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"Our Humble Majestic King"

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MESSAGE FOR PALM SUNDAY 2011 FROM LUKE 19 AND REVELATION 19

         

The Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God.  As fully human, he is in many ways very accessible to us.  He experienced all the temptations we face.  He knows suffering and what it is to be an outcast.  We can relate to him in ways the Jews could never relate to the God of the Old Testament.  Yet, Jesus is also fully God, absolutely holy and in many ways is infinitely different than us.  He is above us and our understanding of him---he transcends us. This morning, as we have done in the past, our goal is to present a truth-driven, balanced picture of Jesus in the hope of knowing him better so that we can love and reverence him more.  We hope to do that by God’s grace by looking at Luke’s “Triumphal Entry” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on what we celebrate today as Palm Sunday.  We also want to see another, very different picture of Jesus as we examine a second royal entrance as recorded in Revelation 19.

In Luke 19, Jesus has just finished telling a parable as he approaches Jerusalem. We pick up the narrative in verse 28. “And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here.  31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this: 'The Lord has need of it.' “32So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them.  33And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?"  34And they said, "The Lord has need of it.  “35And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.  36And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.  37As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen,  38saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  39And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."  40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." 41And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

          As you read this account in Luke 19, you might be tempted to think this is the one time during Jesus’ Passion Week where we see him clearly as the majestic and exalted King in a context otherwise dominated by humiliating events.  As much as it might first appear that way, that’s not the case.  In fact, Luke presents this opening scene in Christ’s final week as an acted-out parable carefully orchestrated by the Lord.  Jesus oversees every significant detail of his entrance into Jerusalem specifically to communicate his identity, not as an exalted King, but as the HUMBLE, Servant.  Let’s briefly unpack the elements of this acted-out parable to see how this powerfully communicates the humility of Christ.

First, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, Luke tells us that he is on a donkey—a donkey that has never been ridden.  In the Ancient Near East, kings rode on donkeys that had never been ridden so this animal was truly a king’s mount.  However, in the case of Jesus no one except a couple of his disciples knew the animal had never been ridden.  So the fact that this was the mount of a king was intentionally concealed from the people.  Matthew’s account interprets these events by quoting Zechariah 9:9 and says, “Say to the daughter of Zion,’ Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”  It’s important to know that the Jews did not understand these verses in Zechariah to be referring to the Messiah until the fourth century AFTER Christ.  Jesus knew they were Messianic verses and Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew this, but the people lining the road leading into Jerusalem would not have associated this donkey with the Messiah.  That was intentionally concealed from them.

Christ’s humility is seen in the fact that this symbol of his royal status was kept from the onlookers.  In fact, the reason scholars call this story an “acted out parable” is because according to Mark’s gospel, one of the main reasons Jesus spoke in parables was to conceal or obscure the truth.  Mark 4:12 tells us Jesus taught in parables so that the people hearing them would “…see but NOT perceive…hear but NOT understand lest they should turn and be forgiven.” This was an acted-out parable because Jesus’ royalty was intentionally kept hidden from the people.

A valid question is--“but what about the people in the narrative who said, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord?”  John’s gospel helps us out here because in his account of this event the people along the road also cried out, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”[v.13] But three verses later John records in 12:16, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”  The surrounding context in John’s gospel reveals that the crowds that paid tribute to a king were NOT doing so because they witnessed the easily recognizable trappings signaling the entrance of royalty.  In truth, they were there because they were impressed with his raising of Lazarus from the dead and were prophetically shouting far more than they really knew.  This is just like the case of Caiaphas, the High Priest who said of Jesus in John 18, “It is expedient for one man to die for his people.  He had no idea he had uttered a prophecy—he spoke far more than he knew. 

Gospel scholar Robert Stein is right when he says about this entrance into Jerusalem, “In the minds of most of Jesus’ audience that day, this was essentially a pilgrim’s welcome of Jesus of Nazareth.”  We know this is the case because if this had been a public tribute to a king by his followers, Rome would have reacted decisively and…violently.  There was no room in the empire for TWO kings!  This entrance into Jerusalem communicates the humility and gentleness of this then-veiled King.  That’s the essential message Jesus seeks to communicate through his orchestration of the “triumphal entry.” 

