Jesus, King and Savior

Jesus, King and Savior

Palm Sunday is a day on which we arrive to the last chapter in the story of King Jesus’ earthly life. It is the last chapter in the story of King Jesus’—who is also Savior and Lord of all who believe him in—last week on earth; a week that that culminates and finds its fulfillment on Easter morning.

But Jesus wasn’t—and isn’t—simply King over Jewish believers;

He wasn’t—and isn’t—simply King over all nations that existed during the time he lived on earth;

He wasn’t—and isn’t—simply King over all people and nations that have ever existed;

He wasn’t—and isn’t—simply King over all the earth;

No, Jesus was—and is—King over the entire cosmos, over all of creation. In fact, Jesus didn’t become a King; he was born a King. This is what the angel Gabriel revealed to his mother, the virgin, Mary, when he first appeared to her: “31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”[1] It wasn’t so long ago that we celebrated this truth during Christmas—O, come let us adore him, born the King of angels!; Hark, the herald angels sing, “glory to the newborn King!”

But though born a King, from the time of his birth Jesus was more than a King. He was also God who made us all come to earth in a human body; he was God in the flesh come to earth to redeem us. For as God, he was also Savior. He was Jesus the Christ. Jesus the Messiah. Remember that when his mother, Mary, miraculously conceived by the empowering of the Holy Spirit, an angel of the Lord also appeared to Joseph, reassuring him that he needn’t follow through with his plans to divorce her quietly but that he could take her as his wife for, he told him, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”[2] In fact the name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “the Lord saves.”

Too, from the beginning the miraculous birth of this baby was in fulfillment not only of the what angels told Mary and Joseph but his birth was also in fulfillment of what 700 years earlier, as Matthew notes earlier in his Gospel, Isaiah the prophet had foretold “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”[3] And indeed, from the time of his birth until the time he died Jesus was not only King, not only Savior, but also God who is with us; God who is for us.

But why am I talking about Jesus’ birth on Palm Sunday? Because at some level even our N. American culture still recognizes the importance of Christmas and Easter, the bookends of Jesus’ earthly life. And if Christmas and Easter are the bookends, Palm Sunday is the beginning of the culmination of Christ’s life as a man. Palm Sunday marks the first of Jesus’ last seven days of earthly ministry. It marks the beginning of the end of Jesus’ work on earth. And our passage[4] this morning begins with the preparations for Jesus’ reception as King. Matthew begins by recounting seemingly mundane events—Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem; they came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives; he sent two of his disciples ahead (1), telling them to untie a donkey they would find there (and what they should do if questioned about taking the donkey) (2–3). But there’s nothing mundane in this recounting. In verse 3 Matthew notes that Jesus referred to himself as “the Lord,” the divine name for God indicating his own divinity. Matthew further tells us that this simple action of procuring a donkey for Jesus, the King, to ride was in fulfillment of what the prophet Zechariah foretold when, as stated in verse 5, he proclaimed, “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”[5] So these preparations weren’t merely happenstance but as Jesus’ birth by a virgin had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah, so his reception as King was similarly foretold by another Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, over four hundred years earlier. What is more, in referring to Jerusalem as “Daughter Zion,” Zechariah was using the very name for Jerusalem that Isaiah had 200 years before he had lived.[6] Jerusalem was the city of the great King,[7] the center of Israel’s religious life that was looking for Messiah’s coming. And Jesus was that Messiah. So nothing that happened in Jesus’ life was by chance. His birth was according to God’s plan. His life and ministry were according to God’s plan. And his reception as King of Zion, as King of Jerusalem that he and his disciples were now approaching, were all according to God’s plan.

