Not Your Average King: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
[Inside: Not Your Average King. Week 1 of our series, “A Journey to the Cross: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Jesus”]
For three years, Jesus trudged the dusty desert countryside. As he moved from town to town, he healed the sick, drove out demons and raised the dead. He touched people deeply. He loved people – even those some deemed unlovable. Jesus brought them a message of hope – that the kingdom of God had come and this kingdom offered something that transcended the current circumstances of the world they lived in. However, people didn’t seem to really hear what Jesus had to say. Why? Because they expected something very different from what they heard. Their expectations shaped their perception. As a result, they constructed notion of a king and kingdom that matched their expectations. Jesus didn’t fit that notion.
What kind of king did they expect?
People were weary of their suffering under Roman rule. Who could blame them? They yearned for the Messiah that God promised to come and save them. Many began to suspect Jesus was that promised Messiah.
When they saw Jesus approaching Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey colt, they were more sure than ever that Jesus was the Messiah; the king they expected. No doubt, they recalled the prophet Zechariah’s words – that their king would come humbly riding on a donkey – and their excitement surged.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
But, what kind of king did they expect?
There were at least three groups of people with their own expectations: the common people, the zealots, and the religious leaders.
The Common People
First, there were the common Jewish people who suffered under Roman occupation and hoped for a king who would save them from their suffering. Jews who longed for a time when Messiah would free them from oppression. They longed for Eden and for The Promised Land; to live in a land flowing with milk and honey once again. They believed Messiah would establish a kingdom here on earth that matched their longing.
Next, there were the zealots who expected a military king.
The zealots were an aggressive, sometimes violent, political group of devout Jews that actively plotted against the Roman regime. They hoped – and they came to believe – that the Messiah God was sending, would be a warrior king who would crush the Romans and set up a new government system.
When Jesus didn’t forcefully act to overthrow the Roman government, the Zealots were deeply disappointed. Instead, Jesus told them to love their enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-48). NOT what the Zealots expected and NOT what they wanted to hear! Jesus didn’t meet their expectations at all. He was shaping up to be a very different kind of king than they had imagined.
The Religious Leaders
And then, there were the Jewish religious leaders: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes.
The religious leaders expected a priestly king. But, they had spent generations building their religious fiefdom. They had grown accustomed to having all the religious power – dictating who could do what, and when, and how. They expected a king who would maintain the status quo. Boy, was Jesus seriously NOT that kind of king! Instead, Jesus was radically opposed to what had become the status quo. He actively spoke out against the Jewish leaders and their hypocrisy.
One of the first things Jesus did after he came into the city was to clear the temple courts (Matthew 21:12-17). The religious leaders had allowed merchants and money changers to move in and make a profit off of the people who came to offer their sacrifices to the Lord. Jesus threw them out and called them a “den of robbers”. He told them, “My house will be known as a house of prayer.” (Notice the “my“.)
No wonder the chief priests and the teachers of the law found Jesus threatening.
When sick people came to Jesus, he healed them. Children began shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” in the temple courts. Instead of being amazed at the wonderful things Jesus was doing, the chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant.
While most were concerned with the state of the government, Jesus was more concerned with the condition of people’s hearts and the state of their worship. It was the religious leaders’ false sense of holiness and hypocrisy that Jesus came to overthrow, not governments.
This was certainly not the kind of king the religious leaders were expecting, and they began to look for ways to get rid of Jesus.
Hosanna to the King!
Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds. Some people spread their coats on the ground covering the road in front of Jesus. Others cut palm branches off the nearby trees and tossed them along the road.
“Hosanna!” they shouted.
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The word hosanna comes from the Hebrew word hôšîʿâ-nā and is used in the Old Testament to mean “save” or “help”. One example is seen in Psalm 118:25.
“Please, Lord, please save (hôšîʿâ-nā) us.
Please, Lord, please give us success.”
It seems to be used in the New Testament as a shout of joy; a praise of honor to the one who saves (as in Matthew 21:9 & Mark 11:9-10). Although this is slightly different from the Old Testament usage, the people in the crowd would have been familiar with the original use.
With that in mind, what does this tell us about the expectations of the crowd?
