Good morning Calvary. Welcome to this week’s teaching. We continue our series in the book of Matthew, “An Invitation to the Kingdom”.
In the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about leadership. We have all seen during this time of COVID how important sound leadership is during a crisis. Today we are going to discover two things about the Kingship of Jesus:
- How his Kingship is different from what we know and experience in our leaders, past and present.
- How his rule and reign in our lives is exactly what we need as broken human beings.
Before we get to our Scripture this morning, let me start with this piece of art. This was painted in the 1700s by Peter Paul Rubens, entitled Triumph of Caesar. In it you see the Roman Emperor Caesar in a chariot drawn by 4 white horses. Caesar has come back from a successful military campaign and this is his Triumph.
In the time of Christ, The Roman Triumphal procession was a big deal. The army would return to Rome in victory and there would be long procession of soldiers. Then the Emperor would process on a tall white stallion or in a carriage pulled by a team of horses. He would carry a palm branch and wear a red toga, both symbols of his divinity. Behind the emperor would be a long line of prisoners of war along the plunder taken during the war. They would march to the temple of Jupiter where the emperor would offer sacrifices.
The Roman Triumph was intended to show strength and also to intimidate any who might chose to rebel against it. To the average Roman citizen and to the Jewish people living in Palestine at the time this is what they knew about rulers and King’s: they were, for the most part, despots and tyrants who used political and military power to achieve their goals, leadership was based on brutal suppression of dissent, and, as you probably can see, not much has changed in the past 2000 years.
It is against this backdrop that Matthew records our passage for today. Up to this point in his gospel, Matthew has outlined in significant detail Jesus’ teaching about this paradigm shifting, upside down Kingdom of God. Now he turns to the King himself and seeks to describe what kind of King Jesus is.
We are going to read Matthew 21:1-17. As we read this passage together I want you to notice three things about this story:
- How deliberate and planned this was.
- How does this event compare to a typical Roman triumph of the day?
- The response of the crowds.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
`See, your king comes to you,
Gentle and riding on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ “
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Let’s have a look at the things that I wanted you to observe in this passage.
Did you notice the planning that went into this event? Somehow, Jesus has made arrangements with the donkey owner in advance. They even set up a kind of password between then, the master has need. Not only that, but this event was written about 800 years earlier by the prophet Zechariah. “See, your king comes to you, / Gentle and riding on a donkey, / On a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” Why is this important? What we are seeing here is not a random event that happened in the life of Jesus. He did not ride a humble donkey into Jerusalem because at the last minute He couldn’t find anything more dignified. No, what we are seeing here is an event that has been foretold, planned, staged, with a high degree of advanced planning. Why? I think it is intended to show, to all watching, that Jesus in His Triumphal Entry is a different kind of King from Caesar or any other earthly leader that has come before or after Him. That brings me to the second thing I asked you to observe.
- How does this event compare to a Roman Triumph?
Well, there are some similarities: highly public events not done in secret, both attract huge crowds, both Jesus and Caesar claim to be divine.
How are they different? The difference in tone cannot be more striking. For Caesar it is all about the grand epic image: magnificent stallions pulling a golden chariot, bringing glory to himself, surrounded by his soldiers and their plunder. Compared to Jesus—the very Creator and sustainer of the Universe, Yahweh in the flesh—riding the humble donkey surrounded by his disciples. Caesar going to the Temple of Jupiter to offer sacrifices, Jesus going into Jerusalem to become the sacrifice for the sins of the entire world.
- Then there are the responses of the people. For Caesar the triumph is meant to provide fear and intimidation But for Jesus, did you notice that there are really 2 responses? The rural people out on the road with Him break out into spontaneous worship, and the city people, the NIV says that they were stirred; a more accurate translation would be riled up, disturbed. Jesus has upset the order of things and they are threatened.
The point I am trying to make here is that Jesus had a different Triumphal Entry than Caesar – indicating that He is a different kind of King. So what now can we say about the Kingship of Jesus?
There are two things I think we can see in this passage and also in the broader context of Matthew that will help inform this question:
- Jesus is a King with a Mission, and this mission does not include the expectations of others. As we will see in the next chapter there were many who were bitterly disappointed in Jesus. Even this humble act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey must have been a huge let down for those who were expecting Jesus to at last rid the Jewish people of oppressive Roman rule.
You know, as people we often project our own hopes and dream onto our leaders. We read the scriptures and tend to put ourselves at the centre of God’s story, we get to thinking that belonging to the Kingdom is about fixing our problems and easing our anxiety, but, to quote pastor Matt Menzel from Westside Church, Jesus is the centre of God’s story.
The Kingship of Jesus is about His purpose, His truth, His work in the world. Why is this kind of King exactly the kind of King that we need as needy human beings? I think it has something to do with the fact that we as people need to be part of something greater than ourselves. Our ambitions, our motivations, our selfish desires are not only too small for what we were created to be but they are often the root of conflict and discord in our relationships with others. As Kingdom people, when we say that Jesus is Lord we say it not because we hope our wishes will come true but because it is true. We find our deepest hopes and desires in being rooted in Christ and we align ourselves with Him.
- Jesus is a King who demands love rather than loyalty. You can serve Caesar but not love Him. You can be loyal to a leader but not give them your heart. You can serve only out of obedience, duty, and loyalty, but your allegiance is only as deep as your paycheque. This is just not possible with Jesus. It is not possible to say that Jesus is Lord and not give Him everything. It is not possible to acknowledge the Kingship of Jesus in your life and serve other masters. Jesus will not lead a divided heart. Why is this kind of Kingship what we need as broken human beings?
Several weeks ago I spoke about how we often live a compartmentalized spirituality. That is, we confine the gospel to one part of our being and only bring it out at certain times perhaps when we are anxious or afraid; the rest of the time our lives are not impacted by the presence of Christ. For example, we do not let Jesus influence how we spend our time, what we watch on our screens, our sexuality, how we spend our money—we keep Jesus away from those areas. This is actually not living as Kingdom people living under the Lordship of Christ. Matthew is clear: the Kingdom of God is all pervasive, it encompasses and transforms.
To compartmentalize the Kingdom into one corner of your life is to live with a divided heart. This naturally leads to conflicting motives, confused morality, competing agendas, and all of the anxiety and uncerctainty that this produces. This is not the fruitful and flourishing life that God has planned for us.
And so, Calvary; as I close I want to ask you one simple question: are you able to say that Jesus is Lord today? Lord over your motivations and desires; Lord over every part of your life, big and small; Lord over this church?
My prayer for you is that you are able to take this step, today and every day going forward and that you walk in wholeness of heart that God intended for you.