Here Comes The King!
There is a hospital drama called House that my wife and I like to watch. The main character Gregory House is a very obscene character, and some episodes are simply unwatchable, so I would caution you from watching it. The story’s premise is that House is a brilliant diagnostician, but he is wracked with pain from an accident. He is known for his bitter, tell-it-like it is personality and his ability to sum somebody up quickly. He is the Sherlock Holmes of doctors. Only the cases that stump everybody else are brought to him, usually with the life of the patient hanging in the balance. Then House and his crack team, with all of their drama, have to diagnose and treat the patient rapidly. But sometimes, to get the diagnoses he needs, he frequently has to provoke the body, stressing it so that it might show more symptoms. The more symptoms, the easier it seems it is for him to get an accurate diagnosis. Of course, this kind of tactic matches his personality, for his personality is provocative to elicit a response.
Jesus has, up to this point, concealed himself. He has spoken I parables, and he has hushed demons. When in John 6 they wanted to make him king, he mysteriously “withdraws” from their midst. He is slowly unveiling himself to his disciples, but often they don’t get it either. But as he reaches the end of his earthly ministry, he increases his publicity, eliciting varied responses from the crowds. Today is Palm Sunday, as on this Lord’s day, we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. As Jerusalem swells with travelers who have come to celebrate the Passover, Jesus strides into the city as a triumphant king, intentionally provoking a response. But how did Jesus come as King? And How will you respond to his coming?
Jesus came as a king in the name of the Lord.
Jesus came as a king in the name of the Lord.
Word that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem had reached the crowds. Crowds who were overawed at the sign Jesus had performed in raising Lazarus from the dead. So with fresh zeal, they seize this opportunity. Spreading palm branches on the road, they shout loud hosannas to the king. You have to imagine the scene with me. Jerusalem is swollen with visitors for Passover; some think upwards of two million people. Not only is the Passover the greatest national celebration in Israel, but the current moment in Israel’s history has primed everyone to be expectant for change. Talk of the messiah, and the possibility that Jesus, who called himself the Son of man, was that messiah.
They were teeming with expectations that had been wired into them from the stories of their history. You see, through their various festivals and rituals, they kept the stories of the forefathers alive. One such story was of Simon, the brother of Judas Maccabaeus. During the second century BC, this family, a father, and five brothers were zealous to take back the temple and remove Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ Seleucid reign from the region. The most famous of the brothers was Judas called “the hammer” or Maccabaeus. His famous deliverer of the temple is celebrated each year in the feast of dedication, or Hanukkah. But after his death, his brother, Simon, drove out the Syrians. When he returned into the city, the whole city rushed out to meet him with palm branches, which had become a symbol of Judea, and he became the king and high priest until his death.
The word hosanna is “an Aramaic expression meaning ‘help, I pray’ or ‘save, I pray,’ but which had become a strictly liturgical formula of praise) a shout of praise or adoration” (Louw Nida 33.364). This quotation is drawn from Psalm 118, a part of the Egyptian Hallel psalms, for their themes of deliverance from exodus and their similarity to Moses’s song in Ex. 15. They would sing this group from PS. 113-118 after the Passover. So it is quite possible that these are some of the last psalms on Jesus’ lips before his betrayal and arrest.
Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord is a pronouncement of blessing on the traveler, who is comping into the city to worship God. But as the Psalm was used liturgically in Israel’s worship, it began to take on a different meaning, with messianic tones. Soon it was a pronouncement of blessing on the Davidic king as he entered Jerusalem. The people make this explicit as they shout Hosanna to Jesus, adding to the quotation from even the king of Israel.
What’s happening here? Jesus being hailed as coming in the name of the Lord is the crowd’s public profession that Jesus is the messiah. The people are hailing Jesus as king, a king like Simon Maccabeus, and certainly, a king that is messiah, that would offer them salvation. This is what they are crying out for him to do, Hosanna, hosanna, save us, please. Save us, we pray. They want a messiah to come and save them from their enemies.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw on Twitter a hashtag #SaveUsKamala. I believe it was when they were debating the $15 minimum wage, which was trying to be pushed through with the COVID relief bill. I thought to myself, what kind of salvation is $15 an hr. What a cheap salvation, a salvation that doesn’t even cover the problems we encounter in this life. But it highlights a universal problem. We need a savior, and we want one too. But though the need is universal, the answered solution is where things get off track. We turn and invent our own functional saviors to deliver us from life’s problems. One of the biggest problems with this is that because we have invented our own, we sometimes don’t recognize the real savior when he comes.
