The world has seen many kings. But arguably none crueler or more demented than Nero. The Roman Emperor, responsible for the executions of Peter and Paul, reigned from 54-68. One source states: Nero’s rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He shed the blood of many, including that of his mother, and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother Britannicus. He is infamously known as the Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned” and as an early persecutor of Christians. He was known for having captured Christians to burn them in his garden at night for a source of light Nero, who sought to serve himself and sacrifice many others in the process, was Rome’s best offer as a king.
What kind of a king would you be? Certainly, there are many perks. For instance, you would live in a large home known as a palace. You would have staff delivering every kind of food you desired. There would be no shortage of resources. You would have power, prestige, and influence. Every whim and wish granted by a host of servants. You wouldn’t even have to use words- just hand gestures.
Palm Sunday is about the recognition of a king; but not just any king; a special king who was willing to serve, not be served. Palm Sunday is a coronation, of sorts.
The account of the Triumphal entry is one of the few events recorded in all four gospels. A great crowd of pilgrims always came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. On one Passover, Josephus records that 2.7 million gathered in Jerusalem for the event. We take up in verse 12:
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”
Many in the crowd that day would have been Galileans familiar with his ministry. Others would have heard about the raising of Lazarus and would have been eager to see Jesus, the one who could raise the dead!
For this reason, people laid their cloaks and palm branches in the roadway, so Jesus could ride across them. Palm branches were a national symbol. Donald Carson notes that these, “…may have signaled nationalist hope that messianic liberator was arriving on the scene.” Riding into the city on a donkey’s colt would have been a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. …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.”
Jesus was truly a king! But the real question is this. Is He your king? Every person has one of two kings. Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” but that is masked by the fact that many people live as if they were their own ruler, that self is king. But Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is the One King, “Faithful and True.”
After this incident, Phillip is approached by some Gentiles that wanted to see Jesus. Verse 20 states: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Everything in Jesus’ life had an intentional design to it- a fulfillment of Scripture. This was symbolic, and indicated to Jesus that His time had come to go to the cross. His ministry to Jewish people of His day was complete and now He has now appeared to the nations, a book end to the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2, the conclusion of what we know as Epiphany. These Gentiles trigger what we know as Jesus’ Passion. Up to this point, Jesus often said: “My time has not yet come.” But now He says: “The hour has come.” There is a shift in the story. Jesus will now be faced with his imminent death. It will end with His resurrection, but there would be much pain and suffering to experience beforehand. It is His time; the time for which He came to this earth.
In verse 24, Jesus describes the purpose of this time, and His calling as king. Unlike other kings of the earth that demand so much from their subjects, Jesus is willing to give His life so that we might find ours. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
But unlike other worldly kings that shed the blood of others freely, King Jesus would lay down His life for us, that we might become children of God. Jesus would give His life. He would sacrifice Himself. What king does that? Only One. It is as one poet wrote:
Full many a king a golden crown has worn,
But only one a diadem of thorn:
Full many a king has sat on jeweled throne;
But only One hung on a Cross alone:
Through garlanded gay streets, cheered by the crowd
Great kings have ridden—One, with His head bowed
Beneath the burden of His Cross, passed on
To die on Calvary, one King, but one:
All other kingdoms pass; are passing now—
Save His Who wore the bramble on His brow.
Jesus’ choice to giving His life for us secures atonement for our sin, but it also functions as a model of service. Jesus would go on to say in verse 25: “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Jesus is using hyperbole to prove a point; an exaggerated statement to drive home a lesson. One commentator notes of the two kinds of people in this world: “Those who are absorbed by the interests of life on earth encounter ruin while those detached from worldly interests will through Christ’s work attain to eternal life.” It is a matter of value and priority. This, friends, is the key to spiritual fruit: prayer, Bible study, the obedience that comes from faith, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the blessing of others.
For the true follower of Christ, this world does not compare to the blessing with following God. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And so His subjects do not place the value of their lives in this world either.
The benefits are tremendous: forgiveness of sin, abundant, eternal life, becoming a child of God. But the cost is great! It involves a shift in priorities: one in which Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. Paul would write in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Friends, when you become a Christian, your life belongs to another. You are not your own.
In contrast, those who love this life, devote themselves to wealth, prestige, advancement and recognition; things that become idols that replace God. To live for this world means that you live for those things mentioned in 1 John 2:16: “For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world.”
But the mark of a disciple is to give one’s life unreservedly to God and to the advancement of the gospel. Peter Waldo, the probable leader of the pious Waldensians who lived in the 1200’s, was a rich merchant from France. He was converted through the death of a friend. At one point in his life gave up all his wealth to follow the Lord. Everywhere he went he preached the claims of Christ, using the words, `Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!’ These are the prerequisites of discipleship. This is our calling: “Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!”
Which is your life? Who is your king? Is it Jesus? Or self?
Don’t answer so fast, that you don’t know what is required. Henry Drummond was a Scottish evangelist who lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was once asked to address a meeting of a select West-End Club in London. On his arrival he found his audience assembled and everything arranged for him to give his message. He commenced his address with these words: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the entrance fee into the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing: the annual subscription is everything.’
I would tell you the same thing. `It doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian, but it takes all there is of him,’ said Thomas Huxley. My prayer is that Jesus Christ would be the king of your life.