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Broken Majesty

April 13, 2014 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell Series: Lent 2014: Restored in Christ

Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 27:11–27:66

Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Matthew 21:1-11, 27:11-66

“Restored in Christ: Broken Majesty”

I’ve had a couple of close calls with world leaders. When I was living in Paris as a university student, I used to spend time at the beautiful library in the Hôtel de Ville, the city hall downtown. On two separate occasions, I happened to be walking across the entrance to the building’s garage and had to dodge a car carrying Jacques Chirac, the longtime mayor of Paris, who would soon become President of France. Closer to home in the 90’s, I’d been walking around DC and had just started to cross a street when President Clinton’s motorcade came through around the corner. These weren’t the kinds of run-ins with celebrity that people like to have.

Living here in the nation’s capital, it’s possible that you’ve had your own encounters with world leaders, political figures, and/or other celebrities – you might even have that happen as a part of what you do for a living. If you got to talk to any of those people, would you have addressed them as “Your Majesty?” That’s an increasingly rare thing, especially for us here in America. Our country was founded, in large part, on the premise that people don’t need a king, that a nation should choose its own rulers. Even the concept of majesty is pretty foggy. It’s not like we know a lot of people who are royals and bear the stately dignity that majesty brings. For most of us, brushes with majesty are limited to awe-inspiring sights in nature, like the view from a mountaintop or a gorgeous sunset. We generally don’t treat our leaders with the honor that majesty motivates; indeed, listening to people talk, it sounds like Americans are now more inclined to disrespect the government and other figures of authority. If someone really were to convey majesty, it wouldn’t just come from their position of authority, but also from how they behaved and what they did.

Jesus doesn’t seem like much of a king. In Matthew 21, you heard how Jesus entered into Jerusalem at the start of that final week of his life. He could have walked in, as he’d done a number of times before. But he rode into the city on a donkey; a colt even, a young donkey on which no one had ever ridden. That, at least, was something a king might do. Riding into a city, a king could chose his mount: a warhorse or a donkey. Entering a city on a warhorse implied a show of force and power that could be brought down upon the people there; it wasn’t usually a good sign. Riding in on a donkey, though, meant that the king was coming in peace. Centuries earlier, King David called for Solomon to ride a mule when his son went to be anointed as king of the nation. And as Jesus came into Jerusalem, the people called out for the return of David’s kingdom (Mark 11:10). The palm branches that they gathered and waved or threw down before Jesus’ path were symbols of a victory over an enemy. They wanted him to come and be the king who overthrew the hated Roman occupation. They wanted Israel to be free, and they expected the Messiah to be the one who would deliver that freedom. Having heard of or even seen the miracles that Jesus had done, they looked to him as the king that God had promised, the Messiah. Shouting “Hosanna,” or “save us,” the people now hoped that the time of victory was at hand. In Luke 19(:38), we hear that the people acclaimed Jesus as the king who comes in the name of the Lord. But they didn’t know the truth of their words.

Today, Christians look back on that Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, calling it “the Triumphal Entry.” We wave palms to celebrate the king who comes in the name of the Lord. But as the Lenten hymn reminds us, there is “no tramp of soldiers’ marching feet” as this king comes to us. Jesus did not enter Jerusalem with an army to overthrow the Roman government. He rides a donkey, not a warhorse. The people say, “Behold your king!” but Jesus doesn’t seem like much of a king.

As Americans, yes, it can be harder for us to imagine what a real king would be like. We’ve seen figureheads on the news, or seen depictions of royalty in movies or book, but that’s different from living under a king in his kingdom, the realm of his authority. In days gone by, the king was not just a figurehead but a true leader, a person with supreme power which was meant to be used for the good of his kingdom. The king was charged with the protection of his realm and the advancement of his people. The people served the king; however, the king was meant to serve the people, as well. If he was a good king, his subjects could see him as their representative to the nations, as the one who took care of them and defended them from the enemy. In turn, they would obey him as their rightful ruler. The king’s word was law. Those who would disregard it did so at their own peril.

As we enter into Holy Week, remembering that last week before Jesus’ death, take some time to consider what it means for Jesus to be king – to be your king. Looking back at the past month, week, or year, how have you lived as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom? In what you’ve done, what you’ve said, even what you’ve thought, have you seen Jesus as merely a figurehead without authority? That’s how the world wants Christians to see him. Why not just say that you’re the king’s subject but avoid following his leadership? That certainly sounds easier. Or maybe you’ve seen Jesus as a dictator who rules with an iron fist, making laws and decrees for every corner of life but who remains distant and removed, without connection from you and your day-to-day situation. You’re afraid of what might happen if you miss a step or fall behind in what’s required to be a worthy citizen of his kingdom. In both of those situations, Jesus doesn’t seem like much of a king.

You see, along with the people who encountered him in Jerusalem at the first Palm Sunday or in the days that waited ahead, we often put a broken majesty on Jesus. We make Jesus out to be the “king” that we would have him be without seeing him as the king who he came to be. This Sunday isn’t just Palm Sunday; it’s also known as the Sunday of the Passion. So let’s look to Matthew’s account of this last week before Jesus’ death to see who this “king who comes in the name of the Lord” really is.

Jumping ahead to Matthew 27, Jesus has been arrested by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council in New Testament times. They felt that Jesus threatened their positions of authority, but they were limited in how they could respond to that threat. They kidnapped him and put him on trial, finding him guilty of speaking against God for acknowledging that he is the Christ. The Sanhedrin would have felt justified in killing Jesus at that point; however, under to Roman law, they didn’t have the authority to execute him. In verse 11, we see that Jesus’ accusers have handed him over to the Roman governor. Their religious charge of blasphemy wouldn’t have earned the death penalty, so they had to substitute it for one which Pilate would have to take seriously: insurrection. And so they bring Jesus before Pilate, saying that he claimed to be “King of the Jews.” In doing so, the Sanhedrin equated God’s Messiah with an earthly kingdom. But when Pilate puts the question to Jesus, Jesus simply turned the question back to the questioner. Pilate knew that the Sanhedrin didn’t care about a threat to Roman authority. He knew that the charges against Jesus didn’t have merit; in his estimation, Jesus doesn’t seem like much of a king. Even so, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified to placate the people. In verse 29, we see that the Roman soldiers cruelly mocked Jesus as “King of the Jews,” according him the broken majesty of a violet-red cloak, a crown of thorns, and a reed for a scepter. From John 19(:19-20), we know that Jesus hung on the cross under a sign that read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate had the sign written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, so that all those who passed by could read it. And while it might have been to spite the Sanhedrin, who would protest the wording, Pilate’s sign testified to Jesus’ true identity. In verse 42, the chief priests, experts in the law, and elders of the people mocked Jesus as “King of Israel;” they could not imagine a Messiah who would allow himself to be crucified. In all of this, though, the most telling proclamation of Jesus’ majesty came from a Gentile, the Roman centurion who oversaw this execution. Overcome by awe at all that happened when Jesus died, he recognized the truth, exclaiming, “Truly this was the Son of God!” But the greatest sign of Jesus’ majesty was still three days away.

Jesus, the Son of God, did not come to bring victory over an earthly enemy – for the people of Israel or for us. He did not come to be a king like those the world expects. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews and our King, rode into Jerusalem on that donkey to bring peace: peace with God for a broken world. With his sight set on the cross in that week before his death, Jesus would be the king that you and I and our broken world needed him to be. He followed the path that led from his Triumphal Entry to his Passion, his crucifixion where he took his throne, and his entombment, truly conveying majesty by how he behaved and what he did. He has delivered victory over sin, death, and the devil, our greatest enemies. He has answered our cry of “Hosanna!”

You and I may have put a broken majesty on Jesus, but in giving himself for us, he has restored it. In his love, he has made himself our king and made us his people. He has forgiven your sin and wiped away your debt before God. Offering up his life as the ultimate sacrifice, he wielded his supreme authority as the Son of God to win your freedom.

Entering into Holy Week, look towards the cross in awe and reverence. Look toward the cross, and behold your king.


More in Lent 2014: Restored in Christ

April 20, 2014

Broken Seal

April 17, 2014

Broken Bread

April 6, 2014

Broken Hearts