SIGNS OF THE KING

Sermon delivered on the Palm Sunday the 20th March 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: S. Luke 19:28-40     Isaiah 50: 4 - 9a     Philippians 2: 5 - 11     S. Luke 22: 14 - 23:56

Philippians 2:9f “God highly exalted Him and gave to Him the Name that is above every Name, so that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and in earth and under the earth.”

HE HUMBLED HIMSELF
In St Luke’s account of the Passion of our Lord today, and in our Epistle today in Philippians 2, we have been reminded of the humiliation and abasement of Jesus. “Being found in human form he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). In Isaiah 50, the third “Servant Song” in that book, the Servant of the Lord endures being flogged and having the hair of his beard plucked out, and bravely faces up to shame and being spat upon. Even in His entry to Jerusalem, riding on the “foal of an ass”, as other Gospels more clearly define the “colt” recorded by St Luke, Jesus has to endure the burden of the knowledge that His conquering entry in the role of a victorious Messiah must soon pass through the narrow way of condemnation and crucifixion. He is to bear away the sins of the world before entering Paradise and coming into His Kingdom. And Paradise is where His victory will first become evident, where his approaching humiliation will first be accounted a success story, not in the earthly Jerusalem, which, as so often before, will be impervious to the things that make for peace.

THE THREAD OF KINGSHIP
Yet already, like a silver thread woven into a rope, those with eyes to see are invited by the Passion narrative and its supporting readings, to discern running through them a series of indications of the Kingship and Lordship of the despised and rejected one. “I have set my face like flint,” we have heard the Servant of prophecy saying, “and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” For shame heaped upon the head of the genuinely innocent cannot take root in His soul. Innocence conquers the condemnation. While an earthly king, whether innocent or guilty, is said to be beyond the jurisdiction of the laws of his realm, this King differs from an earthly king. Though he must die in the process, no application of law can mark or sully the King of Truth.

RECOGNISED AS KING – BY THE COLT’S OWNERS
Let us, as an instance of recognition of kingship, notice that when the two disciples untie the colt that the Lord will ride, and the colt’s owners question them, their response is literally “His Lord (or its Lord) has need.” We do not know the background of this conversation, and it has been speculated that it reflected a prior arrangement that Jesus had put in place for the use of the animal. Whether by such arrangement or by prophetic foreknowledge of some sort, the account shows Jesus possibly being referred to as the animal’s “Lord” or Master with the same Greek phrase as is used by S. Luke for the animal’s earthly masters, although these are plural.

RECOGNISED AS KING – BY A MULTITUDE
The Lord had need for the colt and this Lord of the Sabbath was accorded by the colt’s masters the rights of, say, a king over their property. Notice too the ascription of kingship that “the whole multitude of the disciples” (in St. Luke’s phrase) accorded Him on His journey when they cried, “Blessed be the Coming One, the King, in the Name of the Lord.” When some Pharisees among them ask Jesus to control His followers and quench their praise, He refuses to do so. His answer shows He believes their ascription of Him as King to be fully appropriate. Certainly the multitude of the disciples did not understand what was impending for this King, so different from others, and it is even possible that under the pressure of their earthly leaders, a number of them later betrayed the allegiance they were now expressing. For the time being, however, they have it right. As He rode on they cast their own garments down on the road for Him to ride upon them. This was their King, and they and all they had were His. This was the same King, of course, to whom Mary of Bethany had given the emotionally expressive sort of allegiance told of in the Gospel last week, when she solemnly anointed his feet with oil and wiped them with her hair.

THE KING TAKES CHARGE
As the Passion narrative unfolds, the Lord who will be the Victim orchestrates the sacrifice as in the role of the one who presides at it and takes charge. At the Last Supper he defines its significance and determines His own betrayal, and according to St. Luke, He assigns to his disciples a kingdom as His Father assigned to Him a kingdom. For Peter’s denial He provides for that disciple’s rehabilitation by determining the sign, the cockcrow, by which he might come to himself and recognise his fault. When the Jewish Chief Priests cannot come up with the necessary evidence, He deliberately short-circuits their confusion by providing for them, out of the store of His Kingdom of truth, the words by which He might be condemned, the declaration that the Son of man would from then on be seated at God’s right hand.

SIGNS OF KINGSHIP IN HEAVEN AS WELL AS EARTH
Even as the one to whom God gave the Name that is above every name was paying the ultimate price for our redemption, the sun himself, as it were, bending his knee to his Lord and King, temporarily ceases to provide radiation, and light fails for three hours at noon. So this stupendous sign and others simultaneously, including the renting of the veil of the Temple, declared to the centurion and the assembled company the innocence of this victim. They did not yet know, as is now revealed to His believing church, the scope of the victory that the King had won. But already the signs were there in heaven and earth, for those who might see, that they had indeed been right who had cast down their garments before Him, and cried out, “Blessed is the King that comes in the Name of the Lord!” So let us agree that what was done then was for our instruction; let us then not be afraid today to get it right as those followers began to do then; let us too cast down all that we are and have before Him and say “Blessed is the true King, who rules in the Name of the Lord!”

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. What is the difference in the spiritual effect of just condemnation and unjust condemnation?
  2. Discuss the signs of Kingship mentioned. What other signs of kingship might be discerned from the Palm Sunday readings?
  3. With such an acceptance by so many as King, how was it possible for the Jewish leaders to have Jesus condemned? Are there parallel situations today?