Today Pastor Choi highlights Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem 2000 years ago. The biblical scholars call it “triumphal.” Was it really, though? If so, in what sense? Not in the world’s point of view but in God’s. Not in power and dominance but in humility and service. Christ the King clearly demonstrated true power and triumph through His humble examples in birth, teaching, life, and death.
Following is a summary of his sermon:
Jesus the Humble King John 12:12-16
Jesus Enters Jerusalem John 12:12-16 (NASB)
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.
Once I watched a PBS program on “Frontline” featuring Kim Jung-il the North Korean dictator. It explained how America got into the botched nuclear deal with North Korea in the 1990s. One of the people interviewed in the program was then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She had a meeting with Kim to ease the tension between the two countries caused by North Korea’s missile development. Albright and her team were invited to the 50th Anniversary of the Labor Party. They were impressed with the way they were treated. ¼ million people cheered in one accord, applauded, chanting their leader’s name, and pledging their unshakable allegiance to their leader.
Wow! That’s what I would call an unforgettable welcome. Such an impressive welcome, however, is nowhere seen in today’s passage where Jesus the Messiah enters Jerusalem.
Two thousand years ago today, He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s back. The crowds, marching in front and behind Him, shouted in excitement “Hosanna! (הושיעה־נא —Please save now!) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” They shouted aloud, “O Jesus Our King! Please save us now! Save us!” Some waved the palms in honor of the king of Israel. Others spread their cloaks on the road along with palm branches. I have to tell you, though. It was rather a small and unnoticed event in Jerusalem at the time, because about 3 million people were in the city to celebrate the Passover. Had it been there a newspaper in town, it never would’ve made a headline. The biblical scholars call the historical event of Jesus’ entry triumphal, though.
Now, here’s a question to ask. Why is it called triumphal? (See also, Zechariah 9:9, 2 Corinthians 2:14) Why is it so?
Was it because there was anything in Jesus’ march that deserves to be called triumphal and magnificent? Humanly speaking, my honest answer is no. Here’s why. The word “triumph” comes from an ancient “ceremony attending the entering of Rome by a general who had won a decisive victory over a foreign enemy” (Merriam-Webster). Certain images come to my mind such as an impressive long procession of captives, chariots, and soldiers carrying in pride on their shoulders the spoils of the battle. Laurels on the general’s head and fancy red carpet would also be appropriate. Finally, the march would culminate in magnificent and professional fanfares. Yet, none of the above was shown, not even a hint, in Jesus’ procession. Not at all.
Furthermore, in the worldly sense, the status as triumphant king should have lasted for a while. At least, more than a week. Yet, do you know what happened to Jesus following His entry? Two or three days after the entry, Jesus was completely betrayed and abandoned by His own disciples. He was arrested, spat on, beaten, and mocked by Roman soldiers. The next morning the crowd rejected Him by shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Eventually, Jesus the King of the Jews was crucified. Anyone with average intelligence would not call such Jesus’ entry and the following events triumphal and victorious, would he? Why, then, do we call it triumphal?
Here’s why. We call it triumphal because God says so. We must understand that God’s definition and our Christian understanding of triumph is absolutely different from that in the world. The world measures one’s success and victory by power, achievements, position, degrees, wealth, health, and long life. The more you have, the greater you are. The less you have, the less significant you are. However, God judges differently. He measures one’s success by faithfulness and obedience to the Lord, even though at times it means rejection, humiliation, mockery, persecution, suffering, imprisonment, and even death. E.g. Think of all martyrs. John the Baptist. Please notice here that Jesus rode on the donkey back in order to fulfill the Scriptures (Zechariah 9:9), that is to obey God’s will. In fact, He could’ve have commanded the heavenly angels to declare, “Hail the king! Long live the king!” He could’ve called out the heavenly choir to sing wonderful tributes one after another accompanied with angelic trumpets. Yet, He didn’t. Why? Because He knew better than that. He wanted to demonstrate to the world what really matters in the Kingdom of God: Love not force. Service not dominance. Humility not arrogance.
Speaking of humility, Jesus was a humble king. His image as king doesn’t fit at all the worldly image, does it? Listen to Napoleon Bonaparte: “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”
In the worldly sense Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem was anything but triumphal. Yet, it was the most splendid and magnificent procession in God’s sight. He was anybody but king in human eyes. Yet, He was the true king of kings in the kingdom of God because He was the humblest of all. Paradox, isn’t it? Paradox! In fact, Christ’s message is full of such paradox: He said, if you lose your life for Me, you will gain it again. When you cling to your life denying Me in front of the people, then you would lose your life eternal. Death means life. Life means death. The first will be the last, and the last will be the first. The servant of all here on earth will be the greatest among all in heaven. The master washes disciples’ feet. Bless your enemies, give them a drink when they are thirsty, and feed them when they are hungry, and so on.
Jesus came to earth not to be served but to serve us (Mark 10:45). He demonstrated true humility in all areas of His life— birth, life examples, teachings, and even in death. He was equal to God, yet He was born in human flesh laid down in a manger. He was the Lord of all, yet He washed His disciples’ dirty and smelly feet with His hands. He was the king of kings, yet He died naked on the cross. Philippians 2:5-8 well summarizes such Jesus’ humility. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on the cross!” (E.g. the closest analogy I can think of is turning myself a human into a lower form of life such as an amoeba or ant).
As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, I pray that all of us would remember one thing: Jesus’ humility. I pray that we imitate the humble Christ in all areas of our lives. I pray that we seriously check out our own measurements of greatness and success: follow God’s definition not that of the world. I often wonder how we Americans appear in the eyes of the world. We are a mighty nation, are we not? We often demonstrated our military supremacy to the world, didn’t we? Yet, are we not considered a very arrogant nation?
Christ’s message is clear for all whether individuals, families, or nations: true greatness is only to be measured and demonstrated in humility and service not in arrogance or dominance. May the Lord would help us to practice our humility daily by considering others better than we are and serve them accordingly.
Let us pray.