The Unexpected King

The Unexpected King

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, April 4, 2004

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (ZEC. 9:9).

The Jewish Church began when Jehovah called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded him to take Sarai his wife and travel across the deserts and mountains to the land of Canaan. There, Jehovah established a covenant with Abram, that if Abram and his descendants would love and obey God, He would give them the land of Canaan and make them into a great nation. All they had to do was to listen to Jehovah’s commands and be obedient.

We all know the story of Abraham’s descendants and how over the passage of time, they were less and less able to remember their part of the covenant, how they drifted farther and farther away from their God.

One of the signs of this change in their relationship is the way their government changed over time. At first, Jehovah frequently appeared as an angel and spoke man to man with Abraham. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Isaac’s communications with God, and by Jacob’s time, God’s appearances were less frequent, although Jacob did meet angels face to face occasionally.

Joseph led the children of Israel for many years, but he did not see God face to face, but instead he received his instruction and inspiration through dreams. For more than 400 years after Joseph, the children of Israel were essentially a leaderless mob, receiving no direct instruction from God at all.

They experienced a revival when the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. For the first time in many generations, the Lord was once again speaking directly to the leaders of the children of Israel. Under His direct care and leadership they escaped from Egypt, built the tabernacle, and conquered the land of Canaan by military force. There they lived for several generations, ruled not by a king, but by judges raised up by God from time to time according to need.

While Samuel was the prophet and Judge of Israel, the people went to him and demanded that they be allowed to have a king like all the other nations. They did not want to be ruled by the Lord any longer, but wanted to be ruled by a king of their own, instead. Samuel was furious with them for their request, but the Lord told Samuel not to worry, that they had not rejected Samuel, but they were rejecting Him, the Lord, instead. The Lord told Samuel to go ahead and give them their king – He wanted to accommodate to their needs as they saw them, as always, He sought to lead His people in freedom. So He gave them Saul as their first king, and when he failed, He gave them David, and then Solomon, whose head was turned by his enormous wealth and power. After that, the kingdom was divided and Israel and Judah fought with each other and their external enemies for 300 years until the Assyrians captured and removed Israel, and 200 years later the Babylonians captured and removed Judah.

By the time the Lord came on earth, the Jews were a small remnant of their former selves. Their worship had been radically changed by their years in Babylon. No longer did they sacrifice in the a temple, but instead they gathered to read and study the scriptures together. Most of the tribes had been dispersed and lost to history by the various wars, as were the tabernacle, the ark, and the Ten Commandments carved on tables of stone. The laws of Moses had been interpreted and reinterpreted until they no longer bore any resemblance to the ones given to Moses by Jehovah. And they had not governed themselves or their land in hundreds of years. It is difficult to imagine a greater decline for a nation.

Unless we know how far they had fallen, it is impossible for us to know how great their desire for a king was. They remembered that at one time the Jews had ruled Canaan. They remembered that David was renowned for his military leadership. They savored the knowledge that Solomon’s wisdom and wealth had never been rivaled – and their rage at having to serve the Romans, when they should by Divine right be ruling the Romans, simmered barely under the surface. We know from many historical documents that the Jews were a particularly difficult race to govern because of their knowledge of their own history, and their insistence on their God-given right to return to the days of power and glory.

The scriptures gave them hope, for in many places the scriptures promised that a king would be coming, a king who would lift them up out of their servitude to other nations and would restore them to the position they deserved, of ruling all other nations and peoples on earth! Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (text). One day, they hoped, their king would come, and their days of unhappiness would end because they would be rulers of the world and able to take revenge upon all those who had offended them in the past.

During the whole of the Lord’s public ministry, there had been rumors and questions about Him, whether or not He was in fact the promised Messiah, the King who would lead them to cast off the yoke of Rome. The Twelve Disciples themselves believed that Jesus was going to use his miraculous powers to lead them in a revolution that could not fail. Finally, after three years of waiting and watching, Jesus gave everyone the sign that He was ready to become the King. He found an ass’s colt that had never before been ridden, and began to ride it up the main road into Jerusalem, the capital city. The people, no doubt aided by the disciples, recognized the symbolic nature of this act, and responded to Jesus as they would to a king, by laying their garments and palm branches in the road, an earlier version of the “red carpet” treatment of royalty.

As we have seen, the Jewish nation had descended from being a people directly lead and governed by God under Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to being an ungovernable nation, seeking only their own wealth and world prominence. And now the Lord was coming to them as a king, a spiritual king, to give them their last chance to recognize Him as a spiritual leader, to finally understand the true nature of His promise and His coming.

When we look back over the known record of the Lord’s own life, we can see that everything He had done or said had let up to and prepared for this final trip to Jerusalem. His name, given to Mary by the angel, means The Savior, the anointed one, the King. The heavenly doctrines tell us that The reason why the Lord is called “King” and “the Anointed,” is that He was the Messiah, or Christ; and “Messiah” or “Christ” means the king and the anointed. This is why, in the Word, the Lord is meant by “king,” and also by “David,” who was king over Judah and Israel. The Lord was king in a spiritual and philosophical sense, and had always been king, but it was on this day and at this place in time that the Lord chose to actually take on the physical appearance of his kingship. He did so at that time and place in order to give the people of the Jewish Church their last chance to accept their part of the Abramic covenant, and accept Him as their spiritual leader, turning away from their worldly and natural views of the church.

The people gave every appearance of accepting Him as their king, at first, by greeting him in the traditional manner by which kings were welcomed into the city, by putting palm branches and garments in the road to give him a clean, never before used surface to travel upon. These acts were correspondential as well, because ‘palm-trees’ signify the goods of the Spiritual Church. The Lord as a king represents the Divine Spiritual, that is, that He governs each and every thing in the universe from the Divine Truth. Therefore, when the people put palm-branches in the road, it represented the affection of good and the delights of life that come when the truths of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom are received and lived, when individuals learn the Lord’s truth and act in love and charity towards others. We are also taught in the heavenly doctrines that to take the branches of palm and crying Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord represents a confession of Divine truth concerning the Lord.

What is particularly interesting about the way the Lord was greeted as He entered Jerusalem is that He was greeted and welcomed as a king by the same people who were to turn on Him and demand His crucifixion in less than a week. This is a scriptural confirmation of the spiritual principle so often mentioned in the doctrines of the New Church, that evil people are capable of hearing and understanding the truth, but they are evil because they choose to ignore it and live according to their own selfish delights instead. Devils sometimes ask to come into heaven, and they are welcomed, and are even able to simulate angelic life for a time – but eventually the evil decide that the filth and ugliness of their own hell is far better for them than the delights of heaven, and so they return there of their own free will. All men can be elevated into the light of spiritual truth. After they receive that elevation, it is up to their own will and their own delights as to whether they will remain there or not.

The Lord also presented Himself as a king at that time for another reason, because His kingship has to do with the spiritual kingdom and therefore with truth, He was also presenting Himself as the Judge as He prepared to complete the judgment on the Jewish Church.

The relationship between the Lord as king and Judge, and the use of truth in the judgment of the church becomes more clear when we think of it in terms of what is supposed to happen in a court of law. There, an impartial judge sits in judgment. Those who are contesting the matter present witnesses who tell what they believe happened. Soon, patterns begin to emerge. Certain things don’t fit into the story and are rejected. Other things become obvious from the circumstances and are put into place. Eventually, the truth emerges, and the judge identifies it and makes his decision. In a proper court, it is the truth, when it is finally discovered, not the judge, that makes the judgment. In the same way, it is the truth that judges the church.

Everything the Lord did during His life in the world was done for a reason. When He chose to enter Jerusalem as a king, it was in part to show all people that He had come to administer true, spiritual justice to all men. He was doing this by allowing the Jewish Church to judge itself against the truth that He had been teaching throughout His ministry in the world. He presented Himself to the Jewish church as a king. He then awaited their response to that truth. He did not judge them, but they judged themselves by the way that they treated Him. Remember that when He was crucified there was a sign on the cross identifying Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The sign had apparently been put there to mock Him, but instead it was a testimony across the ages that told how the Divine Truth, or the Word, had been regarded and treated by the Jewish Church.

The Lord entered Jerusalem on that day as a king, but He had no intention of becoming an earthly king. He did not intend to deceive anyone into thinking otherwise, but rather, He did it because it corresponded to and represented the spiritual truth about His government of the spiritual world, of the church in heaven and the church on earth. He never said He would be a king of a natural kingdom, He did not mislead. He did what He set out to do, not what they expected Him to do, and because the people at that time and in that age were not able to accept spiritual goals and a spiritual kingdom, they turned on Him and killed Him for not being what they expected and wanted Him to be.

As we celebrate this Easter holiday, let us remember the Unexpected king, let us try to see the Lord as He truly is, not as we think He ought to be. The only way we can get that knowledge is by reading the Word for ourselves, with reverence, with respect, and with a heart-felt desire to learn what the Lord teaches there apart from our own personal desires. Then, when we see the truth in the Word, we will be seeing the Lord as a king of His spiritual kingdom, and we can then truly say, Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. (Mark 11:11). AMEN.

First Lesson: Lev 23:37-44

‘These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day; {38} ‘besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD. {39} ‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. {40} ‘And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. {41} ‘You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. {42} ‘You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, {43} ‘that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’” {44} So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mark 11:1-11

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; {2} and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. {3} “And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” {4} So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. {5} But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” {6} And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. {7} Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. {8} And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. {9} Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ {10} Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” {11} And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve. Amen.

Third Lesson: Arcana Caelestia 8369

By “palm-trees” are signified goods, by them is also signified the affection of good, and the consequent delight, for all delight is from the affection of good. As this was signified by “palm-trees,” therefore also palm-trees were employed in holy festivities, as in the feast of tabernacles ….

As a “palm-tree” signifies good, it also signifies wisdom, for wisdom is of good. This was signified by the palm-trees which together with the cherubs and flowers were carved upon the walls of the temple; for “the temple” signified the Lord Himself, and In the representative sense, heaven. Amen.

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