Unassuming King, Humble God

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

21:1 “When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “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.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”” (Matthew 21:1-11, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of our salvation, we give you thanks for your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who came in your name and turned the lonely way of rejection and death into triumph. In this time of repentance, grant us the steadfast faith that we may put aside the deeds of death and accept the ways of your kingdom. Amen.

 

We have a magnet on our refrigerator given to us by a dear friend that reads, “You might be a redneck if your town put the new garbage truck in the Christmas parade.”[1]  I don’t think the village includes the garbage truck in the fourth of July Parade but the small town we lived in Tennessee sure did.

 

Parades were a big deal in small towns.  Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Homecoming for the local high school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day.  Any reason to get the Fire Trucks, Police Cars, the local Army Reserve Unit and the High School marching band together to march was a form of entertainment.  Everyone would go downtown and stand on the sidewalks along Main street to watch.  We stood and watched as the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts walked bye, the Shriners dressed as clowns on their little go-carts drove past, the churches all had floats and the youth group rode along and threw out candy.  The Fire Trucks would go bye slowly with their sirens blaring and the girls who were voted as queen of this or that would ride on the back of the convertibles waving to the crowds. Every politician who was anybody would find a way to get into the parade. Various dignitaries would also be included and the Grand Marshall was a local celebrity or winning high school team.  It was big time for a small town but nothing like the Reds Opening Day Parade like we saw last Monday.

 

Today, Palm Sunday, we read about a parade that seems more like the Reds Opening Day parade than a small-town celebration.  This procession made its way into Jerusalem, the capitol city, and it was packed with people for the celebration of Passover.  The streets were full.  The markets buzzed with activity.  Children running and playing in the streets.  It was a big deal.

 

Far off in the distance, there came a noise.  It seemed like a mild disturbance had broken out at the Southern gate to the city.  There was a buzz was in the air. People stopped what they were doing to see what it was all about.  There was chanting, or yelling, or perhaps even cheering coming from down by the southern gate.  The curious ran to see what it was all about.

 

What they saw was a man riding serenely on the back of a small donkey.  What they heard was people shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna in the highest.” To the innocent passerby, this must have been strange to see this sort of excitement for an unknown man riding on a donkey, without fan fair and royalty.[2]  So, people began to ask, “Who is this?

 

The crowd was quick to come to its own conclusions about Jesus.  In the very next verse: “The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”[3]   The hero of the parade is Jesus.   Obviously, some people knew about him and his reputation as a teacher and healer.  Others heard about his miracles.  So, they came together to welcome him into Jerusalem, the Holy City.   What they didn’t know is that Jesus is not primarily a wonderworker of miracles, a successful physician, a rabbi who knows the Torah backward and forward.  Jesus is a prophet, a speaker of the truth of God.[4]

 

Prophets are the ones who do the hard work of speaking the truth about the kingdom of God.  Their message is often in direct opposition to the ways of the world.  For example, through the eyes of the world when we see an unknown person riding on the back of a lowly donkey we wonder why all the fuss for a nobody, who is she?  What did she do to deserve this?  But the way God works, we see an unassuming man riding on a lowly donkey and he is a king.  He comes bearing a message of hope and joy for us all.

 

So, you see, Jesus is not a typical king.  He is not like any other king.  He is different than our understanding of a king and what a king does.   For starters, notice that Jesus comes riding in to Jerusalem, not on a white horse decked out in battle armor, nor on a black stallion leading a magnificent fighting army.

 

He comes… riding on a donkey, humble and commanding peace, not soldiers and pomp and circumstance, instead a lowly colt.  It’s certainly NOT the way of the world.

 

We know how the world works, a king or president or powerful leader comes riding into the city in a motorcade, with secret service agents and police escorts, surrounded by pageantry, with pomp and even pompousness. There is an aura of importance and superiority, as someone larger than life, comes to town.

 

I figure it must be hard to be king and remain humble and not let it all go to your head.  I figure it must be hard to be that powerful, that famous, that important and keep a sense of humility.  Especially, when people are shouting your name at every turn, running toward you whenever you show up, people screaming adoration at the top of their lungs for you.   I can’t imagine that kind of pressure.[5]

 

But Jesus doesn’t seem fazed by all the fuss.  He must have known all along where he was going and that this notoriety was fleeting.  The prophets foretold that this would happen that he would enter Jerusalem as king.  On all his previous visits to the Holy City were for the feast days, and he never entered in a way that he would call attention to himself.   He never wanted this sort of focus or attention.  So, perhaps on this day, as he comes into Jerusalem he comes with the words of the prophets in mind.

 

Maybe he was thinking about the words of the prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly,0 daughter Zion! Shout aloud,0 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.[6]

 

Or maybe the words of the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?[7]

 

Or the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4...[8]

 

It maybe these words ringing in his ears as he enters Jerusalem… on a donkey.

 

Instead of a fiery warhorse with a brigade of cavalry and chariots, Jesus comes in as a king riding a symbol of everyday-ness, of humility.  Instead of shields and spears and swords and arrows, it’s ordinary people with coats and probably kids running along with palm branches, whapping each other with them the way kids do, while they shout and call to one another.

 

This is the arrival of a king?

Yes, this is the arrival of THE king?

It is the arrival of God in the flesh among us.

 

Jesus comes riding in, not in power, splendor and pompousness.  He arrives an unassuming king, a humble God, and he focuses all his power in love and self-sacrifice.

 

Today, as we enter Holy Week may we keep this image of an unassuming king and a humble God, forefront in our minds, may we continually remind ourselves that Jesus’ way is so very different than the ways of this world.  His way is humbleness and love not brashness and hate.  May the way of Jesus impact us and how we treat each other with love and compassion.

 

Let us pray:

 

 

[1] @2006 Jeff Foxworthy, used under license. All rights reserved.

[2] Reverend Dr. Syd Batts, GSPC…

[3] Matthew 21:11, NRSV

[4] Reverend Dr. Will Willimon,

[5] Reverend Robert Montgomery, “Behold, the Humble King, the Humble God” First Presbyterian Church, Pulaski, TN, Palm and Passion Sunday March 16, 2008.

[6] Zechariah 9:9, NRSV

[7] Micah 6:8, NRSV

[8] Isaiah 42:1-4, NRSV

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