It is fitting that last week we were discussing the kingship of Saul and the nation of is reals desire for a king to deliver them from the enemies. A king like the nations. Today, we come to Palm Sunday, and we find that Israel is doing the same thing. They cry out for Jesus to save them, and they bless him as the messiah. But as will become apparent in the coming days as the week unfolds—they had wildly different expectations for what kind of king Jesus should be. So how did Jesus come as king? He came in the name of the Lord; He came as Messiah. Since Jesus came in the name of the Lord to fulfill the Scriptures, we must worship Him as our king.
Jesus came to fulfill scriptures.
Jesus came to fulfill scriptures.
The crowd was not wrong to proclaim Jesus as their king; he certainly is. But are they right about what kind of king that Jesus is? No, they were not right. Which, of course, is the only explanation for why they crucified Him five days later. But even as they are yelling, Hosanna notice how Jesus silently corrects their wrong interpretation of his kingship.
14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
If his own disciples didn’t understand what was going on, you could be sure that the crowd is lost too. John is not interested like the other gospel writers about the details of where and how this donkey came to Jesus. John wants everyone to know that it happened just as it was written. That is in fulfillment of scripture. Now John, as he loves to do, clues us in that what Jesus was doing was misunderstood. It’s not as if while Jesus grabbed a donkey and began to ride in, Jesus leaned over and whispered in his disciple’s ears, “Hey, pay attention. I’m fulfilling Zechariah 9:9-10 right now.” No. But after Jesus was glorified—that is after the events of this week, and after his ascension to the Father, it was tenth that at Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit. One of the purposes Jesus gave them His Spirit was to lead and guide them into the truth. So just like you, they are reading their bibles and the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see that what Jesus was doing in the triumphant entry—by the way, why do we call it that? Jesus hadn’t conquered any enemies, had he? Well, to understand why we call it the triumphant entry and why John and the rest of the apostles see Jesus riding a Donkey as the fulfillment of Scripture, we need to turn to:
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The disciples are reading along in their bibles when all of a sudden, wait a minute; I recognize this. Remember when Jesus came into Jerusalem, and all the crowds were shouting hosannas, and then he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. That was crazy at the time, and we were caught up n the moment, but look, Zechariah, some 500 years earlier, predicted that this is exactly how the messiah would come. Now I want to draw your attention to two important things to realize about the kind of king that Jesus is and why the crowds and even the disciples missed it.
First, he is humble. It was not unknown for a king to stride in on a donkey. In fact, this is the sign that he has come home triumphant. But the messiah is not an ordinary king, and his triumph is not ordinary. Jesus rides in on a donkey to characterize his reign and to call all of those who follow him to emulate the pattern that he sets. How did Jesus triumph? Not in any usual way. Jesus’ triumph is passive, a sacrificial triumph; it’s a triumph that fooled the rulers of this world. The crowd would rather have had Jesus come charging in on a warhorse, ready to conquer.
But secondly, his rule is a rule of peace that spreads beyond Israel and is not carried out the usual way. Jesus conquered not by taking up the sword but by laying it down. For humility is not the absence of power but power under control. How does Jesus compel obedience and submission to his authority as king, not by the sword? But by offering us himself. In,768, after his father passed, Carolus Magnus, better known as Charlemagne, became the king of the franks. But a few short years later, in 800, he united several kingdoms and became the Roman Emperor. He grew up in a Christian home. His great-great-grandfather was converted by missionaries that had left more after its fall to the Visigoths.
He styled himself as a new King David, and like King Josiah, he sought to implement vast reforms. His vision of Christendom led largely to the flowering of European development through his reforms and his support of monasteries. But his reign was not without its mistakes. When he pushed his kingdom’s boundaries north into Saxony and the Danes, he made some blunders. After conquering the Saxons, he forced them at sword-point to be baptized and become Christians. Now we can appreciate his zeal for Christ, but forcing at standpoint is not the way of the Gospel. It took his most trusted advisor and theologian Alcuin to come alongside and correct him and lead him to a better solution—the preaching of the Word. Charlemagne and Alcuin were then responsible for a great preaching revival that took place—training up itinerant monks to travel throughout the empire and instruct the Saxons in the faith before encouraging baptism.
You see, the way Jesus triumphed is the way he is still triumphing—through the reformation of human hearts, truing them from sin towards righteousness. And with these new hearts comes a recognition that Jesus is Lord, and there is a willful laying down of our previous allegiances to serve Christ. All without lifting a sword. But through the faithful preaching of the gospel, the rule and reign of Christ are expanded from the river to the ends of the earth until the whole world is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the earth. So how did Jesus come as king? He came as a king to fulfill the Scriptures. Since Jesus came in the name of the Lord to fulfill the Scriptures, we must worship Him as our king.
