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King In My Heart

March 24, 2024 | by Pastor Peter

When Jesus enters Jerusalem claiming to be king, different people have different reactions to his claim. Some are hostile. Some support him conditionally. Some welcome him because he is the rightful king. When Jesus comes to our hearts with that same claim to be king, which response does that claim bring out of us?

Sermon Text

Introduction

Movies, novels or any story can be bad for a lot of reasons, but one of the most common is that the characters have unrealistically simple motivations. Many an MCU villain has graced the screen with a desire to conquer the world (without any understanding of why). Compelling stories usually have characters with complex, nuanced and even contradictory hopes and expectations. The stories in the Bible have such nuance, even if it’s often lost to us because we lack cultural understanding or because we learned an over-simplified Sunday School version of the story. An example of an oversimplified story is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before his crucifixion.

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;

    see, your king is coming,

    seated on a donkey’s colt.”

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him! (John 12:12-19 (NIV)

Jesus’ Claim to be King

In this story, Jesus enters Jerusalem in a way that communicates he is its rightful king. We might look at the donkey and assume Jesus is trying to humbly downplay his claim, but this isn’t what he’s doing. Jesus’ contemporaries understood that donkeys and mules had royal significance. So, for example, Solomon rode on King David’s mule to symbolize that he was David’s chosen successor. The donkey is meant to communicate peace. There’s also an added layer of meaning that comes to us courtesy of Zechariah, one of the Old Testament prophets, who predicted a king (understood to be the Messiah) entering Jerusalem.

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. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10, NIV)

Jesus had been coy to this point about being the Messiah, but his entry into Jerusalem was meant to be an open declaration of his claim to be the king. How do people respond to this claim? There are three types of responses:

  1. The Hostile – The Pharisees don’t want Jesus as their king
  2. The Ambitious – Some, like the religious nationalists, are enthusiastic supporters, but their support is conditional. When it becomes clear that Jesus isn’t going to be the king they want, their support becomes opposition.
  3. The Devoted – These people want to see Jesus reign as king because they want to see the Father’s will (not their own) done.

These three reactions can also characterize our response to Jesus when he comes to us and makes the claim to be king of our hearts. So let’s look at them in a bit more detail, so we can discern our reactions to Jesus’ claims of kingship.

The Hostile

The Pharisees are those who pride themselves on rigidly following the Torah. They believe that the hard times Israel has faced in the previous 6 centuries is God’s judgment on the nation because the majority don’t faithfully keep the Torah as they do. 

Jesus pushes back against this self-serving story, exposing the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Needless to say, this doesn’t win him favour with the Pharisees, who don’t like to be called out. In one section of Matthew Jesus pronounces a series of woes on the Pharisees, one particular zinger from among them says this: 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV). 

The Pharisees don’t want a king who will speak truth to their self-delusions so when Jesus enters the city claiming the kingship, they are dismayed. 

In our day, many people don’t want Jesus as their king. But many people who are Christians are also hostile to Jesus’ claims of kingship in areas of their lives. They may claim to be Jesusu-followers while rejecting Jesus’ call to forgive others. They might reject Jesus’ call to generosity, sexual purity or humility. They can rationalize their positions just like the Pharisees rationalized theirs. The Pharisees did evil while convincing themselves that they were faithfully following God. We need to be humble in our self-assessment so we don’t also fall into the same trap.

The Ambitious

The crowd welcomes Jesus into the city on Sunday, and a crowd, almost certainly with some overlap, calls for Jesus’ execution on Friday. How could people be so fickle? The ambitious are the people who support Jesus because they believe he’s going to achieve their agenda—the political independence of the Jewish people—and when it becomes obvious that Jesus isn’t going to be that kind of king, they turn on him.

The Nationalist’s Ambitions

A little history will shed some light on what these people expect. At the end of the Old Testament, the Jews’ homeland is a part of the Persian Empire. During the Intertestamental period (a fancy word that means the time between the Old and New Testaments) Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and became the proud owner of the Jewish homeland. Alexander promptly keeled over and his empire fractured into four pieces. The Holy Land, with its strategic location, was fought over by the successor kingdoms. Eventually, the area came under the rule of the Seleucid Dynasty based in Syria. One of their kings Antiochus IV, tried to assimilate the Jews, forbidding them to practice their faith (on pain of death) and desecrating their temple (He built an altar to Zeus in the temple grounds and sacrificed a pig on it). This didn’t go over well.

