Easter 1) The Humble King

The Humble King

Text: Matthew 21:1-9

 

One of the most remarkable concepts in Christianity is the idea that our King was crucified. The person we follow, that we give our lives to, was tortured to death like a common criminal. That fact stands at the heart of Christianity. It’s actually recorded in every gospel. Matthew says, ‘37 Above [Jesus’] head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Mt 27:37)’ And Mark writes, ‘26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Mk 15:26)’ And Luke writes, ‘38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Lk 23:38)’ And even John records, ‘19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Jn 19:19)’ All the gospels record that our King was crucified. For our Easter series this year Jeremy and I are going to explore the kingship of Christ. If Jesus is our king, then he is like no other king this world has ever seen. We’re going to take six snap shots of Jesus’ final week and look at how they not only show us that Jesus is the king, but how the kingship of Jesus is completely different to what we expect, and how calling Jesus your King means becoming a radically different person.

 

1) Jesus the King (Image: Palm Branches)

So let’s start with this idea that Jesus is the King.

a) Jesus fulfils Zechariah 9:9

Throughout his three years of ministry Jesus actually downplayed this idea that he was a king. John writes, ‘15 Jesus, knowing that [the crowds] intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (Jn 6:16)’ It’s not that Jesus didn’t see himself as a king, it’s just that the timing wasn’t right. But at a certain point in his ministry the Bible says Jesus turned his face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). And when he arrives Jesus does the strangest thing, he sends two of his disciples ahead to find a donkey so he can ride into Jerusalem. Now Jesus isn’t tired, he doesn’t have sore feet, rather what he is doing is deliberately drawing people’s attention to Zechariah 9:9. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem he wants people to think of Zechariah’s prophesy, ‘9 …See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9b)’ Jesus steps out of the shadows and onto the public stage. Jesus goes from miracle worker to king, from preacher to ruler. This is a very deliberate act on Jesus’ behalf.

b) The Crowd welcomed Jesus as the King

And it doesn’t go over the people’s head. They had been wondering about Jesus for a long time, and finally he shows his colours, he rides into Jerusalem just like Zechariah prophesied he would. The king has come, and the crowd welcomes Jesus as the king. We see that in three ways.

i) They spread their cloaks

Firstly, the spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus. Basically they’re making a royal carpet for Jesus to walk on.

ii) They waved palm branches

Secondly, they wave palm branches. Matthew just has them laying branches on the road, but the other gospels tell us they waved them. In fact, that’s why we call it Palm Sunday. In Jesus’ day palm branches had become a symbol of national pride. When the Jews revolted against the Syrians under the Maccabeans a few hundred years before Jesus they waved palm branches, and when they revolted against the Romans less than 40 years after Jesus palm branches appeared on their new coins. Palm branches were a symbol of the kingdom of Israel, and they celebrated the coming of the king.

iii) They quote Psalm 118

The third way they welcomed Jesus as a king was quoting Psalm 118, and this is probably the most significant. Matthew says, ‘9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9)’ There are two connections there to Psalm 118. Firstly, the word ‘hosanna’ comes from Psalm 118:25, ‘25 O Lord, save us… (Ps 118:25a)’ That phrase ‘save us’ is the Hebrew word ‘hosanna.’ Every morning the Levites sang these words in the Temple. And when this Psalm was sung at the Feast of Tabernacles and when the choir reached the hosanna the people would wave something called a lulab, which was a few shoots of willow and myrtle tied with palm. In fact they even referred to the lulab as hosannas. The point is that the cry of hosanna was a recognition of God’s salvation, particularly his salvation from their enemies. And it was closely associated with the coming of God’s king. Secondly, they directly quote Psalm 118:26, ‘26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Ps 118:26b)’ While in Psalm 118 this blessing was for those who were coming to worship at the Temple, over time it came to refer more and more to the coming king who would save God’s people from their enemies. The crowds imply this when they shout, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ The one who will save them, the one who is blessed, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, is the Son of David, the descendant of the greatest king to ever rule Israel. Luke and John make it even clearer. Luke has ‘38 Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! (Lk 19:38a)’ and John records the crowd as saying, ‘13 …Blessed is the King of Israel! (Jn 12:13c)’ There was no doubt that the crowd was welcoming Jesus as the king.

c) Jesus’ kingship in Scripture

In fact, we see Jesus’ kingship all throughout Scripture.

i) Jesus the King

However, only once do the disciples refer to Jesus as a king. When Nathaniel meets Jesus he says, ‘49 …Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. (Jn 1:49)’ The only other time Jesus is called king is by his opponents, so they could charge him with treason. But it seems clear that the early Christians referred to Jesus as king. The Jews in Thessalonica accused Paul and Silas of ‘7 …saying that there is another king [besides Caesar], one called Jesus. (Acts 17:7b)’ The Apostle John popularized the idea that Jesus was king in the Book of Revelation where he calls Jesus ‘14 …Lord of lords and King of kings… (Rev 17:14b, cf. 19:16)’ So why if Jesus is the king is he not called the king very often?

