I have been thinking about that crowd that welcomed Jesus into the city.
I have been involved in two significant big crowds this last week. One was online. It was Shane Warne tribute at the MCG. The other was in-person at the Entertainment Centre. It was the final live concert of a music group who have been a constant conscience pricker and thinking shaper for me and many Australians – Midnight Oil.
Outside Jerusalem the crowd gathered. The one saying he is THE king travels through the crowd. The palms wave and coats are laid. “Hosanna” they cry. “God save us. God is saving us. God will save us …”. The old song for a king returns. From David to Solomon to this guy,
No palms waved in the now named Great Southern Stand – The Shane Warne Stand. No coats laid on the MCG at his final farewell, but endless praise of the man they now call “The King”. Warney must have ticked all the boxes of a large proportion of our community’s hopes for a crowd celebration of this magnitude to happen. Larrikin, winner, doting father, mate who shared his huge wealth, threw great parties, had relationships with beautiful women, hung out with the rich and famous and musically gifted, treated his friends very well …
But I heard nothing about the God who created him, gave him life and promised him everything.
And Midnight Oil? Different crowd. Protest injustice, save everything and do it now. It is all on us. ‘Resist’ was the name of the show. Resist being controlled by the politicians, the big money end of town, the corrupt corporates who are planet destroyers and pain makers. Resist racism and ill treatment of our indigenous peoples. Don’t let those nukes ever be used. Watch how you and where you store the waste. Look after these fragile habitats.
I resonate with some of it. There is a needed impatience. There is an understanding of how things really are for people and planet. There is a call to take responsibility, to do some good things that are hard to do for the wellbeing of our children’s future.
But still, no acknowledgment for the God who gives us life and this magnificent planet and a future.
So, two crowds putting this life and this place we call home in our hands, devoid of God’s place in this place. No Saviour. We are our own saviour, except when we are not; when we cause all the damage … That is a problem!
So here comes the actual Saviour to a crowd in his capital city.
He is a human Rabbi claiming to be ‘The New King’, and we never found out if he could not even bowl leg spin!
As they did for Midnight Oil and for Warney, the crowd go wild. The songs return and they sing.
The three crowds contain those resisting, those protesting, those just longing for a better life. All seem willing to acclaim this strange donkey-riding king, for now.
But what kind of king will he be? Into a perfect storm of three winds this strange King rides.
Storm 1: Rome
Rome is on the rise, like Russia is trying to be and China is. Rome was once a more democratic place. Thirty years before this it was a republic ruled by a Senate. But on this crowded day, Rome is a despotic state. Julius Caesar saw to that. Julius himself did not last long. He was assassinated. That plunged the once great and relatively settled place into civil war.
Julius’ adopted son, Octavian, emerged the winner. He took the name “Augustus” which means ‘majestic’, or ‘worthy of honour’. Octavian made the story stick that his father, Julius, has become divine. (A bit like Shane Warnes seems to have become).
So, Rome now has an emperor with new clothes. Augustus took the same title as did his successor, Tiberius. No senate for the people, but a Caesar to control the country. The title of the Great Leader was in your face every day. It was on the coins with which you bought your bread.
So, Jesus walks into a city who already has a very present divine king. There is going to be a power clash.
Storm 2: Israel
The nation under foreign military rule is a high pressure over-heated cyclone! The people know that they are the chosen and that they are heading somewhere. Despite many setbacks, including these brutal Romans, they will ultimately get to a ‘better place’, and Yahweh will get them there.
Yahweh did this once. (Think Passover and Exodus). The struggle is on. Like the Israelite slaves resisting Pharoah and the gods of Egypt, we are resisting. We are searching. We are grabbing at anything we can. There is going to be a clash of expectations.
Yahweh, the free and unpredictable God is in all of this. He is on the move in the crowd.
He has given them a hint about what he is up to.
So, God is present and on the move, but not as they want or believe possible. He will transform his world WITHOUT war horses, battle bows. He will not be a Roman Caesar like so many since have and are trying to be, he will operate not like a dictator with guns, but a shepherd tending his sheep.
So, this King comes on his terms to this crowd, to our crowds and to us today. He comes on his terms and his way, not ours. He enters his capital in ordinariness and without a revolutionary cause or beautiful clothes or light show and band.
The crowd that wants a hero, winning, revolutionary king will be the city that is transformed by a king who is none of these. This crowd, our crowds and this crowd here today are transformed by this suffering king who give his all for pure love of his people and his planet.
In just over a month, by the rush of the Spirit, may of these people will be overwhelmed by this risen King pouring out the gift of love despite their ignorance and rejection of him on this day.
So, I would prefer to be in this crowd gathered here today. It is longer, wider, deeper, more life-giving, more useful and world-beating than the Shane Warne gathering or the protest songs of The Oils.
Would they lay down their lives for the people who are rejecting their message or way of life? Would we? Would they give up being ‘king’ to bow down before another who really is? Would you? Would I?
Would they and us trust in these strange weapons of this strange king by which he enters the city to save the city – forgiveness, healing, promises, presence, new meal, new baptism, love of friend and foe in blue skies and grey?
This King keeps walking through the crowd. He keeps on heading into this perfect storm – not with military might or political spin or ego-centric power – but with sheer suffering love. The storm will get him. But in the end, he will disarm it.
The city he weeps over is the city he enters to transform with forgiving love. That is our King.
The people who reject him are the people he sings with in the hope they find deep acceptance from God.
The palm waving coat laying crowd he walks through who want him to be some sporting hero, or party hero or protest hero or revolutionary man for their cause is the crowd for whom he will lay down his life, so we don’t need heroes like that made in our own image. We only need him.
Draw near now friend.
Go with him into the storm.
Let him into your storm.
Turn away from the crowds of self-congratulation, winning, fighting, good times full of godless praise to turn to face this God in this man in all his violent suffering.
It is hard to watch but it is how he wins the world – how he wins you back and places you in the greatest crowd the world never sees – the great crowd around the throne of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.
That’s our crowd!