As we think of the humility of Christ, we must not do as so many in the church do today. That is--divorce Christ in his humility from the transcendent and holy Jesus also revealed in the New Testament.  Any serious attempt to appreciate the humility of Christ and what he did for us in his Passion, MUST place it against the backdrop of his awesome power and majesty. You simply cannot rightly understand or treasure the humiliation of Christ unless and until you see it in the light of the exaltation of Christ. 

In the case of this “Triumphal Entry,” the humility conveyed in Jesus’ first royal entrance is most appreciated when compared to the majesty of Jesus’ second kingly entrance into this world.  As we contrast this first humble entrance with his future,

UN-veiled entrance as King, then by God’s grace we will begin to more fully love and worship Christ in response to what he did for us in his humiliation.  That is our goal this morning, by God’s grace.  So let’s do that by looking at a SECOND entrance of this King in the 19th chapter of the Revelation. And as we read this, think about the radical contrasts between this second entrance, with Luke’s account of Christ’s first royal entrance.

Let’s begin reading in verse 11.  John is recounting his vision of the second coming of Christ and says, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God,  18to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great."  19And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.  20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.  21And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”

In the apostle John’s vision, we have a dramatically different set of kingly attributes on display.  Here, the emphasis is decidedly NOT on the humility and gentleness of a veiled, Servant King, but on the terrifying majesty and holy wrath of the Warrior King.  There are some striking parallels in these two accounts—so much so that it seems God wants us to examine these two entrances side by side.  Let’s compare first, the animals that serve as our Lord’s mount in each entrance and what they communicate about him.  In Revelation 19, Christ is pictured on a white horse exploding out of heaven.  The white horse is the blatantly majestic mount of kings and more specifically in the Ancient Near East, the white horse was the mount of kings who had gone to war and had conquered (!) their enemies.  Fittingly, his entire army rides on white horses signifying the overwhelming conquest this King will bring.  This is THE conquering King. While the never-ridden donkey in Luke 19 whispers gentleness and a concealed majesty, the white horse of Revelation 19 trumpets raw power and conquest.  Paul describes this same entrance in Second Thessalonians 1:7-8 and says at his second coming Jesus will be “... revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  Here is the glorious and triumphant Warrior King erupting out of heaven with His mighty host in blazing fire. On this entrance, instead of being escorted by uninformed and fickle followers who have no real clue about what is happening, Jesus will be escorted by a host of fully informed warrior angels who burn with his zeal for the just punishment of his enemies.

A second contrast between these two accounts is seen in the disposition of Jesus toward those who witness his entrance.  Remember Jesus’ attitude toward those in Jerusalem in Luke 19?  In verse 41, He looks over the city and weeps over it.  Jesus knows that Jerusalem, the city of David, home of God’s temple—a city near to His heart will be pillaged and defiled at the hands of blasphemous Roman soldiers.  It is filled with unbelief and unrighteousness.  Jesus in Luke 13:33, looking toward his own death, indicts this city saying “…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”  This city had slaughtered so many prophets it became known as “the city that kills the prophets” and it would soon claim its greatest prize—THE Prophet.  In verse 42, we see Christ’s compassion for this prophet-slaying city.  He says, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”  He longs for the PEACE of Jerusalem and for its inhabitants.  Knowing this would not happen, he weeps over this city.

The contrast with Christ’s disposition toward those who will witness his second entrance in Revelation 19 could hardly be more striking.  There is no weeping here--the bell has tolled, the hour, struck!  Verse 13 tells us His robe has been dipped in blood and the symbolism is graphic.  This time, the blood spilled will not be his own, but that of his enemies.  Verse 15 says the King, “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  This is a terrifying picture depicting Christ in a winepress trampling over and smashing--NOT grapes to be turned into wine, but rebellious sinners whose bodies will serve as food for birds—his enemies, whose spattered blood drenches his robe.  This is a withering picture of divine judgment. Many of you have perhaps been recently reminded of the Civil War and the incredible carnage of the battlefields littered with tens of thousands of bodies. As repulsive as those battle scenes are with their images of bloodied and twisted bodies, that carnage is a faint shadow of the gruesome end of the millions who will oppose Christ and will be summarily executed by him.  In his first royal entrance into Jerusalem, Christ humbly rides over freshly picked palm branches tossed in front of him.  In his second entrance, this same Christ mercilessly treads over his enemies like grapes in a wine press.    

