A Different Kind of King[dom]


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“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mark 11:9-11).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In October of 331 B.C., Alexander the Great entered the ancient city of Babylon. The city manager came out to meet him with troops and horses to surrender. The high priest had the road carpeted with flowers. Silver altars were set up alongside of the road. And they brought gifts of herds of cattle and horses and lions and leopards. Alexander rode into the city on a chariot followed by a procession of priests chanting his greatness and musicians playing instruments. Like any great king, Alexander understood that pomp and circumstance is important. Image is everything. No wonder he was called “the Great.”
The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us of Alexander’s arrival in Jerusalem. Supposedly the high priest had a dream in which God told him how to save the city. The people all dressed in white and went out to meet Alexander and his army. The priests in purple linen also went out, with the high priest in his priestly garments carrying the golden headband with the Divine Name written on it. To the surprise of everyone, Alexander honored the Divine Name. Taking the priest’s hand, he was led into the city, and then the temple altar where he made a sacrifice.
This was, of course, breaking all sorts of laws and traditions. A Gentile was strictly prohibited from going into the temple, a Gentile making a sacrifice was an utter abomination. But though such indiscretion is not unimportant, that is not really my point in bringing it up all of this history today. I would like to contrast Alexander’s entry as the conquering king, to another King, who makes His so-called triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Look at this King! He comes not with a powerful army in tow, but a rather ragtag assortment of unarmed disciples, mostly Galilean fishermen. He doesn’t come mounted on a proud white warhorse or riding in a chariot, but on a donkey colt not yet broke. And even that modest mode of transport is not His own; He borrows it because He has need of it. This King wears no royal robe or golden crown. There’s no scepter in His hand, nor committee of priests to officially welcome Him. In fact, the religious and societal leaders would like nothing more than to stop this impromptu parade.
Apart from faith, it’s hard to take this King seriously. Those looking on might think He’s seriously delusional—that much like Don Quixote, this King imagines His greatness; that in His mind, He’s riding a fiery, white steed, surrounded by His royal court and soldiers. The fact that He hasn’t denied being the Son of God doesn’t hurt this argument in the least. And He thinks He’s on a mission from God, perhaps even that He’s the Lord God Himself! Didn’t He tell His servants to say to the owner of the borrowed donkey: “The Lord needs it”?
Others may conclude that this King is running one of the most presumptuous cons ever—that if He just presents Himself with enough charisma, He’ll convince a few people to follow Him. The best con artists and cult leaders can exert that sort of influence on people. And there’s no arguing that people are convinced that He is a king. Even when He rides in on a donkey without the trappings of royalty, people do more than stop and pay heed. No, they don’t carpet the road with flowers, but they do spread their cloaks and leafy branches on the ground. And they shout out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Are they under some sort of hypnotic spell? Do they think they see something that isn’t there? No. When others ask, “Who is this?” the crowds answer, perfectly sensibly, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
No, Jesus is neither a madman nor a conman. He’s a different kind of King. His coming kingdom is different from the other kingdoms of the world. That very week, He will declare to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from this world.”
So who is this King? And for what is His kingdom coming? The crowd tells you exactly who He is, as they welcome Him with praise drawn from Psalm 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna” means Lord, save us!” It is based on the Hebrew word yasha, from which Jesus’ own name, Yeshua, is derived: “the Lord saves.” The phrase, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” echoes the expectation that a descendant of David will be Israel’s king (Ezekiel 37:24-25.) It was also the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary: “the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David.”
Their shout, “Hosanna in the highest!” is not a desperate cry for help, but an eager anticipation of the salvation that comes with Jesus and His kingdom. It is an earthly echo of the celestial celebration of the angels at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14), and a prelude to the unending song of the saint and angels in Revelation 7:9-12: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Jesus hasn’t come to flex His muscle, or to subdue nations by the sword, or shed blood of other peoples like His ancestor, King David; rather He has come to allow His own innocent blood to be shed, so that His people might have eternal life.
Furthermore, though enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Jesus is not far away, but near to you—as near as His means of grace. There’s a reason we echo the crowds in our Gospel every time we come to His Supper. We sing: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” because in His Supper, Your King comes to you humbly; not on a colt, but in, with, and under bread and wine. Similarly, He is present for you in His Word and Baptism, too.
I know, that’s a lot to take in. It’s so contradictory to the ways of the world. So, it’s no wonder that Jesus and His kingdom are misunderstood today as much as on that first Palm Sunday. After all, Jesus is a very different kind of King. His kingdom is not of this world. He is powerful, but His power is made known in weakness. He is glorious, but His majesty is made manifest in His lowly humility. And that makes Him so easy to misunderstand or underestimate.
