Pastor Michael Cofer
They say that history is written by the victors. I think that’s probably true, but it points toward a sad reality about how we reckon history: military might is the key to power.
The “great” kings are those who spread their empire farther and farther – which is to say, those who conquered other kings at the point of a sword. Even those who “kept the peace,” did so by a show of overwhelming force.
To this day, as civilized as we think we are, we understand that our national peace and security require having the most potent fighting force on the planet. Most of us know that the freedoms we enjoy must be actively guarded. People who understand this are grateful to those who serve honorably in our armed forces.
So it is perhaps strange that Jesus received the welcome of a great king when He rode into Jerusalem. He never took up arms against anyone. He had no armies to command (at least none anyone had ever seen).
Moreover, when he rode into town He didn’t ride in on a chariot – which was, in point of fact, the ancient world equivalent of a tank. He didn’t even ride in on a powerful horse, able to charge and maneuver around a battlefield.
No, He rode in on a young donkey. I don’t care what Shrek says – a donkey is not a “noble steed.” It is not intimidating. It is not impressive. It isn’t even really dignified. And yet, the people lined the streets with shouts and cheers and waving palms, hailing their coming king.
Now, of course we understand that all of this had to happen so that the words of prophecy would be fulfilled. It was so inevitable that if the people had been silenced, the very stones would cry out… and wouldn’t that have made for an interesting scene!
But prophecy doesn’t come out of the blue. They aren’t random words that will come true by happenstance. Prophecy is the expressed will of God. These words were part of His plan of salvation. So, it begs the question: What is God communicating to us about the kind of King Jesus is?
The most obvious is that Jesus is humble and gentle. He is a man of peace – the Prince of Peace, actually. He doesn’t exercise His rule by fear, but through mercy and compassion.
He is also fearless. Jesus is heralded as “the King of the Israel” as he rides into Jerusalem. Jerusalem – where the standing king of the Jews lives. He is unafraid of Herod or the Roman government who keeps his place secure. He is not secretly sneaking in to assassinate king Herod. A showdown is inevitable, and Jesus brings no weapons or troops with Him.
Why not? Why doesn’t He come armed and armored? Why a donkey instead of a chariot? Simply put: Jesus’ strength isn’t in horses or swords. He is the first and only king who conquers and keeps the peace without wielding the power of death.
The nations of this world rise and fall by the strength of their arms. When a bigger army or a better weaponized technology come along, the peace is broken and a kingdom falls. Those who conquer by the power of death can never hold their kingdom in absolute security.
But Jesus’ doesn’t conquer by wielding the power of death. He conquers by overcoming death with life.
In John’s gospel, the story of Palm Sunday is linked directly with the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. John tells us that it is precisely because they witnessed this resurrection that they through the parade and declared Him king.
Who can win against a power like that? Even if an army laid waste to thousands or millions of Jesus’ people, He could simply walk through the battlefield and call the fallen back to their feet, restored and whole. The invaders will have gained nothing for all their violence.
The king who conquers by the power of death is intimidating, but the king who can raise the dead is unstoppable.
As we approach Holy Week, what we see is nothing less than a showdown between Death and Life. On the cross, Jesus offers himself up to the very worst that the kingdom of death can muster: suffering, humiliation, hatred, and death itself. Jesus takes them all on his shoulders, uplifted on the cross, buried in the tomb. The weight of it is terrible, but the king who overcomes death with life is unstoppable.
So the shouts of “Hosanna” must be heard. “Save us! Bring us Peace! Be our King!” The crowds that day may not have really understood what was going to happen. They may not have recognized the revolution as it was happening. They may not have celebrated the victory with their new king.
But we understand. We know that the peace He came to bring isn’t a tentative, temporary thing. It is the eternal victory that comes from putting death to death and ruling by the power of resurrection.
And we also understand that our real enemy – the tyrant that enslaved us – cannot be overthrown through violent revolt or political maneuvering. We cannot fight on our own behalf, but we need a champion to fight for us. We need a new king to set us free. So we cry “Hosanna!” today to Jesus Christ, our eternal king. We cry “Save us!” to the one who laid down His life to set us free, only to take that life up again in triumph over death itself.