What Kind of a King Do We Want?

Luke 18:29-46

green and blue background, with "Palm Sunday" in white script

Throughout this Lenten season, we have been talking about what it means to follow Jesus, especially as he explains it in his sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew. We’ve spent a whole season on just that one speech, and skipped a lot of other stories. But now it’s time to get back into the stories, instead of the teaching. Because now it’s Holy Week and everything is coming to a head. And although as a culture we celebrate Christmas more than Easter, Easter is a pretty big deal. For the ancient church, it was The Big Deal. 

Easter is the biggest deal because resurrection changes everything. Every Sunday is a little resurrection, which is why you don’t fast on Sundays during Lent. Resurrection is nothing but joy and celebration. But we don’t get to that world-changing joy and celebration without going through the passionate agony of Holy Week. I’ve been telling you for weeks that Lent is the season that prepares us to embrace the full meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus, which we will commemorate this coming Friday evening together at William Street United Methodist Church at 7 pm.  

Jesus shows us what it is to follow him, to live a life fully in line with God’s love. But the systems of the world will always resist and try to crush that kind of person. Faithful prophets whose words and lives point out the unfaithfulness of others are never going to be popular with the power structures of the world. Those who live in line with God’s love are ultimately right, but that rightness is very dangerous for them. Jesus enters glory by way of suffering and rejection— which he has said all along — which his disciples never wanted to hear — which we never want to hear. We want our paths to be smooth and safe, but the story of Jesus’ life and death shows us over and over that the life of a truly righteous person, a person who stands up for justice and mercy with humility, is never smooth and safe. Which leads us to consider this morning, as Holy Week begins, what kind of king we want and what kind of kingdom we will seek.

You already know the beginning of this morning’s story but we’re going to read a little past the familiar stuff today. Listen now in the reading of the scriptures for the word and wisdom of God from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, verses 28 through 48.

As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.

As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “Its master needs it.” 

They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
    Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.”

When Jesus entered the temple, he threw out those who were selling things there. He said to them, “It’s written, My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for crooks.”

Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests, the legal experts, and the foremost leaders among the people were seeking to kill him. However, they couldn’t find a way to do it because all the people were enthralled with what they heard.

This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

What kind of king do we want and what kind of kingdom will we seek? Jesus’ followers sing “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” And they are right, sort of. Jesus is a king, but not necessarily the kind they want. They’re praising God because of all the deeds of power they have seen Jesus do. They long for a king who will drive out the Roman empire and they hope Jesus will be that king, despite the number of times he’s told them that he’s going to suffer and die. They still have dreams of political revolution, which may be why the Pharisees try to hush them, because the empire of Rome reacts violently to revolution in its territories. But Jesus won’t silence them because what’s the point? His kingship is a reality and if the people don’t proclaim it, the very stones of the earth will shout it out. 

Jesus knows that some people will recognize his kingship for what it really is and will seek his kingdom. But others will keep looking for a king to lead their political revolution. Thirty years after Jesus died, another series of attempts at political revolution had a devastating result. In the year 70, the Roman general Titus laid siege to the city of Jerusalem for seven months, starving the people within and crucifying anyone who tried to escape. Finally he broke through all the walls of the city, reduced them to rubble and utterly destroyed the temple. Just as Jesus laments in the verses we read this morning. The people who sought a political kingdom to rival the Roman empire experienced first-hand what can happen when revolution fails.

Jesus says this happened because they refused to recognize God’s appearance among them and they did not know the things that made for peace. Jerusalem, the city of peace, rejected God’s peaceable kingdom and God’s righteous king. 

As we begin this Holy Week, anticipating the crucifixion of the righteous king, we must ask ourselves if we know the things that make for peace. Because God does not force them on us. The power of God’s love is not a forceful power. It’s a persuasive power. God will not make you do what God wants; God will keep loving you until you realize that God’s way is really the best way and come along because you want to. Persuasion, not force. So are we persuaded by the things that make for peace? 

We’ve spent weeks studying Jesus’ Sermon the Mount from the gospel of Matthew. That teaching tells us about the things that make for peace. First we have to start with the recognition that God is with all of us. God is blessing all of us. Not because we deserve it, but because that’s just how God is. That’s the foundation of all peace. What else makes for peace? Resisting our impulse to get angry and insult people. When we are at odds with someone, being the one who initiates reconciliation. Not looking at others with lust. Keeping our commitments. What else makes for peace? Responding nonviolently, in a way that reveals injustice. Giving to everyone who begs from us. Loving our enemies. What else makes for peace? Being charitable and prayerful and fasting, not so other people see us, but because it draws us closer to God. Forgiving, if we expect to experience forgiveness. What else makes for peace? Being generous and resisting the temptation to hoard. Trusting God more than we trust our own earning potential. Not worrying about tomorrow. Not judging, but practicing discernment. What else makes for peace? Doing to others what we would have them do to us. These are the things that make for peace. These are the things that bear witness to presence of God’s kingdom among us.

Despite the differences in the gospels, what we see throughout each of them is that we get to choose what kind of king we want and what kind of kingdom we will seek. If we seek the things that make for peace, we will follow Jesus, straight into death, because that’s what always happens to prophets who live and speak in a way that reveals the cruelty and depravity of the system. That’s the power of persuasion.

However, if we seek political revolution, if we seek the power of empire, if we choose the power of force, then we should not be surprised when the empire fights fire with fire and we get burned. In just a few chapters when Jesus is arrested in the garden he reminds his followers that those who live by the sword will die by it.

So, unfortunately, it sounds like either way, this triumphal entry leads to death. But we get to choose what kind of death it is. Is it a righteous death that exposes the depravity and cruelty of the system, persuading everyone who witnesses it that a better way is possible? Or is it a futile death where we are crushed by a system we were never strong enough to stop? Are we strong enough to suffer violence or are we only strong enough to do violence? What kind of king do we really want? And what kind of kingdom are we really seeking? Where do we place our trust? In the power of force or the power of persuasion? As we begin this Holy Week, we know where Jesus is going. We must ask ourselves if we trust him enough to follow him.

That’s a hard question to honestly answer. And really, none of us could ever say yes to that if we had to do it alone. Ultimately we each make our own choices, but we are not alone on the journey. To live as a Christian is to be in community. We become the people we want to be by doing it together, as part of the same church family, as members of one body, as the New Testament says. And this morning, we have four people who have decided that Zion is the place where they find the companions for the journey. 

Becoming a member of a church is not like becoming a member of a club; it’s like becoming a member of a family. When a family gets a new member, like a new baby or someone who marries in, that new member doesn’t just assimilate to the family’s way of doing things. The family actually changes because of this new member. So while our new members today will learn some of our family’s traditions, we will also be changed by our new members. We welcome their different perspectives, we will listen to their wisdom, and we will grow and change because of their gifts.

Church membership is not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s about who wants to be in a relationship. In church, we are invited to share life with people who are different from us: theologically, politically, racially, economically, sexually. And when we choose to be together, even when we disagree, we all grow in grace and love and humility. Church membership, committing to one another, is how we manage the tension between community and individuality. We don’t allow ourselves to be absorbed and used up by others. But we do make ourselves available to others, remembering that our lives are about so much more than just our own comfort, safety, and power. This is the beautiful invitation of church membership. 

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