What Kind of King is This?
Jesus was a different kind of king than the world expected, a king who above all modeled the way of love, a love marked by sacrifice, servanthood, humility and peace. He calls us to follow in his footsteps, no matter the cost.
When our children were small, one of their favorite books was about a bull named Ferdinand who lived in Spain.
You might be familiar with the story of Ferdinand. Let’s see if we can recap the story… Ferdinand was a bull who didn’t like to play rough and butt heads with the other bulls all day.
What did Ferdinand like to do? Just sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers all day.
Well it turns out that one day some men came to Ferdinand’s area to look for the meanest bull that they could find to bring to Madrid and put in the big bullfighting ring.
And it just so happened that when they arrived at the field where Ferdinand was, Ferdinand sat on a bee and the bee stung him so hard that he went into a rage and was bucking around the field because he was in so much pain.
The men took one look at Ferdinand and said, “This is the bull that we need!” He’s the meanest and strongest one out here! So they loaded Ferdinand up and carted him off to Madrid.
The day of the bullfight came, and the stands were full and the people were anticipating a great fight between Ferdinand and the best matador in Madrid. The Matador entered the ring, and then Ferdinand entered the ring and all of a sudden…
Ferdinand smelled all the flowers in the hats of the ladies in the stands, and he plopped down with a very contented look on his face and just sat there smelling all those flowers.
The people in charge of the bullfight tried to provoke him to get angry and fight, but it was to no avail. “What kind of bull is this” they said, “that would rather smell the flowers than charge at a man with a red cape?”
Ferdinand really let them down. So they ended up taking him back out to the field where he came from. And for all we know, he’s still out there, content as can be, just peacefully smelling the flowers.
The story of Ferdinand the bull and the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey colt have something in common: the main character didn’t live up to the expectations that people had of him.
They hoped for one thing, and got something else. With Ferdinand, the people hoped that he would be mean and give the Matador a good fight.
With Jesus, the people, especially his fellow Jews, had high hopes that if he truly was the Messiah promised to them in the Old Testament,
That he would enter the world flexing his muscles and assemble all the military might he needed to liberate the Jewish people from the oppression they suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire.
Jesus often referred to himself as the “Son of Man”. The title “Son of Man” comes from the book of the prophet Daniel, and it refers to “a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and sovereign power”. Jesus used this title “Son of Man” no less than 81 times in the gospels to describe himself.
So when Palm Sunday arrives, and Jesus is ready to make his trek from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, the Jewish people and others who have heard of Jesus are preparing themselves for a grand entrance of a new king.
They are pumped that their new King is going to march into Jerusalem and rally the troops to take over the Romans by storm. The crowd starts waving their palm branches, which are a patriotic sign of national identity for the Jews, kind of like waving the flag is to Americans.
This first Palm Sunday has a 4th of July kind of feel to it as the people line the road with excitement in the air, anticipating the triumphal entry of their Messiah.
You see triumphal entries were a big thing in the Roman Empire. During the approx. 1000 years of the empire’s existence, whenever a military general like Caesar won a battle, there would be a big procession through the streets to celebrate the victory,
And they would cheer on the general as he paraded through the streets on a big strong horse, and he would sometimes show off the spoils that were gained from the victory, including flaunting prisoners of war to the delight of the crowd.
So when Jesus enters through the gates of Jerusalem, instead of galloping in on a strong stately stallion that is fitting of a military hero, he comes hippity-hopping along mounted on a lowly donkey, not even a big strong donkey, but a young colt.
Our scripture says that his disciples couldn’t understand what was going on. In Matthew’s version of the story, it says that the whole city of Jerusalem was in turmoil, asking “Who is this guy?”
Just like the people at the bullfight in Madrid were saying “What kind of bull is this?” (I guess that could be taken a couple of different ways!), I could imagine people in Jerusalem muttering to each other, “What kind of King is this?”
But throughout Jesus’ ministry, he spoke and behaved in ways that showed that he was truly a different kind of leader.
He spent a lot of time explaining and prepping his closest followers that his authority and his kingdom were different from the leaders and empires of the world.
