Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Coming King. A Sermon for Palm Sunday in Dollingstown and Magheralin on 9th April 2006. Mark 11:1-11

What would happen if I told you that the Queen was coming here this morning? What sort of preparations would be necessary? How would we get ready for her visit? What would happen when she arrived? How would we recognise her? How would we react to her? I came across the website of an Aboriginal Language School in Australia that was recently visited by the Queen. It tells of their frantic preparations, cleaning the school, and of the many visits by the security staff beforehand. They had four weeks to get ready for the Queen, and to prepare the children for their visitor.

Our New Testament reading this morning tells us of the arrival of a king, not to a school, but to his own city. Through his arriving, there were many signs to show the identity of the king, which the Jews would recognise, and so, Jesus arrived at Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and entered into the city, with the people shouting praise, just a few days before he was crucified.

This morning we’re going to look at the signs of the king, looking at the significance of the donkey, and the cloaks on the ground, and the branches. What did it all mean, and what does it mean for us now?

As we concentrate on our passage, we will also use some passages from the Old Testament, to see how the coming King fulfils prophecy and shows who he is. (So if you have a Bible handy, you might want to hold on to it, and use it to keep track of our study.) As Harry Uprichard says, our reading this morning is an ‘acted parable’, as the rightful claimant comes to his throne, and in the coming, portrays the nature of his kingdom.

So who is the rightful claimant to the throne? Who is the one riding on a donkey? Immediately, we know that it is Jesus, but what is he saying to his disciples, to the crowd, and to us about who he is through what happens on Palm Sunday?

When the disciples are sent to obtain the donkey from the village, they are sent with the words to be used if challenged: ‘The Lord needs it’. Here, Jesus describes himself as ‘The Lord’. Now, some people think that this is a sort of pre-arranged signal, a sort of code to allow for the release of the animal, and maybe this is so. Others concentrate on the divine power and knowledge of Jesus, that he knew there would be a donkey just where he said there was.

But in any case, he had given the disciples that word of security for when they were challenged. And that word was one of proclamation, that the Lord needs it. Jesus was, and is, the Lord. He is the rightful ruler, and has the right to order all things, and to be obeyed. We thought of this a few weeks back as we considered the kingdom of God, from the start of Mark’s Gospel. And here we are, at the end, and still the theme of Jesus as Lord is there.

[But notice also what Jesus said of the donkey. ‘The Lord needs it.’ The lowly donkey, the beast of burden, was needed by Jesus to fulfil his purposes. How much more, then, will the Lord require each of us to fulfil his purposes? After all, Jesus died to purchase you, to redeem you, and would he then save you for you to be saved, but to do nothing about it? Rather, Jesus, having saved us, wants to use you to fulfil his purposes, and to extend his kingdom, through your witness to those people you come into contact with, whether at school, or at the shops, at work, or out walking.]

Jesus, the Lord, is coming, riding on the donkey. But he is saying far more through this simple act. Jesus is demonstrating that he is the Messiah, the expected anointed king that the people were waiting for. Now, while Mark doesn’t quote the verse from Zechariah itself, we can see that it isn’t far away from his thoughts:

‘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.’ (Zechariah 9:9).

We’ll come back in a minute or two to the type of kingdom he is bringing, but for now, we notice that the king comes on the donkey. The donkey was a symbol and sign of the coming Messiah. We find this thought also in Genesis 49. Here, Jacob, otherwise known as Israel, was blessing his twelve sons, making prophecies about their futures and their descendants.

Here is what Jacob said about Judah: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.’ (Genesis 49:10-12).

Jesus was a member of the tribe of Judah, and is the one spoken of, who will come, to whom the sceptre, the ruler’s staff belongs. And the sign of the coming ruler is once again the donkey, the colt. But notice what will happen – he will tie his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch. Now, I’m not much of a farmer, but I think I know enough to say that you wouldn’t tie your donkey up to your best vine, because if you did, the donkey would eat the plant, and the crop would be ruined. And yet, this is the sign of the Messiah, pointing forward to that time of prosperity, showing that when the king comes, he will be so rich that it doesn’t matter about his best vine; he can tie his donkey to it.

And in our passage this morning, Mark makes a point of saying that the disciples find the donkey tied up, and they release it, and bring it to Jesus. Just as the donkey is a sign of the Messiah, so is the image of the cloaks being spread on the road. We find a similar event in 2 Kings 9. Elisha the prophet had sent a prophet to Ramoth Gilead, to anoint Jehu to be the next king of Israel in the inner room, away from his companions in the army. But when he came out again, and told his fellow officers what had happened, ‘They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”’ (2 Kings 9:13).

The spreading of the cloaks was to keep him from walking on the bare ground, to show that he was special, because he was the king. In many ways, it’s like the ‘red carpet’ treatment the Queen always gets. No matter where she goes, there will be the red carpet rolled out on the tarmac of the airport or on the open ground as she goes to meet and greet the crowd. The crowds were showing that they reckoned Jesus to be special, and in some way recognised his being the Messiah.

And even in what they shouted, the crowd sensed something of what was happening. They were praising God, and urging him to ‘save now’ as they shouted ‘Hosanna’. They used the words of Psalm 118, as they shouted ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”’ And they even recognised something of Jesus’ role as king, as they shouted ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

So far, we have seen that Jesus is the coming king, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and now riding into Jerusalem. But what would his kingdom be like? What is the nature of his kingdom?

We talked earlier about the donkey, in the fulfilment of Zechariah’s words about the coming king. But the donkey also points to what the kingdom will be like. Let’s hear Zechariah’s words again: ‘See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zechariah 9:9).’

Zechariah says that Jerusalem’s king comes to her ‘righteous and having salvation’. Jesus lived the perfect life, never sinning, never doing anything wrong, and always in right relation with God. That’s what it means when we read that the coming king is righteous. And having salvation? That can be seen in the whole purpose of his entry to Jerusalem.

Jesus arrived at Jerusalem, knowing that he would die in less than a week just outside the city. Three times in the Gospel of Mark he had taken his disciples aside and told them that ‘We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ (Mark 10: 33-34, as well as 8:31 and 9:31).

Jesus had set out to come to Jerusalem, knowing that it was only through the events of the next week, his death on the cross and his resurrection, that he could win salvation for his people.

Zechariah also tells us that the king is ‘humble and mounted on a donkey’ (ESV). His riding on a donkey was a sign of triumph, and of peace, showing his humility, and that of his kingdom. You would expect to see a king riding a white horse, or even of whatever colour, leading his people to war. But not Jesus; his is the humble donkey, the quiet and gentle stead bearing the humble king.

As one writer has said, Jesus’ donkey shows that his is a ‘kingship of hidden majesty, of humble power to save.’ This is Jesus, who ‘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!’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

So what do we find as we stand in Jerusalem with Mark this Palm Sunday? We see the coming king, Jesus, the anointed one, the one expected for so long, and heralded by the Old Testament Scriptures. And Jesus, the coming king, arrives at Jerusalem, ready to offer himself in sacrifice for us, to bring us salvation. And that salvation is open to us today, as we come to trust in the coming king. Because the king who arrived at Jerusalem that day, will come again in glory to judge the world.

At the start, I told you about the school that the Queen visited. One of the teachers said afterwards about her visit: ‘It was a wonderful experience, but we were all relieved when it was over, to be able to get our lives back to normal.’ The crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem soon abandoned Jesus, turning from shouting ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify’ in the course of this week. But Jesus comes to be with us forever, if we will welcome him.

So on this Palm Sunday, as the people welcomed him with shouts of praise, will you welcome the king today, and invite him into your heart as the humble, but ruling king?

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