ii) Jesus the Christ

Well the answer is quite simple. When the Jewish leaders drag Jesus before Pilate they say, ‘2 …he claims to be Christ, a king. (Lk 23:2c)’ For Jews the term king was too limited, there were plenty of kings around, kings came and went. But Jesus never claimed to be a king, he claimed to be ‘the King.’ Jesus claimed to be the Christ. This is probably one of the most important titles to understand in Scripture. The Apostle John wrote his Gospel so that people ‘31 …may believe that Jesus is the Christ… (Jn 20:31)’ Mark starts his gospel, ‘1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ... (Mk 1:1)’ And the pivotal moment in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels is when Peter says, ‘16 …You are the Christ... (Mt 16:16; Lk 9:20)’

So who, or what, is the Christ? Christ basically means the Anointed One, and it’s used to translated the Hebrew word Messiah. In the Old Testament people were anointed to be a prophet, or a high-priest, or a king. But the term Messiah came to be used specifically for the special king that God had prophesied would come to rescue his people. The Messiah was the promised king, the Son of David, the One who would restore God’s kingdom.

And the consistent message of the New Testament, is that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus is God’s promised King. The book of Acts says that Jesus’ disciples ‘42 …never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42b)’ And when Paul was first converted in Damascus the first thing he did was go about ‘22 …proving that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:22)’ And later in Thessalonica he said, ‘3 …This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ. (Acts 17:3b)’ And later we read, ‘5 …Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:5 see also verse 28)’ This idea that Jesus was the Christ was so significant that it became like Jesus’ surname. Over 200 times Jesus is referred to as Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus. In fact, Jesus is referred to as just ‘Christ’ around 300 times in the New Testament.

But what’s so special about the Messiah, or the Christ? Is he just another king? Many people in Jesus’ day thought so. They thought he would kick out the Romans and set up a new kingdom of Israel. But what they didn’t realize is what made Jesus so special wasn’t just that he was the son of David, but that he was the Son of God, that he was in fact, God in the flesh. Paul begins his letter to the Romans like this, ‘Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 1:1-4)’ Jesus was ‘the King,’ not just because he was a descendant of David, but because he was the Son of God. Jesus isn’t just the king of the Jews, he is in fact the King of the whole Universe, he is as John records in Revelation, ‘the King of kings.’

So my first point this morning is to ram home that single truth, that Jesus is the King, that Jesus is the King of the whole universe, that he is the King of kings. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. As we approach Easter I don’t want you to forget that it is the King who is hanging on the cross. It is the King of kings who is crucified. It is God himself who sacrifices himself for us. Earlier in the service we sang the words ‘What king leaves his glory to die?’ And the answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus is a king like no other. He is like no other in glory and honour, or power and authority, he is the King of kings, but as we’ll see throughout this series he is like no other in other ways as well.

 

2) Jesus the Gentle King (Image: Donkey)

So let’s turn now to the first of those ways. Jesus is like no other king, because he is God in the flesh, he is the King of kings, the King of the Universe, but he is also like no other because he is the Gentle King. I shied away from this idea in our first point, but you can’t escape the glaring discrepancy in our passage.

a) The King who rides a donkey

This king comes riding a donkey, and not even a big one. He comes riding, ‘…a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ A normal king wouldn’t be caught dead riding into his capital on a donkey. A normal king would ride a war horse, or get himself a chariot, or be born on the shoulders of slaves sitting on a platform or better yet, a golden throne. Whatever you do you don’t ride a donkey. But Jesus, the King of kings, the King of the Universe comes riding a donkey.

b) The Gentle King

And he does so, not just to fulfil Zechariah’s prophesy, but to make a statement about the sort of king he is. Matthew quotes Zechariah, ‘5 …See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey… (Mt 21:5b)’ Jesus comes not as a conquering king, but as a gentle king. Jesus comes not to lord it over others, but to serve others. Jesus comes not to judge the world, but to save the world. Jesus’ kingship is defined by gentleness. Earlier Jesus had said, ‘28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:28-29)’ Jesus is unlike any normal king, not that other kings weren’t gentle or humble, but in the fact that Jesus was the King of all glory who didn’t have to humble himself, and yet he chose to, he came to serve those who were meant to serve him. He came ‘18 …to preach good news to the poor…  to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Lk 4:18b-19)’ Jesus as the King of the Universe was defined by gentleness, by a desire to help the weak, to heal the sick and love the poor. Matthew recalled what the Old Testament said about God’s servant that, ‘20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… (Mt 12:20a, cf. Isa 42:3)’ Jesus was a gentle King.

