I’m calling my Easter sermon series All Hail King Jesus! We’re using the four Sundays leading into Easter to consider various dimensions of the kingship of Jesus. As part of my research for this series, I asked our crowd at a Wednesday night Bible study to do a little word association game with me. I asked them to tell me the first word that came to their mind when they heard the word king. Here are some of the responses: royalty, throne, crown, power, Jesus, sovereign, palace, wealth, queen, and majesty. All of those are dead on. And other than the word Jesus, those are the same words I’d have heard if I asked the question at the mall instead of at a Bible study. None of those word associations is a surprise. I’m likewise not surprised at the words I didn’t hear: meek, humble, lowly. Any king those words describe is ripe for overthrow. And yet those words describe King Jesus.
Each week in the series we’ll be considering a dimension of Jesus’ kingship and we’re doing it, in part, by hearing the story from someone who was there. We looked first at Jesus the lowly king. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday captured the lowliness and humility of King Jesus. And the disciple John tells us about that event.
I was there, you know … on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt. We’d been to Jerusalem before, but we never made an entrance like this.
We had just come from Bethany and there was still quite a buzz about what Jesus did there. He raised a man from the dead. The man’s name is Lazarus. He and his sisters Mary and Martha are friends of Jesus. Lazarus got sick and died. We got word of his sickness, but Jesus just sort of blew it off and took his sweet time getting to Bethany. Lazarus didn’t have that time. His sickness got the best of him and he died.
We got there too late. We even missed the funeral. By the time we arrived, Lazarus was four-days-dead, wrapped in burial clothes, and laid out in a tomb. Lots of mourners were still there. And nobody seemed particularly happy to see Jesus. First Martha and then Mary got in their little dig at Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The crowd got into the act too saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept Lazarus from dying?” It was pretty tense. They didn’t need Jesus now that Lazarus was dead and all Jesus could do was pay His respects.
But Jesus didn’t come to pay His respects; Jesus came to raise Lazarus from the dead. And that’s exactly what He did. “Move the stone away from the grave,” Jesus said.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Martha replied. “The odor is going to stink to high heaven.”
“Wait till you smell the fragrance of the glory of God,” countered Jesus. “Now somebody move the stone!”
The stone was moved. The smell was bad. Everybody covered their noses except Jesus. Jesus did two things. The first thing He did was talk to God. The second thing He did was talk to Lazarus. Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out of that tomb.” Guess what—Lazarus came out. He was wrapped up like a mummy. He walked out stiff-legged, but he walked out alive. And Jesus said, “Unwrap the man and let him go.”
A lot of the people who saw it believed in Jesus on the spot. But the religious leaders did not. They got their heads together and said, “Jesus has to die. If we let him go on like this everyone is going to believe in him. It will create chaos. Rome will come down and take away what little freedom we have left. It’s going to get ugly around here.” The high priest Caiaphas piped up and said, “It is better that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Caiaphas was dead on, but in a different way than he thought.
So word got out that Jesus was a wanted man. We pulled back to a more wilderness area for a short time to let things cool a bit.
But things didn’t cool much. People were still buzzing over Lazarus’ resurrection. And now it was Passover time. Jesus wanted to celebrate it in Jerusalem, so we headed back to Bethany on route. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary threw a big thank you dinner for Jesus. Mary got so carried away she ended up anointing Jesus’ feet with about a year’s salary worth of nard. Leave it to Judas to raise a stink in a room that smelled like flowers. “The woman’s crazy,” he said. “That’s a lot of help we could have given to the poor.” Don’t believe Judas for a second. He didn’t care about the poor; he was the keeper of our purse and sometimes he even helped himself to the proceeds.
Judas didn’t like what Mary did, but Jesus liked it a lot. He said that she had anointed Him for burial. Huh? Burial? We had no idea at the time what Jesus was talking about. But it wouldn’t take long till we’d know exactly what he was talking about.
The next day was Sunday. The Passover was this week. It was time to go to Jerusalem, and we went. We didn’t go alone. You wouldn’t believe the crowd that came along and the crowd that was there to greet us. It seems that everybody had heard about Lazarus and wanted to see for themselves this man who raised him from the dead. That miracle was such a crowd-pleaser that the religious leaders said, “We better not stop at killing Jesus. We need to kill Lazarus too”—you know, get rid of the evidence, so to speak. But they made no move in that direction on that Sunday.
How could they? There were too many people in a crowd that was Jesus-friendly. If they tried to take Jesus or Lazarus that day, they would have instigated the very riot they were trying to avoid. So they had to sit back and watch with everyone else.
It was quite a parade really. I admit that I don’t tell the story with the detail of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They explained how Jesus got the donkey’s colt on which he rode. I chose to cut to the chase. I did mention the donkey. That’s important. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, by choosing a donkey’s colt Jesus was fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy: “Fear not, daughter of Zion, behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
That whole processional was both glorious and bizarre. It was glorious because with knives gleaming in the sun, people were cutting palm fronds from trees along the trail. They were waving those palm fronds and laying them in Jesus’ path. You roll out the red carpet; we laid down palm branches. And the people were shouting phrases right out of the messianic psalms: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna means save us now. Those were big words, big praises and prayers. I know what the crowd was thinking—probably the same thing we disciples were thinking: is this the signal that Messiah Jesus is going run those pagan Romans out of town? It was glorious. It was like worship. It was like a royal procession.
And believe me, we knew all about royal processions: kings or generals making their grand entrance into the city mounted on bleached chargers, surrounded by soldiers and guards with their swords and their spears and their shields, people lined up along the route shouting and cheering the heroic conqueror. Such processions were a common occurrence.
And that’s why Jesus’ procession was also a bit bizarre. He sat not upon a great stallion but upon a donkey’s colt. Those who surrounded him were not soldiers armed to the teeth but the poor and the peasant and the common and the weak. If Jesus was trying to make a political statement here, He failed miserably. If He was trying to stir fear in the hearts of the occupying Romans, the best he got from them was a chuckle. If He was trying to signal Jerusalem that King Messiah had finally arrived, well, He sure didn’t enter like the Messiah they were expecting. Jesus was sending a signal all right, but not one of us picked up on at the time.
But still the people loved Him. They loved Him that day anyway. The religious leaders didn’t. They were up in arms: “What are we going to do now?” they said to one another. “He’s got the whole world eating out of the palm of His hand.” None of us—not us disciples nor the religious leaders—had clue one that by the end of the week this city, this crowd, would turn on Jesus like a rabid dog on its master. People wouldn’t be eating out of the palm of His hands any longer; the Romans would be driving nails into those palms instead.
Hmm … not exactly what you’d expect … from a king.
Unless that King is Jesus.