March 28th, 2021 homily on Mark 11:1-11 and Phil. 2:5-11 by Pastor Galen Zook
Jehu and Joram
In the book of 2 Kings there’s a rather obscure story that comes to us from the time of the prophet Elisha. Elisha, who at that time was one of the elder prophets, summons one of the younger prophets, hands him a flask of oil, and instructs him to go and find Jehu (the commander of the army), and to anoint him with oil and declare him as the new king of Israel.
Elisha instructs the younger prophet, “after you anoint him with oil and declare him as the new king, “then open the door and run!” (2 Kings 9:3).
You see, the problem was that there already was a king of Israel. It’s a rather dangerous act to anoint someone else as the king when there is already one!
The young prophet follows Elisha’s instructions. He finds Jehu sitting around the camp with some of the other army officers. He tells Jehu that he has some business to discuss with him. Jehu follows the prophet inside. The prophet anoints him with the oil and tells him that God has proclaimed him to be the new king. And then the young prophet opens the door, and runs away.
When he comes back outside and joins the other arm officers, they ask Jehu what the young prophet had wanted to discuss with him. Jehu at first resists, but finally breaks down and tells them what happened.
And then we get to the part that is relevant to our Gospel lesson today. Because immediately when the other army officers hear that Jehu has been anointed the new king, they take off their coats and spread them on the ground. They blow a trump, and they pledge their allegiance to Jehu, shouting, “Jehu is king!” (2 Kings 9:13).
Together Jehu and his comrades begin to conspire how they can overthrow the current king of Israel — King Joram — and establish Jehu as the new king of Israel. The ensuing chapters of 2 Kings tell how Jehu and his fellow officers proceed to successfully gain control of Israel through a combination of violence and deception, riding into the city where the king was resting and recovering from wounds he had received in battle, attacking him when he was most vulnerable.
Jehu became the king of Israel and reigned for 28 years, instituting major religious and political reform, and when he passed away his son Jehoahaz inherited the throne.
Hosanna – “Save Us”
The story of Jehu is one example of how new kings came to power in biblical times. Typically princes or princesses were born into a royal lineage and came to power when their predecessor passed away. But the alternative means was for someone such as Jehu to amass great military strength and power and influence or use such dubious means as deception to get close to the king and overthrow the kingdom, assuming the power for themself.
The military coup staged by Jehu and his comrades in 2 Kings chapter 9 was no doubt the type of insurrection that many people of Jesus’s day were hoping and longing for. Growing up, they had heard countless stories of this type of revolutionary activity. Many of their heroes of the faith were people such as Jehu, who had been called by God to rescue God’s people from the rule and reign of tyrannical and ungodly leaders.
The people of Jesus’s day were steeped in stories like the Exodus – of Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt, rescuing them from slavery and from the oppressive rule of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Judges like Deborah, Samson, and Gideon rescued the people from other nations who had placed them in captivity. And kings of old like Saul and David and Jehu were heroes of their nation and of their faith that they looked up to and admired.
By the time of Jesus, the people once again lived under the authority of an oppressive regime. The reign of Jehu did not last forever. Eventually the northern kingdom of Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians, and the people of Israel were scattered among the nations. The southern kingdom of Judah was overtaken by the Babylonians, and the people were taken into exile, and although they were eventually allowed to return to their homeland, they were never truly free.
In Jesus’s day, the Roman empire ruled over a vast region of the world, including the nation of Israel. The Jewish people experienced oppressive taxation and military occupation. They longed to have their own kingdom where they could truly worship God in the way they wanted to, and where they could truly be free.
And so every year around Passover time, many people made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. On the way there, they recounted the story of Moses freeing the people from slavery in Egypt. They sang songs, such as Psalm 118 that we read earlier. They shouted “hosanna”, which means “save us,” and they sang in faith about one who would come in the name of the Lord to rescue them.
A Humble King
It’s no surprise then, that when the people saw the amazing miracles that Jesus had been doing — how he healed the sick and raised the dead to life, how he fed 5,000 people with only a few loaves and fish, and how he spoke truth to power and confronted the hypocrisy of their leaders, it’s no wonder that they began to think about how all of that power could be directed against Rome.