While these leaders ruled through flexing their muscles, Jesus led through servanthood. While they used violence and military weapons, Jesus’ methods were peaceful and nonviolent.
While they ruled using intimidation and military power, Jesus led through humility and the power of love.
There’s no doubt that Jesus was a countercultural leader who didn’t fit the mold of what a strong leader is like. And when you’re living as a marginalized minority group that is being oppressed by the government ruling over you.
In this kind of environment, it’s natural to want your guy to fight fire with fire, and try to push back with brute strength. Jesus’ disciples’ probably felt this way, and we might have felt this way as well.
So if we’re honest, we might have probably responded to Jesus’ unorthodox, upside-down way of leading and living the same way that one of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, did.
Like Peter, we may have rebuked Jesus when he said he had to suffer and die. Jesus responded by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You’re seeing things the way the world does, not the way God does”.
Like Peter, we may have balked when Jesus stooped down to wash his feet to show that he was serious about servanthood.
Like Peter, we might have been tempted to take out our sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest when Jesus was arrested. Jesus said to him “Put away your sword, Peter, for if you live by the sword you will die by the sword.”
Like the disciples and probably many others who were tired of being pushed around by the Roman Empire, we might have hoped for a strong man Jesus who would round up all the earthly power he could and dip into all of his divine power as the Son of Man and establish his Kingdom right then and there by force.
Things are a lot different in the world today than there were in Jesus’ day. But at the same time, in an increasingly secularized and diverse society, we Christians today might feel like we’re a minority and marginalized group.
The Church doesn’t have the influence and power in society and in government that it has had in the past in our country, and in reaction to this, a large segment of the Christian Church today is wanting their Jesus to be more of a strong man than a suffering servant.
I just started reading a book right now called “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation”, by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. It’s a fascinating book that looks at the reasons why 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
I’m looking forward to reading through this book and if any of you want to read it, maybe we could use it for a future book club selection.
Du Mez argues that Donald Trump represented not the betrayal of their most deeply held values as we sometimes think, but rather the fulfillment of those values. She supports her view by examining the last 75 years of the evangelical movement in the United States.
The inside jacket says that “American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism.”
She says that evangelical popular culture is filled with muscular “strong man”, John Wayne-type heroes, mythical warriors and rugged soldiers like Ronald Reagan, Mel Gibson and the Duck Dynasty clan.
These are strongmen who have given white evangelicals hope by promising them protection and power in a society where they live in fear that their influence is slipping away, a society where they feel like they are being silenced and persecuted by things like “cancel culture”.
And Donald Trump rose to become their latest strongman, their current hero and hope for them and for America as they would like for it to be.
I take issue with where the current white evangelical culture is at. But at the same time I can understand their fear, and this this temptation of wanting to shape Jesus into a strongman and support leaders who use their political power to push through their agendas, even if it means undermining the democratic process and believing lies and conspiracy theories. And when that isn’t successful and they lose political power, by revolting, like we witnessed on January 6.
People in Jesus’ day faced this temptation to resort to violence, and we face it today.
And I can understand that outside the realm of politics that all of us are faced with the temptation to use whatever worldly power I have to act in ways that cater to my own self-serving interests and make me look better at the expense of others.
But I believe that Jesus is the same today as he was that day when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt. And if we try to make him into our own image,
If we make him out to be a King or a leader like the Caesars of his day or the John Waynes of today who rule by earthly power, then we are distorting the kind of leader that Jesus truly is,
The Jesus that the apostle Paul described so beautifully in his letter to the Philippians:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Though he was God he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
Being born in human likeness, humbling himself to become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)
To many people, and to the world in general, this kind of king would seem irrelevant, a failure, or a fool, or all of the above.
But to those who have eyes to see that the most powerful force in the world is love, love that is expressed through grace, servanthood and sacrifice, we can see that
Jesus is the King who ultimately brings hope to the world, a lasting hope, a deep hope that can never be extinguished.
May God give us the courage, the imagination and the perseverance to follow in the way of Jesus, the humble servant king.
And in doing so, may we experience the true hope as we journey with King Jesus through this week of his passion and death, knowing that resurrection and new life with have the final word. AMEN.