Palm Sunday – Lent 6
St. Matthew 21:1-9
April 14, 2019 (reworked from 2015)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a turning point in Jesus’ life and 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, remember, 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.
He denied Himself use of His divine power for the most part, but on this day His divine power showed forth for His disciples, once gain. 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. Even though sinful men were confused, there is no mistake that Jesus is true God, and the God-Man had come to the city of David, the city that kills the prophets.
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 on Sundays in the church year is a Gospel text repeated, and this is the day. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in order to ride into Jerusalem to die. The Church remembers and celebrates the connection between Jesus’ birth and His death in this 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 now.” 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 (vv17-18). 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—a man of God. For surely no one could do these things unless God was 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, that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.” The crowds asked God to “save now” and Jesus’ reply was His sacrifice on the cross. We sing out, “save us, now” 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 more 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 from 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 stump 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, later that week, they abandoned Him, changed their tune, and at His trial some of those who shouted “Hosanna” shouted “crucify Him.”
People are the same the world over throughout history. The human spirit is weak. It is easily distracted and manipulated. It easily gives up hope. It is easily turned from good to evil. Intentions aren’t nearly as good as people lead on. And even when intentions are good, actions are hard to follow through. That crowd was more similar to us than we realize. The 21st century doesn’t own the rights on selfishness, laziness, lying, deceit, lust, hatred, and despair. While shouting “Hosanna,” some in that crowd, too, were 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 cheating their bosses with half-hearted work. And yet, Jesus rides on in their midst accepting their praise even if it is half-witted, half-hearted, or partially 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 because of their praise that He rides into Jerusalem. It’s for their souls. It’s not primarily for your praise that He exhorts you to gather for worship. It’s for your salvation. He doesn’t need you to worship Him, but rather you need to be in His presence for your soul’s health. Your worship and praise in this world will never be free from false motives, distractions, or even superstitions. But still Jesus rides into your midst with His Word and His Sacraments. 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.
But the Lord has never let the ways of this world dictate His actions, and He never will. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. The cross is not success as some expect success. 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 scared and wondering what’s coming next. He knows what your deepest needs are, and He comes to satisfy them. 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. And He does.
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. Come, receive the fruit of Jesus’ Passion.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.