Revelation 19:21 concludes the account of the gruesome end of Christ’s enemies.  It says, “And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.”  At his second coming, the Messiah will not be weeping over the fallen rebels of the earth; He will be executing them with His sword, which is the word of his mouth.  The time for shedding tears is long past.  This King speaks lethal words that bring judgment and destruction upon his enemies.  The Word of his mouth, with its creative power to bring the universe into being now becomes an instrument of incomparable destructive power as it instantly destroys all who oppose God.  All that’s necessary for Jesus to terminate every enemy is to breathe a single word of judgment on them.  The ironic truth about this last great battle is that there really isn’t any last battle in the strictest sense.  The armies of the world unite and form battle lines, but the two massive armies never even engage one another because the King speaks his Word of judgment and its over before it has begun—without a fight.  Any hope for the peace Jesus wanted for Jerusalem has long-since vanished. The pent up vengeance of God is unleashed in the blazing furnace of his wrath.  In his first entrance, those in Jerusalem who refuse the Kingship of Christ are portrayed as ignorant and are wept over.  In the second entrance of the King, those who refuse his reign are his enemies and they are summarily slaughtered.  The eyes that once shed tears of compassion and sorrow now appear as “flames of fire” as they are set ablaze with the searing and holy wrath of God’s judgment.

A third contrast between these two entrances is seen in Jesus’ level of accessibility and approachability to others. Luke shows us a King who is approachable, even vulnerable.  We can easily relate to this man.  He is riding a donkey, enjoying the adulation of the crowd.  We can almost picture ourselves standing by the side of the road, tossing out palm branches in front of this Prophet from Galilee.  He knows the decimation that will come to the city of David and he weeps over it.  There is tenderness, mercy and compassion.  Jesus, as we see him on Palm Sunday and the rest of Passion Week is accessible and vulnerable to us.  Not so, the Warrior King of Revelation 19 whose spoken words are lethal to billions.  How dramatically different that is from his Passion.  When he was suffering for us, his mouth—this ultimate doomsday weapon…remained silent.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” [Isa. 53:7]

The humble, Servant King at Calvary wears a crown of common Judean thorns placed on him by a Roman soldier, mocking his identification with royalty.  It digs into his brow and the blood from his wounds runs down His face.  Hours earlier, the soldiers had shoved a wooden stick in his hand as a mock scepter for a caricature king.  In Revelation 19, the caricature is gone; replaced by the glorious reality of the regal splendor of the Warrior King.  No one will be mocking this King!  Verse 12 tells us, “…on his head are many diadems…” or crowns.  The many crowns signify that there is no kingdom anywhere where this King does not rule—He rules over ALL of them!  He is the KING of all kings and the LORD of all lords and these crowns were placed on His head, NOT by some mocking pagan soldier, but by His omnipotent Father.  The ridiculous wooden “scepter” is gone.  Now he brandishes in his hand an “iron rod” or “iron scepter.  This is the final fulfillment of the scepter of Judah about which Jacob first prophesied 4000 years ago in Genesis 49 when he said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah” [v.10].  This is the long-awaited royal scepter of Christ signifying his eternal rule over all.

Revelation 19:12 says, “…he has a name written that no one knows but himself.”

His approachability is gone—no one even knows his Name—it is so holy, so sacred, so divine it is hidden from common use.  There is inscrutability here.  This King is transcendent—beyond our understanding.  No created, finite being can fully grasp Him.  He is the “…the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, [to him]  be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Tim 1:17] Jesus has now shed the self-imposed limitations of this material realm and reveals Himself to be the infinite and eternal God, clothed in splendor and majesty.  In His first advent, He comes as a Lamb to be slaughtered; at His second appearing, he shows himself to be the ferocious LION of the tribe of Judah who lunges out of heaven to strike his evil prey.  At his first coming, the Lamb offers himself as a silent and submissive sacrifice for sin.  In his second coming, we know from Revelation 6:16 that those who deserve his judgment will be “calling to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

          As we said earlier, the point is not simply to contrast these two royal appearances.  The point is to remember that the Biblical texts that display the humiliation of Christ must be understood in the broader context of his exaltation.  What ultimately reveals the wonder of this first, humble entrance we celebrate on Palm Sunday is the truth that this gentle, peace-bringing Messiah is in fact also the invincible Warrior King who will one day burst out of heaven in the fury of divine wrath.  This One seated on the donkey, whose homespun garment became the prize in a penny-ante craps game, will one day appear in the robe of a conquering King—a robe drenched in the blood of his enemies.  Peter said in Acts chapter two that this One who was crucified is “both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36]

We see this Jesus when Paul in Philippians chapter two writes of him,  “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,  8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  This week, as you read through the events of Jesus’ passion, don’t forget who it is that suffered the shame, humiliation, pain and death for you.  We must see his humiliation in the light of his exaltation if we are to love him rightly.

