A Huge Difference of Kings and Kingdoms - Palm Sunday
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Zechariah 9:9-10, Mark 11:1-11
March 28, 2021

So we have reached palm Sunday in the church year once again. It features Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem amid a cheering and exuberant crowd of people. It has implications for how we think about the Kingdom of God in Christ and the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus began His trip to Jerusalem that day from Jericho. According to the ancient Roman historian Josephus it was 150 Roman stadia from Jericho to Jerusalem, or about 18 miles. Jericho sat in the Dead Sea Valley about 825 feet below sea level. Jerusalem sat in the hill country above the Dead Sea Valley at about 2500 feet above sea level. So the road from Jericho to Jerusalem involved a climb of about 3300 vertical feet and 18 miles. I have seen some accounts from modern people that say it took from 6 to 8 hours to walk the route.

The crowd around Jesus was building from Jericho, in numbers and excitement. We can recall that Jesus gave blind Bartimaeus his sight as Jesus was leaving Jericho. As Jesus neared the two small villages just outside Jerusalem, Bethphage and Bethany, He made arrangements for His transportation into the city, a donkey colt.

The excitement of the crowd grows as they begin to see the walls of Jerusalem. They are about to enter the holy city. They are about to enter with the One many of them regard as the promised Son of King David, the Messiah. They are also in a great procession of people into the City for the feast of Passover. There is excitement, festivity, and expectation in the air.

Some people go into the fields and cut leafy branches for themselves. John tells us that some of the people had palm branches. Others take off their outer garments and place them on the road in front of Jesus; a sort of red carpet if you will. Although, this is not a red carpet of fine fabric that we see rolled out for earthly royalty and celebrities. It is a carpet made of the contributions of the people. Jesus is right there in the midst of them.

He comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The people are ecstatic. Where will He go when He gets there? What will He do? Will He go to the praetorium, the seat of the Roman government in Jerusalem? That is where Pilate will hear the case against Jesus a few days later on that Friday. Will Jesus go there and tell Pilate to get himself and the Roman army out of Jerusalem, out of Israel, because the King of Israel has now arrived to take over? Will Jesus go to the place were Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, had his royal residence or seat of government and also dethrone him and depose the royal line of Herod the Great, because the King of Israel had now arrived on the scene?

I wonder what the people thought was going to happen? I wonder what the disciples thought? What did they think when that sort of thing didn’t happen?

Mark tells us that Jesus went to the temple upon entering the City. And when He got there, He looked around at everything. He checked it out to see what was going on there. He must have been taking an inventory to prepare Himself for the next day; because the next day He would drive out the cattle and sheep and bankers from the temple grounds.

Mark tells us that after Jesus had checked out the temple, He left the city for Bethany. It was late in the day. The sun was setting. Dusk was falling. Nothing else happened.

I wonder how many people who accompanied Him that day were thinking like this: what was He so concerned about the temple for? The real problem is the Romans and the sons of Herod the Great, who was an imposter and Roman stooge anyway.

These kinds of questions come to mind in light of the Old Testament reading for today from the prophet Zachariah, chapter 9, particularly verses 9 and 10: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” We are familiar with that verse. But then Zechariah goes on to say: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:1-10 ESV).

The Prophet Zechariah says to the people of Israel: “Behold your king is coming to you.” The King of Israel entered Jerusalem on that first palm Sunday. His name is Jesus.

Zechariah says that this King is righteous and has salvation. What does it mean for this King to be righteous? What is the salvation He brings? Is His righteousness the imposition of righteousness on those pagans by force? Is His salvation the driving out of Israel’s enemies by force and restoration of the glory of King David?

But here is something surprising. He is riding a donkey’s colt. He is humble. He is not riding a war horse. He is not coming in a chariot pulled by mighty horses. He is not surrounded by an army of armed men. He is surrounded by the people, and they are waving branches.

Then Yahweh says through Zechariah: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim. I will cut off the war horse from Jerusalem. The battle bow shall be cut off.” Why? Because the King shall speak peace to the nations. The King that is coming of which Zechariah speaks will speak peace, not war, to the nations, even though He rules over all.

So Jesus, the King, did not come like a warrior to drive the Romans and the dynasty of King Herod out of Israel. He did not come to set up an earthly kingdom, like an earthly government. Indeed, there is no sword and there are no implements of war in His hand. He does not make war on the nations.

And so there is no sword in His kingdom, God’s kingdom proper. The church is not given the sword by Christ. And the church’s aim and purpose is not to establish earthly kingdoms and rule over them. The church’s sword is the word of God, the sword of the Spirit. It’s job is to teach and preach so the Spirit can change hearts and minds.

