Politicians and those in the public eye love to try and play a PR blinder at key moments in time don't they? Margaret Thatcher's PR gurus and spin doctors made sure that she was photographed looking strong in a Challenger tank just before her re-election campaign and it became an iconic photo. Or Ed Miliband unveiling his 'Edstone' before a general election with his manifesto set in stone. Not sure that one went down quite so well! But then neither did Cameron arriving on his bike to the final PMQs before the election – trying to be a man of the people on his bike but then getting lambasted for having his helmet hanging on the handlebars!
Or there's the African king, Bokassa I of the Central African Empire, who, in 1977, spent $25 million on his coronation! It was designed to show that he was the new emperor of the 20th century. He arrived in an imperial coach bedecked with gold eagles and drawn by six superb horses. He wore a 15kg robe decorated with 785,000 pearls! And yet just two years later he was overthrown by a coup…
So what about Jesus? What did he do at the moment in time when he was finally ready to announce himself to the world. What did he do at a time when all eyes were on him? He chose to ride through the crowds on… a donkey! Surely a PR disaster?! I mean, no PR guru would choose that…
But I hope that as we look at this passage this morning, we'll see that this ride towards Jerusalem shows us that Jesus is a king like no other king the world has ever seen. As I've studied this passage this week it's left me in awe of King Jesus. The king he reveals himself to be in this passage is exactly the king he was revealed to be at his birth that first Christmas. He knew exactly where he was headed. And so I hope it will leave you too in awe at the true king and wanting to worship him this Christmas.
Let's pray and then dive in.
Father in the busyness of this build up to Christmas, please help us to switch off from everything else on our minds, and to be focused on listening to you this morning. As we listen to your word, please teach us, correct us and train us in righteousness, so that we are equipped to live for you. In Jesus name, Amen.
We meet Jesus in this passage at the end of a nine-month journey. He's been purposefully zig-zagging his way towards Jerusalem. He's ministered in at least 35 different places, and he's timed it perfectly to arrive in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover.
He was becoming more and more known. Crowds were getting bigger. Just at the start of this chapter, we read of Zacchaeus who couldn't see Jesus because of the crowd (and because he's short!) so he climbs up a tree. And it's no wonder there were crowds; Jesus had been teaching with amazing authority. He had been healing people. He'd even raised Lazarus from the dead. There must have been high expectations as he approached Jerusalem.
So let's pick up the story. Jesus had been teaching, and at the start of our passage today, verse 28, we read that after finishing teaching, he goes on ahead, heading up to Jerusalem. He gets to Bethphage and Bethany, villages on the east of Jerusalem, about two miles out, on the slope of the Mount of Olives.
And at that point, he calls two of his disciples. Here's what he says, verse 30:
"Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this: 'The Lord has need of it.'"
1. The King Who Knew Where He Was Going
Imagine if I was stuck in town, and I said to a couple of friends, "head down to the local garage, there'll be a Ford Fiesta there. If anyone asks you, 'why are you driving off in that car?' Say 'Ben needs it'." I mean, I'd be pretty chuffed if I got the car!
But it's not ridiculous when Jesus says it. Because by this point, the disciples know that he speaks with complete authority. We don't know for sure how Jesus knew it was there – maybe one of his disciples told him. But given Jesus' track record, it seems most likely that he just knew. As we read the gospels, it's clear that Jesus sees behind the scenes. He's omniscient. He knows people's thoughts before they say anything. He knows who is going to betray him before it happens. He knows everything. He's got perfect knowledge.
And before we look at the rest of the story. The first thing to reflect on here is that that is alarming to us. Jesus sees everything. We can't deceive him. We can't pull the wool over his eyes. He knows everything we do and think. And if we're honest with ourselves, I think all of us feel exposed, and inadequate when we think of someone having that sort of knowledge. We wouldn't want someone to play a videotape of every moment of our lives in front of all the people here. And the Bible tells us that one day Jesus will "judge the secrets of men". It's an alarming thought – probably even when we just think about the past week.
And yet, as we're going to see, this king, Jesus, the very king who will judge these secrets, has a plan so that we don't need to be afraid of that day. In fact, it's been planned in eternity. A plan to save sinners like you and I. It was all carefully coordinated. And that plan goes right down to the details. Even details like riding on a donkey.
You see, up to this point, Jesus has been a lot less blatant. He hasn't encouraged any sort of public demonstration. In fact, if you know your gospels you'll know that Jesus repeatedly withdraws from crowds if they start to promote him too much. But now, coming towards Jerusalem it's time - the time planned in eternity. He allows the attention and publicity. Even though he knows it's dangerous. And he rides a donkey towards Jerusalem.
An animal loaded with meaning. No accident. Because 500 years earlier, Zechariah had prophesied about this very day. He said that the Messiah would come riding on the foal of a donkey. 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"
We so clearly see God's design in these events. Jesus is fulfilling the promise of scripture. He rides the donkey as a king. He's addressed in verse 38 as the king who comes in the name of the Lord! As Zechariah said, "your king comes to you."
Throughout his time on earth Jesus had talked of the necessity of what would take place in Jerusalem – he knew the cross was coming. And so, from the big picture of this being prophesied about 500 years ago, to the detail of Jesus directing his disciples to get the donkey – we see that he is in control. He's in control of his coming to Jerusalem, and he's in control of all the events tied to his death.
I love the contrast here, which just sums up Jesus as a King. You've got a guy, riding on a donkey – a very humble unimpressive thing. "Lowly" as Zechariah puts it. Not an impressive PR move. Not a great coronation as king like that African king I mentioned earlier. And yet at the same time, he's so clearly identifying himself as the Messiah. The anointed, chosen king, the Son of David, the long-awaited Ruler of Israel, the fulfilment of all God's promises. And he's directing events with total authority.