Today, the image of Christ the suffering Servant is much loved in the church, but Christ the Warrior seems to be something of an embarrassment within evangelicalism.  As strange as it sounds in our superficial and unbalanced church culture, our hearts should soar as we read the account of Christ’s decisive judgment on the wicked for at least three reasons.  First, the Biblical accounts of the judgment of God remind us of what those of us who trust in Christ will be spared.  When we read of Christ merciless extermination of his enemies with the sword of his mouth, that should cause us to overflow with thanksgiving over the undeserved miracle of God’s saving mercy toward us.  We mustn’t ever entertain the notion that there is any difference between us and those who, in their folly will join together to war against the conquering Christ. 

I spent more than 20 years of my life warring against God…THIS God!  My heart was every bit as deceived as those who will end up as bird food.  The only thing that separates any blood-bought follower of Jesus from those whose blood will soak his robe is the sheer, undeserved mercy of God.  We are ALL at war with God until he saves us.  Only the grace of God can open our eyes to see our rebellious sin for what it is—treason against the King of the universe.  Only the grace of God enables us to turn from our sin to Christ in faith and repentance.  Only the grace of God enables us to know passionately and intimately King Jesus.  For the believer, pictures of divine judgment, especially gruesome ones as we see in Revelation 19, should stir our hearts with unending gratitude over what we have been spared through the cross. 

Second, the Biblical accounts of God’s judgment on sinners remind us that in Christ, we have the privilege of introducing people to Christ the Servant King so they will not have to taste the wrath of Christ the Warrior King.  Those who are in Christ have the one key in the universe—the gospel--that delivers sinners from the Warrior’s wrath as they call in faith on the One who died for sins.  We have this gospel message and are given the high honor of being called as ambassadors—representing our King to this world and bringing a message of peace with God to those who, as they live for themselves, are warring against him. As we picture that final battlefield with its hideous carnage and the multitudes who will be mercilessly cut down by the righteous judgment of God, we must remember that we have been charged to deliver the message of peace that alone can save rebels from their sin and deliver them from something far worse than even that field of blood. 

          A final point of application is for you if who have never placed your trust in Christ—who have never experienced the forgiveness of your sin and the life-changing power of God in Christ—if you do not relate to God as if he is your intimate Father and friend.  That is:  Allow the truth of both of these advents of Christ to compel you to receive his mercy.  If you don’t know him as your Lord and Savior, you must place your trust in him today.  The Bible says, “…now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6:2] and the reason NOW is the time is because NOW (in this time before his second entrance), Christ weeps over those who are estranged from Him.  Now he comes to you in mercy and gentleness.  Now, he relates to sinners as a Savior.  But do not be deceived.  If you delay in responding to his incredible mercy until after this window of divine grace closes—He will come to you, not with an open, nail-pierced hand of love, but with his lethal sword of eternal judgment.  His words to you will bring, NOT mercy and grace, but instead, instant and eternal death.  You will experience, NOT his love, but his unending wrath because your sin is repugnant to a holy, sin-hating God and He must and will punish you in unending wrath.  He died on the cross to bear my sin—to take my sin upon himself and receive the punishment I deserved.  NOW you have an opportunity to cry out to him in faith.  Confess that you are a needy sinner—place your trust in Christ alone and he will forgive your sin and give you new life in him.

Those are the only two options open to you.  Now, in his grace and mercy he pursues and woos you.  But if you refuse to repent of your rebellious desire to live for yourself instead of him, then from his holy justice, you will experience the consuming fire of his holy wrath.  Come to Jesus and know mercy and redemption through the cross.  May God give us the grace to know Christ in the fullness revealed in his Word and worship him in a manner that reflects all of whom he has revealed himself to be.

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