Palm Sunday – Lent 6
St. Matthew 21:1-9
March 29, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday is a turning point in Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. This is the final week of His humiliation, that time in His earthly life from conception to death when He did not always or fully use His divine power while in the flesh. This is the Sunday before Good Friday, before He would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. His whole earthly life as true man pointed to this week. His entire being from eternity as true God pointed to this week. Paul Gerhardt’s hymn “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” captures this beautifully in a dialog between the Father and the Son in heaven.
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,
“And free My children from their dread
Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Your passion they will share
The fruit of Your salvation.”
And Jesus answers:
“Yes Father, yes, most willingly
I’ll bear what You command Me.
My will conforms to Your decree,
I’ll do what you have asked Me.(LSB 438).
The Son comes and willingly bears the stripes and wrath for your sake. But even in this last week of the state of humiliation, His divine power showed forth for His disciples. Like unto the miracles that He worked and the prophesies that He preached throughout His life, Jesus exercises His divine power in directing two of His disciples to the two donkeys tied in Bethphage, giving them the exact right words to say in order for the owners to let the beasts go, and also sitting upon a young colt that had never been ridden before. There is no mistake that Jesus is true God.
There is also no mistake that He is true man. In the words of the people going before Him and following after Him, He is the one “who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26). He is the coming one. That’s why this Gospel text is also read on Advent 1, in the season of preparation for the celebration of His birth. Only one time in the church year is a Gospel text repeated, and this is the Sunday. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in order to ride into Jerusalem to die. The Church remembers/celebrates the connection between Jesus’ birth and His death in this special way. Because God became one of us to save us.
To a certain extent, the crowd recognizes what is going on in front of their eyes. They cry out in the words of Psalm 118, “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna is a transliteration of the Hebrew words for “save us please.” By divine inspiration, they know at this moment that Jesus is the promised son of David, the king of Israel. They recognized the fulfillment of the Prophet Zechariah that the king is coming for them, riding on a donkey. To be sure, they don’t understand completely, but for now, they hail Him as their king, and for the first time in His ministry, Jesus lets them.
We know something about this crowd. St. Luke records that the people were rejoicing and praising God for all the great works that they had seen. St. John expands on what these great works were in chapter 12 (17-18). This crowd, or at least a portion of them, had witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the tomb after being dead four days. (Remember Jesus is starting this procession in Bethany where this all happened). We also know that the feeding of the 5,000 happened just before the Passover, so many of those people were on their way up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. And finally, the people passing through Jericho with Him saw His healing of the blind man. These people witnessed His miracles and know Him to be a prophet, or at least a man of God. For surely no one could do these things unless God is with Him (John 3).
The people are making a good confession. We have taken this confessional plea over into our Liturgy at a strategic place where we confess His sacramental presence in the Lord’s Supper. In the Sanctus, after “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we sing out, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.” The crowds asked God to “please save” and Jesus’ reply was His sacrifice on the cross. We sing out, “save us, please” and His response is to give us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, the fruit of that sacrifice. The crowd was certainly on to something, even if they did not fully know it until after His death and resurrection.
We too often want to paint a perfect picture of people that have come before us, piously reading into them pure intentions, pure motives, perfect responses, etc. This can leave us feeling disconnected to them, however, because we know that our intentions, motives, and actions are anything but pure. No, the crowds preceding and following Jesus that day were human like you. St. John tells us that His disciples were not aware of what Jesus was doing. It was only after Jesus died and rose that they understood. The humiliation and cross of Christ stumps all human understanding. This King that the crowd hailed, would end up being too humble for their tastes. When it appeared that He was failing in His mission, they abandoned Him, changed their tune, and at His trial some of those who shouted “Hosanna” shouted “crucify Him.”
If the human spirit in this sinful world is anything, it is consistent. It’s easy to predict. People are the same the world over throughout history. The human spirit is weak. It is easily distracted and manipulated. It is easily turned from good to evil. Intentions aren’t nearly as good as people lead on. Actions aren’t nearly as pure as we want to convince ourselves. That crowd was more similar to us than we realize. The 21st century doesn’t own the rights on selfishness, lying, deceit, lust, hatred, and despair. While shouting “Hosanna,” that crowd, too, was drowning in their own lives. They were worried about their futures, concerned about their health, consumed with their own needs at the expense of others, constantly looking out for themselves, coveting their neighbor’s wife, house, and goods; despising their children, disobeying their parents, thinking the worst about their family and friends. And mingling in superstitions to their worship. And yet, Jesus rides on in their midst accepting their praise even if it is half-witted or half-hearted, or superstitious. He rides on to Jerusalem, even though He knew that they would all fall away and abandon Him at His hour of death.
It’s not for their praise that He rides into Jerusalem. It’s for their souls. It’s not for your praise that He directs you to gather for worship. It’s for your eternity. He doesn’t need you to worship Him. But rather you need to worship Him for your soul’s health. Your worship and praise in this world will never be free from selfishness, false motives, distraction, or superstitions. But still Jesus rides into your midst with His Word and His Sacraments. Youth, even though you’re daydreaming about what you’d rather be doing right now; adults, even though you are over-whelmed by the stresses, cares, and concerns of your lives, Your Lord, Shepherd, and King rides to you humbly. In the eyes of the world, Jesus and the Christian Church are unimpressive, even weak. But this is how Jesus and His Church have always been viewed. His birth went virtually unnoticed; He had nowhere to lay His head; And He died alone, condemned as a criminal on the cross. That’s why Jesus is a stumbling block to the rich, the proud, and the powerful. The cross turns this world upside down. The devil does not have to tempt very hard to turn even your eyes from the sure Words of your Lord. In the midst of a world where pilots intentionally crash planes, doctors are sanctioned to kill babies, politicians promise things they know they can’t deliver, and our bodies fall prey to cancer and heart disease. The devil tempts us to despair, doubt, and unbelief.
But the Lord has never played by our rules, and He never will. His ways are not our ways. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. The cross is not success as you expect it. Jesus is not the King and Savior that you anticipate. He is the Savior that you need. He knows your needs and concerns better than you even know them. His ways and thoughts work for your good even while you are hurting and wondering what’s coming next. He knows what your deepest needs are and He comes to satisfy those. He has promised to save you; and that’s what He does.
Jesus came to fulfill His Father’s will perfectly, even though you are undeserving, easily distracted sinners. This is the mystery: the Father’s love for you. This is the fulfillment: Jesus’ unrelenting determination to forgive your sins. It’s beyond your human comprehension, but it’s real. In the good times, the times of your prosperity, Jesus comes to you. In the hour of your death and in the Day of Judgment, Jesus comes to you. He has promised to raise those who fall and to strengthen those who stand; He has promised to comfort and help the weak-hearted and the distressed.
He is present in this place to hear and answer your prayers. Your hosannas do not fall on deaf ears. They are heard by your heavenly Father and answered by Your Savior and King. Your request for salvation is granted. He truly saves. Come, receive the answer to your deepest need in this heavenly meal prepared for you, this Passover Feast to end all Passovers. Receive the fruit of Jesus’ Passion. Join the heavenly dialogue of the Father and the Son, not as a bystander or guest, but as a child and heir of heaven.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
Rev. Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana