The Humble King—–Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9:9-10—–March 28, 2021—–Mark 11: 1-11, 14: 1-9
When I was a little kid, I used to have a fantasy that I would someday become King of the World. As King, I would send out people to hunt down an older kid who had been bullying me so much that I didn’t want to go to school. And, when they brought this kid before me, forcing him to kneel in humble submission, I would look down on him from my high throne and…and…I could never really decide what I would do once I was King and he was in my power. But the fantasy was pretty potent up to that point! I think I just started feeling sorry for the guy and let him go (once he got the message that I was KING and had power over his very life! So he had better straighten up and fly right!)
I think it is part of the human condition that we have dreams of power—and there is a genuine, appropriate need for empowerment in every person. However, years ago, Lord Acton (a British historian) observed that as people grew very powerful, their moral character weakened. He said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For me, this is confirmed when I observe the folks we have put in power in our national legislature. Of course, there are glorious exceptions, but many of them get a taste for power and begin putting much of their energy into staying in power (and getting even more)!
In contrast to that, we have in our Scriptures today a different sort of power, a truly different sort of King—one with a different agenda. A Humble King. One with absolute power but who remains absolutely uncorrupted. I’m sure you remember his temptations by Satan while fasting in the wilderness—opportunities to use his power in inappropriate ways, and he refused. He knew who he was and he knew whose he was, and chose to lead his people through teaching and healing and through humble acts of service (and by dying for us).
Let’s look at these passages that describe some important events leading up to his crucifixion—and see what kind of King Jesus truly is!
Jesus Is Anointed
One of the traditions we observe in the Bible is the anointing of kings. The Prophet Samuel anointed David while he was still a youth, in preparation for his becoming King of Israel one day. In our reading from Mark 14, a woman came in to where Jesus and the Disciples were eating with Simon the leper. She carried an alabaster jar (very expensive) full of nard (even more expensive). It was tradition to welcome an honored guest with a few drops of this perfumed ointment—but she broke open the jar and poured it on Jesus! While some were upset about the extravagance, Jesus defended her and said that she had anointed his body before his burial. He received it as an act of love and honor, and declared that she would be remembered for it.
Why were some so upset about this act—calling it a waste? Well, one voice said that it could have been sold for 300 denarii, and the money given to the poor. (This would have been about a year’s wages for a working man!) But Jesus said that ANY time was a good time to help the poor, and that this was going to be the last chance for her to be kind to Jesus. He said, “She has performed a lovely service for me.” Yes, our translation says “she has performed a good service for me,” but the Greek word used should be translated lovely, meaning that it was better than just a good thing—it was winsome. Jesus understood that love is extravagant—not concerned to see how little it can give, but delighting to give ALL.
Barclay says, “Once again we see the invincible confidence of Jesus. The Cross loomed close ahead now but he never believed that it would be the end. He believed that the good news would go all around the world. And with the good news would go the story of this lovely thing, done with reckless extravagance, done on the impulse of the moment, done out of a heart of love.”
When we read the Gospels, we notice that Jesus always warned whose whom he healed to not tell people Who he was. It would be unwise, considering the faulty expectations of the coming Messiah, and it might be dangerous to him. But, of course, most of the time those healed would shout about it to any who would listen!
However, in our Mark 11 passage, the time had come to announce Who he was—and he needed to clearly show what kind of King he was. So he re-enacted a parable found in Zechariah 9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O 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.”
The people of Israel expected that the Messiah would arrive on a warhorse, alerting all that the Conquering King had come! But Jesus came as A Humble King,
- righteous and having salvation,
- gentle and riding on a donkey
- he will proclaim peace to the nations
- (POWER to act, but not in the way expected!)
Your King Comes to You
All this talk about a “king” seems funny in this day and age. Who would we think of as our “king”? When I was in college, I read a pamphlet from The Navigators, a Christian organization that seeks to disciple young believers. At the front of the pamphlet was a drawing of a throne, with the question, “Who sits on the ‘throne’ of your life?” Interesting question. They went on to assert that if SELF is on the throne, we are in for a lot of trouble! And they asked, “Who can you trust to be ‘king’ on the throne of your life?” Who can you trust?
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus comes to you and to me, righteous and having salvation; gentle and humble—NOT forceful. In Revelation, Jesus says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
Jesus is winsome, inviting, never choosing to IMPEL us to do anything—but just keeps knocking and waiting for us to open. Jesus knows that timing cannot be rushed—that each flower opens at its own rate, each butterfly must be fully-formed before the chrysalis is burst open! So, Gentle Jesus patiently waits and knocks rather than breaking down the door and forcing himself on us.
I’ll finish today by laying out some choices. We can try to be King or Queen of our own lives (but, Lord help us!) We can choose to allow someone else to be our King, whether it’s an individual or a government or a religious authority. Or we can accept a Humble King to rule our lives. Here’s an example of someone who chose this:
John Newton went to sea with his father at the age of 11. In the coming years, he got involved with the slave trade, and was soon the master of a slave ship. He didn’t hesitate to use brutal force to keep the slaves under control. After a few years, he had a serious illness, and left the sea. Eventually, he trained for the priesthood in the Church of England, where he became a popular preacher. John began to deeply regret his former involvement in the slave trade, and he influenced William Wilberforce (a member of Parliament) to work towards the abolition of slavery. That was a wonderful thing! But his anti-slavery effort is not the only thing we remember John Newton for. He is also credited with the writing of the familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace.” And now you know the rest of the story!
God, we thank you for your grace. For sending Jesus to draw us to the Kingdom with gentle humility. Thank you for the gift of life that we have in Jesus. Amen.