1 Samuel 10: 17-27 Matthew 21: 1-11
Pronouncing A King
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
Because I have drilled this into everyone’s heads over the last weeks, there shouldn’t be a person here now who can possibly be unaware that we are currently looking very closely at the story of Samuel, Israel’s final and most important Judge. It was he that rather unwillingly transitioned Israel away from the rule of the Judges, and instead established the beginnings of the reign of the Israelite kings. People were really kind of rejecting God as their king – king of course is the word that we use to mean ‘almighty ruler’, and instead they wanted to have a walking, breathing, human king that they could literally listen to telling them what to do and how to be. They were demanding to be just like all the other peoples around them that they lived near.
And I’ve shared with you how this was such an important point in time for the nation of Israel, it was really just as transitional a period as when they came out of their slavery in Egypt, led by Moses going into the Sinai. Life changed for them THAT much at this time and then also, because of this very directional change, a historical path really was set in place that would be clearly marked right up to today. In fact, if it wasn’t for the reign of the Israelite kings and the centralization that they brought to the Jewish people, there is no doubt that they would not have been able to develop in the way that they did as an actual nation state, which, of course, would have created a very different reality in our world today. If things had not happened as they had, who knows if God then, through Jesus Christ, would have come into our lives in the way that he did, not to mention how this would have affected the development of Islam which does rely 100% on the Jewish and Christian stories. Think about that. There’d probably never have developed an importance around the city of Jerusalem, or for that matter, around the so many other spots that are considered so utterly essential to the world’s three major religions. And as for the locations that were already important by that time? They’d probably have been lost somewhere along the way, they’d be wonderful archeological sites today, ..but think of just how much there simply wouldn’t be; no temple in Jerusalem ever and therefore no big important city, no Masada, no Hebron or Bethlehem with the importance they have to us today. It really is incredible, …our world would be very different indeed without this moment of leadership transition. So you see, this really is an amazingly important point in God’s relationship with humanity when God decides that Saul, son of Kish will be Israel’s first king. You see, God agrees to appoint a king, and so he tells Samuel that he’ll put someone before him on a certain day in a certain place so that he’ll know just who to crown.
Saul was a rich kid, he was basically born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his father owned a good amount of land and had many herds. One day a couple of donkeys take off and no one knows where they’ve gone. So Saul’s father tells Saul to take a servant and to go out and to find these donkeys. They go and go and go and don’t see them, but then they do get close to the city of Shiloh, and that is where Samuel lives. The servant and Saul are hoping that Samuel will be able to tell them where the donkeys have gone, so they go into the city to see if they can find this famed wise man and speaker with God. Obviously they do find him, Samuel gets the message from God that this tall handsome young man in front of him is the one who will lead Israel. And then the rest is history, so to speak. Listen now for the verses of Scripture that tell of when Saul is acclaimed and anointed to lead as king. And I want you to pay very close attention here, trying to really picture in your head the scene that is playing out. Listen here for the word of the Lord…
**Read 1 Samuel 10: 17-27
Now we hear these verses and rather shockingly, I think we all go away with an impression that’s not real impressive of this new king. He was hiding amongst the baggage,.. that clearly tells us right there that something is wrong with this picture. This personality is going to lead a people, this man is going to save a nation? And then, on top of it all, after he’s proclaimed as king and the people say, “Long live the king!”, notice who’s in charge; it’s not suddenly Saul the new king, it’s still Samuel that directs the people. It’s Samuel who writes down the duties and rights of the king, it’s Samuel that places that scroll before the Lord, and then it’s Samuel that dismisses the people and sends them home. If I were there, I think I can say that I’d be looking at this scene and probably feeling the same way how the men who are left pretty doubtful in Saul are feeling, and that is ‘feeling pretty apprehensive about Saul’s abilities to be their brave new leader’. They say to each other, “How can this man save us?” And then they despised him and refused to bring him gifts. And refusing to bring him gifts is speak for, they refused to accept him as their king. And so it doesn’t really seem that Saul’s kingship is getting off on the right foot. And that’s a problem, how can he lead if there are people who right from the get go are refusing to even consider following?
Now, a thousand years after this all plays out, we have Jesus and we have also a very different situation than the one that’s presenting itself with Saul’s pronouncement as king. There have now been a number of Israelite monarchs in the line of David. (We’ve all heard how Saul loses the kingship to David, but we’ll really get into that in the weeks to come.) But right now, there’s a thousand years of story around the Jewish monarchies, a thousand years that have passed in which the Israelites have built-up the land establishing major cities, and in that time too they’ve been kicked out of that land by invaders and then brought back, ..and now you have Herod as king – who actually isn’t in the line of David at all, but was actually just a high up military man that the Romans placed on the throne as a puppet for them. (And that is part of the story of the Jews being so anxious for a new king, one in the line of David.) But the reality is very different now when Jesus arrives. There are very well established traditions surrounding the Temple built by David’s son Solomon and then rebuilt by Herod in Jerusalem, there’s a well-established calendar with religious and national holidays with specific ways that those holidays are celebrated. And really, the biggest holiday that has been established from long ago, and by this time has a very well engrained tradition, is Passover.
