Upside Down: “Kings”


Upside Down: “Kings”
A Message on John 12:12-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

John 12:12-16 (NRSV)


The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
   the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.


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Today we are concluding our sermon series “Upside Down,” which looks at the things of earth that seem upside down from the things of heaven, by looking at the topic of kings.


This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, where Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem riding on of all things a young donkey.  It’s called Palm Sunday because when people heard that Jesus was coming then stripped branches off of palm trees and waved then and put then on the road for his donkey to walk on, and they did this because that’s how they celebrated royalty.


The scripture we read today has the crowd shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”


Now the history of the people of Israel had with kings was somewhat sketchy. There were only three kings over the united kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon.


The first, Saul, came about when the people demanded a king. The name Saul, as a matter of fact, means “asked for, prayed for.”


Here’s the situation. Somewhere around 1500 BC the tribes of Israel occupy the promised land and yet they don’t really have a centralized form of government. They have the laws that Moses gave them but really no one person in charge like they did when Moses was around.


So they have judges. Now when we think of judges we think of legal matters regarding the law, and these people did indeed do that, but they also served as leaders of the people in terms of military and governmental functions as well.


But the people didn’t like that. When Samuel the prophet came around they started whining and complaining that they didn’t have a king. Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they were evil and didn’t follow God’s ways.


So the people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king. They wanted a king because all the other countries had kings and they didn’t. I can just hear them whining like a little kid, “We want a king. Everybody else has a king. We want a king.” (I’ve always wanted Samuel to answer them, “Well if the people in every country went and jumped off a cliff would you go and jump off it, too?”)


So Samuel prays to God and God tells him to go ahead and give them a king, but to warn them of just how mean and tough the king was going to be on them. So Samuel tells them that this king won’t be nice to them, that he will take away the things they have and make them slaves, but the people don’t listen. They want a king.


So Saul is chosen as the first king. And things go pretty good at first, then Saul starts doing mean and evil things just like ol’ Samuel prophesied.


David comes on the scene, and Saul tries to kill him multiple times, things like trying to impale him on a spear, stuff like that.


Then Saul dies in battle and David becomes king. David does good in the eyes of God until we get to the whole Bathsheba thing and having her husband killed. David repents, but the damage has already been done.


Wise Solomon succeeds his father David as king of Israel. He starts off pretty good but then, wise as he is, starts falling away from God.


After Solomon the kingdom divides into two separate countries, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each of them have a succesion of kings. Most of the kings are not good, especially in Israel. Judah has some pretty good kings, like Hezekiah, but then bad kings came along and destroyed all the good the good ones did.


So the Jewish people don’t have a very good track record with kings.


At the time Jesus walks on the earth the kingdom doesn’t have a king. The land is under the military and governmental control of the Romans, and they appoint governors over the Jewish people but pretty much leave them to themselves as long as they don’t cause trouble. The Pharisees and Sadducees oversee the Jewish people, but do so under the oppressive thumb of the Romans.


Throughout the history of the Jewish people, though, they have been waiting on the messiah. The prophets spoke of one who would come and deliver them from being oppressed and who would be their leader. This messiah would change everything.


When Jesus enters Jerusalem many of the Jewish people think he is the messiah, he is the one. There is great joy and anticipation on what the messiah is going to do.


Most of them probably thought about the messiah more in military terms. He would come in with a great and powerful sword and overthrow the Roman controlwith massive bloodshed and great military victories.


But Jesus doesn’t ride into town on a stallion of war, but on a beast of burden. A donkey. A service animal, small but strong, the complete opposite of a war horse.


As a matter of fact there is still a breed of donkeys that are called Jerusalem donkeys. They are called that because the pattern of their coat makes a cross on their backs. Legend has it that the cross start appeared on the donkeys after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was crucified. The shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back and made the pattern. That’s not true but it is a good reminder of the type of animal Jesus rode.


Even though Jesus was on a donkey the people still celebrated! Yes, it wasn’t the kind of entrance they expected, but hey, let’s see what happens! Yay for the King of Israel. Boo for the Romans.


But when Jesus doesn’t overthrow the Romans by military force, the shouts of Hosanna turn to shouts of “Crucify Him!,” all in just a few days time.


So how should we as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century view kings? How should our faith shape our view of “kings,” those who lead countries?


In the United States we don’t have a king, we have a president. Some people in this room like him, some people in this room hate him, and some really don’t care one way or the other. I’m not going to get into politics today other than what the Bible tells us about how we should treat our leaders.


The scriptures tell us that our top priority is to God, but that we are also to pray for and submit ourselves to those who have authority over us.


Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”


Now that doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them or some of the things they do. But we are to be subject to them.


“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)


“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)


The world will always have rulers. Some good, some not-so-good, and some just downright evil. That’s the way it has always been, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it will be until the second coming of Christ.


Leaders come and leaders go, but God always remains as our ultimate authority figure. As our ultimate King.


Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel wrote these words:


He changes times and seasons,
   deposes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
   and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)


Our world today is so full of shouting about kings. Screaming, actually. Each side tries to scream louder than the other, to be more radical than the other, and the media loves it and counts the money from the ratings. Depending on which side you believe, things are great because of our “king,” or they are horrible because of our “king.”


While we are to be subjects to human government “kings” we must remember that  our full loyalty is to the King of Heaven, not an earthly king.


We need be upside down from the worldly view.We need be faithful and loyal to King Jesus at all times and at all places and in all circumstances.


Let us not be like those in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago who cried out “Hosanna!” one day only to scream “Crucify him!” just a few days later.


Jesus, being God, knew that the same people praising him for being the messiah would be the same ones who would call for his death. I wonder how he felt as he rode into Jerusalem that day knowing that.


Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the way to the cross. Joy turned to pain and sorrow.


There is a song by a group called Downhere that has some poignant lyrics with regards to kings. Ironically it is a Christmas song, but I like to listen to it year round.


It was written by a member of the group named Marc Martel, and in an interview he gives some of the story behind the song.


“My favorite thing about Christmas is that as a believer, I am often challenged by the fact that God’s way of doing things often seems to be the opposite of what we would come up with. Instead of the world’s way of coming down to earth, which would involve celebrity, riches, arrogance, our God and Savior chose humility, poverty and the ultimate sacrifice of dying on a cross hanging between two thieves. This completely humbles me as a believer. I’m amazed at how God uses the mundane to save us from our sin and ourselves.”


Here are the words of the chorus:


How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me


So my challenge to you on this Palm Sunday as we begin Holy Week is to remember who the ultimate king really is. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem in a limousine or on a war horse, but on the humble, hard-working beast of burden, a donkey. He showed the ultimate power of love and humbled himself to die on a cross, although he had every earthly power of kings at his command.


How many kings step down from their thrones and give their lives for the salvation of the world?


Only one did that.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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