To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“It’s good to be king.” That’s the popular sentiment. The person in charge pretty much always get their way, so most folks want to be the person in charge. It’s good to be king. Top Petty and the Heartbreakers wrote a song about that in 1994 – It’s good to be king if just for a while; To be there in velvet, yeah, to give ‘em a smile; It’s good to be high and never come down; It’s good to be king of your own little town. It’s good to be king and have your own way; Get a feeling of peace at the end of the day; And when your bulldog barks and your canary sings; You’re out there with winners, it’s good to be king. OK, maybe you were never much of a Petty fan. So how about this one? Coincidentally, there was another immensely popular song also released in 1994, and I bet some of you here could sing along with young Simba who was biding his time to take the his rightful place as the heir of King Mufasa. Do you remember that song from The Lion King? He sang, I just can’t wait to be king…No one saying, “do this;” No one saying, “be there;” No one saying, “stop that;” No one saying, “see here”…Free to run around all day; Free to do it all my way. In other words, it’s good to be king. Whether you prefer the Petty version or want to sing along with Simba, do you see the idea that connects those two very different songs? It’s good to be king and the prevailing thought about being king is this: You can do whatever you want as king, and nobody can stop you.
Today, we observe the sixth Sunday in Lent and on this day, we take a little break from the topics that have dominated our midweek Lenten worship services. Do you remember the Passion History? We’ve talked about everything from Jesus’ betrayal, to his beatings, to his bloodshed, to his burial. We’ve followed our suffering Savior all the way to the cross of Calvary. But this day has a decidedly different feel, doesn’t it? It’s Palm Sunday! It’s the day we join with the crowds in Jerusalem and welcome King Jesus. We sang with them earlier, All glory, laud, and honor! We marched around this room, waving our palm branches, singing our praises, shouting out “Hosanna! Lord save us!” right along with them. What a special day this is! It’s good to be king, and there he is, King Jesus! But have you ever thought about Palm Sunday from Jesus’ perspective? He’s welcomed as King, but what was he thinking as he made his way up to Jerusalem one final time? What, do you suppose was going through Jesus’ mind?
What do you think Jesus saw when he was afforded that familiar view from his perch on the Mount of Olives as he looked down over Jerusalem one last time on Palm Sunday? As he looked out over that sprawling, ancient city, it wouldn’t be a sight that brought peace and joy and rest. Instead, the sight would be a video loop of rejection. Over and over again throughout history, the Lord God had sent prophets to preach and priests to proclaim, but over and over again the people rejected and refused. As Jesus looked out over Jerusalem, he knew that the sad video loop would play itself out one more terrible time in the coming days. From the Mount of Olives, Jesus would be able to see the Garden of Gethsemane where in a few days, he’d be under siege from the devil, sweat blood, and be betrayed by one he called his friend. Up there on the mountain, Jesus could turn and maybe see the residence of the high priest where the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin would declare him guilty of blasphemy and worthy of death. Just across the way, Jesus might also be able to see Pontius Pilate’s palace where a “truth-seeking” Roman prefect would bend to the will of the masses and send Jesus off to die. And there, off in the distance, on the outskirts of town was a hill shaped like a skull, waiting for him. Jesus saw the sad video loop play itself out all over again. But he kept going because Jesus is King, and no one’s going to stop the King.
Luke tells us, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Everything was the way Jesus said it would be. Jesus sent two of his disciples on a mission to a town they weren’t from to go snag a donkey that wasn’t theirs and tell the owner that it’s for a guy he’d probably never met. Jesus knows what his people need even before we need it. And even more, Jesus is in complete control of this situation. Everything was the way Jesus said it would be. The disciples and the crowds of Jerusalem would learn just how true that is in the coming days, when Jesus would finally make good on his previous promises to go up to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise. Even though it would soon look like this King Jesus was an abject failure, and everything was going off the rails, Jesus was in perfect control. This mission would follow God’s divinely ordained course and wind up at a cross and an empty tomb.
