I remember vividly back in 2008 when Barak Obama was elected president of the United States of America. I know this was not a popular choice here in Texas or in Austin County, but in the scope of the nation, at the time, this was a minority position. The newly elected president had somewhere around a 71% approval rating even before his first act in office. The senator from Illinois had burst on the scene with outstanding rhetoric and capitalized on the extreme unpopularity of President Bush. He cruised to victory in the presidential election, and his victory party was a sight to behold. So was the inauguration. The president drew thousands upon thousands of people. Shortly after entering office, he drew thousands to a speech in Germany. He won the Nobel Peace prize. Millions of people around the world celebrated Barak Obama’s ascension to the highest office of leadership in the United States–arguably the most powerful seat of authority in the world.
Most new regimes are welcomed in such a fashion. If you study history, you know this well. For whatever reason, people usually grow tired of the old leaders. Countries and nations become stuck in a rut. They hear the same tired old speeches. Their lots in life never seem to change. Corruption enters the picture. Friends of those in power get rewarded. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Those in power enjoy the perks of the office, and there often is a growing perception that those leaders are out of touch with the reality of common folk. Before you know it, people are clamoring for change. People are clamoring for new leadership. And when it comes, they welcome it.
Case in point, let’s look at a snippet from Jewish history. Long ago, the Greek armies under the Selucid empire invaded Israel. They overran the country side, but as the Greek empire became stretched thin, some rebellions became successful. The Jewish Hasmoneans rebelled against this empire and briefly issued in a time of independence for Israel. Briefly. Please know I am painting in large brush strokes here. The details are much too intricate to get into in this sermon. The Jews were all to happy to rid themselves of foreign rule; however there was also dissension. As time passed, the people became less and less appreciative of the Hasmoneans. They became disenchanted with their corruption, and supposedly, when the Roman empire began asserting itself in Israel, instead of offering resistence, the people of Jerusalem opened the gates of the city to welcome the Roman armies in. Interesting historical note there, isn’t it.
Of course, the Jewish folks then resented the Romans who governed them. All to happy to welcome them to begin with, they were more than ready to overthrow them and become independent once again. They were all to ready to have new leadership and new governance. The seeds of rebellion were indeed planted, and all they needed was some energy to begin germination.
This is one of the reasons for the crowd’s enthusiasm on that day when Jesus made his way into Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. This is one of the reasons the crowd placed palm branches and cloaks in His path. They had all heard about Jesus. They had heard about His deeds of wonder and power. They had heard about Him healing the sick, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. They had heard of His feeding of the multitude. They had heard of Him calming the storm. They had heard about Him raising the dead. They knew He claimed a special relationship with God–the Son of God; the Son of Man. Here was, they felt, the one who would now lead them; who would defeat the Romans; who would usher in a new Jewish dynasty. And he was riding on a donkey to prove it!
This act of Jesus was intentional. It was no act of humility. The people knew that the prophet Zechariah had foretold in a vision long ago that the king would come to them in such a fashion. You can read the prophesy yourself in Zechariah chapter 9 verse 9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus knew that prophesy. The people knew that prophesy. The King was coming! Regime change was on the way. Celebration ensued!
But, you know, there is something that must be said about Kings. There is something that must be said about political and religious leaders who rule over others. These folks demand obedience. These folks place demands upon their followers. There is no king, no ruler, no prince, no president, no despot, no monarch, who does not give their subjects complete and total freedom. None of them. Zip. Nada. Zilch. All of them, yes, all of them expect something out of their subjects. This is probably one of the reasons people long for regime change after so many years. They begin to reject the rules imposed by their king or leader. They begin to rebel against the things that they perceive to be an imposition upon their lives. Subjects begin to want to do what they want to do–even if they know the King is looking out for their best interest.
It didn’t take long for people to rebel against Jesus. For Jesus made demands, and He still makes demands of His subjects. His teachings are clear, and He continued to make those demands after He entered Jerusalem on that day long ago.
“Pray for your enemies and bless those who persecute you.”
Jesus, do you mean I have to pray for those Roman soldiers up there? Do you mean I have to ask God to bless them? Yes.
“Your neighbor is the person who is in need. Even an infidel who acts in kindness is doing the will of God–if your enemy is neighborly, He is fulfilling the command of God.”
Jesus, do you mean that God approves of and loves those outside of the Jewish faith? Does God look down upon them with kindness? Yes.
“If anyone wants to become my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me. For you cannot be my disciple unless you give up all of your possessions.”
Jesus, do you mean I have to give up everything to follow you? Do you mean that I have to die to follow you? Yes.
“Give to anyone who begs.”
Jesus, do you mean anyone? Really anyone? What if you know they are taking advantage of you? What if you know they have plenty and are using you? You still want us to give? Yes.
Is it any wonder why people rebelled against Jesus?
Is it any wonder why we rebel against Jesus today?
The obedience He asks for is simply too much. It is an unobtainable reality. We simply value our freedom too much. We value our time too much. We value our money too much. You want everything from me, Jesus? It’s too much to ask. I can’t give it.
Is it any wonder that the very crowd crying “Hosanna!” began yelling “Crucify!”?
And here is a most interesting twist–a most interesting twist indeed. For usually, when people rebel against their rulers, their rulers react swiftly and harshly. Violence is usually the order of the day. Imprisonment is certainly an option. Fear of arrest, of marginalization, of being audited by the IRS, and a host of other such methods is usually the rule of thumb to keep people in line. Kings throughout the ages have come up with nasty ways of keeping populations in line and in control. Gas chambers, bombs, tanks, tear gas, you name it.
But what was Jesus response? How did this King handle our rebellion?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.
Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested. He allowed Himself to be beaten. He allowed Himself to be condemned, and He willingly stretched out His arms and died. He died for His rebellious subjects so that they may see His great love for them and then moved by His love, they may strive toward obedience–not out of fear, but out of love for their King. A King who willingly dies that His subjects may have life; abundant life; eternal life.
Behold, this is your King! Amen.