See Him in Jerusalem
Walking where the crowds are
Once these streets had sung to him
Now they cry for murder.
If Jesus is the King, then he is a strange King indeed. Jesus is not the King we expect.
If we expect a King who is powerful, then we see a King who is weak.
If we expect a King who is authoritative, then we see a King who submits.
If we expect a King who conquers, when we see a King who is conquered.
If we expect a King who is well-loved, then we see a King who loves his people, even though they hate him.
The so-called triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a mysterious passage. It is puzzling because there is not much about it that is, in fact, TRIUMPHAL in the end. There isn’t an obvious sign of triumph; there isn’t a crowning ceremony; there isn’t a huge feast. If Jesus is the King, then THIS IS NOT HIS MOMENT OF GLORY. JESUS IS NOT THE KING WE EXPECT.
But Jesus IS the King. And what we see in today’s passage is evidence that he IS the King we need, but no one has understood it yet. No one has understood it because Jesus is not the King they expected.
As you read Mark’s gospel, you realise two things. First, you realise that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. He knows that he is the King and he knows what that means for him. Second, you realise that nobody else understands what Jesus is doing.
First, Jesus knows exactly what he’s going to do. He’s on his way to Jerusalem. On the road to Jerusalem from the east they come over the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city, its temple, and the surrounding countryside. On the mountain are a number of villages, and Jesus and his disciples come to Bethphage, and then Bethany, where they will stay nights while they visit Jerusalem during the day.
He sends two of his disciples to get a colt, a baby donkey, in the next village. He says it will be tied outside, and if anyone asks what they are doing, then they should say, the Lord needs it and will return it here shortly. And when you read what happens, you realise that here is a King who knows much more than he should. Because EVERYTHING HAPPENS EXACTLY AS HE SAYS.
They go and find a colt outside in the street, tied to a doorway. As they untie it, some people standing there ask, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answer as Jesus told them to, and the people let them go. Everything happens EXACTLY as Jesus says it will. Later in Mark 14 he’ll do the same party trick when he gives instructions for where they will prepare the Passover meal: everything happens exactly as he says it will. He KNOWS that Peter will deny him three times. Jesus knows exactly what is about to happen. It’s like the whole thing has been written already, in a book. And while Jesus reads the book to his disciples, everything in it comes true. So we’re meant to be thinking, Jesus knows things in a way that ONLY GOD can know them…
JESUS knows that he is the King, but that means he must SUFFER AND DIE before he rises. And as plainly as he might say it, NO ONE ELSE understands that THIS is how Jesus will be King. THREE TIMES he has told his disciples plainly that he must be handed over to the chief priests and elders, they will condemn him to death, they will kill him, and three days later he will rise again. EVERY TIME, the disciples have NO IDEA what that means. The first time, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. The next time, they immediately go and argue who is the greatest. The third time, James and John go and ask to be his top henchmen! JESUS knows what kind of King he is, but HIS DISCIPLES don’t get it.
It certainly seems that the PEOPLE welcome Jesus like a King. He rides into Jerusalem on this colt, and everyone is giving him the RED-CARPET treatment—except here it’s the CLOAK-AND-PALM-BRANCH treatment! The people form a procession around him and sing a song from Psalm 118: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This is the treatment you give to a TOP-RANKING celebrity, like Taylor Swift!
They treat Jesus like a King, but I wonder if they really know that he IS the King. Because by the time Jesus gets up to the temple, the crowds seem to have disappeared. All their shouting and singing has faded away. What should be the CLIMAX of Jesus’ victory march ends up being an ANTICLIMAX! Instead of being a KING, Jesus is a TOURIST! He just looks around at the temple, decides it’s late, and then goes back to his hotel room! Jesus is not the King you expect.
And yet there are hints that Jesus IS the King. Just an UPSIDE-DOWN kind of King. Because even though Mark doesn’t mention it explicitly, he wants us to think of Zechariah 9:9, where the King comes to Jerusalem, but instead of being a LOFTY saviour, he comes as a LOWLY saviour. This is what Zechariah says: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ZECHARIAH knows that this is an UNEXPECTED King. He won’t have a war horse. He will have a baby donkey.
Jesus is the King, but he is not the Warrior King the Jews had begun to expect. They thought he would clear out all the nations to establish the Jewish empire. But the next time he visited the temple, he would clear out the JEWISH MERCHANTS in order to make room for THE NATIONS to pray. They thought he would ESTABLISH God’s city and God’s temple and JUDGE the nations. But Jesus would judge JERUSALEM AND ITS TEMPLE.
Jesus is the King, but he isn’t like any other King on earth. His KINGDOM is not of this world. He won’t win by FORCE, or by WIT. In fact, it won’t look like he wins at all. His CROWN will be a CROWN OF THORNS. He will wear a purple cloak for a moment, and that cloak will be STAINED WITH HIS BLOOD. When the soldiers BOW to him it will be to MOCK him, and while they HAIL him they will STRIKE HIM ON THE HEAD WITH A STICK. These crowds might be shouting praises now, but in a flash they will be shouting, CRUCIFY HIM, drowning out Pilate’s weak protest. Why? What crime has he committed? Not even registering the question, they answer: CRUCIFY HIM!!
Jesus is not the King we expect. When he rides into Jerusalem, it will not be to SUBJUGATE but to SUBMIT. It will not be with MILITARY MIGHT but with MEEKNESS. It will not be to DEPOSE the rulers but to DIE at their hands. And his moment of glory is not when he rides into Jerusalem but when he walks out of the grave.
Listen to what Jesus says, from Mark 10, 42 to 45. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become GREAT among you MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, and whoever wants to be FIRST must be the SLAVE OF ALL. For EVEN THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”
Jesus is not the King we expect. We expect to serve him, but he serves us. We expect to give our lives to him, but he gives his life for us. THAT’S why he’s the King. Everything we are meant to do, HE DOES FOR US. Everything we think is good to do, HE HAS ALREADY DONE BETTER. Jesus is not the King we expect. He is a SERVANT KING.
How do we respond to the servant king? Well, let me give you two answers.
First, you need to let him serve you. You might have been calling yourself a Christian for a long time. You might find great pride in what you do for Jesus, in the ways that you serve him. But I hope you remember that he must serve you first, before you can serve him. And you might need to stop looking at yourself, whether you feel proud because you do so much for him, or whether you feel lousy because you do so little for him, because it’s NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO HIM. It’s about what HE DOES FOR YOU.
Second, if you know that Jesus has served you even to his death, then you can’t think about leadership in the way that the world does. Because the way to be great is to be a slave. If you’re a Bible study leader, you’re not the MASTER of your Bible study, you are a SLAVE to your Bible study members. If you’re a boss, don’t think of yourself as the MASTER of your employees; you are a SLAVE to your employees. If you’re a husband, you’re not the MASTER of your wife; you’re a SLAVE to your wife. If you’re a father or mother, you’re not the MASTER but a SLAVE to your children. Why? Because your master is JESUS, and HE IS YOUR SLAVE.
See, the way you think about God ALWAYS shapes the way you live your life. If you think God is impersonal isn’t interested in you, then it makes no sense to become a missionary. It makes no sense to love those who don’t love you. But if you know that GOD IS LOVE, then you will love the unloveable. If you know that THE KING IS A KING WHO SERVES, then you will gladly be a slave to everyone.
Jesus is not the King you expect, but he is the King. He’s the SERVANT King. Let us all, WITH JOY!, pick up our cross daily, and FOLLOW HIM!