So in verses 6 and 7 we see that Jesus’ disciples did as he instructed him: “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.” And so Jesus’ kingly procession begins continuing an ancient line and practice of royalty riding on a donkey.[8] Upon seeing him approach, verse 8, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” The throwing down of cloaks was a sign of submission on the part of the crowds,[9] an act of royal homage.[10] And though Matthew doesn’t mention it, in John’s Gospel we’re told that the branches that were cut were palm branches,[11] hence the beginning of the church’s historical celebration of “Palm Sunday.” And the crowd waving their palm branches was huge. Though we don’t know its exact size, in a devotional Ron and I read this morning, it noted that during the Feast of Passover, Jerusalem’s population went from around 50,000 to over 100,000.[12]

Finally, the crowd waving their palm branches was exuberant and joyous, as any kingly reception should be. In verse 9 we’re told, “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed” all shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” As Jesus’ name means “the Lord saves,” here we see the crowds acknowledging him not only as King but as a King who was able to save them for in Hebrew “Hosanna” means “Save!” or “Save, now” and it had become an exclamation of praise. So the entire crowd was offering praises to King Jesus, acknowledging him as the King promised and foretold from the line of the David, the most important King in Israel’s history.[13]

Unfortunately, though the crowds rightly acknowledged Jesus as King, they wrongly assumed he was but an earthly King who would deliver them politically. They saw Jesus as the King who would overthrow Roman rule. So when they waved their palm branches, they did so as a symbol of nationalism. This would be like us lining the road and waving a flag. But by this time, they knew his reputation. They knew of his ability to heal the sick—and conquer demons—and still the wind and the waves—and raise the dead. And because of this reputation, they waved the palms, expressing their desire for him to serve as their earthly and political King. So the crowds that went ahead of Jesus were proclaiming him as King who could save them, who could deliver them now. And the crowds that followed Jesus were proclaiming him as King who could save them, who could deliver them now.

And when the crowds shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, as their Deliverer, though, again, the crowds’ scope was limited and therefore mistaken in that they simply viewed him as an earthly Messiah. This particular phrase—“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”—comes from yet another Old Testament passage, Psalm 118 which is a Messianic psalm.[14] And in Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he tells how some of the Pharisees reacted to the people praising Jesus and acknowledging him as Messiah. These Pharisees asked that Jesus rebuke his disciples for they feared he might take over as King. But Jesus answered them by saying, “I tell you… if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”[15] The crowds and religious leaders both saw him as an earthly ruler. But Jesus knew his kingship was far greater than simply King over Israel. As famously noted by theologian Abraham Kuyper, “‘There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not proclaim: ‘This is Mine!’’’ Jesus knew that if the crowds didn’t acknowledge him as King, the stones would, for he knew his Kingship extended to the entire creation which was his from the beginning.

What we see throughout this account is that though the crowds had only gotten things partially right for they only saw Jesus as an earthly King, in the end it’s impossible to change God’s prophecy and promises being fulfilled. It’s impossible to change the truth of who Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, Jesus the Savior really was and is. For if you were you to try, the creation that he made would itself cry out and testify to the truth of who he is. And we see his identity as King being inadvertently acknowledged again in the third shout of the crowds recorded for us by Matthew: “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Even those in heaven would sing their praises for Jesus the Christ knowing that he wasn’t just King over all the earth but also over the highest reaches of heaven.

And as King Jesus, as Savior Jesus, as Jesus the Christ entered Jerusalem, we’re told in verse 10, “the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” Now though it may be obvious to us who Jesus was, it wouldn’t necessarily have been obvious to those in the city of Jerusalem. Imagine if while we were sitting here this morning, we suddenly heard crowds in the thousands exclaiming “Hosanna!” And as we ran out to see what all of the noise was about, we saw scores of people walking along Linebrook Road and shouting their praises long before we could see whom they were shouting about. And when we finally did see him, we, too, would no doubt like to know who this person was who could cause such adulation and joy from so many.

When those in Jerusalem asked, “Who is this?” the crowds answered, verse 11, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Again, in all likelihood, the crowds didn’t intend this as an acknowledgment of his divinity but simply as an expression of their desire to have Jesus be their earthly King. And this is why “the whole city” of Jerusalem “was stirred.” They were troubled at the prospect of a political takeover. And again, it’s interesting to see part of Luke’s poignant addition in noting Jesus’ words as he approached Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”[16] Jesus knew that his Kingship wasn’t an earthly one but an eternal one. And that first Palm Sunday, the crowds at least got things partially right as they acknowledged Jesus as a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, his hometown.

But , again, Jesus was so much more than just a prophet.