They brought [the colt] to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. Palm Sunday is a day for welcoming King Jesus and it’s also a day for donkeys. Those domestic beasts of burden usually don’t get much time on the stage of the Biblical narrative, but today the donkey is significant. Have you ever wondered why? Jesus was making a statement by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He didn’t borrow a donkey because there weren’t any horses available. Jesus was busy fulfilling the prophecy spoken by Zechariah, Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The significance of the donkey also takes us all the way back to the days of King David. The man after God’s own heart was now an old man after God’s own heart. King David had ruled Israel and now it was time to hand over the reins to the kingdom. A couple of his sons had tried to grab the throne for themselves – Absalom rebelled and Adonijah tried to usurp – but the throne of Israel wasn’t to be theirs. It was time for the man of peace, Shelomoh, Solomon. And how would King David make it clear that this son of David was to be the rightful heir and king of all Israel? He gave the orders, Set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to Gihon. There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. And so it happened. Solomon, the son of David, was anointed as king over all Israel and the procession continued up to the holy city of Jerusalem, where he was welcomed with shouts of praise so loud that the ground shook. David’s son, Solomon, the man of peace rides into the holy city on the back of a beast of burden. And all Jerusalem welcomes him as their king.
Do you see the rich connection and loud and clear statement Jesus, great David’s greater Son, is making today, as he mounts the back of a donkey to be welcomed into Jerusalem and hailed as a king? On some level, the crowds in Jerusalem got it. People shout out, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Now it was all starting to make sense. The people in the crowds had seen the miracles, or at least they’d heard about them. They’d listened to the teaching. They’d hung on every word Jesus spoke about “the kingdom,” and this was the kind of king they were waiting for. At long last, here he is! The great descendant of David comes to establish his kingdom and restore the glory of the days of David and Solomon. It was all happening! It’s good to be king, and here’s King Jesus! But maybe Jesus was just the wrong kind of king.
Fast-forward five days and you end up on Good Friday. Some of the Palm Sunday crowd must’ve been thinking, “Some kind of king Jesus is!” Maybe you’re tempted to think the same thing. “Some kind of king Jesus is…” Because you know how the rest of this story goes. He gets everyone excited, then he doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s good to be king because the king gets to do whatever he wants to do. Then Jesus rides into Jerusalem as King, and he doesn’t do anything! Even worse he is only “done to.” The people in Jerusalem would have loved it if Jesus had driven out the Romans and set up his throne in Jerusalem, but he didn’t. The Jews would be jubilant in an earthly monarch a la David and Solomon, but Jesus didn’t do it. Maybe this Jesus is just the wrong kind of king.
But isn’t that our problem, too? If King Jesus really is the right kind of king, then I should be able to see it in my life, shouldn’t I? After all, I’m one of his followers. I’m on the right team! If Jesus can do whatever he wants to, and nobody can stop the King from doing what he wants, then why is it my health that’s gone down the tubes. If Jesus is the right kind of King, where was he when my mom got sick or it was my kid who walked away from the church? If Jesus is King and kings can do whatever they want for their people, why aren’t things going just a little bit better for me? For my family? For my church? Jesus rides into Jerusalem as King, and he doesn’t seem to do anything! Even worse he is only “done to.” In the following days, it looks like Jesus is the recipient of all the action, not the doer. He’s the one who’s betrayed. He’s arrested. He’s beaten. He gets whipped. He’s put on trial. He’s on the wrong end of a Roman death squad. The great King Jesus we welcome on Palm Sunday doesn’t look like much of a King by Good Friday. He doesn’t do anything. He’s only done to.
It’s good to be king, because the king can do whatever he wants to do – so what does King Jesus want to do? He wants to save you from your sins – even your sins of questioning his kingship, and no one’s going to stop him, because he’s the King. King Jesus charts his course to the cross of Calvary to take your place, and no one’s going to stop him, because he’s the King. King Jesus decrees himself to die to defeat your death, and no one’s going to stop him, because he’s the King. King Jesus wants to withstand the wrath of the holy God against sin so that you never have to, and no one’s going to stop him, because he’s the King. It looks like Jesus is the wrong kind of King, yet in this, we see his glory. It’s like Paul said in our lesson from Philippians, [Christ], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is where we see the glory of King Jesus – in a place the world calls offensive and cynics call insufficient – the glory of King Jesus is found in the cross of Calvary.
It’s good to be king, because the king can do whatever he wants. So what did Jesus do? He forgives your sins. He saves you from eternal death in hell. Jesus goes to the cross for you. He rises from the dead to make you a promise that no one can undo. It’s good to be king…better yet, it’s good for Jesus to be King. This Holy Week, don’t look away. In faith, look to Jesus, your perfect King, who bore the cross, defeated death with his resurrection, and has given you joy and peace and rest with him forever. Hosanna in the highest! It’s good for Jesus to be King!
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.