The Topsy-Turvy King
Text: Matt 21:1-11
My son Timothy has just had his 13th Birthday last Monday, but when he was a toddler he was very taken with the Mr. Men series written by Roger Hargreaves.
One of the books he particularly liked me to read to him was Mr. Topsy Turvy.
[HOLD UP THE BOOK]
Mr. Topsy Turvy is a chap who does everything the wrong way round. He lives in a house with an upside down chimney-stack, and he wears his hat upside down. He puts his socks on his hands, and when he goes to buy them he gets the order of the words the wrong way round:
“I’d like a sock of pairs”, he asks.
At the end of the book there is a question that Roger Hargreaves asks:
‘Can you think of something to say that’s topsy turvy? Go on try!’
Being a big kid at heart I’m going to answer that question:
‘JESUS IS KING’
It doesn’t seem very topsy turvy to us, but to many of the Jews at the time of Jesus, and also since then, - that statement would definitely seem topsy turvy!
So why do I say this?
Well the Jews were waiting for a Messiah, and had been waiting some 3,800 years for him to come. He was to be like a King, mighty in power, and would lead Israel to overthrow their oppressors.
He was to be of David’s line and would be given a sceptre, which is a short Royal rod, or staff. A kind of symbol of authority.
To the Jews, and particularly their governing body, the Sanhedrin, there was nothing more topsy-turvy than this statement: ’Jesus is King’.
[The following is said with Sarcasm]
“Jesus - being the Messiah???
After all, wasn’t Jesus the son of Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth! I ask you how preposterous.
They say he was born in a mere stable with oxen and asses as bed-fellows.
A King should be of royal descent, and born in a palace with servants to wait upon him, hand and foot.
Besides, Israel already has a King - there’s King Herod, even if he is an Idomite, rather than a Jew.
A King doesn’t ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, after all where is the dignity, pomp and ceremony in that?’’
And yet we know from the scriptures that the people treated Jesus like a King as he entered Jerusalem on His donkey.
Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, and His actions, and the actions of the people, acknowledged traditional rights to the title of ‘King of the Jews’. I’d like us to look at a few of them.
i) The Donkey
Firstly, in the Old Testament we read in Zechariah 9:9
Say to the daughter of Zion
See your King comes to you
Gentle and riding on a Donkey
On a Colt the foal of a Donkey.
Whenever I think of formal ceremonies involving royalty, I see them in my mind’s-eye being transported about in a dignified manner:
a) The state carriages, containing members of royalty giving the traditional royal wave, always flanked by soldiers and body-guards;
b) or a well tempered, yet resplendent horse carrying the Queen, in her younger days, across the Parade Square during the Trooping of the Colour.
c) Similarly, we have seen the Pope being driven around in a specially designed bullet-proof Limousine.
All of these examples afford the dignitary both height, (so that they can be seen by the earnestly waiting members of the public), and also a kind of elevated status brought about by the mode of transport adopted.
Could you ever imagine Bill Clinton being driven around in a Mini Cooper!! He’d have difficulty getting into one.
Well, that must have been exactly what it must have seemed like to the people in the crowd when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
He would have been difficult to see. There would have been pushing, and jostling, by those who wanted to see Him, and touch Him. His progress would most likely have been very slow.
Whenever I think of Donkeys, two pictures come to mind:
a) One is of Donkey Derbies, where people stand about laughing at Donkeys that won’t budge, no matter how hard their rider tries to encourage them. Their riders are usually children, who become extremely embarrassed when everyone is apparently laughing at them.
b) The other picture I see is of a faithful servant, trudging up and down Mablethorpe Beach, giving rides to excited children. Some of the children get a little too excited and kick the donkey’s side, as if the rider was at the Grand National with 50 metres to run to the winning post.
Jesus rode a Colt, that is a young donkey that has never been ridden before. This might have been an awkward ride, and yet there is no mention of that in the Bible.
Whatever Jesus touched He dignified, and that was the case with this humble donkey. When carrying Jesus the donkey became as important as any majestic creature.
In one of the poems by G.K. Chesterton, he makes the donkey reply to those who sneer at him:
Fools! For I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour and sweet
There was a shout about my ears
and Palms before my feet.
Jesus brought the best out of everyone He met, as well as those he still meets with today. His Kingship did not come about through a lofty status, wealth and tradition.
God became a humble man, and through the respect, love and recognition of who He was, the everyday people elevated Jesus to that of being their King.
The second example of Kingly acknowledgment comes in verse 8 of Matthew 21, which reads:
“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road.”
I asked myself, a question, - Why?
Why did they put their best cloaks down on a dusty road? Perhaps they were covering up puddles like Sir Walter Raleigh is reputed to have done for Queen Elizabeth I.
When I started to look more deeply into this aspect I became aware of the background to this particular action.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did so as a pilgrim, along with many other pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover Festival.
