“How Jesus Reigns”
St. Matthew 27.11-59; St. John 12.12-19
14 April 2019
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. (John 12.13–16; ESV)
Hosanna! The king is coming. He is sitting on the prophet’s foretold donkey. The crowd waves the palm branches, for this king is great David’s greater Son, “even the King of Israel.” They proclaim Jesus their king, not knowing how right they are. Remember in Jesus’ infancy, the angel said to Mary, “…the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1.32–33; ESV) The wise men come from the east sometime later with the question that stirs up wicked King Herod and all Jerusalem: “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose, and we have come to worship Him!” (Matt. 2.1-3)
From prophets and angels and wise men, we know exactly who Jesus is – we need no Palm Sunday fanfare to know Jesus is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
But even with this adoration of the crowd, His disciples did not understand what was happening. And eventually, many in this crowd five days later would yell out: “We have no king but Caesar… crucify Him!”
So this King is unlike all others. He is King of the universe, all authority in heaven and on earth is given to Him, and He upholds all things with the power of His Word, nevertheless, not all will have Him as their king, a story as old as the creation itself when our first parents would attempt to crown themselves as lords when they listened to the serpent. Thus, the Palm Sunday King rides on to die in great humility on the donkey. The angels look on with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.
So consider how Jesus exercises His authority as King. He has divine authority because he is God. Yet, He exercises his divine authority by humbling himself, as St. Paul writes:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-9; ESV)
Jesus the King was in the form of God because he was God. He was equal to the Father in glory and power. But what did He do? He humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant, found in human form, born in time, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law, by becoming obedient all the way to the point of death, even death on a cross, the most humiliating and accursed form of execution possible.
Do you remember the story when the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the disciples James and John, came to Jesus and knelt before Jesus and said, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”? (Matt. 20.21; ESV) Jesus told her she didn’t know what she was truly asking for, and this is only for His Father in heaven to give. Then Jesus tells His power and authority starved disciples this:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20.25–28; ESV)
Now we see, with the eyes of faith born of the Word of God, that Jesus is not the earthly king that sinful men still want – where the unbridled human will desires to lord it over the neighbor to their advantage in this life. Where our sinful will and this corrupt world would be to see weakness and ignorance in putting others and their needs first, in seeking to be the servant of all, in bearing up under another’s sins, in humbly forgiving those who do us wrong, in not demanding a pound of flesh or personal vindication.
But listen to this King. He comes not to be served, but to serve. To give His life as a ransom in place of His many subjects. He does not come to strike fear, He rides no war horse, is accompanied by no soldiers, and relies on no weapons to force the people to submit to His will. He will tell Peter in the Garden to put away his sword – for if He wanted, He could call down twelve legions of angels. He doesn’t force anything on anyone.
“Hosanna!” means “Save us! Save us now!” He comes offering salvation, by His own self-donation. So He is crowned not in a royal palace or a beautiful cathedral, but is betrayed and arrested, falsely tried by a corrupt court and falsely accused by coerced witnesses, falsely imprisoned by a mocking cohort of soldiers, who crown Him with thorns, put a scarlet robe upon Him, beat Him on His thorn-crowned head with a false scepter, and mock Him “Hail, King of the Jews!” He is crucified and left to die, alone, forsaken by His disciples and even by His Father. He hangs under the inscription: “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews.” There, on Calvary’s cross, the King of all is enthroned on His blood-washed throne, with thieves hung at the places of honor on His left and right. Truly James and John and their mother did not know what they asked for.
Nailed between two criminals, raised up for scorn and mockery, Jesus brings about His Kingdom and reign by receiving the punishment divine justice demands. His own Word says that the soul that sins must die, and that the wages of sin is death. But the King who knew no sin takes the place of all His sinful subjects and dies their death, paying their wages, suffering the punishment they deserved, and being forsaken by God the Father in His suffering.
In Christ’s suffering see God’s almighty power! Here it is that love triumphs over the demands of justice. In Christ’s humble obedience, the King establishes His kingdom. Here He rules. Here He exercises all authority in heaven and on earth. How? Not by forcing anybody to do anything, but by bearing your sin and guilt, removing your death, rescuing you from punishment, and placing you in the care of His church where His authoritative word sets you free from your sins.
God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives you His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace you believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time, and there in eternity. (Small Catechism) The power and authority of this Kingdom and King is exercised by preaching glad tidings to and proclaiming forgiveness upon undeserving sinners, that all their sins stand removed on His account. Now, disciples of the King understand God’s holy will, remembering as we do this week unlike all other weeks in our Church year, what has been written about our King and what has been done to Him for our sakes.
Now, to put others and their needs first, to seek to be the servant of all, to bear up under another’s sins, to humbly forgive those who do us wrong, to not demand a pound of flesh or personal vindication – these are not signs of weakness. These are signs of Christ-like authority. These are the mind and heart of our King, who rules over us in humility and service, and out of undeserved love for us.
From Palm Sunday, to Calvary, to the Divine Service where He serves us His own body and blood by which He has made full satisfaction for all our sins, He exercises the kind of authority to which we willingly submit. We do not cry out, “Woe is me!” at the sight or voice of this King who comes to us. No, we cry out, every time He comes, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +