By Pastor Glenn Pease
We live in a world deeply influenced by kings. We do not have one as the head of our government, but they are a part of our environment. "The time is come the walrus said to speak of many things, of shoes and ships of sealing wax, of cabbages and kings." In the children's world of our culture the king is often mentioned. There is Old King Cole, the merry old soul. There is the Cannibal King with the brass nose ring. All the kings horses and all the kings men could not put Humpty together again. There is King Arthur and the Knights of the round table. There is the dainty dish of the black birds set before the king. There is Old King Wenseslaus, and numerous stories of kings and their sons and daughters. Most all of the folklore and literature on kings comes from our connection to England, the land of royalty. Their history is a part of our history, as is the history of Israel with its many Old Testament kings, and great ones like David and Solomon.
About 3 centuries ago the Spaniards were besieging the little town of St. Quentin on the frontier of France. The walls of the city were battered; fever and famine raged within destroying the defenders. There was good reason for pessimism and discouragement. One day the Spaniards sent a shower of arrows over the wall with parchment notes attached promising that if they would surrender and submit their lives and property they would be spared. Gaspard de Caligni, the great Huguenot governor of the town, wrote a reply on parchment; tied it to a javelin, and hurled it back into the enemy camp. His reply consisted of only two words, Regem Habemus, which being translated is "We have a king." They were not interested in submission, for they had a king already, and they would remain loyal to him under all circumstances.
This is the central theme of Palm Sunday, for this was the great fact revealed on this day-Jesus is king. It is not recorded in all four Gospels so that we might learn some trivial truths about Palm leaves, Eastern donkey's, or fickle crowds. There is a message of majesty here, for this was the day on which Jesus purposely made it perfectly and publicly clear that He was the promised Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Israel. As the fourth of July is the day our national forefather's declared themselves independent of the king of England, so Palm Sunday is the day on which our spiritual forefather's declared themselves dependent on the King of Israel. Palm Sunday is the King's Sunday. It is the only place in the Bible where we see Jesus surrounded by subjects who hail Him as their King.
If this event had not been recorded, we would not be able to clearly see that Jesus was prophet, priest, and king, fully fulfilling all that the Messiah was to be. Palm Sunday reveals that Jesus did not go to the cross as a carpenter, but as a King, and, therefore, He was in reality a Royal Redeemer. As we examine the record of that first Palm Sunday it is the kingly aspects of it that we want to emphasize. The first thing we want to consider is,
I. CHRIST'S ROYAL RESOLUTION.
We need to see here that this proclamation of Christ as King was not the result of a popular uprising, but was the result of Christ's own determined and deliberate planning. The people had sought to make Him King before, but He resolved not to be taken, but now He resolves to court their allegiance and openly appeal for their loyalty. He stirs them up to make a public demonstration. This is in contrast to His attitude all through His ministry of shunning publicity. This was all ignited from the top. The King Himself has chosen the time and place for this public revelation. This is all the outworking premeditated plan of Christ. Jesus came to Jerusalem determined to bring things to a climax, and force the hand of His enemies. When He sent His two disciples to get the colt He knew perfectly what the consequences were going to be. He knows His public proclamation will result in rebellion, for the Jewish leaders will cry out, "We will not have this King to reign over us."
This was really not a triumphal entry, for this implies that one has just defeated his enemies, and gained a victory. Lazarus had just been raised, and the people were stirred up about Christ's victory over death, and so it is possible to consider this event from that angle. But, paradoxically as it seems, we can see this event from just the opposite point of view as well. We can see that Jesus was riding into a trap. He was playing into the hands of those who would kill Him. He did so with His eyes wide open, however. He was not blind at all to the consequences of His act. He had been saying for days that He was heading to Jerusalem to be killed, and this was a major step in His strategy to become a Royal Redeemer.
Jesus was resolved to ascend to that throne from which He would draw all men to Himself, which was the cross. He could not just walk up to the leaders of Israel and say, I am the Lamb of God sent as the suffering Savior to be sacrificed for the sins of men. If you will crucify me I will atone for the sins of the world, and become the King of Kings. This whole idea was a stumbling block to the Jews. They look for a king of power to set them free from oppression. They were not concerned about the sin problem. They only wanted a king who could redeem them from Rome. They would not hear of a Messiah king who came to redeem from sin, and establish a spiritual kingdom. Jesus could not attain His objective by reason and persuasion. He had to attain His goal by action, and Palm Sunday marks the day on which He set the wheels in motion which He knew would take Him to the cross.
We get a picture in all of this that can be illustrated by a checker player who has resolved to get a king in spite of the fact that there are no openings. He deliberately moves into the path of his opponent knowing he will lose a checker, but also knowing that this sacrifice forces the opponent to open up a path by which he can move in to be crowned. The same principle applies to Palm Sunday. Jesus is a master strategist. He is the one in full authority determining what is taking place. If ever evil was used to bring forth good, we see it here in the hands of the Royal Redeemer.
If we see that all was the working out of Christ's own plan, we eliminate all the nonsense that pictures this event as a total flop. It appears that Jesus made a bid for power and failed, but not so. When we see what His objective was, it was a complete success. If He was aiming for the throne of Caesar, He certainly was a poor shot. But if He was aiming for the throne of the cross, He was a master marksman, and we know that the cross was His target all along. When Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden became the champion of Protestants, his enemies called him the snow king because they said he would melt when spring arrived in Germany. But they were wrong, and he did not melt, but remained solid. They are also wrong who look at Jesus riding into Jerusalem as a king, and say it was a failure. He was a snow king who melted in the heat of the opposition. We avoid this error which reduces Palm Sunday to a trivial event by recognizing it to be the result of Christ's royal resolution to be exalted to the cross. Next we see,
II. CHRIST'S ROYAL REQUISITION.
Jesus sent two of His disciples to get Him a colt to ride, for Zach. 9:9 prophesied that the Messiah King would ride into Jerusalem on a colt. He was deliberately fulfilling this prophecy and proclaiming Himself King of Israel. He is using kingly authority in obtaining the colt. Our government sends out a requisition for so many men to be drafted from each state to serve in the armed forces. Kings have done this same thing for centuries. They make a requisition on the people for servants and soldiers, and often for so many horses. Jesus is here doing just that. He sends His representatives to fill His requisition for a colt on which to ride. The owner of the colt was likely a loyal subject, for Jesus says if there are any questions, just say the Lord has need of him. If it had been some stranger, it is not likely he would be impressed with such an excuse for what appeared to be just plain stealing.
It is highly probable that Jesus had this all prearranged. He does add, however, that they are to assure the man that the colt would be brought back quickly. It sounds almost as if this meant the owner will quickly let them take the colt, but, as all the modern versions show, it is a promise that Christ will get it back to him quickly. In other words, Jesus is just borrowing it for an immediate need. He knew this was the first and last kingly entrance He would ever make into the royal city, and would only need the use of the colt for a brief time.
Many authors are impressed by the paradox of Christ's royal requisition here.
He is Lord and King, and yet He has to humbly make requests for the use of a colt. Never has a king been so lacking in the facilities needed to manifest His royalty. He had arrived at the point where He was going to reveal Himself as the king of Israel, and He is no further ahead than when He was born in a stable. From then to now He has been a dependent king. He has always been dependent upon loyal and generous subjects, from the gifts of the three wise men at birth to the gift of the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea at his death.
All of this is a revelation of just what kind of a king Jesus is. He is not a tyrant, but a king of kindness and courtesy, whose love and character command respect. Those who are under His reign gladly comply with His requests, for it is the greatest joy of His subjects to cooperate with Him. Joneson wrote,
Kings by their example, more do sway
Than by their power, and men do more obey,
When they are led, than when they are compelled.
Jesus is that kind of king. If only we could all say, we are examples of the kind of subjects this unknown colt owner was. Say the Lord needs it, and that will settle the matter. Are we willing to submit to such a requisition? The Lord daily depends on you, for He has need of your life, tongue, hands, house, car, money, and time for the extension of His kingdom. Being the kind of king He is, He will not take it by force. But on the other hand, being the kind of king He is, we who have been redeemed by His royal blood ought to jump at the chance to fill His royal requisition.
What a strange combination of words to say, "The Lord has need." What kind of king has to borrow a donkey? The same king who had to borrow a boat to speak from; who had to depend upon friends for a place to sleep, and who had to depend on a wealthy follower for a grave site. What a king! He made all that is, and all that man has is by His grace, but He had to borrow a donkey. It is amazing but true that our Royal Redeemer has need of us. We must choose to cooperate with Jesus to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. Without the cooperation of the colt owner Jesus could not have fulfilled prophecy and carried out His plan. The next thing we want to see is-
III. CHRIST'S ROYAL RECEPTION.
We see here that Jesus was not always despised and rejected of men. He was not always a man of sorrows. That was just one phase of His life. Just as real is the phase we see here. He was a man of royal stature who kindled hope, joy, and enthusiasm in the hearts of many, and they in turn honor and praise Him with all their energy. Jesus knew what it was to experience the reception of a hero. He did not disapprove of their enthusiasm, and their shouts of hosanna. He even encouraged it. But you say it didn't last. Neither did His sorrow, but His praises will go on forever. Jesus gave full approval to their belief that He was the Messiah King who had come to establish the promise kingdom of David. He gave this approval because that is what He did. The Pharisees asked Him to rebuke them, but Jesus replied in Luke's Gospel, "I tell you if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." This truth was so essential that Jesus was really the king of Israel, that if all men failed to see it, it would have been proclaimed by a miracle of having the very stones shout it out.
Jesus literally fulfilled the role of Royal Redeemer, but not to the satisfaction of the Jewish leaders. All this business of garments and palm leaves was nonsense to them. This foolishness will do no good. What we need is a Royal Messiah riding on a white stallion with sword drawn, and the men of Israel following prepared for battle. The only kind of redemption they could think of was redemption from Rome. Jesus was concerned about a greater bondage. He came, not to make captives of the Romans, but to set all men free from the bondage of sin; Jews and Gentiles alike.
Conquering kings their titles take
From the foes they captive make.
Jesus by a nobler deed,
From the thousands He has freed.
Jesus came to ransom as well as reign. Those who do not see this think of Palm Sunday as a failure. Robert Eisler called Jesus the king who did not reign, but this is a failure to see the kind of king He was, and the kind of throne He sought. If we look at the sign above the cross in three languages, so all could read, we see it clearly stated: Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. He was reigning from the tree, and from there would draw all men to Himself as the Royal Redeemer. His royal reception on Palm Sunday was not a failure, but a crowning success that led quickly to His coronation on the cross.
At the coronation of his majesty George III, after the anointing in the Abbey, the crown was put on his head with great shouting. The two archbishops came to lead him from the throne to receive communion. He said he would not go the Lord's Supper and partake of that ordinance with his crown on, for he looked upon himself, when appearing before the King of Kings, as only a humble Christian. As we come to the table of remembrance, let us also approach in the awareness that we are in the presence of the King, and let our hearts be lifted in praise and thanksgiving to Him who is our Royal Redeemer.