THE KING IS COMING
A Palm Sunday Sermon Preached by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Highland Hope UMC
April 13, 2014
How many times have we announced the coming of the Lord? If the truth be told, countless times. We’ve proclaimed it in “Joy to the world the Lord is come.” We’ve heard it in the cry of John the Baptist, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Julia Ward Howe crafted her relevant testimony in 1861. Drawn from the blood and guts, the death and dying on the battlefield, Ward’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” began with these words: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” For over two thousand years, the church has made the same declaration. Namely, The King is Coming. You’d think we’d be tired of this report, at best and bored at worst. But we’re not. The challenge of life and living keeps us needing a Savior every day and every hour. Celebrate the good news, the King is coming.
We’ve heard some of the reasons why the Jewish community in Jesus’ day needed, longed for and pleaded for God Almighty to send them a Messiah. Rome had conquered Israel. Out went Jewish kings. In their place, Caesar and his leaders reigned. Disobeying Roman law put Jewish citizens at risk. Job loss, search and seizure of property, imprisonment, torture, and death followed. If a devout Jew refused to bow down to Caesar and worship him, “it was curtains.” Serving God and none other cost a lot. Bottom line, Roman oppression burdened the Hebrews like Pharaoh burdened Jewish slaves in Egypt for 400 years. As the Jews wanted Pharaoh off their back; first century Jews pleaded with God to get Rome off their backs. God’s people wanted a new Liberator like Moses. The belief, the hope, that God would send a Messiah into their lives to “rescue the perishing and care for the dying”, finally emerged. What we now know as Palm Sunday seemed like a dream fulfilled. Down the streets of Jerusalem came Jesus to the applause of a great crowd. Some threw their cloaks on the ground. Others raised palm branches high in their hands or laid them down on the road. All of them shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” In short, Hosanna is more than a praise or praise phrase. It can mean “I beg you to save” or “please deliver us.”
The excitement and anticipation demonstrated by the crowd on Palm Sunday took me back 60 years. In Ft. Smith, Ark., a town of 68,000 people, we always had a Christmas Parade. Children, parents and downtown merchants stood on both sides of Garrison Avenue watching the parade. High School bands, clowns and Christmas floats decorated by various civic organizations passed by. Oft times, the military band from Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas participated. All this was great. However, children like me stood patiently in the crowd waiting for Santa Claus. Santa was the last participant in the parade. As the parade continued, our anxiety and anticipation grew. We strained to see when Santa was coming. Then, we’d begin to hear cheering and applause rippling through the crowd. We knew Santa was coming. He’d be riding on a huge, red fire truck not a sleigh. Santa would throw candy to the crowd. And Santa would be dressed in a red suit and hat. His beard was white, as were his gloves and the panel down the middle and near the hem line of the coat covering his chest. A black belt and shoes completed his appearance. All we needed to do was see, not touch him. And just like that, Santa passed by. But that was enough for me until the next year. Check that! If I got some candy from Santa that topped it off.
Have you ever seen a series of pictures where someone asked the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” For example, if I tried to spell the word church with four letters, C H C H, and said “what’s missing”? You’d say, “U R.” Tuesday of this week the UConn women’s basketball team won the national championship. Heather Childers, of Fox news, excitedly said on live television; “The UConn women just won the NAACP National Championship!” In an e-mail, Heather apologized for misspeaking. Heather gave the acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People instead of the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association. I’ve been there.
Matthew described Jesus as the Messiah. He quoted the prophet Zechariah in Mt. 21:5. “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.” (Zechariah 9:9.) Have you said to yourself; “What’s wrong with this picture?” Mathew quoted the prophet Zechariah. Both of them have the Messiah astride two animals. One is described as a donkey, the other, a colt - the foal of a donkey. Yes, God can do anything. But I’m comfortable with the version that has our Lord riding one animal on Palm Sunday not two.
Secondly, Mathew showed Jesus as a humble king riding on a donkey. Here was an unusual picture. Kings who introduced themselves to first century cities in New Testament times usually sent military troops ahead of them. Like the Budweiser Clydesdales Horses and their drivers, both horse and soldier were dressed in the finest gear that money could buy. Following the show of a king’s military might, the king pranced down the streets on a magnificent horse. He was dressed in royal garments. Bursting with pride, a king showed his power and majesty in the troops he commanded. Troops prepared to obey every beck and call of conquest, even to the death. Crowds who saw these troops and kings assumed that this king had the power to change the fate of a nation or society like Alexander the Great, Napoleon or Toussaint L’Ouverture.
