God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … “The time has come,” the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings.”
God visits us as a King is my theme. My focus is John 12:12-19, with an emphasis on verses 14-15: “They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
Easter in the Cwynar home meant visiting the Bednarski girls, my mother’s sisters. Most of them lived in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, allowing us to visit Aunts Jane, Jessie, Helen and Stella in 2 days. This childhood revelation reminded me that we’ve done a whole series of sermons focusing on God visits, without defining the term visit. So, let me lay out 3 points. First, the King visits; second, the King is welcomed; and finally, how we respond to the King’s call.
First, the King visits. To visit means to go and stay with a person or at a place for a short time for sociability, business, or curiosity. We visit friends, clients and famous places, like Guthrie.
The word visit is from the Latin visitare meaning "to go to see or come to inspect." By the 13th century, pastors and doctors would visit or "pay a call" to people in their homes. It also means to "come upon or afflict" with sickness or punishment. Depending on who the visitor was, you would either welcome or reject him.
If your visitor arrived on horse, be wary. Throughout Biblical history, horses were the mounts of kings, princes, conquerors, and soldiers. Horses heralded threats of war, and were such a symbol of army strength that God ordered Israelite kings not to keep many horses because He did not want the Israelites to trust in their own resources of strength, but to rely on Him for victory and deliverance from their enemies. A king visiting on a horse implied war, doom and victory.
If your visitor arrived on a donkey, relax. Donkeys hold the distinction as being one of the earliest and most frequently mentioned animals in the Bible. A king visiting on a donkey symbolized industry, peace and wealth.
Visits imply welcomes. Welcome to my second point – the King is Welcomed. … Today, we welcome kings and heroes with parades. In Jesus’ day, when they welcomed heroes, people laid cloaks and leafy branches on the ground and shouted “Hosanna!”, a jubilant praise for victory or salvation.
John tells us that Jesus’ disciples did not understand these things. What did these “things” mean?
Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem foreshadowed victory over his enemies. Of the four accounts, however, only John wrote that the crowd took palm branches, which symbolized victory in Jewish culture, and went out to meet Jesus, singing Psalm 118, a processional hymn for the feast of tabernacles. The significance is that Psalm 118 announces triumph because of reliance on Yahweh, echoing Israel’s jubilant Exodus chant. Shouting hosanna – a phrase invoking God to save them – victors with branches in hand proceeded to the altar where they offered sacrifice.
John’s point? Before ascending the Cross in His hour of triumph, Jesus knew He had won. That is why Scripture records the people singing “Hosanna.” Jesus was victorious - and humble.
Jesus was humble to the point that when others declared Him King of Israel, He brushed aside the comment or withdrew into the mountains. Yet, Jesus knew His entry into Jerusalem demonstrated His fulfillment of prophecies from Genesis through Malachi. That is why John records these “things” – the King’s visit and how the King is welcomed – and now we ponder how we might respond to such a King.
For a moment, imagine yourself as a disciple in John’s Gospel, who did not understand these things when they occurred, but now you do. You understand Jesus is the King who conquered Satan, sin and death in His victorious Hour, and now He visits you. The king asks you to follow Him. … Are you willing to follow Him? ... Really?! … Are you truly interested in following a man riding a donkey?
People are willing to follow inspirational, heroic leaders like Patton, Grant or Washington, and sometimes only if they got paid. Even Napoleon Bonaparte possessed the charisma to inspire multitudes of men. In his own words, Napoleon said, “I know men, and I have inspired multitudes to die for me. A word from me and the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. I do, indeed, possess the secret of this magical power that lifts the soul, but I could never impart it to anyone. None of my generals ever learned it from me; nor have I the means of perpetuating my name and love for me in the hearts of men.”
Napoleon knew that, unlike Jesus, inspirational leaders do not possess the means of perpetuating their names and others’ love for them. Only Jesus Christ possesses the means of perpetuating His name and love for Him. The difference between dynamic human leaders and Jesus Christ? They are dead. Jesus Christ is a living Person who is present and calls me now. He visits us with grace to expand our hearts which gives us the desire and generosity to do something about this disordered universe. Jesus does not simply say, “Your sins are forgiven.” He calls you to follow Him … on your own donkey.
You need your own donkey because you must ride in peace extending your victorious palm branch to the conquered enemies of this world and let them know – as you know – that they are loved by our victorious Christ and by us. Otherwise, what’s the point of being a Christian if we don’t accompany Christ as compassionate companions? What’s the point of observing Palm Sunday and Good Friday if we can’t say to the world’s Barabbases, “I love you”?
In other words, the King’s visit implies a call to saddle up and ride with Him into the world. His call, His challenge forces us to ask: Is our spirituality authentic if we exclude public issues that conflict with our self-interests? As sinful humans, we have an inordinate hunger for wealth, honor and power. The Word of God, the call of the King, is not held in honor by the world. There is another line in Psalm 118 that reads, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” To heed the King’s call, to obey God’s Word, to welcome the visiting King suggests dishonor in the world’s eyes, but victorious honor in God’s.
I offer one example of a man who embraces the visiting King and accepts his call. Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission and author of “The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence”, pinpoints a basic source of entrenched poverty overlooked by well-intentioned outsiders: corrupt government officials who turn their heads while criminals victimize the poor. For example, 90% of murders in Mexico go unsolved. Haugen reminds us that the church played a critical role in the struggle against child labor and for civil rights. He urges Christians to accept their biblical, prophetic role and use their moral voice to ensure the state protect the weakest in our world.
To embrace biblical justice and heed our King’s call, you don’t have to start an international justice mission. Simply embrace His call and apply biblical justice to whatever you do in life.
I close by quoting the prolific Scripture scholar and pastor, NT Wright, “We must speak truth to those with power so we can speak love to those without it.”
We must speak truth to those with power so we can speak love to those without it. When we accept our biblical, prophetic role and use our moral voice to ensure those with power protect those without love, because we know Christ our King has already conquered Satan, sin and death, this we know: We are simply donkey riders with palm branches responding to the call of the King. Ride with God, my friends. Ride with God. And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Amen.
Resonate – Creed
 Psalm 122
 John 12:16
 See 1 Maccabees 13:51
 118:14; Exodus 15:2b
 John 1:49; 6:15
 Mark Link, Decision, p. 11.
 Psalm 118:22
 Timothy C. Morgan, “Why We’re Losing the War on Poverty,” Christianity Today, January/February 2014, pp. 56-59.