The Gentle King (Matthew 21:1-11)

The Triumphal Entry, by He Qi

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (New International Version)

A Humble Leader

Gentle humility and strong leadership are not mutually exclusive concepts. They can and should co-exist together.

Los Angeles County traffic cops receive plenty of complaints about their work. After all, most motorists don’t think they deserve a ticket. Each complaint gets documented and placed in the officer’s personnel file. One officer, however, Deputy Sheriff Elton Simmons, made 25,000 traffic stops over a span of 20 years, without a single complaint on his record.

When his supervisor started looking through Simmons’ file, he was stunned to find plenty of commendations, but not a single complaint. It was so unusual, that a CBS News crew was assigned to follow Simmons in an attempt to learn his secret. They described Deputy Simmons as having a “pitch-perfect mix of authority and diplomacy” without a trace of arrogance or self-righteousness.

Although handing out plenty of tickets, they never came with a guilt trip.  Deputy Simmons described his mentality: “I’m here with you. I won’t look down at you.” 

One driver who got a ticket from Simmons said, “It’s his smile. How could you be mad at that guy?”  “Apparently, you can’t,” concluded the CBS News team. “Time after time, ticket after ticket, we saw Officer Simmons melt away a polar ice cap of preconceptions.”

A Meek Celebrity

As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last week of his life, he was at the height of his fame. Christ’s teaching and healing ministry touched thousands of people. Jesus was the most famous celebrity to come into town since David captured the city a thousand years before. 

But Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem as a great and mighty warrior who conquered Jerusalem in a military battle. There is coming a time, at the end of the age, when Jesus will take on this role, but that was not his purpose on this occasion. 

Hosanna in the Highest, by Malaysian artist Hanna-Cheriyan Varghese

One of the challenges for people in every era is to properly balance scriptural truth. Many Jews emphasized King David’s victories in battle, and his great political dynasty, and so, tended to overlook that David was also a humble servant. 

King David showed steadfast love and kindness to his subjects and submitted himself to God in such a way that, even with opportunities to seize the kingship from Saul who was trying to take his life, he left vengeance to God alone.

Christ’s triumphal entry portrays Jesus as King, the Son of David, but as a gentle king. He embodied both powerful authority and gentle humility. Jesus wanted the crowd to understand that he was not like most kings – he was a lowly king. 

Jesus as a meek celebrity seemed so odd that many people saw that combination of gentle authority as being wishy-washy. Jesus didn’t fit any of the typical labels that people expected. They wondered, “Is he a Pharisee? Or a Zealot? What’s his position on the Romans?  How is he going to lead us out from under Gentile rule?” There was lots of anxiety and concern over Jesus; the people could not nail down exactly what kind of guy he was.

A Servant Pastor

Over the years, as a Pastor, many people have wanted to label me as something, but have had a hard time doing it. Am I liberal or conservative? liturgical or non-liturgical? open or closed to particular people or groups? e.g. LGBTQ folks, Black Lives Matter, etc.

The problem with all this is that it assumes you cannot be both, as if life is all either/or, instead of both/and. It makes ministry about choosing sides, instead of breaking down barriers.

Meekness and strength, gentleness and authority, humility and leadership, grace and truth, love and anger, are all meant to be together – not compartmentalized in sequestered ghettos of the mind.

Jesus sought to hold kingly authority and divine righteousness together, at the same time, all the time. Christ came into Jerusalem to face the cross and take upon himself the sin of the whole world. He came as a gentle king.

Yet, many people do not want this kind of leader because they think leadership is all about power – taking charge with strong authority, telling people what to do, and controlling every aspect of the realm.  

Jesus, at times, acts like a decisive and absolute authority. He knocks over the tables of the money changers in the temple, curses fig trees, and refuses to answer direct questions. But then he turns around and goes against the people’s expectations of him as a leader by riding on a lowly donkey, inviting tax collectors and prostitutes to join him, going after the lost, and embracing the least persons in society.

A Donkey Lord

Jesus displayed a combination that seemed confusing and wishy-washy to many. Christ is both sovereign lord, and humble servant. Jesus riding on a donkey seemed a strange fusion of authority and humility. 

On the one hand, a donkey was the beast of burden for most working class poor people. Donkeys are ordinary, and not like war horses. Kings didn’t ride into conquered cities on donkeys. But, on the other hand, the donkey is also linked to Messiah’s power and authority.

Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion!
    Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
    Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious,
    but humble and riding on a donkey—
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The Lord says,

“I will remove the war chariots from Israel
    and take the horses from Jerusalem;
    the bows used in battle will be destroyed.
Your king will make peace among the nations;
    he will rule from sea to sea,
    from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10, GNT)

Jesus is the ultimate leader who uses his authority for the benefit of others, to bring peace. Jesus did not use his authority to consolidate power and squish enemies, but instead, gave his life so that others might live. 

Gentle and meek does not mean being a washrag or a limp noodle. Rather, it means to have power under control, e.g. a broke horse; it is power for useful purposes to serve people, not like other kings who were concerned with getting, consolidating, and keeping power, at all costs.

Jesus is the crucified Messiah; the modest leader; the lowly Lord; the God Man. We must hold it all, not emphasizing one aspect above another, so that we have the complete picture of Christ.

A Gracious Royal

Believers and followers of Jesus are royal children of the King. That means we live in the way of Jesus by bestowing grace to others. What does this “look like?”

  • In our families, Christian parents do not merely bark orders at kids, but love and support them by humbly and gently coming alongside and helping. 
  • In our neighborhoods, Christian citizens pray for the welfare of their neighbors, even and especially the ones who we may not like very well.   
  • In our work, Christian workers use their skills and abilities to serve others, transforming what we do from a secular job to a sacred vocation. 
  • In our daily life, Christians scan the horizon to seek people whom we might show God’s kindness, instead of just waiting for something to fall into our laps, if it ever does.

A Talking Donkey

From the Old Testament, we know that donkeys can talk (Numbers 22:21-38). If Christ’s donkey could speak, I imagine him saying: 

“King Jesus, why did you choose a lowly donkey like me to carry you to ride in your parade? Didn’t you have a friend who owned a horse – a spirited royal mount, fit for a king to ride? Why choose me, a small unassuming beast of burden, trained to plow and not to carry kings?”

It is a privilege to be a Christian. Perhaps you will say: 

“King Jesus, why did you choose me, a lowly unimportant person to bear you in my world today? I am poor and unimportant, trained to work, and not to carry kings – let alone the King of kings; and yet, you’ve chosen me to carry you in triumph in this world’s parade. King Jesus, keep me humble, so everyone may say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’ and not ‘what a great Christian he is.’”

God of all, you gave your only begotten Son to take the form of a servant, and to be obedient, even to death on a cross: give us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus that, sharing in his humility, we may come to be with him in his glory, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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