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The Love of Our King

Today Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday. If you come from a traditional church background, you probably know what that is all about – but for those who maybe didn’t have that traditional church upbringing, Palm Sunday might be a little more unfamiliar to you. It typically doesn’t get as much publicity as Easter or Christmas – but it’s a significant event on the church calendar none-the-less.

So this morning, I’d like to take some time just to explain what Palm Sunday is all about. What happened on that first palm Sunday – and why were those events so significant – and why is it important that we remember and celebrate that today?

As we all sit at home, slowing the spread of the coronavirus, what can we take away from Palm Sunday that gives us hope, that stirs our love for each other, and that builds our faith in God?

That’s what I hope to share with you this morning! You’ll remember last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:13 which says…

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

We were encouraged to know that the coronavirus will not last forever. Social distancing will not last forever. But faith, hope and love will. These three things will last forever. 

In particular, we talked about faith last week. We looked at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and how their absolute confidence in God (that is to say, their faith in God) was a tremendous example for all of us. No matter what our situation (whether its a fiery furnance, an angry king, or COVID-19), we can trust the Word (and the character) of God!

And our faith in God will last forever. God will never break our trust. Even throughout eternity – we will be able to have absolute confidence in the faithfulness of our God. Hebrews 13:8 says…

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8

And Isaiah 40:8 tells us…

The grass withers and the flowers fade,

    but the word of our God stands forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

Everything else and everyone else in the world, at some point, will fall short, will disappoint, will fail. But the Word and the character of God – will last forever – and we can fully put our faith in Him.

Now today, as we examine the story of Palm Sunday, we’re going to look at the second of these three words, but we’re not going to go in order. The verse lists faith, hope, and love as the three things that will last forever – and certainly we could talk extensively about hope as we look at Palm Sunday, but we’re going to save that one Resurrection Sunday next week. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is really the foundation of our hope! So today, we’re going to talk about love – which is certainly a very key element in Palm Sunday!

Now Palm Sunday is actually one of the few events that is recorded in all four Gospels – we find it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – which I think speaks to how significant this event is. I mean, Jesus birth is only recorded in two of the Gospels, and so if all four of the Gospel writers include the details of this event – It’s got to be significant.

I’ll start by reading from Matthew’s account first and then I’ll probably reference a few of the other passages later – as there are a few different details that not every writer includes.

And just as a quick note before I begin, this story is often called the “Triumphant Entry” as Jesus enters into Jerusalem very publicly one week before his death and resurrection. Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all over the world as they gathered to celebrate the passover together. And this is the event that kicks off Passion Week – which is Jesus’ final week on earth.

So I’ll be reading from Matthew chapter 21, starting at verse 1.

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem,

    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11

Now there are a few details in this story that we should probably make note of. First of all, Matthew seems to place a great deal of emphasis on the fact that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Why is that detail important?

Well, as Matthew points out – Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilled a key prophecy about the promised Messiah. 

In Zechariah 9:9 we read:

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

    Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

    He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

    riding on a donkey’s colt.

Zechariah 9:9

Now when you first read that, you might think it’s strange that a King would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Today donkeys are almost seen as comical animals. We probably seen them in too many movies where they are stubborn and loud – HeeHawing and giving a well-placed kick to anyone who is foolish enough to walk behind them.

I know my view of donkeys have been forever tainted by Don Knotts and his donkey Clarese in the old Disney movie “The Apple Dumpling Gang”. If you’ve never seen that one, you may want to check that out this afternoon with the kids.

But we certainly wouldn’t picture a donkey to be dignified enough for the use of a king. We would more likely imagine a king on His Royal Horse – a noble steed!

And it is true, that in Bible times a king would enter a city on a horse – but that usually only happened when a king had just conquered that city. A victorious King would enter the defeated city on His war horse – a horse that was a symbol of his might and power.

But when the king would enter a city in peace – He would ride a donkey. No one is going to war on a donkey (let alone a donkey’s colt) – and so riding on a donkey was a clear symbol of peace.

That’s why it’s so important to note that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a horse. He wasn’t at war with Jerusalem. He wasn’t coming to overthrow the Romans. He wasn’t leading a rebellion against the political establishment. He was coming in peace. He was coming to bring peace. 

And we’ll talk more about that in just a minute. But the other detail in this story that I want to point out is how clearly Jesus is seen as a King.

Already we’ve noted that Matthew quotes from Zechariah 9:9 saying “Look, your king is coming to you.” But of course, that was written in retro-spect, well after the fact. At the time of these events, neither Matthew or any of the disciples had made that connection in their minds. In fact, in John’s account of Palm Sunday, he adds this note:

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

John 12:14-16

So they hadn’t made that connection in their minds yet, but the crowds in Jerusalem that were there celebrating the passover were certainly welcoming Him as a King. In Matthew 21:8, it says…

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

Matthew 21:8-9

And there are two things here that show us that the crowds in Jerusalem considered Jesus to be coming as a king.

First of all, they spread their garments and tree branches on the road ahead of him.

This is where the name ‘Palm Sunday’ comes from. John’s Gospel adds the detail that these branches were palm branches – which of course, would be the common trees of that area.

But this act of spreading garments and palm branches in front of Jesus’ path would be akin to rolling out the red carpet – giving Jesus the royal treatment. 

