02. April 2023
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where He was welcomed as a king, a savior, and a hero. But what kind of king was He? What kind of hero? He was not like the kings of this world. He was a beggar king. A poor king. A king who rode on a donkey instead of a warhorse. A king who washed his disciples’ feet instead of demanding their loyalty and obedience.
This is who Jesus is; a beggar king who comes and goes unnoticed because the powerful and the rich cannot see him. They are blinded by their power and wealth, by their expectations of what a king should be. They are offended by Jesus’ poverty, humility, and willingness to associate with sinners, outcasts, and beggars. They want a king to make them great again and restore their dignity, honor, and glory.
But the beggar king does not come to make us great again. He comes to make us small again, to strip us of our illusions, pretensions, and idols. He reveals our true condition as beggars, sinners, and lost and helpless creatures. He comes to give us a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. He comes to offer us himself as our king, our savior, and our hero.
The beggar king is not a new phenomenon. He is rooted in the ancient tradition of Israel, where kingship was often associated with poverty and humility. As the prophet, Zechariah declared, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). This image of the humble king riding on a donkey was a powerful symbol of God’s salvation and redemption, used by both David and his son Solomon.
The beggar king also runs loose in the Psalms, where the poor and the oppressed cry to God for deliverance and justice. As Psalm 72 proclaims, “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Ps. 72:4). This is the kind of king that God desires; a king who defends the cause of the poor and the oppressed, who gives deliverance to the needy, and who crushes the oppressor.
So then, why does the beggar king offend us so much today, especially Christians? Why are we so enamored with power, wealth, and success? Why do we want a king who will make us great again instead of one who will make us small again? Maybe it is because we have forgotten who we are and whose we are? We have forgotten that we are beggars before God, sinners in need of grace, and are lost without a savior. We have forgotten that our true identity is not found in our possessions, achievements, or reputations but in our relationship with God. We have forgotten that our true treasure is not on earth but in heaven.
The beggar king does not come to add something to our lives but to take away something: our illusions, our pretensions, and our idols. He comes to reveal our true poverty, our true need, and our true hope. He comes to offer us Himself as our only true wealth and salvation. And yet, this message remains offensive to many today, especially among Christians who have grown comfortable with their illusions and pretensions. So again, why does this message offend us? Why do we resist what the Scriptures say about a beggar king who takes away our illusions and idols? It is because, as the Old Testament shows us, we have always been prone to worship false gods and put our trust in earthly power and wealth.
In the book of Exodus, the Israelites repeatedly turn away from the true God and worship the golden calf. This false idol they believed would bring them security and prosperity. In the book of Judges, the Israelites repeatedly turned away from God and put their trust in earthly rulers, even when those rulers were corrupt and oppressive. And in the book of Kings, we see the Israelites repeatedly turn away from God and put their trust in alliances with other nations, even when those alliances were built on injustice and idolatry.
The same tendency to worship false gods and put our trust in earthly power and wealth is still with us today. We may not bow down to golden calves, but we still worship the false gods of success, wealth, and comfort. We may not have earthly rulers, but we still put our trust in politicians and leaders who promise to make us great again. We may not make alliances with other nations, but we still prioritize our national interests over the needs and well-being of others.
And so, when the beggar king Jesus comes, He confronts us about our poverty and need. He shows us that our illusions and idols are empty promises and that our trust in earthly power and wealth is a fleeting illusion. He reveals the true poverty of our hearts and offers us himself as our only true wealth and salvation.
This message remains offensive to so many today, even among Christians, because Christians are always tempted to make themselves feel more important than they are. We are tempted to believe that our righteousness and good works make us worthy of God’s love and salvation. We are tempted to believe that our religious practices and beliefs are the key to our salvation.
But the beggar king comes to take away these illusions as well. He comes to reveal that our righteousness is nothing but filthy menstrual rags and that our good works are nothing but dead works. He reveals that our religious practices and beliefs are nothing but idols we have created for ourselves. And yet, even in the face of this truth, we resist the beggar king.
We cling to our illusions, idols, righteousness, and religious practices. We resist the truth that we are truly poor and needy and that only the beggar king can save us. We resist the beggar king Jesus because we do not want to let go of our efforts and righteousness. We want to believe we can save ourselves and earn salvation through our works and merit. But the truth is, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “all our righteous acts are like filthy menstrual rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
In our pride, we think we can approach God on our terms and dictate how He should save us. But the beggar king shatters this illusion. He comes not on our terms but on his own. He comes as a humble servant, a suffering servant, a beggar king. He comes to us in our poverty, need, and brokenness. And this is the scandal of the beggar king, that He does not conform to our expectations of what a king should be. He does not come with power and might, with wealth and prosperity. He comes as a poor man—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He comes to identify with the poor, the broken, the outcast, and the oppressed.
This is also scandalous because, as Christians, we are called to follow the beggar king, embrace his poverty, and identify with the poor and the needy. The way of Christ is the way of the cross, the way of poverty, the way of suffering. It is a way we do not naturally want to go but cannot go on our own. But it is the only way that leads to true and eternal life.
So, what are you clinging to preventing you from following the beggar king? Are you holding on to your wealth, pride, status, or righteousness? That’s not the way of Christ. The beggar king’s way is emptying yourself, relinquishing power and control, and abandoning self-righteousness.
As we approach the cross of Christ in faith this Holy Week, we pray that he strips us of our illusions and idols so that we can follow the beggar king who came to save us. We pray that he gives us the strength to embrace the way of poverty and suffering, knowing that it is only through this way that we can truly find new and eternal life. And we pray in this way because the way of the cross is the way of self-emptying and suffering love, the way of dying to live, and the way of the beggar king who comes to take away our poverty and give us his riches.
And as always, you are a baptized child of God. Therefore, his Word and Spirit will give you the courage to follow the beggar king, even when difficult and uncomfortable. His Word and Spirit will give you the strength to trust in His love and grace, knowing that he has already won the victory over sin and death for you. His Word and Spirit will lead you to embrace the true poverty that He reveals in you so that you can receive the true riches he has to offer you today and always.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin