BEHOLD YOUR KING
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He drew a large crowd that day. It was raining but that didn't stop people from descending upon the airport in droves. They had gathered early in the morning to make sure they could get a glimpse of him. Just a glimpse, and the rain and hours of waiting would all be worth it. Not everyone came with the same understanding of who he was. Some were caught up in the excitement of a royal visitor. Others probably didn't know who he was and simply chose to follow the crowd. A small group of people believed that this was their Messiah; a prophet who would bring long-awaited deliverance. Though more than a century had gone by since the emancipation, the effects of slavery had so ravaged their ancestors that it was still in their bones. Freedom had come and gone but it wasn’t enough. Freedom doesn’t do away with the consequences of centuries of oppression. Freedom was good but deliverance was what they craved. They held up signs that read 'King of Kings' and 'Lion of Judah'. They believed that he would deliver them from their lives of poverty and return them to the Promised Land... the birth place of their ancestors. They looked forward to this African Exodus and came out by the masses to celebrate the arrival of their king. They saw a man, but they beheld, who they believed to be, their deliverer.
When I asked my father about that day in 1966 when Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia arrived in Jamaica, he had a vague recollection. He was trying to get work in Kingston but the main road was blocked off for the motorcade. He had no idea that he was in the midst of history being made. I wonder if anyone had that same experience two thousand years ago, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. Did people know as they went about their daily tasks that history was happening around them? Did the crowd in Jerusalem realize as they waved their palm branches and laid out their clothes that this was the King of Kings? Jesus entrance was making a big statement. He wasn’t being subtle about his identity. He rode in on a donkey, something common for kings to do when they were in times of peace and not war. There was about to be a battle, but it would be like nothing anyone had ever seen before. This noble yet humble entrance was something that the prophet Zechariah had predicted long ago that the Messiah would do. He was greeted with shouts of 'Hosanna!' so it would seem that people knew what he was all about. Hosanna, which came to be an Aramaic expression of praise, was originally in Hebrew, an appeal for deliverance. It means “Save us!”. They saw him, a rabbi from Nazareth, and they beheld their deliverer.
The question was, what would this battle be all about? What did they want to be saved from - Roman rule, a kingdom that was not their own. The Jewish people had been delivered from slavery centuries ago, yet they were still living under oppression. They were clinging to the promises of God that a Messiah would come, a prophet who would deliver them. A king. Yet they were misguided as to who or what this king would be. They wanted an earthly prince, a warrior, a politician; someone who would bring justice. They knew they needed saving but they didn’t realize what it was they needed to be delivered from.
After this triumphal entry Jesus enters the temple and has what I like to call an episode. He sees the vendors selling items and animals for sacrificing. He gets angry and starts overturning tables and driving people out. Jesus is cleaning house. It might seem odd that he would take issue with the sacrificial system. The Israelites were, after all, commanded by God to make sacrifices to atone for their sins. So what was Jesus trying to accomplish here? In verse 11 we see that the crowds recognized him as a prophet. It is likely that they would have understood that Jesus’ actions were symbolic, just as the prophets before him had used symbolism to communicate God’s message. The message we get from this house-cleaning is that there’s a new thing happening. The means of atonement is no longer found in an animal sacrifice. Even that had been turned into a money-making scheme. You don’t need to buy anything in order to get right with God. Jesus is the new thing. Where once the temple was the centre of worship and atonement, Jesus is now the centre. This scene is the only time we see Jesus angry but his anger doesn’t last long. Immediately after, we read that blind and the lame came to him and were healed. Jesus is doing the work of restoration. He’s restoring sight and restoring bodies.
Behold your king.
Israel had had many kings before but this was different. When Israel first asked for a king, back in the time of the prophet Samuel, God warned them that a king would only take from his people. In first Samuel chapter 8 we read:
He will take your sons and your daughters. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officials and attendants. He will take your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
This is the king you want? And the people said, yes! This is what we want. Why? Because they wanted to be like everyone else. What Israel wanted was different from what God wanted.
You see, God wanted to give to his children. From the very beginning of Jesus ministry, he was a king who gave. He gave for basic needs when he provided bread and fish. He gave for pleasure and celebration when he turned water into wine. He gave the impossible when he restored sight and healed all kinds of physical ailments. He gave forgiveness. He gave life. First his own life by dying on the cross, and in defeating death and resurrecting, Christ gave life to you and to me. Behold your king.
Matthew takes us back to the words of the prophet Zechariah.
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,
The word 'behold' is not just about seeing, it's an experience. To behold someone is have them in your sights and take in their presence and all its meaning. How could anyone have known what it meant to behold Jesus? They knew he was different and that they had never seen anyone like him before. They hoped he would deliver them. But they had no idea just how great that deliverance would be. Their eyes were closed to the true meaning of who Jesus was.
