Jesus is King

Palm Sunday is the day when Jesus came riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. As the Gospels make clear, the crowd went wild. We are told that “Many people spread their cloaks on the road and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields” (Matt 21.8). Some of the crowd went ahead of Jesus, while others followed (Matt 21.5). All of them were shouting:

Hosanna to the Son of David
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest (Matt 21.9)

Strictly speaking these words, taken from Psalm118.28, applied not to Jesus, but to the pilgrims entering Jerusalem. But as all four Gospels tell the story, the focus is on Jesus. This was an acted parable in which Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. Even although the term ‘Messiah’ is not used, according to Matthew the crowds acclaim Jesus as “the prophet” (Matt 21.11).

I find it significant  that while Matthew and Mark report that Jesus “sat” on the colt, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is “set” (NRSV) or “put” (NIV) which according to the commentator James Edwards is suggestive of an enthronement.

This royal theme is also present in the fact mentioned by Mark and Luke that the colt that was used for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem had “never been ridden” (Mark 11.2; Luke 19.30). This is significant, for the commandeering of a beast of burden was the prerogative of a king in ancient times, and this too therefore suggests that Jesus is a king. Indeed, according to the Jewish Mishnah no but the king may ride a king’s horse (m.Sanh 2.5).

However, Jesus was no warrior king. Instead of riding on a white charger, he came riding on a “colt”, in other words, he came riding on a donkey. This was made clear in by the prophet Zechariah, who looking forward to the coming ruler of God’s people, declared: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey” (Zech 9.9)

In this acted parable, Jesus was claiming to be “the Prince of Peace” foretold by Isaiah 9.6. To underline that  he  was no traditional Messiah  figure, Jesus deliberately failed to make anything of the occasion. Instead the triumph becomes almost something of a fiasco, for wrote Mark “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11.11). Jesus could have cashed in on the enthusiasm of the crowd, but instead, in the words of the Swiss scholar Eduard Schweizer, “Jesus looks at the temple as a tourist might and then leaves”. This is the flattest of triumphs.

Jesus’s entry on a donkey has been likened to a British king or queen riding to the State Opening of Parliament on a motorbike. But Jesus was well aware of what he was doing. Again he was underlining that he was no traditional Messiah. For Jesus gives people the freedom to accept him or to reject him. Although as Paul wrote to Timothy God our Saviour “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2.4), God does not force his love us, for love cannot compel. God in his love allows us to choose. To quote what is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3.16). However, it is up to us to decide whether we wish to receive this amazing gift of God’s love. God in his love longs for us to open our hearts to his love, but that is down to us.

On this coming Palm Sunday, we remember that Jesus who rode into Jerusalem was and remains a divisive figure. Some shouted out Hosanna in the highest. The religious leaders of the day along no doubt with others refused to be part of the party. Jesus however refused to impose his love on them. It is up to us. Jesus is King, but a king without parallel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *