Wanting or Needing?
For all practical purposes, today is the day that Jesus looks like He made it. Today is the only time in His walk upon the earth that "All Glory Laud and Honor" were accorded Him. Today is the only time all hailed the power of Jesus' name. Today is the only time they came close to crowning Him with many crowns. Who could not WANT such a king as this?
Look at the text. There it is plain as day. Jesus acts like a king today. As He gets to the top of Mount of Olives across from Jerusalem, He "commissions" two of His disciples to get Him a donkey as a king commissions His servants to do things for him. And King Jesus doesn't ASK the owners to use the donkey; no, He claims royal ownership. As a king owns all the land, all the animals, all of everything, so King Jesus asserts His true ownership by saying, "The Lord of this donkey has need of it."
Now a donkey doesn't seem to us like a very kingly way to ride. But remember, this is the only time we're told of Jesus riding at all. Also when ancient kings came in peace they came on a donkey. Furthermore, Zechariah had prophesied that Jerusalem's Messianic king would come riding a donkey. And when King David wanted to make it plain whom his successor was he had Solomon put on his donkey and had him ride into the city. Jesus was openly claiming to be the King of Jerusalem, the rightful successor of David, the Messiah promised long ago.
And the people loved it; I mean they LOVED it. They gave Him a welcome fit for a king. They threw their garments down, so Jesus rode into Jerusalem on carpet. John says the Jerusalemites took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus. The palm was like the national flag of Israel. As people wave the flag before the President, so they waved their palms before their king. And His disciples began to "to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:" He raised Lazarus 4 days dead! He healed a man born blind! He fed thousands! He defeated demons! He made lepers whole, the blind to see, and the lame to walk! That's the kind of things they were shouting.
Never had they talked this way about Jesus before. Never had they publicly and unashamedly proclaimed all that Jesus had done. And Jesus accepts it all. He doesn't tell them to tell no one about His miracles as He had in the past. He doesn't say, "No, no, wait; I'm not that kind of king." He doesn't say, "You're thinking I'm coming to throw the Romans out, but you're wrong." Jesus, in fact, says this praise, this worship, this acclaiming Him king is so fitting that if the crowds didn't do it the very stones would cry out saying such things!
Today it looks like the Boy born in a stable and reared in the backwater town of Nazareth has made it. And this is the Jesus we want. We want Thee O Jesus of the crown. We want Thee O Jesus of the throne. We want Thee O Jesus of the stars. We want a Jesus who's popular in this world. A Jesus who the world will flock to. A Jesus who comes to give people health and wealth. A Jesus who doesn't let His people be sick. A Jesus who even the world bows before.
This is the Jesus of TV channel 26. A Jesus who delivers from cocaine addiction. A Jesus who whisks people away from depression. A Jesus who heals marriages and sets His people free from all their earthly bondage. A Jesus who comes to give His people psychological health and physical wealth. Isn't this the Jesus you want? It's the Jesus I most certainly want. A Jesus of whom even the world must say, "Now that's some Savior! Now that's a useful God!"
A Jesus who rules visibly is the Jesus we really want. This is the Jesus of channel 26. A Jesus on His way to set up a physical kingdom in Jerusalem. A Jesus on His way to throw down the rulers of this world and install His people in positions of power. That's a Jesus the world can accept. No more of this Jesus who rules from and under a cross. No more of a Jesus who works through weak things like Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Watch channel 26; they will never point to such a Jesus. Why? Because they know such a Jesus is a flop in this world.
I admit it. I want the Palm Sunday Jesus. I don't want the Good Friday Jesus. I don't want a king who allows His subjects to be trampled in this world. I don't want a king who is perfectly capable of preventing His subjects from suffering, but doesn't. I don't want the Jesus of the scars; I want the Jesus of the stars. I don't want the true Jesus. I want an idol. I want a Jesus who stops at Luke 19:40. I want a Jesus found amid shouts of praise. A Jesus who people want to be around. Not a Jesus who people can find every excuse in the world to stay away from as legions of people with their names on church rolls do.
But the idol Jesus saves no one. There is no salvation in a Jesus who stops at Luke 19:40. Yes, yes, I know that by riding into Jerusalem the way He did, Jesus fulfilled prophesy, so you can say it was part of His saving work. But if Jesus had stopped there, there would be no payment for sins, hell would still be open, and sins would still be very much on our backs. The Jesus who looks like He makes it in the world, doesn't make it as a Savior.
