Jesus: the King who comes with peace
One of the great things lacking in today’s world is peace. Indeed it would be true to say that a lack of peace is endemic in society. One of the sad facts of history is the number of famous people who have had everything and yet the one thing that has eluded them is peace.
We have to be careful that we don’t follow in their footsteps. We live in a world of constant movement, hustle and bustle. Many of us are too much like the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland who was always in a hurry. He constantly looked at his pocket watch, which told him the days were rushing by. The only difference between ourselves and the March Hare is that we’re always in a rush but thumbing our smart phones and iPads as we chase after the next thing on our agenda.
Today is Palm Sunday which marks the start of Holy Week. It’s a day which the Christian Church has kept since the later years of the fourth century. It marks the start of Holy Week and Jesus’ journey to the Cross.
One major thing that the city of Jerusalem lacked on that first Palm Sunday (which we read about in the Gospel of John chapter 12:12-19) was peace. It was what Jesus was coming to bring, but they missed it. A large section of the Jerusalem crowd was greeting Jesus as a conqueror. In verse 13 they were calling out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’! The word ‘Hosanna’ is Hebrew for ‘Save now!’ It’s actually a quotation from Psalm 118, which is known as ‘the Conqueror’s Psalm’. These people were crying out ‘save now’—meaning, ‘Save us from the Romans!’
As they yelled out this psalm, the people in the crowd were imagining Jesus as the conquering king, two-edged sword in his hand. They thought the moment had come when at last he was going to overthrow Roman rule and the religion of the Scribes and Pharisees. That’s why they came with their palm branches and threw them down in front of Jesus. Waving palm branches were a sign of victory and conquest. We see this fact in Revelation chapter 7, where those Christians who had conquered death were standing victorious round the throne worshipping the Lord with palm branches in their hands.
However the thing about Palm Sunday, as we call it, is that the crowds had got it all wrong. They had misunderstood Jesus. They thought he had come in power to conquer and so they imagined they were on the march. They were too excited to stop and listen. So Jesus did something that they could all see. Verse 14 tells us ‘He came riding on an ass’s colt’. It was a dramatic enactment of the words of the prophet Zechariah: ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt’ (Zechariah 9:9).
There is no doubting that Jesus was indeed claiming to be a king, but a particular kind of king. When a king came riding on a horse he was bent on war. A king who rode on an donkey was a king who was bringing peace. He was not the warrior figure of whom they’d dreamed.
So Palm Sunday has one dominant overarching message for us: Jesus is the King of peace. He comes to us as the bringer of peace.
So from this account of the first Palm Sunday we learn three important things about peace.
1. We need to realise Jesus’ peace.
John tells us that there were two crowds in Jerusalem on this day. In verse 12, there was the crowd who had come up to Jerusalem for the great Passover Feast, and in verse 17 there was the crowd who had come with Jesus from the tomb where he had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Both crowds were set on hailing Jesus as the powerful conquering king. When they saw Jesus riding on a donkey, they were probably a bit disappointed but still too excited to realise the full significance of it. In fact John recorded that even the disciples didn’t get it. In verse 16 he wrote, ‘Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise these things had been written about him’.
The world is full of people who like those disciples in Jerusalem have still to recognise that Jesus is the ultimate source of peace. And yet the Scriptures could hardly be clearer. The great prophet Isaiah foretold that when Jesus was born he would be called ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that when Jesus was born he would ‘guide our feet into the ways of peace’ (Luke 1:79). The angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds with the words ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). Just before Jesus left his disciples to return to the heavens he said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled nether let them be afraid’ (John 14:27). Just in case they hadn’t got it, he reminded them again in John 16:33, ‘In me you may have peace’. Repeatedly, after Jesus had risen from the dead, he greets his disciples saying, ‘Peace be with you!’ On six occasions in the New Testament letters Jesus is called ‘The God of Peace’.
Philippians 4:7 says that the peace which Jesus can implant in our hearts ‘passes all understanding’. It is such a deep, lasting and healing peace that it’s beyond our ability to rationalise. It’s ‘beyond understanding’. It’s a peace like no other.
People look for peace in all sorts of ways. If only I could get that job then I would have peace. If only I could be married to that person, if only I could buy that house, when I pass that exam, when we’ve paid off the mortgage, if only I could get away from that situation, if we can just get to the end of this term then I will get a bit of peace. If only… wrong! It’s wrong because peace is an experience that is within us. As someone once rightly said, ‘True peace is an inside job’. True peace comes through being – being in Jesus, who is the source of true peace.
The cross is the sign and symbol that forgiveness is freely offered to all and that absolutely anyone can have peace with God.
That said, it’s one thing to know about peace and even to believe that Jesus is the source of peace, but it’s another thing altogether to have that peace in the inner core of our being. Peace is a gift and like all gifts it has to be received with love and gratitude.
2. We need to receive Jesus’ peace.
There is nothing that we or any member of the human race could ever do to manufacture Jesus’ peace in our hearts and lives. The only thing we can do and must do is to receive the Lord’s peace, which comes through the forgiveness of his cross as a gift.
