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Monday, April 11, 2022

Who Is Your King? (A Palm Sunday Message)

All four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell the story of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey while crowds of people hailed Him as king.  There must be an essential lesson for us if the Bible repeats this story four times.  What could it be?  I would suggest on important purpose is to lead us into honest reflection about who is really our king?

John 12:12-19
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God![a]
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”[b]

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.[c]
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”[d]

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others[e] about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone[f] has gone after him!”

Praise God – Hosanna!
The people cheered Jesus and praised God.  But there is more to this expression than first meets the eye.  The NLT says “Praise God!”  A more traditional translations is “Hosanna” an exclamation of praise adapted from a Hebrew expression that means “save now.”

The people of Jerusalem were cheering Jesus on as the man they believed would save them from their foreign Roman occupiers.  People 2,000 years ago are a lot like people today.  They tend to oversimplify issues.  The Jews believed the Romans were the source of all their problems.  If a savior could just kick the foreign oppressors out of the land, then everything would just be peachy, right? Well, no.  You may know that before Rome occupied Jerusalem in 63 BC, the city enjoyed nearly 100 years of self-rule.  It was terrible.  Jerusalem was filled with coruption, infighting, and miserable suffering.  Even when Israel existed as an independent kingdom in Old Testament times, they never fully lived up to God's plans for them as a faithful kingdom of royal priests who represented God to the world.  So, it's not like the Israelites could make life any better than their Roman occupiers. 

However, the Israelites wanted to be free of their Roman occupiers, so they start chanting the Old Testament prophetic phrase from Psalm 118 and Zephaniah 3 that promise a Messiah from the royal line of David, the Lord Himself, will disperse the armies of their enemies and at last their troubles will be over.  “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hail to the King of Israel!”  “Hosanna!  Save us now!” they demand.

Well, Jesus did come to save.  But the armies of enemies from whom we need saving are not the Romans.  It’s not a weak president or hyperinflation from which we need to be saved.  It’s not even Mr. Putin that is the real enemy.  These are the symptoms.  If we get rid of these but don’t address the core issues in the perverted human heart, there will always be more corruption and tyranny and death and suffering.  Broken humanity always invents new ways to oppress ourselves.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Why A Donkey?
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.  Look, your King is coming,
 riding on a donkey’s colt.”

The conquering hero—the one the crowds in Jerusalem thought came to conquer their enemies—came riding on a donkey.  Why a donkey?

Well, if a king believed a city was in rebellion, they might come on a horse and attack and set things back under their control. But if the king came on a donkey, it meant peace.  And Jesus certainly would have been justified to attack Jerusalem as a rebellious city.  Jerusalem wasn't exactly being very loyal to God.  They were loyal on the surface, but the religious leaders were only using their devotion to God as a cover to maintain their own power.  All you have to do is read many of Jesus' parables and outright criticisms of the religious leaders to know he thought they were rebelling against God (see the Parable of the Evil Farmers Matthew 21:33-46).   

Fortunately, Jesus came riding on a donkey.  This was a symbol that Jesus came to make peace, not war.  It was another fulfillment of prophecy, this time from Zechariah, a prophecy from over 500 years before Jesus was born.

Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.”

Jesus came to make peace, not war.  He came to offer forgiveness and salvation to the Jews, but also to the Romans.  The Messiah’s came to save all people from ourselves.  It is not the rebellion of one nation or another that is the cause of human misery.  It is the rebellion of all humanity that is the culprit.  It is the seditious determination in each and every one of us that says, “This is my life and I will live it however I please.” 

So, the Lord came to offer mercy and a to plead for us to give up our rebellion and come back to God.  He didn’t ride in on a war horse.  He plodded in on the back of a humble donkey.  Apparently, the people of Jerusalem missed this symbolism.  John 12:16 tells us even Jesus closest disciples missed it at the time.  It says in John 12:16, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.”

Isn't It Ironic?
Palm Sunday is a day of deep irony.  It’s a day of celebration, but it’s a celebration by crowd of people who don’t really know what’s going on.  It’s a day when people hail Jesus as king, but only with the expectation that the “King” will do what they want him to do.  And sadly, when their “king” doesn’t live up to their expectations, they abandon him and shout “Crucify Him!”

In less than one week, Jesus goes from adored Savior King to their despised and executed criminal.  On Palm Sunday, they hail Jesus as King.  On Good Friday, they beat him and mock him and they proclaim in John 19:15, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Man, people are fickle.  We all figuratively say "We have no king but Caesar" whenever we choose our own way instead obeying God's way.

Who is Your King?
And so, in the midst of our Palm Sunday celebrations, as our kids wave our palm branches and we sing “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, I have to ask you, honestly:  “Who is Your King?”

You might assume that Jesus is your king.  Surely, Jesus is our king?  Right?

But is Jesus only your king if He gives you what you want?  I mean, are you like the crowds of people shouting hosannas on the streets of Jerusalem, only because you expect Jesus to solve the problems you want Him to solve (and to leave everything else alone, thank you very much)?  Because, if Jesus is truly a king, The King, He doesn’t work that way.  He is the Sovereign and we are the subjects.

Jesus’ message was consistent.  He said “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)  And he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  And he said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  And he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

So we have to decide.  Who will we welcome as the King of our life?
Will we continue to try and be lord of our own life or will we let Jesus truly be Lord?
Will we put our hopes in the things and people of this world, or will we see Jesus is our only hope?
Will we welcome Jesus as king, just so long as he fixes things the way we think they should be fixed, or will we surrender unconditionally to the One who is Lord of all?

I pray you will truly receive Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords and give yourself to Him with no reservations.  He is worthy and this is the way. 
If you settle for anything less than full surrender, you will just crucify Jesus again and again whenever He challenges your sin and rebellion.

So, this Palm Sunday, I invite you to surrender, repent, and pledge your complete allegiance to the King who came to save you and the whole world.

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