For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Last year, Shelby and I went to Scotland and London with a group from Olivet. It was an incredible experience and a beautiful trip. Neither of us had ever been big royal family fans, but we enjoyed learning about the history of the kings in England and Scotland. And in London, as we toured the Tower of London, we got to watch a clip from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the longest reigning monarch in British history. When I got home, I watched more of the coronation ceremony, intrigued by the religious and secular aspects of it and how they are intertwined in the ceremony.
The pageantry and beauty and ritual in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation were spectacular and gorgeous. And for royalty, it is expected that things will be perfectly ordered and precise, because the king or queen command the highest honor and receive only the best. They will have significant authority and responsibility, they are leaders of the highest order who will serve for a lifetime and their children and grandchildren and so on will continue the lineage of monarchial rule.
And today we read of the coronation, of sorts, of King Jesus. It is at least the first recognition, aside from the angels at his birth, that he is indeed a king. We won’t do a point by point comparison of the Queen’s coronation to Jesus’s, but suffice it to say Queen Elizabeth did not process to her coronation on a borrowed donkey colt covered in other people’s coats. In fact, we could compare Jesus’s coronation even to ones of his day: Caesars who were crowned emperor in Rome most assuredly had all the pomp and circumstance that was possible in that time and day. It is almost as if Jesus is making a point about what his kingdom will look like…
It is still startling to the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they hear the people shout about Jesus being King:
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
Those are dangerous words.
Israel is not her own nation. Israel is not free to have her own king that is not appointed by Caesar.
We don’t live in a monarchy, so it’s a little odd for us to think of the consequences of this little parade in a Podunk town (even as a capital city in the empire) as being more than a blip on the radar for the emperor of Rome, but the local leaders were trained to squash minor insurrections quickly and efficiently because what was small one day could become a full scale rebellion and Rome was Rome because she did not allow any rebelliousness to foment out in the open.
This is about power.
Who has it. Who keeps it. And what happens when you live in an oppressive regime and you express the possibility that you might have some, too.
The pharisees have a small amount of power and they are not liking the way this Jesus fellow keeps calling them out for it. They know, too, that the best way for them to remain in that position of power is to continue fighting against those who would undermine or diminish it. They do this by aligning closely with the empire: garnering favor with those who have more power so they can keep theirs.
Contrast this with Jesus.
As king, his first responsibility is to die.
That isn’t powerful at all.
In fact, it looks as though everyone BUT Jesus and his followers is getting what they want: fake peace with Rome (and continuation of the status quo). Later, Christ followers would avoid all appearances of bowing to Caesar – because they did not follow him, they followed a different King.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps moving toward his responsibility. Keeps doing what must be done to save us. Keeps going forward knowing that what follows the worship of today is desertion, defeat, agony, and death.
He rides the colt today, but he will be betrayed.
He is praised today, but he will be mocked.
He is hailed as King, but those who shout Hosanna today will shout Crucify Him on Friday.
He still goes.
Philippians 2:5-11, which Amy read this morning, tells us that Jesus is king, but not the kind of king we are used to: he gives up his royal status on our account. He lays all of himself on the line for us in a way we could never expect him to. He gives over all of who he is to serve us – and he does it even though he has all the rights in the world to be called king of kings.
Jesus calls us to the same level of pouring ourselves out: the first part of that passage says “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” and then it tells us what that mindset is. This King doesn’t want his subjects to seek power. This King doesn’t want us to be pointing out an us vs. them, like the pharisees did, like we still do when we talk about sins we are passionate about: do we talk about abortion as though the women who might have one are evil, as though those choices are not difficult and painful? Do we demonize gay people or Muslim people or others who are different than us? Do we talk about our political enemies as though they are not people? “All democrats lie” or “all republicans are haters”? Do we believe that following Jesus gives us the ability to denounce others while we proclaim Christ as though we were Jesus ourselves?
Jesus comes not to hold power the way the world understands having power. It is not ruthless and vindictive, this kingdom. Rather it is the upside down politics of loving others, of giving first, of serving before being served. It is always the kingdom where the King himself gave EVERYTHING for the subjects he would embrace and he asks us for nothing but delights when in return, our love moves us to do the same.
Luke’s account of Jesus’s coronation as King is one that should give us pause. His followers were all there that day, walking behind him, waving palm branches, shouting Hosanna.
On Thursday, they would all leave him alone.
Peter would deny him.
Judas would betray him.
And the wonder of it is that Jesus dies for them.
As you sing Hosanna this morning, as you think about what following Jesus looks like, what it looks like to claim him as your King, I ask you to consider the wonder of a King who looks like Jesus. The wonder of a King who forgives his enemies, who dies to make us live.
And consider with me the places and times where your life may not look like it is part of that Kingdom. Where you have denied him. Or betrayed him.
This week we remember the suffering of Jesus. The heartbreak and sorrow and pain. The death. We have the benefit of looking ahead and knowing that Easter is coming. But we would do well to remember that Easter does not come without Good Friday and that Good Friday was hard. Palm Sunday was joyful, but the rest of that week was a series of disappointments for the disciples.
Whatever it is that may put you in the category of Kingdom outsider, I pray that today you will examine your heart and as we move to receive our commemoration of that suffering, commit to Jesus once again your very self. Ask forgiveness for where you have missed. Ask guidance and strength to live out your faith. And remember that no matter what you have done, Jesus gave everything he has and is to be your King and he wants you in the kingdom.