We see something similar when Jehu was crowned King of Israel many years before this. 2 Kings 9:13 says…

13 Then they quickly spread out their cloaks on the bare steps and blew the ram’s horn, shouting, “Jehu is king!” 2 Kings 9:13

It was a sign of honour and respect and even celebration at the coming of the king. 

And if that wasn’t clear enough, look at what the people were shouting.

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

Matthew 21:9b

King David was regarded as the greatest King of Israel and many prophecies in the Old Testament made it clear that the Messiah – the Saviour of Israel – would be a descendant of King David. That descendant would be a King who would rescue Israel and would rule forever. Jeremiah 23:5-6 says…

5 “For the time is coming,”

    says the Lord,

“when I will raise up a righteous descendant

    from King David’s line.

He will be a King who rules with wisdom.

    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.

6 And this will be his name:

    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’

In that day Judah will be saved,

    and Israel will live in safety.

Jeremiah 23:5-6

The crowds in Jerusalem believed (and rightly so) that Jesus was that ‘righteous descendant from King David’s line’. Jesus would be the king that would rule with wisdom – who would do what is just and right. He would save Israel and Israel would live in safety.

He was the One that they had been waiting for for centuries! And I think we get a sense of that excitement in their celebration! As they waved their palm branches in the air like flags, laying some along with their coats on the ground before the coming King, shouting…

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

Matthew 21:9b

These folks were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah – the long awaited King of Israel.

And they were absolutely right.

But they were also absolutely wrong. While Jesus certainly was the long awaited King of Israel – He was not the kind of king that they were expecting. He was not the kind of king they were hoping for.

You see, in their mind, the Messiah would be a political or national saviour. He would save them from their enemies – particularly the Romans at this time. They had been under Roman rule for about 70 years already by this time. And really, they had been under foreign rule for about 500 years before that!

I don’t know if we can imagine what it would be like to be under the rule of foreign governments for over 500 years – and then, to be there to witness the promised Saviour coming into Jerusalem! No wonder these guys were celebrating!

But unfortunately they were celebrating for the wrong reasons!

While Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Saviour – He hadn’t come to save them from the Romans. He hadn’t come to bring them national peace and security within their borders. He had come to bring them something much more important – something that they needed much more than just freedom from Rome.

Jesus had come to save them from eternal condemnation. He came to save them from their sin.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15…

15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.”

1 Timothy 1:15-17

Jesus Christ – the eternal King – came into the world to save sinners. He came to save you and I from an eternity of separation away from God and all His goodness.

He came to save us from death. He came to save us from fear. He came to save us from the sin that makes our lives miserable. 

He came to give us true, abundant, eternal life.

I’m so glad that Jesus didn’t come merely to save the Israelites from the Romans. I’m so glad he didn’t come merely to bring peace to a small country in the middle east. I mean, that would have been great – but God had such bigger plans!

God had plans to bring eternal salvation to everyone in the world throughout time who would ever believe in Hm.

Jesus didn’t come simply to meet the temporal needs and desires of the Israelites back then – He came to meet the deepest needs and the deepest desires of every person on the planet.

And that’s still what Jesus is doing today.

While Jesus is certainly concerned for our everyday, real-life needs, His greatest concern and his greatest desire is to meet our deepest needs.

Jesus wants to save us, not merely from the Romans, not merely from the coronavirus, not merely from economic disaster – but He wants to save us from the devastating disease of sin.

Jesus wants us to have a right relationship with HIm. He wants us to be together with Him for eternity. That’s why we were created – to be together with our Creator – enjoying Him and all of His goodness forever.

 God loves us too much to give us lesser things!

I mean, what good is being saved from the Romans, if you’re still an enemy of God? What good is peace with neighbouring countries if you have no peace with God? What good is health and wealth in this life, if you have no hope for eternity?

God loves you too much to give you lesser things! John 3:16 tells us…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Jesus Christ – the Kings of Kings – left his throne in heaven above to come to earth – being born as man, so that He could die in our place – taking the punishment for our sins – so that we might be forgiven and have eternal life.

That’s why Jesus Christ came to earth. That’s why He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – to bring us peace with God by going to the cross. He came so that we may have eternal life.

As we look forward to Easter Sunday in one week from today – we can’t over look the fact that before we get to Sunday, we have to go through Good Friday. And it seems odd to call the day that Jesus died a terrible death – “Good Friday”. But it was good. It was very good for us. Good Friday is the day that God demonstrated his love for us in the most incredible way! John 15:13 says…

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 KJV

Jesus Christ – the King of Kings – laid down his life for his friends. He laid down His life for you and me. 

Five days after Jesus rode into Jerusalem – with crowds shouting Hosanna and praising God for finally sending them a Saviour – those same crowds, after realizing that Jesus was not the kind of King they were looking for, they turned on Jesus. Their shouts of “Hosanna” turned into shouts of “Crucify Him. Crucify Him!”

But Jesus knew this all along. Even as He made his way into Jerusalem on that donkey, He knew that He was heading to the cross. And He did so willingly, because He knew He was on His way to save you and I.

Greater love hath no man than this.

This morning I want you to know that no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or what struggles you’re currently facing – there is a God in Heaven – in fact, a King in Heaven – the King of all Kings in heaven – who loves you so much that He was willing to die for you.

His death and resurrection has made it possible for you to have eternal life, abundant joy, and peace that passes all understanding. All He asks of you this morning is to believe and accept it.

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