‘the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Blessed is the king of Israel!”’ John 12:12-13
Brothers and sisters, in most families - particularly if you’re a child - there is a favourite person. One who is fun, and kind, and silly. In most families, it’s their grandma, or granddad. Grandma perhaps, is the adult who doesn’t really do discipline. Grandad, is the person whom the parents get frustrated at, for getting the kids hyped up, and lets them stay up past their bedtime. But let’s be honest, as I’ve learnt recently, it’s no way to bring up kids! Part of growing up is realising where the boundaries are. For many Christians, though—whilst they may grow up in many areas of their life—when it comes to their relationship with God, they are stuck in ‘grandpa’ mode. We love seeing God occasionally. We go to Him when we have messed up. We go to Him when we need help, but we quietly ignore Him the rest of the time. When the German poet, Heinriche Heine was on his deathbed, the priest who visited him asked him if he thought God would forgive him for his sin. Heinriche’s response was ‘Of course God will forgive me; that's his job.’ And to many of us, we view God in a similar light. God’s job—we imagine—is to be available when we sin, to listen to our confession, and to tell us all will be ok. Of course God will forgive me; we say, that’s his job. This is the childish god, with whom we grew up, and with whom we do not want to let go. But as our Gospel reading today reminds us, God is not our fun granddad, God is the king we need to obey
The chief priests have spies out. It’s the biggest festival of the year, and Jesus is expected to make an appearance. Jesus knows that the religious authorities want to arrest him, try him, and kill him. Going to Passover, going to Jerusalem, is quite literally a death sentence. You might think Jesus would be tempted to stay way, or at least—if He was going to go to Jerusalem—seek to slip in unnoticed. However, Jesus is obedient to the God the Father in every aspect of His life whatever that might mean. And Jesus has been sent by the Father to show the people both what God is like, and also how they are to respond to Him. As Jesus rides in to Jerusalem, He is intent on obeying the Father’s command both by emphasising that He is the king, but also by obediently going to His death. As we glance at this passage, on the face of it, the crowd have realised who Jesus is. Jesus is the king, they realise who they had been promised by the prophets. And so they cry out using the prophet’s own words: ‘Hosanna… Blessed is the king of Israel.’ However, sadly the crowds are using the right words only in the wrong way. They have rightly identified Jesus as the king, but like so many Christians, they have got the nature of His kingship wrong. You see the crowds want—the crowds expect—a warrior king. A king who will sweep in and defeat the occupying Romans in an amazing military victory. And that is why they grab palm branches. Not because they symbolise ‘righteousness’—though they do—but because they are a symbol of Israel, the nation which they want liberated. Jesus is the king alright, but not the military king Israel expected. No, Jesus is the king, who is humble and peaceful, who is obedient to God with every fibre of His being, and who will go meekly to His own death. Why? For that is what God the Father, had sent Him to do. As the Apostle Paul puts it: ‘Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ The crowds get Jesus wrong, but really there is no reason for us to because we have the New Testament scriptures to help us to understand who Jesus is and what He came to do. Christians really have no excuse for messing this up, but we do again and again. We treat God as our fun, easy-going grandpa, as we approach Him on Sunday, telling Him the white lies we told, telling Him the times we felt grumpy, and telling Him the times we weren’t very charitable. And having done our part, we imagine, we expect our heavenly grandpa to do His. God will forgive me, we say, that's His job.
However, here is the flaw in our perfectly made plan, God isn’t our grandfather, God is the king we need to obey. That is how Jesus behaved, and what Jesus means when He asks us to follow Him. He expects us to, like Him, humble ourselves by becoming obedient to death, even, if necessary, death on a cross! God forgives, that much is true. Wonderfully, God forgives those who come to Him, but this new life is to be lived in service to the King. But, too often, if we are honest - we want a God of grace but not a God of wrath. A God of mercy, but not of justice. A God of heaven, but not of hell. And so we pretend that God is a heavenly grandfather, rather than the king who we need to obey. Jesus makes no such mistake. Jesus obeys the Father, and commands us to do the same. So, how can we remind ourselves this week that God is our King all the time? Of course it will include coming to humbly ask for forgiveness when we don’t do what He wants, but it should mean so much more than that. How will we show that God is King over what I say, in that difficult conversation, when we might be tempted to be unkind or harsh? How will we show that God is King when we’re deciding what to make time for this week? How will we show that God is King when we’re tempted, to abandon the way God call us to live? Knowing God is our King should change everything but we can’t change everything all at once! So what one small step of obedience can we take this week to demonstrate with our lives that God is King all of the time? Take time to pray, and then seek to obey as Jesus obeyed. Amen (from Fr Mike).