“King Jesus – A Contradiction in Terms”

a sermon based upon John 12:12-19

Palm Sunday is the day of the great green parade -- the coronation ceremony (the inauguration) -- of Jesus as Israel’s King!

It is amazing to think that Jesus -- a man who, by this time in the story, has a price on his head -- an outlaw in the eyes of the religious authorities -- would deliberately ride into town in such a way that every eye & ear was drawn to him. This parade is either raw courage or utter foolishness.

With the danger that Jesus knew he was in, it seems to me it would have been natural that – if he must go to Jerusalem at all – he should have slipped in unseen, and been hidden away in some secret place in the back streets. (Hiding out like we did for these last two weeks; hunkered down at home in fear of COVID-19, the coronavirus!) But Jesus does the very opposite. He rides into town in a public parade! Jesus entered the City in such a way as to focus the limelight upon himself: “Hey-sanna, ho-sanna, sanna: Superstar!” Like a winning candidate, Jesus is taking center stage like a celebrity: Here comes King Jesus!

Here is how John describes it: A great crowd who 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, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (Yes, they called him “King” -- the King of Israel.)

And Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it. (Yes, I prefer to call the animal a “donkey” -- because kids always seem to giggle when we read that “Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it.”)

The Gospel of John makes the point that this action fulfilled Scripture -- as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt.” His disciples did not understand this at first (we are told), but later they remembered that this had been done to him. (John 12:12-16)

What’s not to understand? The crowd is welcoming Jesus into the Capitol City with an inaugural parade, like a winning candidate, reciting the words from the prophet Zechariah that we used in our Call to Worship -- to welcome the triumphant, victorious King... who cut off the chariots and the war horses -- who cut off the battle bow -- and who commands peace to the nations. If Jesus is a King, it’s a different kind of King than King Herod or the Roman Caesar. King Jesus… humble and riding on a donkey -- on a colt, a foal of an ass.

Presbyterian minister Mary Ann McKibben Dana, in suburban Washington DC, writes in The Christian Century commentary (Vol. 133, No. 5, March 2, 2016, page 19):

Jesus’ ministry has been punctuated by his invitation to “come, follow me.” And many do follow, swept along in the wake of the one who will preach, teach, heal, exorcise [evil], exasperate [civic leaders], and inspire [ordinary folks]. But here, as his ministry approaches its culmination, it’s the disciples [and the crowd] … who are out ahead, and he’s the one following. Jesus doesn’t lead the throng into Jerusalem, riding out front with everyone trailing behind him. … [No.] He’s in the middle of a crowd of admirers. [In fact, it almost] seems like he’s bringing up the rear. How can you throw your cloak on the road for Jesus unless you’re ahead of him?

Sometimes we follow Jesus from behind. We can see him clearly; we know we’re on the right path. [We imitate his values, his behavior. We see how Jesus does things; we follow in his footsteps, even as He follows his inner compass set on God.]