Jesus came to his own, and his own rejected him.
Jesus came to his own, and his own rejected him.
As John recounts his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he comments in v. 16-19 that there were four different audiences, and each received Jesus in different ways. So look with me at v. 16-19, and let’s see who these are.
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
So we have the disciples; they misunderstood what Jesus was doing. Then part of the crowd was there when he raised Lazarus. These are the Jesus fan-boys. They are riling up the rest of the crowd, which are carried along by their zeal. The fourth group is the Pharisees; these are the religious leaders who look jealously at Jesus because he is getting more “likes” than they are.
You have to trace the storyline out for the next week to see how these different audiences fare. Let’s set the disciples aside for a moment and concentrate on the crowd and the Pharisees. The fan-boys are bearing witness to Jesus. They’re his biggest advocates. They have seen him do the impossible—raise the dead. But they have ulterior motives. They aren’t as interested in Jesus fulfilling the scriptures as they are for him to overthrow the Roman government and restore the kingdom to Israel—someone like Simon Maccabaeus. They are a loud minority that can stir the rest of the crowds gathered, who are driven like a mob to the will of the few. Then we have the jealous Pharisees, who have sparred with Jesus repeatedly throughout his ministry. They’re looking on with envy as the whole world goes after Jesus, despite their attempts at entrapment.
Then we have the disciples. At John’s own confession, they were sort of clueless to what was happening. And as Luke shows in Acts, ch. 1, even after his death and resurrection, they still were looking for Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel—their still looking for a political victory. Misunderstanding Jesus is a huge theme in John’s gospel. For the disciples, the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ was like the sun rising, although it begins to give light before you see the actual sun, its true heat and light are not felt until midday. So John tells us it wasn’t until after Jesus’ glorification that the disciple realizes the full import of who Jesus was and what he came to do.
Perhaps there are some here today who have ulterior motives for Jesus. Maybe you’ve never thought of it that way, but if you are treating Jesus as your personal genie, there at your beck and call to do your bidding, then you are with the group who saw the sign and followed Jesus because of what they thought he could do for them. You’ll know this is you by your attitude towards Jesus in times of adversity. I call this mountain-top Christianity. As long as Jesus is blessing you, and you are enjoyment your best life now—then your Jesus fan-boy too. When you have that perfectly instagramable devotional moment—with the filters and everything. But when hard times come, you search elsewhere for “salvation.” Because it is this group, the mob influencers, that were incited by the Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s to crucify Jesus.
Maybe you find yourself in the mob group. You are here because your parents brought you. Or you are here because it seems like a good idea. My warning to you is to watch out. You will not be able to stand before God and plead the merits of your father, or mother, or grandmother. If you don’t exercise personal faith in Jesus Christ, you are a creature most-pitiable, for you have a form of godliness, but you have denied its power. Listen to me, Children, there comes a time in all of your lives where you have to decide that following Jesus is compelling, not because those around you follow him, but because you see him as the triumphant king, your savior.
The worst you could be, though, is the self-righteous pharisee. It’s not like the first group who had bad motives for wanting Jesus as King—you outright will not have as king. Like them, you have stonewalled, trying everything to discredit him, and undermine his authority. Motivated by envy and his insistence on messing up the good thing you’ve got going. This is the “that’s not the way we do it around here” group. You see, the pharisee’s started out good as a reform movement concerned with the purity of Israel. Wanting to keep Israel from what happened in the exile, they stuck closely to the law. But as with many reform movements, this one forgot the reason they were reforming. Much like the conservative movement in America, most of which are not really sure what we are supposed to be conserving. But as long as no one messes with the carpet, or tries to change the liturgy, or god-forbid changes anything from the way we’ve always done it. But Jesus is never about you growing comfortable in your church; never OK with just keeping up the status-qua. Jesus sent his spirit to do the awfully painful process of remaking you in the image of Christ—and the old sinful man doesn’t want to change. Often Jesus does this by bringing that changeling person into your community that needs extra grace, like a tax-collector or a prostitute, or maybe even I can’t believe mi saying this—a democrat.
Jesus is king, but sadly in just a few short days, each of these groups will have a part in his crucifixion. The Pharisees, as instigators, put Jesus to a show trial and worked the crowd into a frenzy to force Pilate’s hand. But the disciples don’t fare much better, their treasurer is the one who finally betrays Jesus, and all of them end up scattering from fear. Jesus is a controversial figure; you either hate Him, want to use him for your own purposes, misunderstand him, or you love and are commited to follow him and worship him as King. Since Jesus came in the name of the Lord to fulfill the Scriptures, we must worship Him as our king.