What does this perception really mean for Jesus? How the people of God envision the Messiah does not always fit the image our Lord presents on Palm Sunday. If the truth be told, Jesus does not dress well. Jesus is poor; he cannot even afford to ride a beautiful horse. A donkey is as good as it gets. He has no army. Moreover, scripture describes him as humble. Humility is a noble characteristic. All of us need humility, especially leaders. Yet, Jesus’ humility leaves the biggest question in the Jewish mind. How can a meek and mild Jesus stand up to the raw power of Rome and Caesar? How can a man with no army defeat the infamous Roman Legions and get Rome off the neck of Israel? Where is the political savvy, the guile, the moxie for bringing about radical change in a divided community like Jerusalem? To be sure, the crowd cheers for Jesus. They say “Hosanna to the Son of David and Hosanna in the highest.” They hope expectantly. But the humble figure the crowd beholds riding down the streets of Jerusalem does not look like a king any more than Mickey Mouse looks like Santa Claus. Still, the prophecy remains “the king is coming.”
There is great joy and great sorrow connected with Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. There is joy because so many people wanted to see him - so many people wanted to touch him - so many people needed him. For example, money changers had turned the temple into a den of robbers. Our Lord turned it back into a house of prayer. The blind and lame came to see Jesus in the temple and he healed them, just as so many people need healing today. Not just medically speaking, we need healing in the church, healing in the denomination, healing in our relationships, and healing in our penchant toward violence in high schools and military bases. Most of all, we need inner healing from our own sin.
Jesus’ disciples grieved over Palm Sunday. They weren’t excited like the crowd. If their Master dared to step one foot into Jerusalem, they knew what awaited him. Three times, our Lord told the disciples what was going to happen. Listen to his words. While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves and said to them on the way, “See we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified and on the third day he will be raised.” (Mt. 20:17-19) While everybody was waving palm branches, spreading their cloaks on the ground and shouting Hosanna to our Lord, a huge knot formed in the pit of his disciples’ stomachs. Suffering and death lay ahead for their Lord. Because the disciples identified with Jesus, they felt subject to the same risks as well.
Having knots in our stomachs about difficult days ahead is common to us all. I had some of those feelings Dec. 9, 2013. A day before my wife’s birthday, they prepped her for major surgery. Success was not guaranteed. I prayed like you’d prayed for family and others. “Lord, keep my wife from hurt, harm and danger, etc.” And when the attendants rolled her away to face the surgeon’s scalpel, the waiting began. My body, mind, soul and spirit were set on edge.
Image wise, this is where Palm Sunday fits. It begins the final week of preparation for surgery, a sacrificial act, engineered by God to save the world. With scalpels of false witness, a death sentence, mocking, flogging, a crown of thorns, crucifixion, death and resurrection, salvation and healing will come anew to the world. Again, Palm Sunday is preparation for surgery. God will preside over the passion, death and resurrection. God will make everything alright.
Nobody recorded the joy and jubilation that reigned in heaven when Jesus appeared in Jerusalem. Soon, he’d do the deed. Soon, he’d be back in heaven sitting at the right hand of the Father. Soon, salvation for those who believe in him would be made real by Jesus death on the cross. And the joy that erupted in heaven, over one sinner who repented, would be multiplied exponentially around the world. A world of repentant sinners would be saved. All this stuff about The King is Coming may sound unreal, mysterious, a fantasy or an illusion. It is not.
The late Rev. James Allan Francis, a Baptist preacher in Los Angeles, showed us just how significant Christ’s coming into the world has been. Two years before Rev. Francis died in 1928, he wrote a poem called “A Solitary Life.” Think about these excerpts concerning Jesus Christ.
“He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today Jesus is the central figure of the human race, the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that have ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of mankind on this earth as much as that one solitary life.”
Members of Highland Hope UMC: celebrate the good news. The King is Coming!!! Amen.