Israel was a nation formed specifically by God and for God, unique among every other nation before or after. There was no speaking about their kings without reference to the King and Jesus made two critical claims during his earthly ministry: Jesus claimed to be Israel’s King and more importantly, he claimed to be the King of the universe. And if Jesus is King over all kings and the Lord over all lords, then that means that each and every person is called to bow before him, whether we’re talking about the Roman emperor or the power-hungry head of the local bowling league. The rulers of Jesus’ day understood this, which brought them into sharp conflict with Jesus as they sought to keep their own power by undermining him and leading others to reject him as well.
In the final week of Jesus’ life, the conflict between the rightful King and the world’s kings comes into its greatest focus. This begins when Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The triumphal entry is unimpressive. God is not riding the majestic stallion, crowned with laurel branches, surrounded by the wealthy and glorying in loud shouts of praise like the kings of his day. This sharp contrast is precisely the point, and it should never be downplayed or glossed over. Worldly power is doomed to be overturned by the power of God, but Jesus demonstrates that the power of God is made known in and through weakness, so that God might show that it is he alone who accomplishes all things.
Christ is not interested in the pomp and circumstance of political charades, unlike all the pretenders to the throne. Ironically, while worldly eyes see Jesus as a pauper prince with a motley crew of unfortunates, those who are not esteemed by the world are the very ones who joyfully welcome him crying, “Hosanna—save us!” Jesus came proclaiming the way of true righteousness, which gave hope to the lowly that finally God’s kingdom would prevail for the good of the world. But talk of true righteousness likewise strikes fear into the hearts of the corrupt, realizing that their time was short. We will see this all the more clearly as this week goes on.
Today many forcefully declare that Jesus wasn’t political, but this perspective can only come from misunderstanding who Jesus is -King- and the world into which he was born. The idea of “separation of church and state” simply had no meaning in the first century. God’s people understood this, which is why they had such great hope, even as Jesus’ enemies understood that he was a direct challenge to their reign. Our modern views on government have caused us to imagine wrongly that it could be possible to talk about God and what He requires while “not being political,” as if God’s concern for faithfulness and morality and righteousness ends the moment you start talking about society as a whole.
As the apostle Paul said powerfully, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent [and] he has given assurance to all by raising [Christ] from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The good news is that our King has come, not only to die but also to raise all things to new life with him. There is not one area of our lives or anywhere else in the world in which he does not intend to see his will done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This Holy Week, may you look to your life and consider the ways in which you are living out of step with the will of our Lord, knowing with great assurance that Jesus always answers the prayer, “Save me!”