And I thought. Okay. We get that from Zechariah and Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem that day. But why? Why does Jesus not bear the sword and set up an earthly kingdom? Why does the church not bear the sword and rule over the nations?

This is because of the peace that He came to speak to the nations and the righteousness and salvation He brings. At this point, we must back up. We must first realize that Jesus came to address our relationship to God, first and foremost. This is because our relationship with God is the most important thing of human existence. Jesus shows us this in going to the temple when He entered Jerusalem, and not the places of political power of earthly government. Did I say that our relationship to God is the most important thing of human existence?

So what salvation do we need in relation to God? The heart of this is the forgiveness of sins. Our problem with respect to the most important thing of human existence is a moral problem. And this problem in relation to God involves His displeasure against human disobedience and having other gods; and this problem then involves His just and righteousness judgment against human disobedience. And this judgment is temporal and eternal death. So salvation has to do with this problem and God’s judgment.

These problems can only be resolved the way God determines that they can be resolved. There is no function of politics and earthly government that can solve these problems. Laws can’t do it. The sword can’t do it.

God’s judgment against eternal death is resolved by atoning sacrifice and His promise of forgiveness stemming from that sacrifice. Forgiveness of sins and repentance and faith in that forgiveness solves the problem of eternal death, because there is no more judgment where there is forgiveness. The problem of temporal death is resolved in resurrection from the dead, but this comes only after death and involves the passage of time; but it is sure and certain because He Himself rose in our flesh. For this, salvation we must wait, but we wait in faith and hope. His salvation is brought to us in the righteousness He brings, which righteousness consists of Him saving those who have faith in Him.

This is the salvation our King Jesus brings. And so He can speak peace to the nations. So He can speak peace to us with God.

But He cannot be this kind of King with a sword in His hand. The sword is a symbol of coercion, and violence, and threat, and fear of punishment, and the execution of punishment. It is the coercion of good conduct by force, and the execution of punishment against bad conduct. The sword cannot forgive sin and cannot make alive. It cannot raise the dead. It can only punish and imprison, and make people dead, who do not comply. And it makes war.

If Jesus, at the very heart and core of what He is as the King who comes to save and speak peace to the nations has a sword, rides a war horse, comes in the implements of war and that kind of power, then He does not come to save, but to destroy; He does not come to speak peace, but the imposition of compliance, with the threat of physical punishment for those who do not comply. In this, there is no possibility of forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness won in atoning sacrifice. And then His salvation would extend only to material and earthy matters, which are perishing.

And what if temporal authority should overstep its bounds and take life and liberty from the followers of Christ? Their taking away life and liberty surely is an overstepping of its bounds and great evil, no matter what the justification or rationale for it. But even if temporal authorities do that, we have only lost this temporal life as a result of it, but have not lost everything we have coming from God in Jesus Christ. If we do not have Christ in the midst of all that, then we do lose everything.

But if Christ had come into Jerusalem bearing a sword that day, then we could not say all these things. We would only have the temporal destruction of the tyrant, but not the forgiveness of sins and promise of life everlasting in peace with God. God will see to the destruction of the tyrant; rest assured about that. Let us hold fast to the peace Jesus brings.

And so there is no sword in His hand because He has a salvation in relation to God to accomplish, and good news in this connection to speak to the nations, to you and me. And this good news is peace.

But what then of temporal government? The sword is not in Jesus’s hand. It is in the hand of temporal government, by God’s design (Romans 13:4). But then, conversely, redemption and the kingdom of God are not in the hand of temporal government. Temporal government is not the Christ. Only Jesus is the Christ. The proper authority of temporal government is to maintain law and order for the preservation of life and property, to create stability and fairness for the possibilities of economic prosperity for the physical well-being of its citizens, and to protect its citizens from the violent and lawless. It has the sword for this purpose. It must also preserve freedom of religion and freedom of speech so that God’s word can be preached and taught to change the heart and mind.

If temporal government did not have the sword for this purpose, then in this fallen and violent world, there would be a vacuum that the church would have to fill, and the church would have to wield the sword. This has happened in church history, particularly when the Roman empire was falling apart, and things got all messed up. But if the church were then to fill that vacuum as the church, then it would lose the Gospel, and Christ would not be able to speak peace to the nations.

Friends Jesus entered Jerusalem that day humble and riding on a donkey, without the implements of war. He did not bear a sword. That way He could accomplish our salvation in the sacrifice of Himself. And so He took up His cross, and won for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

In a few days, we will gather again on Friday to hear a different cry from the crowd: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!.” And He will not resist them. But we know why. And we bow at the foot of His cross on Friday. And then rejoice in His victory on Sunday. And we sing in truth, the whole truth: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King, righteous and having salvation, humble and riding on a donkey; Coming to us and speaking peace. And His peace is everlasting life. Amen. 


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