We began this morning by noting how Jesus, even as a baby, was born a King. But here’s the thing. He remained a King—though not always recognized as such—throughout his earthly life. Think about it. Judging by what is recorded for us in the New Testament, a good guess-timate for the number of years Jesus lived on earth is 37 years.[17] Yet much as our culture tends to celebrate his birth each Christmas and his resurrection each Easter while overlooking all of the years in between and since his resurrection, so, too, during the 37 years he lived on earth, the Gospel writers note Jesus’ being acknowledged as King only at his birth and here, on Palm Sunday, as he began to make his way to the events that would lead to his death. If he had been living in our time, this would be like having noted his birth in 1980 and hearing very little about his kingship until this week now in 2017.

Yet Jesus was King not only at the time of his birth—and not only at the time of his death—but throughout his life and also today. And so will he ever be—even though, just as when he lived on earth, not all recognize him as such. Yet we must never forget that from the beginning of his life to its earthly end and for all eternity, who Jesus was—who Jesus is—hasn’t changed.

He was God born in the flesh.

He was born a King.

He was born a Savior.

He was born to save his people from their sins.

He was born to save his people from their suffering.

He was born to save his people from themselves.

And as it turns out the question asked by those in Jerusalem is the question that all who lived during the time of Jesus’ earthly life and all who have lived since then need to ask ourselves: “Who is this?” Jesus himself asked this question of his disciples while yet on earth. Just a few chapters prior to our passage this morning,[18] Jesus first asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus turned to them and asked, “But what about you?… Who do you say I am?” And Peter provided the right answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Son of the living God who, as Son, was also God in the flesh. Do we believe this? Do we believe Jesus is our Savior? Do we believe he is our King? Do we believe that the only answer to humans succumbing to temptation and doing evil is to be found in him, Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, Jesus the Son of the living God?

Do we believe that the only answer to human suffering—and sadness—and self-centeredness—and distractedness is to be found in Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, Jesus the Son of the living God?

Do we believe he is able to save us from our sins?

Do we believe he is able to save us from ourselves?

Do we believe that he is indeed King of the Ages, King of the Cosmos? And that his kingdom will never end?

Do we believe he is Immanuel, God who with us—God who is for us?

Our service this morning has been filled with joyous hymns acknowledging Jesus as King and so we’ve echoed the joy there was that first Palm Sunday.

But let us not make the mistake those great crowds who praised him made.

Let us not make the mistake that those who were stirred in Jerusalem made.

For Jesus Christ ultimately was not an earthly King but he was King over the entire creation he had made.

Jesus Christ was not an earthly King but King over us whom he made in his own image and desires to redeem for himself.

Jesus Christ was not an earthly King seeking to deliver us from our political situation but he is an eternal King who came to deliver us from our turning away from him and our seeking to live according to our own will and ways.

He is an eternal King who seeks our greatest good.

He is an eternal King who wants us to know and live and love and be loved by him.

So let us exclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” to Jesus Christ our eternal Savior and King.

Let us exclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” in full recognition of Jesus who is the Christ; of Jesus who came that we might find our freedom in him; of Jesus our Immanuel—God with us and God for us.

Let us pray.

[1] Luke 1:31–33.

[2] Matthew 1:20–21.

[3] Matthew 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

[4] Parallel accounts may be found in Mark 11:1–11, Luke 19:28–44, and John 12:12–19.

[5] Zechariah 9:9:Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

[6] Isaiah 62:11: 11 The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’”

[7] See, e.g., Psalm 48:1–2:Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.

[8] E.g., David has Solomon ride on a donkey and so designates him as his heir. I Kings 1:33, 38, 44: 33 he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon…. 38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon…. 44 The king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites, and they have put him on the king’s mule,….

[9] Crossway ESV Study Bible, e.g., 2 Kings 9:12–13: Jehu said, “Here is what he [the prophet Elisha] told me: ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’” 13 They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

[10] Zondervan NIV Study Bible (also cross-references 2 Kings 9:12–13).

[11] John 12:13: They took palm branches and went out to meet him….

[12] Gordon-Conwell Holy Week Devotion entry for April 9, 2017, written by Matthew D. Kim.

[13] In fulfillment of what the LORD Almighty has Nathan say to David in 2 Samuel 7:12–16: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

[14] Psalm 118:25, 26: Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you [plural “you”.

[15] Luke 19:39–40.

[16] The full paragraph is Luke 19:41–44: 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

[17] If he was born 4 “BC” and lived until 33 AD.

[18] Matthew 16:13–20: 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

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