Christ is king in the sense of one who leads the church to march victoriously, nonviolently, and even foolishly (riding two donkeys!) into the centre of politics, offering a different vision of God’s will for the world from what any Caesar, ancient or contemporary, has ever offered. Seen this way, waving those palms in worship is not just something the children do as amused adults watch; it is a political act claiming the church’s allegiance to God’s vision for the world. ― O Wesley Allen Jr, in Connections, Year A, Vol. 2
It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus comes up to Jerusalem, riding not a war horse but a donkey. It’s a scene that has captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Son of God empties himself, humbles himself, and rides to the cross.
At fourteen, I accepted Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham rally — in fact, it was 52 years ago to this very day (5 April 1968). When I told my dad what had happened, his first reaction was displeasure. He said that Billy Graham had come to Brisbane in a luxury jet; therefore he wouldn’t listed to him. (You have to remember that jet travel was much less common in 1968 — there was even less than there is in 2020!) Dad went on to say that if Billy had come into town on a donkey, then he would’ve believed him.
You have to unpack that statement a bit. At fourteen, I didn’t and couldn’t. My dad was confessing deep respect for Jesus, while at the same time he held in contempt Christians who didn’t live as Jesus lived.
When Matthew tells this story, he quotes the prophet Zechariah from Israel’s past. Zechariah saw a king approaching Jerusalem:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zechariah 9.9]
But Matthew changes it slightly:
Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Matthew omits this line: ‘triumphant and victorious is he …’
Did I say that’s a slight change? It’s a momentous change. It’s earth-shaking.
Zechariah’s king rides humbly on a donkey; but he rides to victory over his enemies.
Jesus rides a donkey too, yet he rides to the cross, to his death.
Jesus humbles himself, even to the point of death on a cross.
Yet he is a king. He is welcomed as a king who comes in God’s name:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
It’s a kind of coronation, but the ones who are declaring Jesus as king are riffraff. People of no importance.
When the VIPs, the powers that be, get hold of Jesus, they’ll string him up.
But even on the cross, he will be declared king. Pilate will put a sign over him, saying
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Jesus was crowned, though with a crown of thorns; Jesus was enthroned, though on the cross.
No wonder Matthew omits the words ‘triumphant and victorious is he …’. Yes, the cross is a victory; yet we cannot recognise this victory without the Spirit of God.
No wonder we who follow Jesus baulk at following him consistently, and invite the criticism of others.
Holy Week is beginning. It’s a time for us to recommit ourselves to the way of Jesus. So, I encourage you to look at your own life as Good Friday comes. How are you going in following Jesus? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be asking yourself some hard questions.
But as you examine yourself, remember this one thing: Jesus is the king who saves. We are his, now and for evermore. He will never let us go as we journey with him. Amen.
Streamed from West End Uniting Church 5 April 2020