Sermon 04-09-17: “Your King Is Coming to You”

April 26, 2017

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry, he was sending the world a message: “I am the world’s true king.” This sermon challenges us to consider the meaning of Christ’s kingship over our lives and world. Are there ways in which we resist his kingship? How is Christ calling us to change?

Sermon Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria ordered a chemical attack against rebel-held area in his country, which killed at least 86 civilians, including 28 children. The attack injured another 550. The chemical he used contained Sarin nerve gas: which closes its victims’ windpipes so they can’t breathe; it causes a stabbing pain in their eyes; it makes them feel as if their bodies are on fire; and it makes their heads feel as if they’re going to explode. It is a ghastly way to die—which is why it’s banned as a weapon of conventional warfare.

So it was within this context that the United States fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at the air force base that launched the chemical attacks.

I hope it’s effective. Whether it proves to be or not, it’s easy to imagine that Assad’s victims—and/or the families of his victims—felt at least a small measure of vindication when they heard about the U.S. strike. Not that the U.S. attack begins to make right what Assad did, but at least it’s something. Can you imagine how strongly the victims and their families desire that justice be done? Can you imagine how strongly they desire that the perpetrators of this evil be punished?

If you can imagine it, then you can get a sense of what the crowds in today’s scripture must have been feeling as they cheered Jesus on—hailing him as their Messiah and king—the one who would finally balance the scales of justice and punish the wrongdoers. After all, the people in the crowd knew all about the President Assads of the world—whether his name was Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or Caesar. Many of them had witnessed firsthand atrocities that were the first-century equivalent of sarin gas attacks on their loved ones—just as their ancestors had witnessed atrocities against their loved ones for hundreds of years.

This is the context in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Surely, the crowd thought—surely, they hoped—that this Jesus was the long-promised, long-prophesied Messiah and king and Savior who would make the world right.

And through this deeply symbolic, prophetic action, Jesus is telling the crowds, “I am that person. I am the Messiah.”

But if Jesus is the Messiah, there are three roles, biblically speaking, that he would have to fulfill—and we see all three roles in today’s scripture. And I want to talk about each one.

First, if Jesus is the Messiah, he has to be the Prophet. We see this in verses 10 and 11: “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” This is the prophet. This isn’t just any prophet; this is the Prophet, as John’s gospel makes clear, for instance, after Jesus feeds the 5,000. The people say, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Elsewhere, they say, “This really is the Prophet.”[1]

And who is the Prophet? This is a messianic reference to something God tells Moses, which Moses repeats to the Israelites in Deuteronomy chapter 18: God says, “I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites—one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.”

Now this is really cool to me—I only noticed this this recently. While I knew that Deuteronomy prophesied the coming of Christ, I never paid attention to the context surrounding that passage in Deuteronomy. In that passage, Moses is referring to the time just after God spoke to Israel the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. When God spoke to them at Sinai, there was thunder and flashes of lightning and smoke—and it was terrifying to the people. They finally told Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen; but don’t let God speak to us, lest we die.”

Why were they afraid of dying when God spoke to them? Because in the Bible, it’s terrifying to be in the presence of the Lord. When Jacob wrestled God in Genesis 32, Jacob was surprised that he saw God face to face and lived to tell about it. God tells Moses in Exodus that no one sees the face of God and lives. When Isaiah encountered God in Isaiah 6 he says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”[2] Angels are frightening enough, and when they encounter us humans in the Bible, they have to go around saying, “Fear not!” Now imagine being directly in the presence of a holy God! Sinful human beings can’t bear it! They’ll die!

But suppose God really wants to reach us directly—teach us directly, speak to us directly, reveal himself to us directly—how is he going to do it if doing so means our death? The only way is if God himself becomes one of us—becomes flesh-and-blood just like us, becomes fully human. And that’s what he does in Jesus Christ. So Jesus is the fulfillment of this scripture from way back in Deuteronomy. But he’s fulfilling it in a way that exceeds anyone’s expectations: He speaks God’s words to us because he is nothing less than God himself—God in the flesh.

The second messianic role that Jesus the Messiah fulfills is this: he is a priest. This is why in the verses immediately following today’s passage he goes into the Temple and drives out the money-changers. He’s the priest: he’s in charge of the Temple. But today’s scripture points to a deeper way in which he’s priest: Notice he’s riding into Jerusalem not as a conquering war hero on a powerful warhorse, the way conquering war heroes are supposed to: no, he’s riding on a donkey—and not just a donkey, a colt, a “foal of a donkey,” as scripture says. Get the picture? He’s riding in on a baby donkey. It’s kind of a ridiculous image for a conquering war hero. Because do you know what kind of military leader rides a donkey? The kind who gets slaughtered by the enemy. You can’t win a conventional battle riding a baby donkey—you’ll get yourself killed. Yet this is exactly how Jesus is going to win the battle over sin and death and Satan: by allowing himself to be slaughtered on the cross.

As Hebrews 2:17 says, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[3] To “make propitiation” is what a priest does when he offers a sacrifice on the altar—the sacrifice turns away God’s wrath and bring forgiveness of sins. Except Jesus, our true High Priest, offers himself as the once-for-all, atoning sacrifice for our sins. And we see this prophesied in Isaiah 53: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[4]

The third and final role that the Messiah has to fulfill, which we see Jesus doing in today’s scripture is this: He has to be the king. And this is made explicit in Zechariah 9:9, which Matthew quotes from in verse 5: “Behold, your king is coming to you…” Jesus is our king. Or he’s supposed to be. One preacher said that in the triumphal entry, Jesus is saying through his actions, “Crown me as king… or kill me.” Those are the only two choices. Our culture, of course, wants to have a third option: Which is, to celebrate Jesus as a great moral teacher, without actually making him king over our lives.

