What Kind of King?
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I love a parade;
The tramping of feet,
I love every beat
I hear of a drum.
I love a parade;
When I hear a band
I just wanna stand
And cheer as they come!
The flair of a horn!
A bright uniform!
The sight of a drill
Will give me a thrill!
I thrill at the skill
Of anything military!
We all love a parade – the floats, the bands, the clowns. Well many people are weirded out or just plain afraid of clowns, but everyone loves a parade right? They’re usually symbolic of victory or celebrating an occasion. We long to have a victory parade in Toronto for any reason (unless it’s the Argos, we’re somewhat used to them winning at least). I said two weeks ago that it’s important that we go to church on Good Friday. To miss Good Friday is to go from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter Sunday and miss the one day a year in which we focus most on the cross. This scene that we read today is commonly known as The Triumphal Entry. Was it all about triumph though? Let us take a look at our text this morning and see what God has to say to our hearts.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of Holy Week – this week in which we look ahead to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. As we’ve been doing throughout Lent we’re moving with Jesus toward his death. Judea had become a place of danger for Jesus. He knew what lay ahead of him. God’s plan was being enacted. The events to which we look forward were not things that were being done to Jesus. As he tells his followers in John 10, “I lay down my life for my sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Nothing is beyond God’s control or God’s plan for the world. Part of this plan involves a parade.
I said two weeks ago that when talk is of Exodus or Passover we know that the Bible is talking about deliverance. Six days before Passover, Jesus goes back to Bethany and has dinner there. Mary takes some perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet with it. Again this scene is pointing toward what is to come. This is something people would do after death. When Judas complains Jesus tells him “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” We find out that the chief priests wanted not only to kill Jesus but Lazarus too. They couldn’t have evidence of new life walking around and upsetting their whole system. They looked down on this movement that they saw as a bunch of yokels/rubes from up north.
It’s in this climate that Jesus heads into Jerusalem. The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel.” Hosanna – save us, we pray. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Blessed is our king. What’s going on here? Why branches of palm trees? This was something that would happen during Hanukkah. John calls it the festival of Dedication in chapter 10. Judas Maccabeus drove out pagan invaders from the temple in 164 BC. At the time his followers came into Jerusalem celebrating by waving palm branches. We talk about Jewish expectations for the Messiah – the one who would overthrow their Roman oppressor by any means necessary. I’ve been saying throughout these weeks, we need to ask ourselves what our expectations are versus God’s. When are we putting our expectations on God? We’ve looked at crowds who sought to seize Jesus by force to make him their king. Now we have a crowd calling out “Save us, we pray!” and acclaiming Jesus as their king.
This is how Jesus is being met as he’s going up to Jerusalem. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel. It seems at this point that Jesus wants to make a point. Interestingly it’s a point that he makes himself. He doesn’t tell the disciples to go ahead and find a donkey and a colt, or just a colt as Mark and Luke have it, and bring it back to him and if anyone asks just tell them “The Lord needs it.” Look at what is happening in this scene. This crowd is proclaiming Jesus as their king and waving palm branches like they did for Judas Maccabeus. We’ve been asking for the last 6 weeks “Who are you?” when it comes to Jesus. How does what we’re learning help us to come to believe that he is the Messiah, the Christ? How does what God is saying to us help us to continue to believe – to continue to be made new as we come to know Christ more? I think there’s something crucial in this detail – Jesus found a young donkey, and sat on it. This got me thinking about donkeys and horses.
In 2010 we visited Israel and Jordan. During our time in Jordan we visited Petra – one of the 7 Ancient Wonders and famous for being in one of the Indiana Jones films. In Petra there are Bedouins who provide transportation to tourists. When you first enter you see these guys on horses. Here are some pictures of them. They’re galloping around on these great looking horses. It’s very Lawrence of Arabia. As you go further in, you see guys with camels. At this point I’m basically using this as a platform to show you vacation pics (!). When you come to the end of the city, there are a bunch of guys with donkeys. We ended up taking a donkey ride back to a Bedouin village, and from there they took us in the back of a pickup truck back to the hotel. Now the thing is, when you look at these pictures, which guy do you want to be? You want to be the guy on the horse right? Horses are cool. They’re majestic, they’re regal. No king or general ever commissioned a portrait of themselves astride a donkey. I didn’t even think the donkey would be able to hold my weight! We were going along and I have to admit with the surroundings and the fact that I was mounted on this donkey I was feeling like I was in “High Plains Drifter” or something. At the same time it was just a donkey. I wasn’t all cool like Clint Eastwood on a horse.
Roman rulers did not go around on donkeys. Pilate’s preferred mode of transportation was not a donkey. It would be ridiculous to think of Caesar entering any city in triumphal procession mounted on a donkey. Least of all one with a makeshift saddle made up of people’s coats. No ticker tape or roses here, just some cloaks spread out on the road muffling the sound of this little donkey’s hooves as it plods along. Because donkey’s don’t gallop. They don’t rear up coolly on their hind legs and slash at the air with their front hooves like trained war horses. Kings don’t ride on these things.