Jesus looks like what all the world wants. Jesus looks like He comes to Jerusalem as a royal, powerful king. He looks like He is on that donkey as David's legitimate heir. But there is more to it than that. Jesus specifically sends His disciples to get a donkey "which no one had ever ridden." In the Old Testament whenever a dead body was found by a city, and no would knew who did it, to remove the guiltiness from that city a red heifer which never had been yoked or used was slaughtered.
Here comes King Jesus. He approaches the city as a king would, but He rides on an animal that has never been ridden. He comes as a perfect sacrifice for sins. He comes as the sin-offering for an entire world. He comes to be slaughtered. So while they are ready to claim Him as their king, while they are ready to shout His praises for His miracles, He goes up to Jerusalem, as He told them many times He would, to be beaten, tortured and crucified. Each step Jesus takes may be on a carpet of garments, but it's one step closer to the rough wooden cross. Each step may be with palm branches brushing His face, but each one is taking to Him where whips will be striking His back.
Looks can be deceiving. Jesus looks like He comes to be a worldly king just like people, then and now, us and them, love to see, and desperately want. But already 800 years before this through the mouth of Isaiah Jesus told us what He comes to do. He comes to offer His back to those who would beat Him. He comes to turn His cheeks to those who would pull out His beard. He comes to open His face to mocking and spitting.
Worldly kings don't do this. They don't give their back to those who beat. No, they give the backs of others. They don't turn their cheeks to those who pull out beards. No, they pluck the beards of others. Worldly kings never allow themselves to be mocked to their faces much less spat on; no, they're the mockers and the spitters. But this our King Jesus does because this is what we deserve. If Jesus had gotten to Luke 19:40 and turned around, it would be your back that would be beaten, my beard that would be pulled out, and our faces that would be mocked and spat on.
Yes, looks are deceiving. It looks like Jesus comes to be the king the world wants. It looks like Jesus belongs on the throne so much so that even the stones have to admit it. And the stones would. But they do not cry out today when all the world does. No, they don't cry out till Good Friday. Once Jesus is upon His throne, lifted above all, once Jesus bears His title The King of the Jews, albeit nailed to a cross, once Jesus is dead as a doornail, then the stones are going to groan, quake, split, and cry out, "Sorrow dread, our God is dead!"
And these stone speak of the Jesus we NEED. "We need Thee O Jesus of the scars." That's what a poet wrote from the depths of World War I. To people in misery, a God who suffers is comforting. Faced with dying, a God who dies is comforting. Burdened by sin and chased by Satan a God who knows sin's weight and Satan's hounding is comforting. We need thee O Jesus of the scars. We need your weltered wounds. We need your bleeding side. We need your drops of bloody sweat. We need your hellish forsakedness.
More than we need a god who is popular in the world we need a God we can get to. Friend, a Jesus who would be popular in the world, wouldn't want anything to do with me. I'm nothing in this world. I don't have the power, money, or pomp this world values. I don't have the skill, looks, or charisma this world exalts. A Jesus who is popular with the world would be very far away from me. I need a Jesus I can reach. A Jesus who knows what it is to bear griefs and sorrows; a Jesus who knows what a weakling I am because I'm made of dust. A Jesus who is cast out by the same world I am.
The Jesus the world exalts comes and demands to be served. He expects people to give Him the shirt off their backs. He expects them to sacrifice for Him. This is an awe-inspiring awesome Jesus. This is a rough-tough Jesus along the lines of the real power-people in this world. But this Jesus I don't need. I don't need a Jesus who expects the shirt off My back. I need a Jesus who promises to put clothes on my back even as He clothes the grass of the field. More than that, I need a Jesus who not only gives me the shirt off His back but gives His back to be beaten in my place.
I need the Jesus who'll accept what I deserve, not get what He deserves. I don't need the Jesus whom the world is ready to acclaim king, but a Jesus who is willing to lose the world to save me. I need the Jesus who willingly let go of heaven to grab hold of me. Let others focus on a Jesus who gives worldly health and wealth; I need a Jesus who gave up His health and wealth, so that I might have the world without end.
This is the Jesus who saves the world. A Jesus who never suffered could save no one. A Jesus who never died could deliver no one from death. A Jesus who is everything the world wants a king to be would be nothing to us, no king, no Savior, no comfort. Ah, but this Jesus of the scars is another matter. In those wounds, despised by the world is my forgiveness. In those scars, the world turns from in disgust is relief from the things in life that scar me. In that crown of thorns, as could never be in a crown of gold, is the end of my guilt, the beginning of my life, and my eternal hope. Amen
Reverend Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (4/8/01) [Luke 19:28-40]