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  • Writer's pictureRich Scheenstra

The Gospel of King Jesus


Jesus starts to reveal his glory. Just a little.

 

That’s what happens on what’s called Palm Sunday, the first day of what Christians refer to as Holy Week. Jesus is admitting, just a little, that he’s King.





 

Not King in the sense that Lebron James is “the King” or “King James.” While Lebron may wondrously hold court in a NBA basketball arena, able to do what no 39-year-old has ever done, the range and nature of Jesus’ kingship is of a different kind and scope.

 

But like I said, on the particular day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus is just hinting at who he is. Enough for some people to notice, those who put two-and-two together.

 

Pilgrims were climbing up the road into Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Many hoped that the Messiah, Israel’s long-promised king, would appear some year during a Passover celebration.

 

Jesus had made arrangements to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey colt. It wasn’t his normal means of transportation, and pilgrims started shouting:

 

“Hosanna!”

 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

 

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 

It being the Passover, the pilgrims would likely have been chanting these Old Testament Scriptures anyway. But when the pilgrims saw Jesus, some started shouting the words, while others took their coats off, placing them on the road in front of Jesus and his donkey. Others waved palm branches. A few may have remembered these words from the prophet Zechariah:

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

    righteous and victorious,

lowly and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

 

While exciting in the moment, this actually proved to be the beginning of the end for Jesus. Raised hopes were soon to be dashed. Sure, Jesus overturned the tables of money changers in the Temple, but Roman soldiers still walked the streets unchecked. By the end of the week, Jesus was arrested, and Pilate, the Roman governor, allowed his soldiers to have a little fun with Jesus. When Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd, they stared at someone they hardly recognized, whose head and clothes were stained with fresh blood, a crown of thorns pressed into his skull, his face smeared with the saliva of Roman soldiers who had beaten, mocked and spat upon him. Disgusted, the crowd started yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They didn’t like being made fools of.

 

None of us does. I know I don’t. Which is why it can be hard to believe the things the New Testament says about Jesus. All of it seems too far-fetched – either too crazy, or too good to be true. Even Judas, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, got tired of being made a fool of, especially when Jesus began to warn his disciples about what was going to happen to him. The night before, Judas had arranged a rendezvous between Jesus and the temple guards so that Jesus could be arrested. (He later regretted it, committing suicide by the time Jesus was crucified the next day.)

 

There are days when things the New Testament says about Jesus seem too good to be true. But most of the time I consider them too good not to be true. Who could make this stuff up? Certainly not the disciples who betrayed, denied and abandoned him that night. It was seeing his transformed body, talking with Jesus and eating with him after he rose from the dead that dispelled their doubts. Even then, they needed Jesus’ help, and later the help of his Spirit, to figure out what all this meant.


What these disciples, now apostles, heard and wrote down after that didn’t make their lives easy. Most of them lost their lives telling people what they’d seen and heard. Either these former disciples were liars or deluded – or they were actually telling the truth. What’s interesting is that they didn’t shy away from talking about how Jesus died, even though nothing could have put Jesus in a more negative light (as I pointed out in my last post).


Incredibly, Jesus had risen from the dead! I say "incredibly" because we're told that when Jesus' disciples first saw him post-resurrection, they "disbelieved for joy" (Luke 24:41). I don't know about you, but I can definitely relate.

 

Which brings me back to Palm Sunday. It’s a day that hints at the heart of the good news – that Jesus is King. I understand that there’s a lot of other good news that spins off from this basic good news – like forgiveness, the hope of eternal life, and a fulfilling relationship with the living God. But as New Testament scholars like Tom Wright, Scot McKnight, Matthew Bates and Michael Gorman have been saying for years, the core of the gospel is that Jesus is King. Another way to put it would be, “Jesus is Lord,” which some scholars believe was the first confession of the early church.

 

These ways of referring to Jesus are likely to sound strange to modern ears. In the United States, we dumped our last king centuries ago. No one ever addresses others as “My lord” anymore (though I’ve asked my wife to consider it). We live in a nation that claims to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We call our superiors by their first names. We tend to see ourselves as our own rulers, masters of our own destinies. Calling Jesus “King” sounds passé, anachronistic, a bit corny. We’re afraid of being mixed up with those “Christian nationalist” folks (which is understandable). It’s fine to call Jesus "Teacher" or maybe "Master." But King Jesus?

 

“I’ll stick with Jesus Christ, if you don’t mind.” That’s fine, as long as you realize that Christ basically means King. Instead of being Jesus’ last name, “Christ” is actually his title. It literally means “Anointed One” – or “Messiah” in Hebrew and “Christ” in Greek. The Greek word is what’s stuck. It’s a title that means Savior King.

 

So whenever the New Testament talks about Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus, it means King Jesus.

 

If the core of the gospel or good news is that Jesus is King, what does that mean exactly? There are three things, depending on where one puts the emphasis: Jesus is King, Jesus is King, and finally, Jesus is King.

 

Jesus Is King

 

Jesus isn’t just a king, just any king. He’s also not just the king, in the sense of being the king of our particular nation or religion. He’s King of all nations and even all creation. After his resurrection, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Personally, I’m glad someone is in charge and is gradually moving this mess of a Story to a timely and ultimately good end. Trusting Jesus as King means we can trust his providence and provision. Even using evil for good.

 

So when the New Testament calls Jesus King, it’s actually referring to him as King in the sense that God is King. Only God is ultimately in charge, and there is this weird thing about the Christian faith where we say that within God there are three Persons (which actually makes sense if you believe that God is and has always been love).