In 1887 Queen Victoria marked her diamond jubilee by issuing a free pardon to all who had deserted from the armed forces during her reign. This royal pardon was advertised in all the national newspapers. In order to receive that generous offer deserters had to write in personally to the advertised address ask to receive the royal pardon. It was then sent to them in writing. It’s the same when it comes to receiving Jesus’ pardon and the peace which it brings. We have to come personally to the King and as best we know how to say, ‘Lord I receive your pardon’. And then, just as those who received a certificate of forgiveness from Queen Victoria, so we must believe, indeed trust, that we are forgiven. And as we trust in the Lord’s pardon for all those times we have departed from his ways, we will find we have that ‘peace which passes all understanding’. Romans 5 verse 1 says that ‘through our faith we have peace with God and are made right with him’.
We hear a lot about the importance of pursuing the presence of God. But it’s good to remind ourselves that God’s presence is all the time pursuing us. His peace is a gift. We simply need to go on receiving it, receiving it, receiving it! How do we know when we’re in the presence of God? The answer is that we have that deep peace which is the very nature of Jesus.
As we have seen in verse 16 the disciples on this first Palm Sunday didn’t understand that Jesus had come as the bringer of divine peace. However, verse 16 goes on to say ‘that after he was glorified’ they did understand. And John tells us at the end of his gospel that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room where they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. And he said, ‘Peace be with you’. And he added, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’. In other words, Jesus sent them out with a Gospel of Peace. And we know that having on their feet the sandals of peace was a core component of their spiritual armour.
The commission that Jesus’ gave to his first disciples is the same for all of us who are his subsequent followers. We are called to radiate Jesus’ peace wherever we are.
3. We need to radiate in Jesus’ peace.
The Book of Acts is the account of how the disciples and the early Christian church carried the Gospel of Peace across the Roman Empire and the message even reaching these shores within a decade. They didn’t use force like the Romans but they conquered through peace.
We are to be people who bring that same peace to others. Jesus didn’t say ‘blessed are those who are at peace’, he said, ‘Blessed are the peace makers’. We, the followers of Jesus, are called to reflect and radiate the peace of Jesus which is within us to all who cross our paths.
This means that we have to set out deliberately ‘to make peace’ wherever we find discord, conflict, anger or strife. Often that may not be easy, but we can always pray and we can always suggest to people that it’s good to talk. We can remind others that shouting or violence isn’t the best way to right an issue. Someone I used to know who was a vicar one day found himself and his whole family arguing about some matter and after a couple of minutes, he suddenly remembered the right thing and said, ‘Stop! We’re all going to kneel down and now we are going to be quiet and then I am going to pray and ask the Lord to help us’. After he had prayed peace came over them and the issue really did get sorted out.
So how can we radiate Jesus’ peace? One important way is by filling our minds with Jesus’ words. Psalm 119 verse 165 says, ‘Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble’. Isaiah 48 verse 18 says, ‘If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river’.
Perhaps most obvious is to pray and to pray with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving takes the focus away from the problem to the Lord. Philippians says, ‘Don’t be anxious about anything but in everything with thanksgiving make your requests known to God and the peace of God will keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God’. I find the more even short prayers of thankfulness I pray through the day the more at peace I am.
Shed heavy loads. Jesus does not expect us to carry heavy loads. He said, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’. If we’re weighed down with burdens of ‘must-do’ lists, it’s time we had a sort out and got rid of some or all of them!
Another way is to take time to be still. Indeed the word ‘peace’ can be translated ‘stillness’ or ‘tranquillity’. We will never remain in the peace of Jesus’ presence unless we take time to be still. There is much in the Old and New Testaments that reminds us of the importance of being still. Psalm 46 is a song in which the psalmist is reflecting on the storms and turmoil of life. Suddenly in verse 10 he hears the Lord saying, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. This is of course at truth that we know from nature. Right near to the very centre of a tornado there is place of stillness called ‘the eye’. And in the middle of every one of life’s storms there is a safe place, and that is where the Lord is. He may not always still the outward storm but he will always still the storm in our hearts.
Most of us could seriously benefit from just sitting quietly for twenty minutes doing nothing other than being still and trying to listen for that small voice of the Lord saying, ‘this is what your next step should be’. ‘This is my way forward’. ‘Don’t rush into that decision’. Keep clear of that temptation’.
Then it’s also important to consciously endeavour to live in the presence of the Holy Spirit. When people are confirmed in the Church of England the bishop prays that they ‘may daily increase in the Spirit more and more until they come to the Lord’s everlasting kingdom’. We could hardly have a better prayer than that because the Holy Spirit is the one who plants the Lord’s peace within us. Peace is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so the more we have of the Holy Spirit the more at peace we shall be.
If we are to radiate peace we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Colossians chapter 3 verse 15 exhorts us ‘to let peace of God rule in our hearts’. That means if something is iffy, confusing, worrying, dodgy, dishonest, impure, lustful, or in the least bit doubtful, we don’t go there. We only take a course of action if we feel completely at ease and peace about it. The more we follow this simple rule the more we will grow in peace and the more we will be filled with peace and remain at peace with the Lord and with others.
Today is Palm Sunday and the message of Palm Sunday is simply this: Jesus is the King who comes to us with peace. Most of us will probably be carrying home a little palm cross as Christians have done since the earliest times. Palm Sunday points us to the cross which, as we have reminded ourselves, is the symbol of peace. It’s for this very gift of peace that Jesus’ died. The New Testament tells us that Jesus, ‘the God of Peace’, brought us peace through the blood of his cross. If we need peace we need simply give our ‘yes’ to Jesus and begin receiving his forgiveness and peace into our lives. If we’re already followers of Jesus we need to keep living in his peace, be guided by his peace and radiating his peace. Then Jesus’ kingdom which is a kingdom of peace will be coming in us and through us.