They expected a savior; a king who would save them.
A Little Jewish History
Not being familiar with Jewish history, I missed the significance of the palm branches in the past.
Jewish history tells of a man named Judas Maccabeus. Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish priest. Some historians call him a freedom fighter. Some call him a Jewish guerrilla leader. It’s clear that Judas Maccabeus was a warrior – a soldier as well as a priest. Judas Maccabeus entered Jerusalem 200 years before Jesus. As he approached the city, people waved palm branches and sang songs of praise. After he entered Jerusalem, he defeated the Syrian king, recaptured the Temple, drove out the pagans, and ruled for 100 years before the Romans took back the city.
You can see the similarities between the two scenes. Clearly, the people of Jerusalem expected Jesus to be a king who was like Judas Maccabeus.
Some only came to see miracles
Shortly before Jesus came into Jerusalem, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. (John’s gospel is the only one that reminds us of this. John 12:16-19.) People all over had heard about this miraculous event. John even tells us this is why many people came out to meet him as he entered Jerusalem. Maybe they came to witness the phenomenon for themselves; to see if the hype was true. Maybe they came just to get caught up in the excitement that surrounded Jesus. But, no doubt, there were those who expected Jesus to intervene in an equally miraculous way to free them from Roman occupation.
John tells us the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the King of Israel!” John 12:13
They expected Jesus to physically be the King of Israel. But Jesus wasn’t that kind of king, and his kingdom was not a geographic kingdom.
What kind of king do we expect?
In many ways, we do the same thing the people of Jerusalem did. We have expectations of the kind of king Jesus should be and the way Jesus should behave as our king
We create our own messiah that fits the image we’ve formed.
Listen to the way author Jonathan Merritt describes our tendency to let our expectations shape who we see God to be.
Jonathan Merritt writes:
“Maybe you picture God as a heavenly bellhop whose job is to satisfy your deepest desires. Or perhaps God is a holy matchmaker who’ll secure you a spouse. Possibly, you see God as a cosmic bodyguard who protects you from harm; or the world’s best nanny, making sure your children turn out right. Perhaps you see God as a divine doctor, healing your every physical and mental ailment. Or maybe a wonder-working accountant, solving all your financial problems—provided you drop off a portion in the church coffers, of course.
People tend to assume that God is the deity they want. All you have to do is snatch up a couple verses that seem to support your preferred version. Then spend a few years listening to a pastor reinforce them through selective storytelling. Before you know it, the cement of those assumptions dries, and you begin expecting God to work in particular ways in your life. Not unlike the people of Jerusalem.
This works pretty well, as long as God seems to do what we want him to. But the moment he doesn’t conform to our expectations, our whole world rattles. A baby’s born with a disability. A person you love abandons you for another. A friend dies before her time. The expectations you placed on God ferment into distrust, into disappointment.”
(Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them © 2018 Jonathan Merritt. Convergent Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.)
We blame God for not doing what we expect him to do, and we resent him for not being the kind of God we made him out to be in our minds.
Before we know it, we’re standing in the crowd shouting “crucify him” right along with the Jerusalemites.
The King of Kings
Jesus wasn’t the kind of king most expected. He wasn’t an average human king.
Jesus didn’t come to…
- fulfill our expectations.
- make us rich or to make us happy or give us easy lives here on earth.
- make our country successful or to make it great. He’s not a political king.
- do all the things we expect or demand.
Jesus did come to…
- reunite heaven and Earth; to bring the kingdom of heaven into our reality.
- restore the broken relationship between us and God the Father.
- show us a better way to be human.
- teach us how to live in community with God and with each other.
- free us from the tyranny of sin in our lives and to rescue us from the consequences of our sin.
- conquer death and bring new life; life that would have no end.
Jesus is not just another king like all other human kings. Jesus rules as king over all other kings. He doesn’t just rule a country, he rules over all heaven and earth.
As we celebrate the coming of our King, let us relinquish the tendency we have to construct a very average, very limited, very false king. Let us embrace the king that Jesus is and let go of our very limiting expectations. Let us allow him to be the king he was meant to be.
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This post is the first in the series “A Journey to the Cross: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Jesus”. Read the rest of the series here: