither with fireworks nor with a cadre of military officials. He comes in peace and in humility – to win a different kind of war. And that’s why the world can’t accept this Jesus.
St. Matthew teaches us three things about our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem: first, that Jesus came into the city of his own will; second, that Jesus came in humility to defeat sin; and third, that Jesus came to a people so prideful they would not accept him.
The Lord Jesus, the King of Kings, won the world’s mightiest victory by means of his humble death: will you rejoice in his victory, or will you seek a “more exciting” king? The victory you need most is the victory over sin and death, and only Jesus brings this victory to you.
First, observe that Jesus came into the city of his own will and at his own timing.
How often the crowds and even his followers would have proclaimed publicly that he was the Messiah! They might not have understood fully who Jesus was or what his real mission to humanity was; in fact, they probably didn’t. But they saw the amazing things he did and wanted to acclaim him Messiah and King right then and there.
Elsewhere in Scripture, though, our Lord commanded his disciples that they tell no one who he was. He knew the Father had His perfect timetable, which must be followed, and he knew how people love to twist the truth about others.
Jesus says also that he lays down his life; no one took it from him. Now those words are important to remember, because Jesus was God, not a victim of circumstance. In the act of Jesus following the Father’s will and coming into Jerusalem at just the proper time, you see clearly that the work of salvation was not accomplished because God was weak.
Salvation is yours because God is in control, He is loving, and He chose to send His Son to suffer. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, which caused enough tumult among the Jews that they would have him executed, was entirely the work of God.
The Lord even knew – or perhaps had arranged – that he would be loaned a donkey to ride into the city. Nothing came as a shock or as a surprise to Jesus the King; he knew the prophecies about him, and he set out to fulfill them.
And so when you consider the work of Jesus Christ during this Holy Week, remember that all the suffering, all the ridicule, all the spiritual and emotional pain our Lord endured – all these things came about because God took the initiative to save out of love for you.
Second, this King, Jesus, came in humility to defeat sin.
Consider what St. Matthew tells us about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: he came in on a borrowed donkey, with borrowed cloaks serving as his saddle – not in a chariot or on a horse with great throngs surrounding him. True, his disciples placed him on the donkey, as is fitting a king. And certainly kings rode donkeys at times back in Jesus’ era.
But this scene is not akin to tanks rolling through Basra and Baghdad, nor does the enemy up and run. This entry, and the entering King, is bathed in unassuming humility.
Jesus selected a donkey on which to ride because he was mindful of the prophecies of Isaiah and of Zechariah: that Israel’s Messiah would come to Jerusalem not with great pomp nor with a display of military might but with humility, riding on a peaceful animal.
Occasionally, kings would ride on donkeys; but they had to be wise in doing so. When a king rode a donkey, he signified to the people that he came in peace and in a non-threatening way. His mission was one of peace.
And that’s what Jesus did as he rode in among the crowds and among those who would execute him. His purpose in coming to Jerusalem was to offer himself upon the cross for sin – a cursed death that was required by the Father to satisfy His anger at your sin.
Your peace with God comes through the stripes and lashes Jesus endured: that’s why Christ came in on a donkey. He came not to overthrow the government or to fight a flesh-and-blood battle; he told Peter as much when Peter drew the sword. And he knew people would laugh at him and tell him to save himself if he was the Son of God as he hung on the cross.
Yet Jesus entered Jerusalem on his own terms, in his own timing, to bring about peace through suffering according to the Word of God.
Third, Jesus came to a people so prideful they rejected him and his salvation.
At first reading, it seems as though the multitudes that followed Jesus into the city supported him. They threw their coats along his path, a sign of respect for royalty. They waved palm branches in the air, which was a symbol of rejoicing over victory. They shouted Hosannas to him, which meant, “Save now!” They called him the Son of David. They seemed to understand who he was and what he came to accomplish.
But when asked who he was, the people said, “Jesus of Nazareth – you know, the prophet.”
The prophet. Not the Savior from our sins. The prophet.
They had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead. As he stood in the temple, they saw Jesus heal more sick people. They witnessed his divine power. And they wanted something more; they wanted shock and awe.
They wanted Israel to overthrow Rome and gain international supremacy. And so when the King of Kings went to his death willingly, they abandoned him willingly. This suffering Servant wasn’t their King!
And of course there were the scribes and Pharisees, the religious rulers of their day, who gladly would have accepted a militaristic Messiah but who had no use for a Messiah who challenged their religiosity.
As soon as he entered the city, Jesus went to the temple – probably for a second time in his earthly ministry – and cast out the moneychangers. These men would sell “spotless” animals to the Gentiles for sacrifice in the temple, but they sold the animals at exorbitant prices. So if a Gentile wanted to be forgiven, she or he had to pay the moneychangers, who were in cahoots with the animal sellers, a lofty amount.
Religion was a way to make money. Religion kept them in power. The temple was an institution to be used for their purposes. And they certainly did NOT need a King who came to challenge their hard hearts, their pride and their God-less approach to life.
They tried to accuse Jesus when babies and adults started crying out to him that he was the Son of David, but did you notice Jesus’ response? He quoted Psalm 8: “Out of the mouths of babies God has ordained praise for Himself” (to paraphrase). If the Jewish religious leaders, who should have known better, wouldn’t praise Jesus for who he was, then babies would assume that duty. And if the babies wouldn’t praise him, St. John records Jesus as saying, then the stones would cry out in praise to Christ.
The world was bent on pride, bent on misunderstanding who Jesus was. When he came in peace to win the one victory that you and I and every living soul needs, and when he won that war by means of a cross and a tomb, the throngs abandoned him. The preachers and teachers rejected, even murdered, him. This wasn’t their King.
And so we come to Palm Sunday 2003. How will you react to the coming King?
Your response might have been similar to those of the crowds and of the religious leaders of the day. Your King is glorious and mighty, like a coalition army barreling through a foreign city. Your religion is one that doesn’t need humility, doesn’t need a cross, doesn’t need a sacrifice.
Perhaps faith for you has been nothing more than a show, or perhaps you view Christianity as a means to serve your own social purposes, be they charitable or not. Your faith lacks a King who won the victory you need over sin and the grip of death.
If so, you have no King. You have an idol.
There is but one King, and there is only one victory that matters. Certainly success in Iraq is wonderful. But your greatest need is not for a mighty US military.
You need a winning King who gives you hope in the face of sin and despair. You need Jesus, the King, who comes so meekly into His holy city.
This King strikes at your heart, and he will not settle for outward religion or for a social club in place of your obedience and worship. This King comes humbly, but he won’t settle for compromise.
He demands your worship. He deserves your worship. Will you rejoice in him even though he comes to suffer?