Saturday, 19 March 2016

The king who comes to bring peace.




Today we remember and we give thanks for that day when the king rode into his city.

He is the King, the Messiah
That is so clear in Mark’s gospel.

This is the first time that I have noticed this, but Mark does not quote Zechariah 9.9.
Zechariah 9.9 is the prophecy that the Messiah, God’s King, will enter Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey.

‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

Matthew quotes Zechariah 9.9; John quotes the first part of Zechariah 9.9. But Mark does not.
A Gentile, a non-Jew, as they heard this read, would completely miss the reference to the idea that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, or that Jesus was coming as a humble king.

What they would hear is something very different: God's King is coming to God's city.

1.       They hear of his followers serving the coming king.

He sends them. ‘Go into the village, and bring me the colt’. And they obey.
Maybe we also see the king who can foresee what will happen, although I rather assume that this was all prearranged. Jesus had a very clear idea of what he was going to do.

2.       They hear of creation itself welcoming the coming king

Jesus rides a colt that has never been ridden before. It has not been broken in, and yet he can sit on it and it accepts the burden.
Creation welcomes the king.

3.       They hear of a people who acclaim the coming king.
‘Hosanna’. God saves!
Jesus is coming in the name of God.

He is the King, the great King, the descendant of King David. The one who God promised that he would send.

This is the king who will, and here I am quoting from other verses in Zechariah 9, end war and ‘who will command peace to the nations’.
He is the king who will set prisoners free, who will save his people.
A different Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaims at his son’s birth: ‘Praise be to the God of our father Abraham, who has not forgotten his promise to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life’.
And Zechariah 9 finishes with this precious prophecy: 
‘On that day the Lord their God will save them for they are the flock of his people; for like jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For what goodness and beauty are his! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women’. (Zechariah 9.16)

Zechariah 9 speaks of one who will rule ‘from the River (the Euphrates) to the ends of the earth’. He is quoting Psalm 72 which also speaks of this king, God’s ruler:
‘He will judge people with righteousness and the poor with justice. Under his rule the mountains will yield prosperity for the people. He will defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor’.

And Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem gives hope.
Hope to a people crushed by a political occupying force, and who dream of self-autonomy.
Hope to a people struggling with the everyday necessities and conflicts of life.
He gives hope to a people who look back to a glorious history, who hold on to promises of a glorious future, and yet who live grubby, mucky, broken lives in a very grubby, mucky, broken present.

It is no wonder that they come out to cheer him.
Word has crept out about some of the things that he has done. I say crept out, because Jesus often did not wish for the news to spread: a leper healed, a paralysed man who he made walk, a storm calmed, a man possessed by a demon liberated, a dead girl brought back to life, 5000 people fed with a few loaves and fishes, a deaf and dumb man who spoke and a blind man who could see.
This is the king who will set them free.

And it is no wonder that they put out the equivalent of the red carpet for him – the branches. And they throw their cloaks on the road in front of him – the equivalent of laying themselves down before him.

One of the most memorable sermons I heard on this was when John Sentamu preached at the welcome service when he became Bishop of Stepney. He spoke of his bishop’s robes as being like the garments that were thrown over the donkey. ‘I am the donkey’, he said, ‘and I pray that people will not see the donkey, but the king who rides on the donkey’.

They see the King, the Saviour, the deliverer. He has come to fulfil the promise. And they welcome him.


But – as I think that you have been seeing through this series on Mark’s gospel – they see the king, but they miss what he has come to do. They miss the cross.

They are right in believing that this is the King who has come to bring deliverance.
But they do not realise the extent of the deliverance that this king has come to bring.
They do not realise the pit into which he will have to go in order to win that deliverance.

Jesus is the king who has not only come to give us freedom from the prisons and boundaries and limits that others or nature imposes on us. He has come to free us from the prisons that are deep within us.
He has not merely come to change the external circumstances of our lives, the things that are round about us. He has not merely come to change the furniture of our lives. He has come to change our hearts.
He has not come to give us newer stuff or better stuff or more stuff – he has come to set us free from the need for stuff.
He has not come to make us great or famous or powerful – he has come to set us free from the need to strive to be great or famous or powerful. Why? Because we know we are beloved sons and daughters of God.
He did not first come to set us free from the muck out there, but to release us from the muck in here.

I recently reread an article by Isaiah Berlin called Two Concepts of Liberty. In it he asks what sort of freedom is it that we want. And Berlin argues that what we most desire is the freedom of self-autonomy, to be masters and mistresses of our own fate.

It is the dream of William Henley’s poem Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

That may be the freedom that we think that we crave, but it is unobtainable. It is what the ancients called 'hubris', defiance of God. We are human; we are created. There will always be limits. We can never be the masters or mistresses of our own fate.

But I would argue that there is a deeper freedom that we desire.

We long for the freedom to be at peace. At peace with the God who, deep down, we know exists. At peace with other people; at peace with creation and at peace with ourselves.

Some of you may have watched the dramatization of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. One of the big themes is Count Bezukhov’s search for peace. He looks for it in wild living, in sex and drink, but does not find it. He looks for it in wealth, but he does not find it. He looks for it in free masonry and moral improvement, which one has to say was a great deal better than what came earlier, but he does not find it. He looks for it in a cause – to improve the life of the peasants on his estates, or in the attempt to kill Napoleon – but he does not find it. He does find it, but in a very different place. He is arrested and becomes a prisoner of war. One of the other prisoners is a peasant, Platon Karataev, who shares some bread with him, and tells him to enjoy the moment of eating. The peasant is a man who is at peace. At peace on the outside, in a situation in which he could never claim to be ‘master of his fate’, and at peace on the inside. What the TV series does not show – I suspect deliberately - is what for Tolstoy is key about Karataev. He has a deep and profound faith in Christ.

I take communion to Michael. Some of you may know him. He used to come weekly to the 8am communion at St Mary’s. Michael has motor-neurons. It is working its way up his body and it has got to his shoulders. He is now unable to lift his hands. He jokes that the dog has more power than him. If the dog paws his arm down off the chair, then he is unable to lift it back on. But Michael is amazing. I don’t doubt that he has his very dark moments, but he is astonishingly at peace. He was telling me how, about 30 years ago, when he went into Woolpit church, God met with him. And when he was reading in Micah 5 about the coming king, and the prophet Micah says, ‘He will be our peace’, Michael said, ‘When I read it I suddenly realised what happened 30 years ago. I met the peace of God. And that peace has never left me’. I wonder, whether God in his mercy, gave Michael that gift of peace because He knew what Michael would have to go through.

And the only way for the King to give us this peace, to set us free from the prisons inside us, from the walls that we build around us as we pursue status or significance or self-autonomy, from the muck that is in us, from sin and from death – was for him to take all of that into himself and to deal with it.
And this week, on Good Friday, we remember when he did that.
The one who was perfect became sin for us. The one who was and who can be the only one who really is the master of his fate, gave up his life to suffer and die for us. He was separated from God his Father, and he paid the price that we deserve to pay.

And the price has been paid. All that is left to us is to trust him; to receive his peace, his love, his forgiveness, the new identity he gives us as beloved sons and daughters of heaven, his presence to come and live in us and change us, and the hope that one day we will see him as he is and become like him.


So today we give thanks that it is the king who is coming to his royal city, to Jerusalem. This is the king who we worship and who we serve, the king before whom we lay our lives down; and we also give thanks that this is the king who came to lay down his life so that we might have peace. 

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