You’re probably familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Christ is allegorically portrayed as Aslan, the lion. And from time to time, Lewis reminds us that Aslan is not a tame lion; he simply doesn’t display His teeth and claws all that often. That is Christ on Palm Sunday, as well as today in His means of grace: He deals with you in pure mercy, not by overwhelming force. His teeth are not usually bared; His claws generally retracted.
But looking outward from the Church, you will find a world full of people who do not see Him that way. If they are convicted of their sin, they see only a hostile king who comes at war, a roaring lion with claws out and teeth bared. For those who are troubled by their sin, burdened with a guilty conscience, the coming of Jesus is not a welcome thing. They see themselves as outside of His beloved people: that leaves them either despairing or angry. Other people consider Jesus to be, at best, a tamed and toothless lion. If they don’t dismiss Him as a madman or a conman, they believe that He’s toned down His harsh stance on sins since He’s not striking down sinners right and left right at this moment.
Neither group sees Jesus as He truly is. One sees Him only through the lens of legalism and believes that He’s is out to get them. The other sees Him as a dispenser of cheap grace and pictures Jesus as a jolly old soul who doesn’t care what you do, so long as you do it in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity” and “love.” Neither group has much use for Christ crucified. They prefer a different kind of King; they long for another kind of kingdom.
The best, most merciful thing that the Church can do in this world is to proclaim Christ as He is. He is still the holy King who doesn’t tolerate sin and judges sinners; and He is still the King who has suffered our judgment in order to conquer sin and give life to all who believe. So we proclaim the Christ as He truly is—righteous Judge and merciful Savior. We proclaim the stern Law that shows us our sins and puts to death, and the sweet Gospel that gives forgiveness and life.
But we don’t proclaim that Word only to the world. You and I need to hear it, too. Admit it: Part of you wants the toothless lion, too. Your sinful flesh wants you to believe that Jesus is a kindly king who overlooks your pet sins, who simply lets you transgress your way through life, and who will still rescue you in the end. But remember: each of those sins offends the Lord who takes your deliverance so seriously that He went to the cross and suffered your judgment for you. Do you really think it safe to spit in the face of a lion, simply because it hasn’t bitten yet?
There’s another part of you that wants the claws out and the teeth bared—not at you, but at the afflictions that you face. Your hosanna emphasizes the “now” part of “save us now!” You want the King to execute judgment against your enemies right away. You demand that He strike back at people who have done you (or your loved ones) harm. You demand that He chase disease and affliction away—and do it immediately! I know as a pastor, there are times when I’d dearly love to say for the sake of God’s people, “Sickness, be gone!” or “Pain be gone!” and watch the Lord act immediately. But that betrays the extent of our sin, doesn’t it? So often we’d rather have the Lord act according to our will rather than pray: “Thy will be done.” We want a lion that bares tooth and claw on our command.
Jesus is a different kind of King. His power is shown chiefly in weakness. He permits those different afflictions according to His wisdom for your good. So afflicted, you might not look like a child of the King—but then, He didn’t look like much of a king when He suffered and died to deliver you from affliction.
Christ is neither tame and toothless nor indiscriminate in His prey; but the King comes to give you salvation, to save you from your sins. What you have and haven’t done can no longer condemn you. Where you’ve failed—in your life, work, family, or marriage—is forgiven. Not forgiven because you do this or that, or because you adapt your life or change it, but forgiven solely by grace, because Jesus heads into Jerusalem and then to the cross to suffer and die for you.
You see, if they were just “mistakes” you could fix them. You could make them right. You could have your good stuff outweigh your not good stuff with God and those around you. But they aren’t mistakes. They aren’t failures. They are sins—sins rooted in the fact that you love yourself more than God or the people around you. Desperate for some holiness, something that God would find acceptable, you try to change. You recognize how destructive such sins can be, but you bounce back and forth between trying to love those around you and the selfish, evil, self-centered, stuff you do. There’s a never-ending cycle of sin, failure, guilt, and shame. And it seems like during Advent, you’ll try even harder to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You’ll recommit. Refocus. And do whatever you must do to get that holiness from God that you know He requires. But you’ll never find that holiness, dear friends. Never. Not inside you… not even in Advent.
So repent and believe! You need not look inside you. Jesus is a different kind of King. He rides in to save you from your afflictions, to free you from your sins, to release you from your guilt, and to deliver you from your shame. Week after week, He comes to you humbly, not on a colt, but in His means of grace. In Him, you find the holiness that you’ll never find inside of you. In Him you will find love, so you might, in turn, love others. In your King Jesus and His kingdom, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life! Indeed, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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