“The Humility of a King”
Matthew 21:1-10 – April 2, 2023 (March 20, 2005)
Do you all have experiences of someone who is well-known? Someone whose name is on everybody’s lips? Someone who everybody is talking about? Whenever you hear the buzz, chances are it’s about that person. And when that well-known person, that person of greatness makes a big entrance, we know what to expect, don’t we? Well-known people are supposed to enter a city with pomp and ceremony: black limos, bands, waving, cheering crowds lining the streets, live coverage on television.
That is just what we have here in the Gospel reading for today (minus the limousines and the television coverage). The name of Jesus was on just about everyone’s lips. Some people were glad He had come to Jerusalem, and some people were mad He had come, and some people weren’t sure what to think. But, I suspect almost everyone in Jerusalem that day had some sort of idea or opinion, one way or another.
I bet a common question on people’s lips on that Sunday centuries ago was, “Who is this guy, anyway?” Let’s consider. The Rabbi Jesus had options. He could have quietly snuck into Jerusalem in the middle of the night, avoiding notice and controversy, and not making a fuss or bother. But that wouldn’t have been very kingly, would it?
Jesus could have entered Jerusalem boldly and proudly, seated on a big white horse, like other triumphant generals or kings. A conquering king on a horse is the very image of war and forcing submission. But—that wouldn’t have struck quite the right note, not with everything we know about Jesus.
What were people expecting? In other words, “Who is this guy, anyway?”
At that time, the country of Israel in general, and the area surrounding Jerusalem in particular, was under enemy occupation. They were under the oppressive thumb of the Roman government, subdued by the Roman army, and had been in that position for many, many years. I know for a fact that around the time of Jesus, several people had proclaimed themselves “Messiahs”—meaning political leaders—for the purpose of overthrowing the Roman government and authority. So, this was not the first time this had been done. We can even see among Jesus’ disciples there was movement in this direction, and several of His disciples tried to persuade Jesus to be that powerful political leader.
So, on that Palm Sunday, some people fully expected Jesus to make good on His claim to be Messiah—a claim to be a strong political leader, come to free the Israelite people from the tyranny of the Romans. True, Jesus had repeatedly proclaimed Himself the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He used the title “Son of David” for Himself, which was a plain statement of His kingly claim, His claim to be Messiah. But with the Roman occupation and the messianic expectations of the day, a peaceful Messiah was not what anyone was expecting.
Some people–I’m thinking of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and other temple leaders—were awfully uneasy about Jesus. For them, Jesus was their worst nightmare. This rogue rabbi from Nazareth was saying things that penetrated right to the heart. Usually it was right to the hearts of the religious leaders—in a negative way. And, those things Rabbi Jesus was saying did not make the religious leaders feel good about themselves at all. Which made them want to get rid of Jesus even more.
But, wait a minute! Jesus had also consistently healed the sick, given sight to the blind made the lame walk, and preached God’s good news to the poor. What about that part of His ministry? He certainly appeared to many to be a mighty prophet of God, and lots and lots of people were following Him as a result. Jesus’ words and teaching had authority. Jesus’ person had great credibility. Jesus’ healing showed God’s mighty power, and people even called the works He did miracles! Many people expected great things out of Jesus as a result of this aspect of His ministry.
Who is this guy, anyway?
Jesus entered Jerusalem the way He did as a fulfillment of prophecy. He didn’t just do this because He felt like it. No. I believe He fully understood what was prophesied in Zechariah 9 and Isaiah 62. So, the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem just as the prophets said He would, on a donkey, as a visible sign of His coming in peace. The donkey was the image of peace. And that was what Jesus was bringing. He came to bring peace to people’s hearts, not a popular uprising, and not war to the streets of Jerusalem.
Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king, and what I’d like to emphasize, as a humble and peaceful king. Humility is brought out as an attribute of this Messiah, this Anointed One of God, in three places. First, in the prophecy from Zechariah; second, in our gospel text this morning in Matthew 21 (which is a quote from Zechariah); and third, in our epistle passage today from Philippians.
Jesus not only entered Jerusalem as a king, but as a humble king. Jesus could have been mighty and powerful. Jesus could have entered Jerusalem at the head of a mighty army of angels, ready for war. But, NO. Jesus entered Jerusalem in humility. He humbled Himself.
Humility gets a bum rap today. I can’t imagine big, burly sports stars regularly being humble. Or, look at Hollywood actors and actresses—the very opposite of humility! Or, think of our political leaders—can any of them be described as humble? Our Lord Jesus presents us with a very, very different picture of humility.
Just by coming to this earth, being born as a baby in Bethlehem, putting Himself under the authority of His earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, Jesus showed us how much He humbled Himself. Jesus showed how much He cared for us. Jesus’ willingness to become human, to humble Himself, to become obedient, to the point of death–even death on a cross–this is love. This is obedience. This is humility.
As our Lord Jesus—Messiah—Son of David—Lamb of God—Savior of the world—was seated on that donkey, He knew what was going to happen later that week. He knew about the arrest and the crucifixion. He knew that some of that crowd who cried “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday morning would be screaming “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday morning. He had set His face and steeled His heart to go to Jerusalem, and on Palm Sunday morning, He was there. Jesus was preparing Himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, one of the most horrible kinds of execution ever thought of by anyone, anywhere.
So—the question of the morning—who is this guy?—is a question that needs to be answered in each and every person’s heart. The hearts of the people in Jerusalem were in turmoil. Are our hearts any different today?
Who is Jesus, anyway? Is He a great Teacher? Is He a troublemaker? Is He a prophet of God? Is He the fulfillment of prophecy? Or . . . is He something much more?
The one who embodied the peace of heaven died just outside a city that was AND is blind to peace. Yet that one who died—Jesus—Son of David—Savior of the world—came to be King of our hearts, not King of a small territory on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That one who died—Jesus—Messiah—Lamb of God—brings peace to all who trust in Him.
Through all the pain and suffering of Holy Week, Jesus brings peace. Despite the horror of crucifixion, Jesus brings peace. Through the glorious resurrection of Easter Sunday, Jesus brings peace. I trusted Jesus to bring peace to my heart over thirty years ago, and I praise God for that peace and security, and for His presence always at my side.
What about you? Have you trusted Jesus to bring peace to your heart? Trust Him today. And praise God that Jesus is King of our hearts, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
Amen, and amen.
(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!