Your King Is Coming to You
In Norway, the country that I come from, we still have a king. Even though he does not have any real power, he is formally the leader of our nation. In that way he provides a feeling of stability and dignity to our government. No matter who the Prime Minister is, the king is always the same. He represents our country abroad, and he has an important ceremonial role at home. All new laws, even though they are decided by our Parliament, have to be signed by the king. No law is valid unless the king has signed it. No major decision made by our government is legally binding until it has the king’s signature. Formally, the king is the head of our country.
For everybody else, the highest honor that we can ever aspire to is a formal recognition by the king. When someone accomplishes something truly remarkable they may be granted an audience with the king. They receive a formal invitation to visit him in his royal palace. Before they go they have to buy some new clothes, the finest clothes available, and they have to study all the rules of etiquette for how to behave when you are in the presence of the king. You have to address him as Your Royal Highness, and you have to let him direct the conversation.
Not many people are ever granted this honor. Graduates of the university, for example, if they have performed exceptionally well, may receive such a formal invitation from the king. As for me, I have never been invited to see the king of Norway. But there remains a small possibility that if I accomplish something truly great in the course of my lifetime that it will be noticed by the king of my country and I will receive the formal invitation to see my king in his palace. But no matter what I do, I can tell you that there is one thing that is never going to happen. The king of Norway is never going to come knocking on my door, asking for an audience with me.
In our text for today we meet a different kind of king.
First of all, we meet a king whose power by far exceeds that of any other king. Not only do we meet a king with real power to make people do his bidding; we meet a king who controls every little detail that takes place in the entire universe. When he sends out his disciples to find the donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem he already knows what is going to happen. He tells 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.” Jesus knows every little movement that every little donkey in the world is making. Wherever they are wandering, slowing down traffic on the roads of Addis Ababa or grazing around the hills outside Jerusalem, he knows about them. He knows about the little donkey that the disciples will run into, before it happens.
He also knows that someone will ask the disciples why they are taking this donkey and her colt, and he instructs the disciples simply to tell them that “the Lord needs them.” Jesus now makes it clear that he is the Lord of the donkey, as he is the Lord of the whole universe. In the Bible, “Lord” is the name for God, as he is the only true lord. He is the only one whose lordship never ends, the only one who does not depend on anyone else to remain in power, the only one who is truly lord.
Jesus shares the name of his Father, just as he shares his majesty and power. That is why he refers to himself as the Lord and that is why the apostle John calls him “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev 16:14; 20:16).
When the lord of lords and the king of kings is preparing to enter his city, Jerusalem, what would be a fitting way for him to make his entrance?
The way a ruler would enter a city could tell you a lot about him and his status. The famous Greek author Plutarch vividly describes how the Roman general Aemilius Paulus made his entrance into the city of Rome. Aemilius had won a decisive victory over the rebellious Macedonians. His victory was so complete that he had captured the king of Macedonia, and led him back to Rome as a prisoner of war, together with thousands of other prisoners and an abundance of plunder that had been taken from the Macedonians.
When Aemilius entered Rome, Plutarch tells us, his triumphant procession through the city lasted no less than three days. The first day was dedicated to carrying around Rome all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had looted from Macedonia. The second day they displayed all the weapons of the Macedonians. When the day finally came for Aemilius himself to make his glorious entrance he was preceded by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. Afterwards came the vessels carrying the gold coins that had been taken, according to Plutarch no less than 7,700 kg or 17,000 pounds. Following all the plunder, Aemilius had the king of Macedonia and his extended family parade through the city of Rome, having to endure the shame of their complete defeat by the Roman general. With such a demonstration of his power and might, Aemilius himself entered Rome, mounted on a chariot with glorious adornments. He wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold, and he carried his laurels in his right hand. Accompanying him, he had a whole choir, who would sing hymns, praising the military victories of the great Aemilius. A show worthy of a man of consequence.
Who can top such a performance? The Lord of lords and King of kings. He comes on a donkey.
The donkey is not a very pompous animal. It is not very awe-inspiring. It is utilitarian. It is a work animal, not a party animal. It is not very expensive, not something you associate with wealth and riches. It is the animal for common people. Jesus, however, did not even come riding on his own donkey. He had to find a donkey that belonged to somebody else. When the King of kings comes to his city he comes in poverty, as the prophet had said:
“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.”