c) The King who humbled himself

But this word ‘gentle’ translates the Hebrew word that Zechariah used which has an even deeper meaning. In the Hebrew this word also means to be gentle or humble, but it does so particularly in the sense of being humbled. It describes the poor who live in humble circumstances, and how slaves have been humbled by their circumstances. This humility is often forced upon, and occasionally chosen by, the person in question. And in that sense it is often translated as ‘afflicted.’ This is the word Isaiah uses to describe God’s servant in Isaiah 53, ‘4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted… he was led like a lamb to the slaughter... (Isa 53:4,7)’ The amazing thing about Jesus is that he humbled himself in order to carry our sins. Like a lamb he was led away to slaughter. Our king, ‘8 …humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2:8b)’ And that’s what the crowd didn’t understand. They cried out Hosanna, save us, without realizing that the king they were welcoming would lay down his own life in order to save them, not from Roman rule, but from their sin. Jesus wasn’t just a gentle king, he was the king who humbled himself to the lowest point imaginable, death on a cross, in order to save his people.

As we approach Easter I don’t want you to forget that it is the King of kings, the King of the universe who comes not in anger and authority, but in gentleness and humility. This King that we worship came because he cares for you. He wants to help you and heal you and love you. He laid down his life so that you could be saved from your sins. As the king he’s not only worthy of your trust he is worth trusting, he is gentle and humble in heart and he offers you rest for your soul. I want to encourage you this morning put your trust in Jesus as your king, the king who gave himself in gentleness and humility in order to save you.

 

3) Transformed by the King

As we close this morning I want to spend the last few minutes just reflecting on how we are transformed by Jesus our king. Jesus told his disciples to follow him, but what does that mean when it comes to this quality of gentleness?

a) Gentleness – something we are

Well firstly, as followers of Jesus, the Bible says gentleness is something we are. The followers of Jesus are gentle people. Paul writes, ‘12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)’ And in Ephesians he’s even more blunt, ‘2 Be completely humble and gentle… (Eph 4:2a)’ But Paul wants us to know that this isn’t just a quality we strive for, rather it’s a quality that grows out of our connection to Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s a quality that the Spirit of Christ produces in our lives. In Galatians we read that ‘22 …the fruit of the Spirit is… (amongst other things) 23 gentleness… (Gal 5:22a,23a)’ When you put your faith in Jesus he makes you a gentle person by his Spirit at work in your heart.

b) Gentleness – something we do

Secondly, gentleness is something we do. As Paul writes his letters to the churches he has to deal with some pretty difficult stuff. But it’s interesting how he does that. Rarely does he appeal to his authority as an Apostle. Rather he writes stuff like, ‘1 By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you… (2 Cor 10:1)’ And ‘21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Cor 4:21)’ Like Jesus was gentle with us, so Paul is gentle with his brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, he calls us to do the same. He says, ‘1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (Gal 6:1a)’ And James writes, ‘13 …show [your wisdom] by deeds done in humility… (Jam 3:13b)’ A wise person doesn’t do things the way the world does them, instead they imitate their King, Jesus, they do things in gentleness and humility. Peter actually tells women that real beauty is ‘4 …the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Pet 3:4)’ Gentle is not just something we are it’s how we treat others because that’s how God treated us in Jesus Christ. A gentle spirit is of great worth in God’s sight.

c) Gentleness – something God rewards

Finally, gentleness is something that God rewards. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, ‘5 Blessed are the meek (or the gentle), for they will inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5)’ It’s those who humble themselves before God who will be rewarded. In fact, Peter says, ‘5 …clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5b)’ When we humble ourselves before God he will lift us up. In fact, that’s what we remember at Easter, the fact that because Jesus humbled himself unto death on a cross, ‘9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)’

 

This morning I want you to see two opposing things. Firstly, I want you to see Jesus as the King of kings, the Christ, God’s Anointed One. I want you to catch a glimpse of his glory, his authority, how he deserves all ‘12 …power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (Rev 5:12b)’ But I also want you to see Jesus in his gentleness. Jesus came not to be served but to serve us by dying in our place on the cross. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus didn’t come to beat us up because of our sin, rather he came to gently lift us up out of our sin. Can you hold those two images in your head? The image of a King crowned with glory and power, as well as the image of a king who rides a donkey, a king who is defined by gentleness, a king who humbles himself to die in our place? It’s this king that we humble ourselves before. It’s this king who changes our lives. It’s this king whom we imitate. It’s this king who gives us eternal life. Blessed are the gentle for they will inherit the earth. Amen.

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