In the year 1010 BC, King David and his army attacked and conquered Jerusalem, driving out the Jebusite inhabitants, taking Jerusalem as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
In the year 925 BC, Jerusalem was temporarily captured and pillaged by the Egyptian armies, led by Pharaoh Sheshonk I.
In the year 586 BC, following a long siege, the Babylonian army, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, captured and destroyed Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple, and the city’s prominent citizens were exiled to Babylon as slaves.
In year 350 BC, King Artaxerxes III and his Persian army captured Jerusalem and burned it to the ground.
In the 332 BC, Alexander the Great and his armies took Jerusalem.
In 63 BC, the Roman army under Pompey the Great besieged Jerusalem, captured it, and made it part of the Roman Empire.
Over the course of ten centuries, Jerusalem had been captured and conquered, and battered and destroyed by one king after another, one army after another, usually leading to ruin, death, subjugation and destruction.
Then, in 33 AD, after three years of ministry, leading an army of former fishermen, tax-collectors and prostitutes, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a poor carpenter, road into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
Fulton Sheen writes, “As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Romans columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes. In contrast to this, here is the One who comes triumphant upon an ass.’
As the Psalmist wrote, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)
As Jesus began the last week of his earthly life, he was ready to publicly announce himself as the Messiah. In order to fulfill the Prophet Zechariah’s prophecy of the Messiah, he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, where crowds of Jews had gathered to celebrate the Passover feast. As he approached, the crowds recognized him, and the prophetic significance of what he was doing. They spread their cloaks on the road, like rolling out a red carpet, for their new king. They cut down palm branches, and waved them in the air, like we wave flags at a presidential inauguration. And 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” means something like, “Lord, save us.” This wasn’t an acclamation for just anyone riding into Jerusalem. No one had shouted Hosanna for the Babylonians, or the Persians, or the Greeks, or the Romans when they rode into Jerusalem. This was not a welcome for just any king. “Hosanna” was a shout for God’s chosen Messiah, coming to save his people.
But, save them from what? Save them from who? And, more importantly, save them how?
On that Sunday, everyone – Jesus’ followers, the Jewish crowds, The Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Romans – assumed that Jesus was doing what other conquering Kings had done, riding into Jerusalem to reclaim the crown and throne of the nation of Israel. At that point in history, Israel was occupied Roman territory, ruled by a puppet pseudo-Jewish king named Herod, but really governed by a Roman governor named Pilate, and his army. The Jews hated the Romans, and longed for the day that God would kick them out and restore Israel’s privileged place in the world. They thought Jesus’ arrival was that day.
The Jewish crowds, gathered along the roads, imagined a new day of freedom and prosperity, with Jesus as their King.
The disciples imagined being seated in thrones at Jesus’ right and the left hand, places of privilege, ruling alongside the King of the Jews.
The Pharisees and Sadducees saw a false Messiah, a threat to their authority, and feared what could happen if the Roman armies felt threatened.
The Romans probably barely noticed, always ready to squash a rebellion with Rome’s military might, if necessary.
Though many must have realized that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy about the Messiah, by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, no one seemed to make the connection that conquering kings usually came with armies, riding on chariots or warhorses.
Jesus had a different agenda. Jesus had a different crown and throne in mind.
Bill Hybels wrote, “Everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms. Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule. Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing. Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king. Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem – to die. He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.”
Isn’t it interesting that we always assume that the solution to every problem is exerting physical power, accumulating wealth, gaining prestige and worldly importance, being the winner and defeating the losers.
Who’s important? Rich people. Powerful people. Famous people. How do we get things done? Get someone elected. Send in the military. Leave it to Wall Street.
Haven’t we learned our lesson? Through the years, we’ve watched one powerful person after another serve their own self-interests, unleash untold pain and suffering, and many fall from grace. Why are we so enamored with thrones and those who sit on them?
Earlier this week, the President of Syria dropped chemical weapons, killing at least 85, and wounding hundreds. We retaliated, by firing sixty tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base, each costing over $1.6 million – that’s nearly a billion dollars! Some have praised the US attack. Some have condemned it. Some have switched their positions. Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know. I know I couldn’t have made that order. But, I’m not in a position to make those decisions – thank goodness. In response, the Syrian army dropped more bombs on the same town, adding to the nearly 1 million people who have already died in that long Civil War and there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees. And, I am absolutely sure that many more people will die before this is over.
The citizens of Jerusalem had witnessed the same kind of death and destruction, in their day, that came with every conquering King and army. Why did they think this time – another conquering King – would end any better? Why do we?
Jesus has shown us a better way.
John Stott writes, “The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.”
Undeniably, Jesus was and is powerful – there’s no force in the universe more powerful. But, Jesus demonstrated an entirely different kind of power – the power of sacrifice, service, and love. Jesus was and is a king, undeniably. But he did not intend to rule an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. Jesus was prepared to wear a crown – but his crown would be made of thorns. Jesus would be victorious – but first he had to be defeated. Jesus was prepared to sit on an eternal throne, at the right hand of the Father, but first he would hang on a cross.
No one, during the excitement of Palm Sunday, could have imagined how the week would end – with Jesus, the King of the Jews, dying on a cross.
I suspect, if Jesus had wanted to sit on an earthly throne, he could have. The Father would have let him. He had the support and love of the people. He could have called down legions of angelic armies to defeat the Romans. He had the power and authority of God at his disposal. He could have reestablished the nation of Israel, right in the heart of this broken, fallen, world, and ruled it forever. Isn’t that what Satan had offered him during his temptation?
But, Jesus didn’t come to rule nations. He came to heal the nations. He didn’t come with power in order to ascend to a throne, but to descend into the depths of human suffering. He didn’t come to defeat his enemies, but to forgive them. He didn’t come to kill, but to be killed. He didn’t come to inflict pain on his enemies, but to take on the pain and suffering of the whole world.
He didn’t choose the road that leads to success and achievement, fortune and fame. He chose a road that led to the cross. He didn’t come to rule us. He came to restore us. And, restoration wouldn’t come from sitting on a throne. Restoration would require a cross.
As Isaiah prophesied, “By his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
As the Psalmist wrote, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:2-6)
For the last 5 weeks, we’ve been talking about the ways Jesus can restore all that is broken in our lives and in our relationships. But, let me be very clear, he took our brokenness to a cross, not to a throne. While you and I may respect thrones, honor thrones, and even yearn to sit on thrones ourselves, there is no healing there. Thrones put people on crosses. Your restoration wasn’t even sent down from the throne of Heaven.
Restoration comes from a savior, who humbly rode a donkey down a road that led to Calvary.