There was a count taken 30 years after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and at that time there were 2½ million people within Jerusalem come for the Passover Festival. Just like the Muslims return to Mecca each year, so Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover.
So, allowing for growth in population over 30 years, it would be reasonable to expect that there would have been at least 2 million people in Jerusalem when Jesus rode in on His donkey.
Most of these will have traveled from towns and villages afar and they would have needed to travel light of baggage.
One thing that would have been very valuable to these travelers would have been a cloak, because this would fend off sand storms, and also give warmth at night when the temperature dropped dramatically.
So if this cloak was so important, why let it get mucky and trampled on, unless the very act of doing so had important significance?
To place it under a Donkey carrying Jesus signified a sacrifice of self. Jesus was being shown deep respect and honour by this action. He was being treated like a King.
In the Old Testament book ‘2 Kings’, we see that Elisha had sent one of his prophets to anoint Jehu with oil to make him King of Israel. Jehu’s Officers then took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground in honour of their King. [2 Kings 9:13].
Jesus was being treated like a conquering King entering His capital city.
iii) Palm Tree Branches
When I was at Junior School I used to take an awful lot of stick from my schoolmates because I used to claim that my Grandfather was Batman.
Now that statement was not strictly true. He was not a caped crusader, with a pal called Robin, and he certainly didn’t have a fancy Batmobile. I think the only car he ever had was an old black Austin 7, which had bit the dust many years before I was born. And my Grandmother didn’t stand at the door and shout:
Dinner, Dinner, Dinner, Dinner,
Dinner, Dinner, Dinner, Dinner, BATMAN.
He was not the Batman, but he was a Batman. In fact he worked at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, as a Batman serving some of the Officer Cadets that passed through the college. One of the Officer Cadets he served was later to be the Duke of Devonshire who owned Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire.
As a result of working at Sandhurst my grandfather was able to have a number of privileges that were passed on to his family.
For instance, I was allowed to swim in their Swimming Pool, and I was able to have access to areas where others could not go.
One particular advantage occurred when the Queen would come to Sandhurst to lead the Passing Out Parade of the Officer Cadets. Thanks to my grandad, I always managed to get a good position inside the grounds to wave to the Queen when she passed by.
I remember the Commercial Union Jack salesman would tout for business outside the grounds along the A30, locally known as the London Rd.
We would buy a flag outside the grounds, then go inside to wave our flags as hard as we could when the Queen passed by, to show her that we were loyal subjects. I always hoped that she would particularly spot me in all that crowd. Sadly she never did.
I guess there were would have been many in the crowd that day when Jesus passed by, who would have longed for Him to see them as an individual. We know that on some occasions Jesus did stop to speak to people in the crowd, and also to heal and make them feel special.
There is no mention of Him stopping on this occasion. But what we do see is that the people:
“Cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.”
No doubt some would have been waving the palm branches just like I had waved my flag, full of glee and excitement.
When I was preparing this sermon, I couldn’t recall any reference to this action in the Old Testament, but in the Apocryphal Book, 1 Maccabees (13:51), we read about Simon Maccabees, who in the year 142 BC, became the leader of the Jews. A year later He made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the text records:
“That he made his entry with a chorus of praise and the waving of Palm Branches.”
So here again, Jesus was being treated as a King worthy of honour and praise. The people shouted:
“Hosanna to the son of David”
They were acknowledging Him as the Messiah.
Long Live the King!
We have now seen, through these three examples, that Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King when He rode on the Donkey. But His reign as an earthly King was to be only 6 Days, from Palm Sunday through to Good Friday.
It is customary for Kings to be crowned. Jesus was crowned by the Romans with a Topsy-Turvy Crown. Not because it was upside down, but rather the last thing you would expect for a Kingly Crown.
A Crown fit for a King is usually made of Gold, inlaid with precious jewels. Jesus had a crown made of thorns that tore into His flesh.
Above His head was a sign sarcastically displaying “Hail King of the Jews”.
Remember I mentioned earlier that the Messiah was to be given a Sceptre. This scripture was fulfilled when the Romans placed a reed into Jesus’ hand to represent this wand of office denoting authority. A Topsy Turvy Sceptre.
Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King. He also died as a King. But more importantly, He rose again as a King.
He sits on His Heavenly throne and reigns over us all as King of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“JESUS IS KING”
“Jesus is King” - was my Topsy Turvy Statement.
But - My King is willing to serve His subjects.
My King is willing to take my pain.
My King is willing to take away my sin.
My King is willing to die that I might live.
This is our God
The servant King
He calls us now
To follow Him
To bring our lives
As a daily offering
Of Worship to
The Servant King
Is Jesus your King too?
Are you willing to give Him the Glory he is due?
Because one thing is certain, He is aching to serve you.