He is a different kind of king. He makes no display of his great power. He makes a display of his humility, his poverty, and his lowliness. When the King of kings comes he does not come to humiliate you, he does not come to remind you of your inferior status, your inferior standing, and your inferior power. That is why he comes devoid of power, without any army, not displaying any wealth. He comes in poverty. He comes on a donkey.
He is a different kind of king. He does not come to be served, but to serve.
That is why, when he comes, he does not come to create a distance between himself and his people. He comes to create nearness. He comes in poverty and humility. He does not demand of us that we stretch ourselves to the uttermost, so that perhaps we can be deemed worthy of meeting him. He comes to meet us. Your king is coming to you, the prophet said. Your king is coming to you.
As he had done so many times in his life. As he had come to the tax collector Zacchaeus, the traitor to his people, the man who had gotten rich by extorting money from his fellow men. Jesus sought him out. And came to his house. “I must stay at your house today,” Jesus had told him.
As he had come to the sick man who lay at the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. He had been sick for 38 years. He believed that he could be healed if he made it into the pool when it was stirred up, but after 38 years he was still waiting, blaming his misfortune on the fact that there was no one to help him. Jesus sought him out. And made him well.
As he had come to the Samaritan woman by the well, the sinful woman who could not stand being together with her neighbors, because of her shame. She avoided the company of other women and preferred to come to the well in the heat of the day. Jesus sought her out. And came to her.
I must confess that I often feel like this Samaritan woman at the well. Because of my sinfulness, I am too ashamed to face other people. But Jesus seeks me out. He comes to give me the living water.
Today, your king is coming to you. Not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Your king is coming, not with demand, but with sacrifice.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he came as the king. And he wore royal clothes. Just like Aemilius on his way into Rome wore a purple robe, so was Jesus clothed in a purple robe when he entered Jerusalem. By his executioners. They also put a crown on his head when they hailed him as king. A crown of thorns.
The Roman soldiers meant to mock, humiliate, and ridicule Jesus. What kind of king was this? A humiliated king, just like the king of the Macedonians, whom Aemilius had led in chains to Rome. But the soldiers did not know that in their brutality they were fulfilling the will of the king they were torturing. In their mockery, they were announcing the truth of God: here stands the king of kings. A different kind of king. A king whose crown is made of thorns. A king whose glory is the shame heaped upon him by his torturers. A king whose throne is a cross.
He is a different kind of king. His rule is a different kind of rule. It is the rule of love. It is not the rule of coercion and force. It is the rule of sacrifice.
Jesus is winning his subjects, not by force and by suppression, but by going to die for them. He is not the king who asks what you can do for your country, he is the king who does for you what you could never do for yourself. He is the king who gives himself to you. He is the king who gives his life for you.
One of the many stories that circulates about the late Norwegian king Olav is about an interview he gave to a foreign journalist. The journalist had noticed that the king did not have any bodyguards and he asked him why. But I do have bodyguards, the king answered, I have 4 million of them. That was the population of Norway at the time. King Olav was a popular king.
Jesus is a different kind of king. He does not have any subjects as bodyguards. He is the bodyguard of his subjects. He is the one who takes the fall for all his people. He gives his life, so we can live.
When he enters Jerusalem the people cheer: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The word Hosanna comes from the Hebrew text of Ps 118:25, where the people cry to the Lord: save us. As Psalm 118 was used in connection with the festivals in Jerusalem, the word Hosanna became an expression of praise. When the crowds were greeting Jesus by shouting Hosanna, they were greeting him as the savior that God would send to his people. They were receiving him as their promised Messiah.
But the Hosanna cheers were only the prelude. The cheers would soon change to angry shouts: “crucify him, crucify him!”
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was his triumphant entrance. But he is a different kind of king and his triumph is a different kind of triumph. Jesus triumphs by going to the cross. His victory is his death.
The apostle John describes how the heavenly assembly is singing about the victory of the king of kings: “you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Rev 5:9-10).
Today, your king is coming to you. Not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Your king is coming, not with demand, but with sacrifice. Not with a request, but with a gift.
When your king is coming to you today he comes to tell you that he has given you his own life. He has died in your place and he is giving you life as a gift.
Your king is coming to you.
© Sigurd Grindheim