It's natural for us at this time of year to look back at the first Christmas story. And we should realise that this is no surprise. Jesus grew up to be is exactly the king he was born as didn't he? Born in a manger (maybe with donkeys around!), and yet with angels announcing that he is "Christ the Lord". Total authority but complete humility. A king, and yet a servant. The King Who Knew Where He Was Going. A king, and yet a servant. He knew he was headed for the cross.
I don't know if you know the story of Antarctic explorer Capt Lawrence Oates? He was part of Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912, where five men died as they tried to return home across the ice. After many days of struggling with frost-bitten feet, Oates decided that they weren't going to make it with him slowing the team down. And so, on 16 March 1912, he simply said "I am just going outside and may be some time" and with that, he walked out into the storm blowing outside and they never saw him again.
Oates biographer, Major General Cordingley said this: "His final words are typical. It was his way of saying goodbye but without drawing too much attention to what he was actually doing. He died so they could have a chance of living. That was simply the sort of man he was."
I guess Oates team didn't realise the deep significance of his words until they looked back and saw that he had planned it all along. And yet it wasn't Oates aim to die when he went on the south pole expedition. But when Jesus came to earth, his death for us was his aim right from the beginning. And he wasn't just 'one of the team', he's the king of the universe, come down, with that aim.
And as we look at the Christmas story, and this story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, we see so clearly that this is simply the sort of king that Jesus is. He's a humble king, but with complete authority. A king who is willing to give his life so that we can live. A king like no other. A king to celebrate and worship this Christmas.
Which brings us to my second point:
2. All Creation Was Made To Worship This King
Let's finally dive back into the story. I know it's been a while! Look with me at verse 35. The disciples have collected the colt, the young donkey, and we read:
"they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'"
It's a fantastic picture. Apparently, as you're coming down the Mount of Olives you catch a glimpse of the corner of Jerusalem. And there are great cheers for the king. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" They put their cloaks on the donkey and down on the road and he rides triumphantly towards Jerusalem.
They say "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" which reminds us again of what the angels said at Jesus' birth,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
And yet, none of this crowd knew what was coming or where Jesus was headed. But they clearly already recognise him as king from the mighty works that they've seen. They see him as a deliverer. And they were right, but he wasn't a deliverer in the way that they thought he would be. Jesus doesn't discourage them. His time has come and it's time for people to see who he really is.
This next week of events leading up to his death on the cross would be played out in full view of the public. His earthly ministry was nearly finished and completed. The lamb of God was about to be slain and all eyes would be upon him. It wasn't going to be done in a corner so that people could deny that it happened. Because this death was for the "life of the world".
When we've not looked at the gospel accounts that carefully, it's easy to think that maybe Jesus was just a 'good teacher' or a 'wise man with some wise teaching'. I'm sure you've heard people describe his as that. And yet it's so clear here that Jesus accepts what the crowd are saying. He's not some humble teacher. No he's clearly pointing to the fact that he is Messiah and king. He's either a total nutter on an ego-trip, or he is the king and it's absolutely right to worship him.
If we were in any doubt all we need do is look at how the Pharisees in the crowd respond. Take a look at verse 39:
"And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples.'"
They're saying, 'this adulation is not right for a man! Tell them they're wrong.' And how does Jesus reply?
"I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
Jesus knows exactly who he is. He's not some humble teacher, he's the king.
I don't know if you've heard the famous Churchill quote about Clement Attlee. Churchill said about Attle: "He's a very humble man, with a lot to be humble about."
But Jesus doesn't just ride in on a donkey "with a lot to be humble about". He knows exactly who he. A king who is above all kings. In fact, All Creation Was Made To Worship This King. Jesus says, "if these (people) were silent, the very stones would cry out." And as we saw in the previous passage last week, all of us need to choose whether we will worship him as king.
But if we've really seen who he is, and I hope we've had a glimpse this morning, we'll want to worship him. You see, Jesus is a king like no king we've ever seen. But he loves us more than we can imagine. I don't want to stray into next week's passage too much. But right after, or even possibly during, this joyful, triumphant procession, Jesus looks over, and he sees Jerusalem, and we're told "he wept over it". He knew they would not recognise him as the one who brings peace. In fact, they would kill him. And so he weeps over those who do not turn to him in repentance and faith. That's where we see the heart of this king. He's humble. He has total authority. And he loves us so much he's willing to give his life for us. He's a king worth worshipping and celebrating this Christmas.
So what does it mean for Jesus to be king of your life this Christmas?
On Thursday I had the privilege of being at a service of thanksgiving for the life of Peter Howbrook a member of the congregation here who passed away just ten days ago. He was a great man of faith and apparently his favourite thing to say whatever happened was: "God is in Control". Through all life's ups and downs – "God is in control". That's the phrase of a man who knew his King.
What about you? Do you know your King?
For example, when all your beautifully laid plans for Christmas go awry, will you lift your eyes to the King and rejoice anyway? Because he's a king who walked that path to Jerusalem for you, knowing where he was going.
Or if, this year, that diagnosis comes to you that you've always feared, like it did for Peter Howbrook, will you say "God is in control" - he planned every detail of our rescue, right down to the donkey, and we can trust him with our lives.
Or if your struggles with sin this year have left you hopeless, will you look to the king and persevere. Will you keep on fighting those battles against sin. Knowing that he persevered right throughout his life, knowing where he was going so that one day you would be free from sin, and spotless like the King.
You see, we celebrate a new kind of king. Because of him, we can have a new kind of life, both now, and for eternity.