Summary: Four characteristics of God’s upside down Kingdom to remind ourselves of on Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday is the Christian community’s celebration of Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. It’s a time when we reflect on Jesus as our King. But sometimes we talk about Jesus as our king without pausing to think about just what kind of Kingdom it is that Jesus is king over.
It’s hard for us to imagine what was going through people’s minds when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You see, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as all the people were preparing to celebrate the Jewish Passover feast. The Passover was Israel’s annual celebration of their liberation from Egypt. Each year they celebrated their national independence by celebrating Passover. But now they were under the dominion of the Romans, with a Roman puppet king named Herod ruling over them. So they’re celebrating the anniversary of their national independence at a time when they’re no longer independent but occupied by the Romans. It would be like if America was taken over by another nation and became an occupied territory. Imagine how tense our fourth of July celebration would be, celebrating the anniversary of our independence at a time when we’re no longer independent.
Then comes Jesus riding in on a donkey, visibly fulfilling ancient Jewish prophecies about the coming kingdom of God. By riding into town on a donkey as the people waved palm branches and shouted Hosanna, Jesus was throwing a powder keg into the fire of an already tense situation. When Jesus did that he sealed his fate, because there was no way the Romans would allow such a radical act to go unpunished.
But again, exactly what kind of kingdom was Jesus pointing to? Certainly not the kind of kingdom Israel was looking for. Today we’re going to talk about the Kingdom of God. Specifically we’re going to see how four characteristics of the kingdom of God are relevant to us today. To do this, we’re going to rewind the tape from Palm Sunday to an incident that occurred a few years earlier.
1. The Heart of Jesus’ Message (Matthew 11:1)
Let’s start by reading all of Matthew 11:1-15 together. The most important phrase in this section is v. 15, "He who has ears, let him hear." That’s Jesus’ way of saying, "I’m speaking in vague terms here, so you really have to really think about what I’m saying and read in between the lines." Jesus often spoke vaguely in public settings, using obscure stories and hints like we find in v. 15. He did that because he knew that the time for his death wasn’t yet here, and claiming to be the promised Messiah outright would lead to his arrest prematurely. So v. 15 tells us that we’ll have to read between the lines a little bit here to understand what Jesus is telling us about his kingdom.
Verse 1 tells us that Jesus was preaching and teaching his message throughout the towns of Galilee. We know from the rest of the Matthew that Jesus’ message in Galilee was the nearness of God’s Kingdom. In fact, Mark 1:15 tells us that the heart of Jesus’ preaching and teaching was, "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news."
Now what exactly is the kingdom of God, or as Matthew describes it here, the kingdom of heaven? God’s kingdom is GOD’S REDEMPTIVE RULE OVER HIS CREATION. When we think of a "kingdom" we think of a place, like the "kingdom of Nepal" or "the united kingdom" of England. We tend to define a "kingdom" by its borders, so when we hear the phrase "kingdom of heaven" we figure this kingdom must be located in heaven. So to us it’s a "pie in the sky, sweet by and by" kind of kingdom, a kingdom whose borders are in the afterlife, not here in our world today. But in the Bible the term "kingdom" doesn’t so much refer to a place as much as it refers to a person’s right to rule as a king. In fact, some Bible translations translate the word "kingdom" as "rule" to bring out this idea. So the kingdom of God is "the rule of God."
So God’s Kingdom is God’s redemptive rule over his creation. The word "redemptive" means that God’s kingdom relates to God’s salvation and deliverance. In other words, God’s kingdom isn’t just the fact that God is in control of the universe. God’s kingdom relates to God’s work of bringing his love and salvation to people, of restoring alienated people into a right relationship with God. The word "rule" refers to God’s dominion as the rightful king of creation.
Because this is what the kingdom of God referred to, for Jesus to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom was a major threat to the Romans government. You see, at this time Palestine had been conquered and was occupied by Roman troops. Back then the Jewish people had three basic ways to deal with Roman occupation of Israel (Wright). The first way was to simply withdraw and wait for God’s kingdom to come. This is what a group called the Essenes did. They believed if they prayed enough and were holy enough, God’s Kingdom would come and drive the Romans out. The monastery where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found back in 1947 was a group that did just this. These people believed withdrawal from society would bring God’s kingdom to Israel.