The revolt started among the priests. A priest, by the name of Judas Maccabeus, led a military revolt that, in 160 BC, was able to push back the Greeks. He recaptured Jerusalem and entered it (on a horse) as a conquering hero who rededicated the temple to God. The story is recorded in 1 Maccabees (a book of Jewish history that is in the Roman Catholic, but not the Protestant Bible):

On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel (1 Maccabees 13:51, NRSVue).

Judas delivered the temple from the nations. Afterward, the temple became a symbol of Jewish ethnic exclusivism. Notice the palm branches in the story. When the crowd breaks them out on Palm Sunday, they are looking to Jesus to do for them what Judas Maccabeus had done about 200 years before, to kick out the foreign occupiers so the Jews can worship God in peace. But Jesus has no plans of delivering the temple from the nations. Instead, he’s going to build a new temple—the church—for the nations. When it becomes obvious that Jesus isn’t going to be the kind of king who does what they want, the nationalists’ allegiance to Jesus evaporates and they begin to oppose him.

It’s worth noting that the Disciples aren’t immune from following Jesus to get something from him. The brothers James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, try to jockey for a position in what they believe will be Jesus’ court when he becomes king:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said (Mark 10:35-38a, NIV).

They don’t follow Jesus because they expected this, but when they realize that Jesus is the Messiah, they certainly see him as someone who can fulfill their ambitions. 

Judas Iscariot may well have handed Jesus over because he was disappointed at the kind of king Jesus was turning out to be.

Our Ambitions

Do we welcome Jesus for what we can get out of him? Is our loyalty contingent on getting what we want from him? How do we respond when we don’t get what we expect?

An acquaintance of mine was the daughter of missionaries who served as church planters in Asia. During a bible study in her parents’ house, my friend was sexually abused by one of the people in the church. When the abuse came to light, we could imagine the parents angrily accusing God. “We’ve left our country and our family to serve you on the far side of the world and you allowed this to happen to us? We’re done with you!” I’m glad to say that’s not what happened, but if her parents had served God with the expectation that we would guarantee their family’s safety, then the relationship would probably have broken when the abuse became known.

What benefits do we look to God to give us? Success at work? A good marriage? Healthy, well-adjusted children? Financial security? If God doesn’t deliver on those expectations, does our allegiance cease? While it is true that God wants to bless us, it’s also true that some of his blessings come in the form of adversity and hardship. Writing to the Roman Church Paul reflects on how the difficulty he and his coworkers experienced is a blessing in disguise:

We [apostles] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Rm. 5:3-5 (NIV).

The things we don’t seek can turn out to be good gifts, and the things we do seek can turn out to be a curse. If you asked people to make a wish, how many would ask to win the lottery? Most lottery winners turn out bankrupt and miserable. 

Does God, in his wisdom, have the right to give me the blessings he deems best, or do I assert that I know better what would be good for me? If I don’t accept his wisdom, then I’m following God for what I can get out of it, rather than because he is worthy.

The Devoted

The final group is the devoted. We’re not sure who fits into this category except for Jesus himself. Jesus went to Jerusalem to take up the throne (the cross) in obedience to God, knowing what it would cost him. His obedience isn’t conditional, rather he does what he does because it brings glory to his Father. 

The process of discipleship is allowing God to transform our hearts from places where they are hostile or ambitious into total devotion to God. We see how God did this in the life of the disciples after Pentecost. So if you discern hostility or ambition in your own heart, don’t be discouraged, your flaws are not too big for Jesus to transform.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem and claimed to be king, he exposed the motivations in people’s hearts. Some passed the test, others did not. When he comes to our hearts, we face the same test. Do we submit to him as our king wholeheartedly or not? One day, Jesus will return to the earth to take up his throne. May our hearts be perfected in love so that we can welcome him as our king without reservation.

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