Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Advent of our King

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"
(Matthew 21:1-11).

Do you remember the wedding of Princess Diana?

When Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981, it was a major event. The wedding was telecast live here in the States, and was watched with great interest by millions of people who had never set foot in Britain, never had a king or queen of their own. Americans were also very interested in Princess Diana’s trips to America, her family troubles, and her tragic early death. As a matter of fact, interest in Princess Diana and her family is typical of American interest in England. We know almost nothing of what goes on in that small country across the sea, but if it involves English royalty, we are surprisingly well informed.

What is it about royalty that fascinates us? Is it the fine clothes and elegant jewelry? Is it the limousines and servants? Are we fascinated by royalty because they get to live in palaces? Or are we just curious about what it would be like to be a member of the Royal Family?

Royalty was certainly on the minds of Jesus’ many followers as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They had seen His miracles. They had heard His words. Throughout His ministry, Jesus had spoken with the wisdom of God, and His miracles proved that He spoke with the authority of God. They were confident that He was the Messiah that God had promised to them long ago, the One Who was to Come to free God’s people from oppression. For almost three years Jesus had been teaching more and more about Himself and what God had sent Him to Israel to do. Now at last the Messiah was preparing to enter Jerusalem, the holy City of God, the home of King David’s throne. It seemed obvious to the crowd of Jesus’ followers that He was about to proclaim Himself King of Israel and begin freeing His people from oppression by leading a revolt against the Roman government that had conquered them. So as Jesus approached Jerusalem, the people took off their cloaks and laid them in the road to keep the dust down. This was an act of submission to the man who would be their king, and it was an act of bestowing high honor. People who did not have a cloak joined in as well by cutting down branches from nearby trees and laying these upon the road. These people joined together in shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

Hosanna is a very old Hebrew word; because of its age, it has two meanings. The older meaning was "please save us!" The newer meaning built on the old: "blessed be God for saving us!" Jesus’ followers fully expected to be freed from the taxes of Rome and the occupation of her soldiers. The Jews had waited a long time for their Messiah, and now that He had come they were ecstatic.

But Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem as the kind of king His followers were expecting. Jesus did not come to be the kind of royalty that we know, dressed in expensive clothes, sporting fine jewelry, living in a palace and traveling in style. Jesus did not come so that his people might serve Him. To make this point, Jesus chose a very different way to enter Jerusalem. Rather than ride a chariot or a war-horse into the city, Jesus rode on the back of a young donkey, a humble beast of burden that had no royal or military use at all. Jesus rode a donkey, the kind of animal that was used by the common man to carry heavy burdens. Jesus rode a donkey as an expression of the kind of king He truly was: a king who came in humility to carry the heavy load for His subjects.

This is our King. This is our Messiah, our Liberator. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). Jesus has command of the heavenly army; He said to Peter, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). Jesus has the authority to sit in judgment upon all Mankind: "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man" (John 5:25-27). Jesus bears a royal name; "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:9-10). Our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is entitled to nothing less than the complete service of every living person. But Jesus turned His back on the glories of royalty and heaven. Why?

When our Triune God created Mankind thousands of years ago, the Son of God was involved. From the very beginning, the Son of God loved each and every man, woman and child who has ever lived. That is why the Son of God was saddened that Adam and Eve let Satan bring sin into God’s perfect world. Corrupted by the selfishness that taints every child from birth, all Mankind has been made unacceptable to God. Because sin twists our thinking, we all put our own needs and wants in place of trusting submission to God’s leadership. No king wants rebellious subjects in his kingdom, and sin makes us all rebel against God. Sin excluded everyone from the Kingdom of God.

But God was not content to leave things this way. The Son of God willingly left His place of honor in heaven to come down among His former subjects in order to restore them to His kingdom. Because every baby born of the union between sinful man and sinful woman is also tainted by sin, our Messiah chose a different way. The Holy Spirit conceived a child in Mary, a common woman whose only special quality was that she was among those who believed in God’s promises of salvation through a Deliverer from heaven. Because of this unique birth, Jesus was the only baby ever born who was born without sin. Because Mary was engaged to Joseph who was of the house and lineage of King David, Jesus was of royal birth both by His heavenly Father and by His earthly foster father. But because God chose a common carpenter and his fiancee to be Jesus’ earthly parents, Jesus did not grow up in a life of privilege. Jesus was born in a stable for animals and had only an animal’s trough for a crib. Jesus, the King of the world, was welcomed to His realm only by poor shepherds and a few mystics from a far-away land. Rather than being raised in a palace, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature in a small town, learning from the religious leaders as a humble student, and being obedient to His parents.

As an adult, Jesus continued to live a humble lifestyle. During the temptation in the wilderness, Satan took Jesus to the top of the Temple and said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: `He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’" (Matthew 4:6). Satan wanted Jesus to prove His royal privilege by using God’s power openly and selfishly, but Jesus refused to do so. After Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, He deliberately avoided the opportunity to be treated as royalty, as we read in John 6:14-15: "After 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." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." In fact, the only time that Jesus was ever dressed in a king’s robe and wore a crown during His time on earth happened just before His crucifixion: "The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face" (John 19:2-3).

Why? Why did Jesus go through all this for us? Because He came to do what we could not do for ourselves. We are all created by God. As God’s creations, we have an obligation to dedicate our entire lives to serving God in love. But the sin that lives in us makes perfect service to God impossible. Sin always draws our attention away from God and back to our own selfish wants and needs. So Jesus came to give God the life of perfect service that we could not give. That is why Jesus could not live among us as the king that He truly is. A King does not serve others. In order to live a life of perfect service in our place, Jesus had to set aside the prerogatives of royalty and live a life of perfect submission to His heavenly Father. Paul says in Philippians 2:5-11, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Jesus was humble even to His death—the death of a criminal. Jesus willingly died the death of a lawbreaker, because that is what you and I are: lawbreakers. The sin that turns us away from God causes us to break God’s law. Only Jesus could set aside our death sentence. Jesus suffered the death that you and I deserved, because we are His creations and He loves us. Jesus set aside His royalty out of love for us, His wayward children. When Jesus died a law-breaker’s death, He satisfied the requirements of God’s law—sin was punished with death. Now, when we ask God to forgive our sins and accept us back, we know that He does forgive us, because Jesus has already suffered the punishment that was our due.

Earlier, I suggested that we are fascinated by royalty, because we wonder what it would be like to be members of a royal family. Well, wonder no longer—you are a member of a royal family. You are an inheritor of the Kingdom of God! Paul writes in Romans 8:16-17, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." There is a heavenly parallel here. When Jesus lived on earth, His royalty was hidden while He served others in love and suffered on their behalf. When Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, His royalty was revealed in all its glory. While we live on earth, our royalty is hidden while we serve others in love and suffer for being Jesus’ disciples. When we join Jesus in heaven, we will see our royalty, as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:8: "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

Advent is the time for us to prepare for the coming of our king. In the weeks ahead, let us join the crowds of Palm Sunday in shouting, "Hosanna! We thank you, oh Heavenly Father, for sending Your perfect Son to save us from our sins! Hosanna to You in the highest!"

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