Here is our king riding on a donkey. “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” Look. Look at him. This is your king. This is our king. A different kind of king. A new kind of king about to do a new kind of thing. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? This is what God does! His disciples didn’t understand what was going on. How could they have understood? But when Jesus was glorified, they remembered. Faith is in large part an act of remembrance. Of remembering. Following Christ is taking the long view. In seeing things from an eternal view. Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal preacher from Virginia who I quite like describes Christianity like this: “The age of God…is defined as that which comes. Think for a moment of your own life and history. Think of it the way you usually think about it; you had these parents and this childhood and you grew up to be this kind of a person and now you are older than you were and eventually you will be older still and sooner or later your life will draw to a close and you will die. Now, you will notice, in this kind of thinking the movement is always from the past through the present to the future. What I do today is influenced by what happened yesterday, and what I do today will have an effect on what will happen tomorrow. But what if that were changed? Suppose instead of looking to the future by way of the past and present, we began to evaluate the past and present by the future, that is, by what God will do in the future?” They didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to be glorified until after it happened. When Jesus speaks of being glorified and God’s name being glorified in the Gospel of John, he’s speaking of his own death and resurrection. It is in his death and resurrection that Jesus is glorified. What does it mean for God to be glorified? What does it mean when we sing “Glorify your name in all the earth” or when we pray “Lord let your glory be shown” or “Be glorified here in our service”? The best definition I’ve been able to come with is “make yourself known.” Make who you are known. From Good Friday to Easter Sunday – God is made known. It is then that God’s love, mercy, justice, humility is made known. It is here that God shows himself to be a reconciler, a deliverer, a restorer, the bringer of new life.
They didn’t understand until after Jesus was glorified but then they remembered. We gather together as post-Easter people. We need to be reminded too though. We need to remember. Who are you? This has been our question. When love came to town, our king rode in on a donkey. It’s unlikely. It seems crazy maybe. But what if it were true? What would it mean to you and I to believe that it were true?
This is the choice that lies before us. It lies before all of us, every day. Are we prepared to follow this king? He’s doing this for the world. For God so loved the world. “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” This is what the Pharisees say ironically. There is some heavy irony going on there. They’re contemptuous. Bunch of rubes. Bunch of know nothings. Bunch of weaklings who can’t get through life without a crutch. Bunch of deluded crazies. Are you with him too? Are you from Galilee too? Those people don’t know the law. They don’t know the way the world works. That’s what they said to Nicodemus when he tried to support Jesus. When they were saying Jesus and anyone who followed him was accursed Nicodemus spoke up and said “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” “Surely you are not also from Galilee are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” We’re the experts. We’re holding all of these people in contempt. “Look, the whole wooooorld has gone after him.” Accompanied by much eye-rolling I’m sure. Do you want to stand with this man? Do you want to walk with this man? Do you want to follow this man?
Of course right after this John says “Well actually…..you’re kind of right.” Some Greeks are in town for Passover and they come to Philip and say “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is the choice that is ours friends. The whole world has gone after him. He’s here for the world. He’s lived and died and risen and ascended and will return for the world. Even the donkeys. Do you wish to go after him too? Do you wish to join the parade? Do we say along with those Greeks, “We wish to see Jesus.” I’m going to switch over to Luke for a minute if you don’t consider that cheating. There are two details that Luke brings in that I’d like to consider. The first is the picture of Jesus on this donkey. Don’t think that he’s smiling and waving at the crowd like he’s perched on the back of Cadillac convertible, the grand marshall of the Rose Bowl parade or something similar. Don’t think that he’s there on the mic shouting thanks and encouragement to his fans on the back of a flatbed truck. He knows what’s coming. He knows what’s coming for Jerusalem too. He rounds a bend in the road and he sees the city above him. Do you know what he does? He weeps. There are only two times in the Gospels that Jesus is reported as weeping. The first is for his friend Lazarus. The second is for his city. As I heard someone say recently “Do we love our city enough to weep over it?” God, put that love in our hearts. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” God grant that we might recognize this and every day the things that make for peace. The things that the Prince of Peace will enable in us as we wait on him, open our hearts to him. As we say with this crowd “Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray!” Save us God. What might our lives look like? Our homes? Our workplaces. Our schools. If we cried out “Save us, we pray.”
Luke also reports some Pharisaical opposition. Here they’re more vocal about it. They’re not just standing back in their contempt. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” I think Jesus is looking ahead to the day “when the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Imagine that! I read recently that the wind in the trees is a foretaste of the trees singing for joy on that day. I think that Jesus is also talking about us though. Our hearts. They can be stony. Hearts can be hard can’t they? I was talking earlier about God being glorified. Frederick Beuchner once said this – “the glory of Christ is, in the long run, the power of Christ to adorn and beautify, to transform and hallow, the human heart. Our prayer is that he work that most precious of all miracles in us all.”
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. A broken and contrite heart O Lord you will not despise. As we join our king in this parade we can cling to these promises. These things are true friends. I’ve known them. I know many of you have known them. May we say in our hearts today along with that crowd 2,000 years ago – “Hosanna!” God save us. Save us, we pray. Transform our hearts of stone that they might continually make this cry to you until the day we sing praises and make noise with the mountains and the hills and the trees – and the donkeys. God grant that this be true for us all.