It’s no wonder that they thought that Jesus was perhaps the promised anointed one who would save them. The name Jesus even means “savior” or “God saves”! It’s no wonder that when they saw Jesus riding toward the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, that they thought perhaps this was the moment he would take control. It’s no wonder that they acted toward him in the same way Jehu’s fellow military officers had acted towards him, taking off their cloaks and throwing them on the ground, hailing Jesus as their savior and their king.
But unlike Jehu, and unlike the military heroes of old, Jesus did not come with an army, but rather a ragtag band of women, and fishermen, and tax collectors. Unlike Jehu, he did not use deception and violence but rather he spoke the truth and allowed himself to be subjected to violence and brute force.
Rather than overthrowing the earthly rulers and setting up a kingdom here on this earth, he proclaimed himself to be the king of a heavenly kingdom, an eternal kingdom that will never come to an end.
This of course was not what the people expected, nor was it what the majority of the people seemed to want. The crowd who shouted “hosanna” on Palm Sunday disappointingly turned against him and yelled “crucify him” on Good Friday. Many of his disciples even abandoned him as was put to death on the cross. Only the faithful women, and a handful of his male disciples, stuck by him to the end.
An Eternal Kingdom
It seemed to many during that time, then, that Jesus had failed. In their minds, he failed to live up to the meaning of his name “God saves.” He had failed to become the king that they were hoping and longing for.
The reality was, though, that Jesus had very much succeeded in his mission and his plan. Jesus, God in the flesh, had become one of us, and he lived among us to show us the way to God. Jesus demonstrated God’s kingdom through word and deed, healing the sick, casting out demons, freeing those who were trapped in cycles of sin and despair.
Jesus invited any and all to follow him, throwing the door open not just to people of every class in society, but of every ethnic and cultural background as well. Jesus had thrown the door open to the Gentiles – the people of every nation, and instructed his followers to go into all the world to make disciples of people of every nation,
And Jesus had in fact succeeded in saving his people — perhaps not from the temporary earthly rulers who oppressed them, but from the larger systemic effects of sin and injustice. In dying on the cross in our place he succeeded in breaking the power of sin and death, making it possible for us to be restored in our relationship to God.
And through it all he was faithful, living a sinless and perfect life, modeling for us the right way to live, the right way to change the world, the right way to love. Through his life and ultimately through his death on the cross, he revealed God’s spirit and God’s presence to us.
The apostle Paul describes the Kingdom that Jesus instituted as one “of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17), and quoting one of the earliest hymns of the church, he encapsulates how that Kingdom came about. Paul says,
[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:7-11).
Jesus humbled himself, and was obedient, even to the point of death. And therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, and every tongue confess that Jesus, the Christ (Anointed One), is Lord.
And even today, Jesus invites us to be a part of his Kingdom. Jesus invites us to put our faith and trust in Him, and to pledge our allegiance to Him, to turn our lives completely over to his rule and reign.
Some of us may be drawn to the heroism of Jehu. Like the people of Jesus’s day, we wonder why Jesus doesn’t intervene to change the political structures and systems of our world. We long for an end to injustice and oppression in our world, and we wish Jesus would just come and set up his kingdom here on this earth.
But we learn from Jehu and his successors that earthly kingdoms will come to an end. The religious and political reforms that Jehu made did not last. Every earthly ruler who seeks to create a perfect kingdom always falls short. But the Kingdom that Jesus instituted – the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, will last forever. In Jesus we received not the king and savior that we wanted, but the King and Savior that this world truly needs.
And so this week as we meditate on the sacrifice that Jesus made by giving his life on the cross for us, may we once again renew our allegiance to Christ and His eternal kingdom. May we receive the free gift of salvation that Jesus offers so freely to all, and may we yield our lives completely to his control. May we follow and proclaim him as Savior and as King, not just with the crowd on Palm Sunday but also with that small handful of disciples who gathered around the foot of the cross on Good Friday.