Let’s go back to the triumphal entry. As Jesus enters the city, we read that everyone was asking “Who is this?”. Who is this man who is creating such a commotion? Who is this man who has stirred up hope in us? Who is Jesus?
They knew Zechariah’s prophecy that their oppressors would be overcome. God would destroy all opposition and encamp around the Israelites to save them from future oppression. Jesus seemed like a good candidate to fulfill this prophecy. People’s shouts of ‘Hosanna’ indicated that they believed he would fulfill this prophecy. The crowd must have been disappointed then, when a week after his grand entrance, he died, killed by the very power they believed he would overthrow… or so it would seem.
We all know how the story goes. Jesus was crucified, dead, buried in a tomb and when the disciples went to that tomb three days later, the body was gone. Jesus had risen from the dead and with his resurrection, defeated death itself. God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
Behold your king.
Deliverance was not only for the moment, or for that specific people or that specific time. Deliverance was for everyone, everywhere. Deliverance was about not freeing Israel from Roman rule because Rome was not their greatest enemy. The oppression from Rome was only a symptom of something deeper – sin. The power of sin and death was their greatest enemy and it is still our greatest enemy today. You and I deal with the consequences of these powers every day. It seems that we can’t learn from history as we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Think about all the ways that we see oppression and injustice happening around us.
Think about how we see it in ourselves. A few weeks ago Pastor David asked, what do you need to be delivered from? This is a question that requires attention. We might be surprised by the answers we come up with. We need to ask, what are the consequences of sin in my own life? Where has sin had power over me? One morning I was at Horizons and a young man asked me to pray for him. What would you like prayer for, I asked, and his response was “a lot of money”. About an hour later he came back and said, actually, pray for my mom, and he hurried away. I believe that this young man, in asking for money, wasn’t being greedy, he wanted security. After thinking about it for a while, he realized that he wanted the security of being loved and of family. For whatever reason, maybe it was his own sin or someone else’s, he had lost that for which he most longed.
Sin takes from us that which is most precious. Sin leaves us with broken relationships, with addiction, self-assertion, pride. Sin leaves us asking for less than God wants for us. The power of sin is strong and we cannot overcome it on our own. We need deliverance. One preacher likened it to being in a prison cell. You can’t let yourself out. No matter how hard you try and how much effort you exert, it’s not in your power to free yourself. You need someone on the outside with a key to come and open the door.
Behold your king.
When Christ died and was raised to life, everything changed. The power of sin was swallowed by the power of love. The Father desires to show us real love, love that sacrifices everything for the good of the other. We can learn from Jesus entrance on a donkey and from his death on the cross. We can learn from Jesus offering himself to us and leaving us the option to reject him. He was humbling himself and completely in tune with the will of the Father. He whole life can be summed up by the prayer he prays in the garden when he says “Not my will, but Yours be done”.
Behold your king.
Palm Sunday invites us to look differently at what it is we really need. It calls us to measure our will against God’s will and make them one and the same. To have Jesus as our King is to submit our will and plans and desires to his own. How do we do this?
Verse fifteen tells us that the children were shouting ‘Hosanna’ that day and when the religious leaders heard this, they were indignant. They wanted Jesus to silence them and he replies “From the lips of children and infants, you Lord have called forth your praise”.
Jesus always speaks very highly of children and they hold a special place in his kingdom. He tells us that faith is very natural for them and I think that’s because children have an unlimited capacity for imagination.
I asked my nephews what Jesus saves us from and this is how they answered:
“From getting hurt. If you get bit by a wolf he can make you come alive and he died for you so you can live.”
“From getting hurt. From going to hell forever because every baby has sin and if he didn’t die for us we wouldn’t be able to go to heaven”
“If there is fire, he made firemen so you won’t get killed”
Imagination helps us trust God. You need imagination as a person of faith because life can be tough, and there’s so much that we don’t know. I may not know what you’re going through in life right now. I do know that whatever doubt or demons you’re struggling with, whatever fire or wolves are in your life, God wants to deliver you. He gave the perfect sacrifice in Jesus Christ so you could be saved from death and despair. Where once we were enslaved by sin, Christ has freed us from bondage and now we are prisoners of hope. We have that assurance because God is both supreme power and supreme love. We’ve all heard the phrase “all you need is love” but the truth is that love without power is ineffective. There is no power greater than the power of God and there is no love greater than the love of God. Choose to give yourself to him today. Choose to give up your will for the will of the father. Choose to cling to the One who gave his life for you, to the One who loves you beyond what you can imagine, Jesus, your king.