April 17, 2011

Our Savior King Rides to Victory - Apr 17, 2011

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When it’s Oscar time they roll out the “red carpet”. When it’s wedding time they roll out the white runway. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time before His crucifixion, the people welcomed Him in a similar way.

Instead of bright white flashes from camera bulbs, there were bright flashes of green from palm branches. The people quickly cut branches from the surrounding trees and laid them down before the little donkey that Jesus rode upon.

Palm branches were more than just something to cover the dusty ground, though. They were symbols of victory. They were used to greet kings, deliverers, and distinguished visitors.

It was fitting that Jesus be greeted with symbols of victory, for He had come to wage war, and to triumph. On this last Sunday before His death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a powerful warrior king.

But the animal that He rode in on showed what kind of King He was. Not a brutal dictator, not a self-centered politician but a gentle, ever approachable Savior King.

In our sermon meditation for today, we consider the words of…

John 12:12-19 (NIV)

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they- realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

Grace and peace be to you from God our Spiritual Father, and from His Son Jesus, our Eternal King and Savior.

On Friday of this same week Jesus would ascend a throne as king. The unlikely throne of the cross, showing the world that He was the Savior King whom the ancient prophets had foretold.

On that throne our King would not drink the sweetest wine of the country, but instead he would drink down the bitter cup of God’s wrath over the sins of the world.

Jesus would do this to win what these palm fronds symbolized: victory. Victory over sin, victory over death and victory over the Devil. The forgiveness of sins secured by His triumph on the cross has been given to us, and to sinners like us.

The people who surrounded Jesus with their songs and praise on that first Palm Sunday recognized that Jesus was A Powerful King.

This parade had begun in a little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, where Jesus was staying. The little donkey on which Jesus would ride had been secured and the crowds started out on the short journey to the holy city. It was less than two miles away.

Bethany was the town where Mary and Martha lived. And more notably, where their brother Lazarus had lived, and died, and where Jesus had raised him back to life.

Jesus had performed this miracle recently. So when He started out on His way to Jerusalem, the crowd that followed Him was a crowd that had seen that Jesus was more powerful than death itself.

The Apostles who followed at Jesus’ side had seen Him do many other such miracles throughout His ministry. Since these miracles had been foretold by Old Testament prophets, these miracles also showed that Jesus was the Christ – the Savior sent from God.

Some people must have ran ahead to Jerusalem and told the crowds there that Jesus was coming. Upon hearing this they too went out to greet Him.

They welcomed Jesus by shouting out a portion of Psalm 118.

Parts of Psalm 118 were used in worship at the Temple during the Passover celebration. Parts were also sung at the dinner table before and after the Passover Lamb was eaten. Verses 25-26 were used to greet people coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. They would shout:

“Hosanna!” (Which in Hebrew means, “Save now!”)
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But when they shouted these words to Jesus they added some words which are not found in Psalm 118. They added the words,

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

The praise that they offered shows us that they believed He was the promised Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Jesus was the King of Israel coming to ascend His throne.

It’s pointless to speculate on what exactly they thought Jesus was going to do. We know that not even Jesus’ disciples really understood what the Christ would have to endure in the coming days.

What kind of King they thought He was going to be matters little. For we know what kind of King Jesus is. We know that Jesus was no earthly King. We know that He came to rule hearts, not lands. Jesus is A Spiritual King.

About a year previous to the first Palm Sunday, Jesus had fed more than five-thousand people with five loaves of bread and two small fish. John 6, verse 14 informs us,
14After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14 NIV)
Before the Son of God was born as a little Jewish baby, He had existed in eternal glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He had no need whatsoever of an earthly kingdom. So when the people wished to make Him king by force, Jesus simply withdrew from them. This was not why He came to earth.

But as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He accepted their praise. He allowed them to call Him King.

He let all eyes be turned to Him with eager expectation, for they would soon see just what kind of a King He was. Jesus had come to suffer and die in the place of all sinners, to set us free from sin’s horrible consequences once and for all.

Jesus’ outward appearance shows us that He came to be a Spiritual King. No other King would have humbled himself and entered Jerusalem like this. While the people’s praise was worthy of a King, look at all the other details of this parade.

As God the Son, Jesus could have called for detachment of Angel warriors to march around Him in gleaming glory. But instead, Jesus’ attendants were a handful of fishermen, a tax-collector and some other nobodies from the backwater district of Galilee.

We see no army of soldiers around this King, only crowds of wide-eyed commoners singing and shouting their praise.

Certainly a blazing white stallion would have been a more Kingly animal for Jesus to enter Jerusalem on. But in humility He rode on a donkey instead. And not even a full grow one! He rode on the back of a baby donkey.

Of course, all these humble details are understandable when we remember that Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. He came to suffer and die to in order to do His Father’s will and to save sinners. As it says in 1 John 3, verse 8.
“…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8 NIV)

Details about this Savior King had been foretold long ago. He would be born in Bethlehem, born to a virgin, a descendant of David.

Details about His ministry had been foretold. He would heal the sick, the blind, the lame and the deaf. He would bring comfort and hope to those weighed down by their sins.

The fact that this Savior King would ride on the little donkey had even been foretold. Zechariah 9, verse 9 says:
9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NKJV)
And the events of Jesus’ crucifixion were also foretold long before they occurred. How He would be betrayed. How they would mock Him. How He would be pierced for our transgressions. How none of His bones would be broken. How he would be laid to rest in a rich man’s tomb. And how He would rise on the third day proving His victory over death. Proving the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice. Proving that His mission to pay for our sins was finished and successful. Proving that He was indeed the Savior King foretold.

God Himself had spoken the first prophecy. In the Garden of Eden He said to the Serpent…
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15 NKJV)

Jesus was that head-bruiser. As He rode out to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, He was riding out to battle, for us.

Not on a might steed, but on a little donkey.

Not wielding a sword of forged steel, but wielding the sword of God’s Word which could not be broken.

Not with a war cry, but in silent obedience to the Father’s plan.

The people greeted Him as King, though they didn’t fully comprehend how great a King He was. Even the disciples didn’t understand how even these things which they were doing were fulfilling the words of the prophets.

And this can give us strength and comfort today. Jesus went to a Jerusalem which was filled with people, some who hated Him, some who loved Him, but NONE who completely understood Him and His mission.

Jesus went to Jerusalem with disciples, some who loved Him dearly, one who would betray Him, but NONE who really understood Him and how His battle must end. NONE who would stay by His side and love Him perfectly.

And which one of us would have done differently? Which one of us would have stayed by Jesus’ side never to flee in fear?

But here we find strength and comfort from our Powerful Savior King. For the victory does not depend on our faithfulness to Him, for we have continually failed our King.

Our victory depends on Him and on Him alone.
Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Those palm branches that the people laid before Jesus are always pointed to as a symbol of victory. But the people of desert lands have long seen them are symbolic of something else as well.

The palm tree of Palestine is a tall tree with deep roots. It can survive as long as 200 years in dry lands where other plants wither and die.

While most see the palm as a symbol of victory, it is also a symbol of life and immortality.

That is what that Great Savior King came to win for all sinners: forgiveness of sins, life and immortality.

On that first Palm Sunday, the people shouted with their mouths, and greeted a King they could see. Today, may our hearts shout out our spiritual praise, to the King we cannot see, but whom we love and trust in all the same.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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