So yes, Jesus is that King. Which, when you think of it, makes what happened on the cross all the more stunning.

 

Jesus Is King

 

So if we have to have a King – and I’m pretty sure we do – I’m glad it’s Jesus. A lot of people are disappointed about the choices for this year’s presidential election. But as significant as I believe this election is, the result isn’t going to be nearly as important as the fact that Jesus is already King, which, for me anyway, is reassuring.


Evangelicals who are polled today say that, unlike 20 years ago, they believe character in their political leaders matters less than what they perceive as competence. Fortunately, with Jesus we get both.

 

It’s hard for a lot of people to think of Jesus as King because he doesn’t push or boss people around. He's as concerned about our freedom as he is about his rules, which aren’t very many at this point. Our freedom is something Jesus was willing to die for – even though it was our freedom that killed him. Jesus is love, just as God is love. Real love doesn’t force things or force people, even when you’re King and have all authority. Paul tells his readers to be sure to follow Jesus' example. (I know I’ve quoted this passage plenty of times, but I never get tired of it.)

 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

 

A key word here is “humbled.” Humility wasn’t a quality that was valued in Roman culture. For example, no one would have expected a Roman emperor to be humble. That would’ve been unbecoming for a ruler. But the real King, the King of kings, is humble. Even though he lived in an honor/shame culture, instead of trying to move up the social ladder, Jesus moved down the ladder, all the way down to the lowest place possible – as a slave nailed to a Roman cross. He didn’t try to leverage his position, pedigree, rights and resources for personal gain or reputation. He was drawn to people who had none of these – the least, last and lost. He told his followers that whatever they did for one of the least of these his brothers and sisters, they did for him.

 

Like I said, I can’t imagine anyone being able to make this stuff up. It’s just too strange. It certainly was in the first century, and still is today.

 

Jesus Is King

 

Everything I’ve said so far is based upon the supposition that Jesus is alive. I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but Easter is just around the corner. Yet this “isness” of Jesus being King goes beyond his simply rising from the dead. Jesus is the summit and summation of Isness itself. He's the Source and Lord of all Isness.

 

Yes, this same guy who rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, knowing, in spite of the crowd's accolades, what he was ultimately facing. The Lord and Source of all existence would allow his light and life to be extinguished.

 

Jesus is King. When Moses asked God what he should say to the enslaved Israelites in Egypt, God said, “Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.” Mind you, God already had a special name. You’ve probably heard it before. It’s Yahweh. It means “He Is.” So this “He Is,” who doesn’t allow statues to represent him, and doesn’t even have a temple (at this point), and has a name that simply means “He Is,” tells Moses to tell the people that ‘I Am’ sent him. You can’t get more direct, immediate, essential, existential or personal than that. This God is essence itself, the ground of all being, but this Itself is also a Himself, a Person (okay, three Persons, but that comes later).

 

Moses said, “You’ve heard of He Is? Now it’s I Am.”

 

Why am I telling you this?

 

Because it has to do with how Jesus is King. For example, it explains several things Jesus says about himself in John’s Gospel. There are these seven “I am” statements: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door; I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the true vine. There’s also the place where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).

 

I think this last statement is meant to clue us into the fact that the “I am” in the seven “I am” statements is that I Am.

 

Jesus is King. After the four Gospels and Acts, instead of merely following King Jesus, we’re encouraged to live in him. While there are a handful of times the New Testament talks about Christ living in us, most of the time we’re told to live in Christ; which I know sounds strange, but what are you going to do? Learning from Jesus – that seems fine. Following his example – I can try that. Believing in him – that’s easier some days than others. But living in him, in Christ, in King Jesus? That’s only possible because he’s the I Am God, the King of Isness.

 

This isn’t just some fringe idea, relegated to a couple of obscure verses in Revelation. References like “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in Jesus Christ,” “in the Lord Jesus Christ,” “in the Lord” or just “in him,” occur over 200 times in the New Testament. For example:

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5). [In the New Testament letters, the word “Lord” almost always refers to Jesus.]

 

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

 

What do the words “in Christ” mean? At the risk of over simplifying things (a ton has been written about this), living in Christ means living in the Person of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the People of Christ, and the Kingdom of Christ. The Christ who is both everywhere and became nothing, the Cosmic and Crucified Christ, the I Am that died and rose again.

 

And this I Am God became Jesus, who humbly rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed colt of a donkey – hinting at who he was, but still hidden. Not forcing himself on anyone, allowing himself to be believed or disbelieved, mocked, spat upon and crucified. That’s how much he values our freedom. That’s how much he’s hoping we’ll open our lives to him: not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we’re grateful, and want to take full advantage of his I Am presence, and all he can teach us about becoming fully alive ourselves.

 

The He Is Yahweh is now the I Am Jesus, who says “Abide in me, as I abide in you” (John 15:4). It’s not an I-It relationship he wants, or even an I-Him relationship, but as Martin Buber, the 20th century Jewish philosopher described it, an I-Thou relationship.

 

King Jesus is still hinting at who he is, while also remaining hidden. He's still preserving my freedom, while planting constant clues and leaving a trail. He embeds his Spirit in my spirit so I can interpret these signs. Each day is an adventure in learning, loving and serving, blessing and being blessed, with Jesus the humble King whispering, “I love you. Follow me.”


Sometimes I'm glad to obey, and sometimes not. Some days it's getting easier to believe, and some days not, mostly because I hold back. The King doesn't demand all of me, but requires all of me if I'm to become whole. I'm reminded of the old AA maxim: "Half measures availed us nothing." I'm finding that to be true; that there is actually more freedom when I can let go.


What about you?



 

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