Of course Passover is the commemoration of when Moses tells the Israelites in Egypt to mark their doors with a cross made of lamb’s blood so that God’s holy spirit will ‘pass over’ their homes and NOT take the life of the eldest born child in that home, as he was doing to all of the Egyptian homes and other homes that did not mark their doors. And so Passover is a celebration of God’s grace on the Israelites, but then also a celebration of the Israelites being freed from their slave bondage in Egypt; this action by God which was the last one that took place before the Pharaoh decided it much wiser to just get rid of the Jews within his midst than to fight to keep them. Think about that, a celebration of God’s grace in our lives, coupled with a celebration of being freed from slavery. How could it be anything other than a joyous occasion indeed, a party like no other, a time to celebrate that God is in our lives and that God will free us from our most difficult circumstances if we just listen and follow the guidance that is offered so lovingly to us. A celebration about new beginnings, a celebration about a new chance to change the story line, to have a clean slate. Is there anyone that could be doubtful of the joy that would be running rampant?
It is to this celebration that Jesus and his disciples arrive, Jesus is well aware of the air that is hanging about the city with the merriment that just had to be infectious. And for certain, there are many who do know Jesus and are following him into Jerusalem, like I told the kids this morning, there were people coming into the city from all over the place for this celebration. And so with this sense of understanding in mind, I want you to listen to our New Testament lesson, and try to place yourself in the crowd, trying to place yourself within the joy being found. Listen here for the word of the Lord…
**Read Matthew 21: 1-11
I think it safe to say that the scene here in which Jesus is being ushered into the city as a new king is a very, very different one from when Saul was pronounced as king. People are clapping, people are celebrating, people are happy to have this parade in front of them and they’re laying down their cloaks in the streets and using palm branches too. And the reason why they do this really is because this is how royalty is welcomed into the city. Things are laid down on the street for Jesus on his colt to walk over, because you know you don’t want someone who is so clearly above you and everyone you know to have to walk on the regular dirty street as everyone else does who’s just so common… Think about what we do when a dignitary comes to town or when the Oscars are celebrated … a red carpet is rolled out. It’s the same thing. You don’t want them, who are perceived as above us, to have to walk on the common street.
Jesus is being ushered in as a leader, a prophet, and yes, perhaps in many people’s minds, as a king. This truly is marvelous to see. Jesus comes through this crowd of people, many are following him from the Galilee because they know him and his miracles from there. While others have simply heard of him, and then for sure there are others who don’t know who this man is. But we do all know how easy it is for humans to fall in line and do and feel the way that others around us are feeling. Monkey see, monkey do.
But Jesus is coming through and people are cheering and celebrating, he comes over this hill and then there in front of him is this grand site of the city of Jerusalem with the great temple built by Herod there in front of him, the scene is obviously magnificent. Everyone who sees the site is taken aback, and the crowds are still cheering. Jesus then descends to the city and he goes thorugh the city gates, still amongst the cheers. People are coming and going, to and from, it’s a very busy time, but here is Jesus.
How he is seen and believed to be in comparison to Saul…well, there is no comparison really. Jesus exposes himself always to the elements of what’s around; the elements of the Jewish leadership, the elements of the Romans, the elements of the doubters. Saul hid amongst everyone’s baggage. Jesus rides triumphantly to show just who he is, yet at the same time being humble. He’s not on a mighty steed as the Roman leadership would be when coming into a city with their trumpets blaring. Jesus comes in as a leader of people with those in the streets knowing that he has been called. Whereas Saul has commoners planning from the minute he’s proclaimed king to rebel against his expected leadership. (And Jesus had that too, but that plotting was about the insecurities that the Jewish leadership felt from withinside of themselves when paired with Jesus, those weren’t insecurities in Jesus’ abilities coming from those who should be his supporters – as was the case with Saul.) There’s an incredible difference in Saul being proclaimed king, and Jesus being proclaimed king, and clearly Saul’s example can show us the frailties of human leadership, what we get from our human leadership and how that affects us, and then just why we should always consider Jesus Christ and God the Father to be our only true leaders. Yes, we have civil authority and leadership and they are there for us to help in the process of provision, but are they above us?
We can respect, we can admire and we can feel inspired by our fellow people, but we should never see them as above ourselves….because only Jesus is above us, only God is above us. I do get frustrated when I see silly humans acting as if it is not ONLY God that is way up high. IF, and I say a big fat IF, we allow our faith to truly guide us, and IF we allow our intellect to be directed and driven by our faith – could you imagine how different the world would be? Such a bunch of content and accomplished people we would be, showing each other love in ways that also show the equality that Christ certainly taught us about.
And so Jesus arrives into the city of Jerusalem, and then he wants to go to the temple to pray. But upon his arrival he doesn’t enter in and pray. He enters onto the temple grounds and becomes incensed by the seen in front of him. He sees a market where people are buying and selling, where people are exchanging money, His father’s house has been turned from a house of prayer to a house of thieves. He knocks down the tables, yelling at the people to stop what they’re doing, trying to get them to forcibly realize that their relationship with God is not about the superficial things, not about sacrificing animals of every different size and breed, but instead that that relationship must be about the sacrifices that they themselves make from their hearts. He’s pushing people and challenging people to think outside of their very comfortable and well known box about what God means to them. And just as he’s pushing and challenging people to think outside of their boxes two thousand years ago, we too should be challenged by this famous scene. What is our relationship with our God to look like, what is our role to play, what is the role of Christ’s church, what are we going to do to challenge others to think outside of the box in regard to their relationship with God? Is it something that we’re even willing to do?
As we enter holy week, this week when we recall just how it was that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for us, we really do need to be thinking about our relationship with our Creator. What does it really look like, what is it? What do we sacrifice from ourselves for our neighbors, for our church and for our God? The Easter story is one of new beginnings, it’s one of fresh starts and new ways to be in relationship. Let’s not be like those that stood by watching as Jesus sacrificed himself for us and did nothing, let us carry his cross. And know that within the carrying of that cross, there is great joy, ..joy to be felt and joy to be shared.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.