I am reminded of something that C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.[5]

Needless to say, if Jesus is God, then he has earned the right to be king over our lives.

Do you know what our problem is with Jesus being king of our lives? We’re all a bunch of democrats! And I know a lot of you out there—not all of you, but a lot of you—are like, “Not me! I’m a Republican!” That’s not what I mean… I mean a lower-d democrat. Because we treat our King Jesus as if we get a vote in the matter!

But when it comes to following our King Jesus, we don’t get a vote; it’s all about him and what he wants; we should live our lives absolutely dedicated to loving and serving him alone—seeking his glory rather than our own. Right?

And yet, if we examine our thoughts, words, and actions, well… it’s as if we vote against our king every day! We vote against him, for example, when we don’t go to him every day in prayer. We vote against him when we don’t spend time every day hearing him speak to us through his Word. We vote against him when we don’t make worship at church a priority on Sunday, much less any other day of the week. We vote against him when we’re unable to tithe, yet we always find the money we need for every other financial priority. We vote against him when we’re too embarrassed to witness for him. We vote against him when we make other things king in our lives—whether it’s career, or school, or money, or popularity, or relationships, or sports, or hobbies. We vote against him by things we watch at the movies, or on our smartphones, or our web browsers. We vote against him when we are unfaithful to him in our sex lives.

What about you? In what ways are you rebelling right now against our King Jesus?

Allow me to share one way that I’ve been rebelling against my king… And I want to preface this with a quote from William Temple, a mid-twentieth century Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”

Here is something that the Lord has shown me or reminded me of during this season of Lent: If it’s true that our religion is what we do with our solitude—what we think about or obsess over when we’re left alone with our thoughts, maybe before we drift off to sleep at night—then my “religion” is what other people think of me.

Years ago, in my first job out of college, I worked with a successful salesman named Alec. He was a mentor to me. One time Alec told me that he didn’t care nearly as much about his commission checks as he did about recognition: what really made him feel happy and fulfilled was being recognized for his accomplishments.

At the time, given how small my own commission checks were, I thought he was nuts. Now I know exactly what he means!

I have made an idol out of recognition. I desperately crave the adoration and praise of others. And when I perceive that my “standing” before others is threatened in some way, I fall apart. I spend so much of my “solitude” obsessing over other people’s opinions of me.

Even a couple of weeks ago on Facebook, some high school classmates announced a thirtieth-year class reunion next year. Alongside the announcement, someone posted a video, captured from an old VHS tape, of the Henderson High School class of 1988: scenes of classmates goofing off and making faces in hallways, classrooms, breezeways, and the cafeteria. My classmates look like extras from The Breakfast Club. They’re all young and beautiful, at least in that ’80s sort of way.

Then there’s me. I’m in it—for a moment. And in that moment, I was by myself.

I promise my internal monologue while watching this video sounded something like this:

Why are you by yourself, Brent? Where are your friends? Did you have any friends? You’re only in this video because you got in the way of the camera. Were you a loser? Surely when people see you in this video, that’s what they’re thinking. And what must they think of you now? What do you have to show for yourself these past 30 years? If you go to the reunion—as if anyone wants to see you there, anyway—are you finally going to lose that last ten pounds?

This is just one small episode in my life. But God help me, these sorts of monologues happen all the time!

Getting back to Temple’s point: How much happier would I be if my religion were properly centered not on the false god of “what other people think of me” but on the God whose opinion of me never changes, who couldn’t think more highly of me, who couldn’t love me more. And no one and nothing can take away his esteem for me. Think of how a human parent loves a child: God loves me like that—only perfectly so. Why? Because he’s made me his beloved child. And you are his child too if you believe in Jesus!

God proved how much loves us when God came riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey—as a king who was about to be slaughtered. He took our sins upon himself on the cross, and suffered the penalty for them. And if we turn to him in faith, he’ll give us his righteousness as a free gift.

The people in today’s scripture probably weren’t thinking much about their own sin and guilt before God. They wanted a Messiah who would solve their political problems, keep them safe, give them prosperity, see to it that evildoers who hurt them were punished. There’s nothing wrong with that desire—except they would still die some day. And life on earth—no matter how safe, no matter how prosperous, no matter how just—is only the most infinitesimal blip of time when compared to eternity. Our King Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey in order to save us not for the short span of our lives but for eternity.

But… I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a warning: Jesus came the first time riding a baby donkey. Yet Revelation warns us—using figurative, poetic language—that when Jesus comes a second time, he’ll be riding a white horse—a warhorse. And…

The one sitting on [this white horse] is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations… He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.[6]

Friends, you do not want to meet Jesus riding on the white horse unless you’ve first met Jesus riding on the baby donkey. The time between Christ’s first coming and his second is a time of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. It is the only time that we have meet the king riding on a donkey—and to receive his gift of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. Please use this time wisely. Please make Jesus king of your life right now.

1. John 6:14, 7:40

2. Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5

3. Hebrews 2:17

4. Isaiah 53:5

5. C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 50-1.

6. From Revelation 19:11-16

2 Responses to “Sermon 04-09-17: “Your King Is Coming to You””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Per your point about obsessing over what others think: “It is a small thing whether I am judged by you or any other human court.” But I fall prey to the same thing. I want my letters to the editors published! Can’t everyone see how great they are? Or why aren’t more people “liking” my Facebook posts? So a good reminder. (Not that I also don’t fail in other ways as well, but that is certainly one.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      I was thinking the other day how Facebook (and social media in general) tends to make me miserable. It constantly tempts me to compare myself to others, which is never good.

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