Sermon for Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019
Word had gotten around about Jesus. The crowd that was with Jesus when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to talk about the events of that day. They were amazed at Jesus’ ability to literally raise the dead. Word spread quickly that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and so crowds gathered to see Him.
It must have been a dramatic scene. Remember that the Hebrew day of rest and quiet was the Old Testament Sabboth, which fell on Saturday. The Sunday on which Jesus entered Jerusalem was therefore equivalent to our Monday. It was the beginning of another work week, and this time it was the week leading up to the Passover Sabboth. This meant that thousands of pilgrims were approaching Jerusalem. The already crowded city was in a fever of excitement and activity.
Sometimes you might think that traffic in Bismarck gets a little crazy. However, I am sure it is nothing compared to the traffic in overcrowded, preholiday Jerusalem. It was largely pedestrian traffic, in which hordes of men, women, and children mingled with a variety of animals – donkeys for carrying people and things, lambs for sacrifice, dogs, goats, pushing in all directions, jostling one another in a great confusion of sounds and smells.
This is the setting for the story brought to you this morning. A great crowd has heard that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem. They take branches of palm trees and go out to greet Him. And they hail Him as their King, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel.”
What about this King? Who was He? What does He look like? The question of just who this king is was answered centuries before. Zechariah described the scene in prophetic vision. Nearly 500 years before it happened, Zechariah had said and written: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey.”
So He came that first Palm Sunday, attired with simple dignity, riding on the lowliest of the beasts of burden. This was a King coming to His people, a King, yet meek and lowly, coming to them in gentleness.
It doesn’t make sense. A humble king. Usually persons with such authority are power hungry. They tend to flaunt their stuff. But not Jesus. He comes in meekness and lowliness, as a servant.
What must it have taken for Jesus to ride into town, to walk the path we call holy week, knowing He was going to face betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death? Think for a moment what Jesus was willing to give up, in order to face the penalty for your sin. He is God and Creator of the universe. He is all-mighty, all knowing, and ever loving. He had the power to heal the sick, to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead. He willingly gave up all of that in order to live under the law, to take our place and to be our Savior.
It was necessary because of our sin. By nature we do not have the mind of Christ. We would rather be served than to serve. We like the lime light. Look at me. Look at my new car, my new life-size television. If all of your stuff isn’t better than others, your ideas are. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone would just agree with me? Everyone else is wrong… wrong about politics, wrong about how to solve problems, wrong about what makes a person successful. As a result of my right thinking, I come to believe that I’m the smartest person in the room. When people don’t do what we want them to do or think in ways not to my liking, we grow angry, we lash out verbally. You are here to stroke my ego and the best way to do so is to tell me that I’m right and tell me what action you are going to take that demonstrates that I am right. Look at all that I have done and accomplished. It’s all about me. We are slow to listen, quick to speak, and not very patient with others. Let’s face it, the most important person in my life is me and those closest to me. God’s wrath would be justly delivered were He to punish us for our sin. He chose a different way. He chose to punish His Son in our behalf. Jesus’ primary aim was to serve His Father by serving us.
He sought our well-being from beginning to end. Jesus didn’t give up being God, or all of the powers and glory of God forever. He set them aside for a time. He laid aside His power and took on human frailty. He laid aside His knowledge and became an infant in the womb. He laid aside His glory and became not merely human, but a helpless child, in an insignificant family, in a backwards region of a poor nation under military occupation, at a time we would consider primitive. That is what Paul means when he says that Jesus emptied himself. He set aside His own comfort, in order to rescue you and me from an eternity in hell.
The people who saw Him that day saw in Him what greater and more learned men among them did not see at all, the fulfillment of their longing for a Messiah. He understood them. He loved them and ministered to them. He spoke to them of life and forgiveness. He brought peace and healing, as well as a bright shining hope for the future. They did not understand Him perfectly. Nor do you and I.
But that day, as they sang their hosannas and carpeted His path with their cloaks and with palm branches, they accepted Him as their Messiah. In that moment they were ready to leave everything to Him. The people were not repelled by His meekness. They loved Him for it. They knew He was infinitely greater and far more powerful than any earthly king.
Not only did He come in meekness, but it took a certain degree of meekness to receive Him. For you see, it takes meekness to believe what we are told about ourselves and about this Christ in the Word of God. It takes meekness humbly to acknowledge and confess our sins, to admit that we are worthy of nothing but punishment at the hands of a judging God, that we deserve nothing but death and damnation. It takes meekness, a humble submission to the will and plan of God, to believe that God in grace and love and mercy gave His own Son to take our sins upon Himself; to believe that God in the person of His Son Jesus made Himself our Substitute, suffered our penalty, and paid the purchase price of our forgiveness. It takes meekness to believe that now the gates of heaven are open for us through the redemptive and atoning work of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus came to the people gathered in Jerusalem for Passover week in humility and meekness, He comes to us today. Yes, you will find Him among quite humble people like you and me who belong to a simple fellowship of believers gathered about His Word and the Holy Sacraments, not a fellowship of wealth and power but of faith and love. He meets us in simple water to wash away sin and make us His cherished children. He attaches Himself to simple bread and wine to feed us His body and blood. He meets us where we are in His Word to comfort us and assure us of His great love.
Wherever two or three, or three hundred or a thousand are gathered together in His name, there He is among them, for this is His promise. And the Lord who on Palm Sunday came in royal meekness is welcomed and adored as Savior and King. Hosanna! Save now! The Savior has come. Through His suffering and death on Calvary’s cross, He has saved us from the punishment that we deserve for our sin. As members of the Church and subjects to the king, we know that no burden is too heavy, no task is too lowly, and no assignment is too difficult to be undertaken for Him whom they love because He first loved them.
And so we come away from this parade not with a bucket full of candy or pictures ready to post on Facebook, but with something much better. We come away celebrating that our Savior King has come to us where we are, meeting our every need, forgiving all of our sins. For before this week is over, He who came in royal meekness will once again be made to wear a crown of thorns. Once again, in the memory of all Christendom, out of love for you and for me, He will ascend the throne of the cross.