9 April, 2017 – Palm Sunday
Sermon on Matthew 21:1–9 Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today begins Holy Week. And during this week we remember our Lord’s suffering and the events that lead to his death on the cross, his “lifting up to be glorified” as the Gospel of John writes.
We remember all of it, because it is our salvation: the Jewish plot to kill Jesus; Jesus’ anointing at Bethany with the expensive perfume; Judas’ betrayal of Jesus; Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, that is, His last will and testament; Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane; his betrayal and arrest; his mock trial before Caiaphas and the council; Peter’s denial of Jesus (and, oh, friends, this is sad, indeed, for we, too, have all denied our Lord with our words or deeds).
Also we remember Judas’s suicide; Jesus’ appearance before Pilate and the tragic release of Barabbas; Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers who mocked him, beat him, and crowned him with thorns; Jesus’ crucifixion between two criminals at Golgotha, the dividing of his clothes, the mockery from the Jews, his cry of loneliness as God poured out his wrath; His death; His burial in a new tomb with guards and a sealed stone. We remember it all, because it is by these acts that our Lord merited our salvation and the forgiveness for all our sins, including our own denials of Christ.
This morning, however, we focus our meditation on the processional text, Matthew chapter 21 where it is recorded for us Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that set all these events in motion like a set of dominoes. When Jesus entered Jerusalem to die, he did so to shouts of praise. With this in mind, let us pray, “Heavenly Father, guard and strengthen us in your Word and faith, that as we contemplate this week your Son’s innocent suffering and death for us, we might always have the praises of our Lord and King Jesus Christ in our hearts and on our lips, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.” Amen.
The first verse in our Matthew 21 text records a little geography for us, that Jesus and His disciples “drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives.” This is not insignificant. Do not forget that earlier He had to go to Jerusalem because “No true prophet could die outside Jerusalem.” So we are alerted and reminded, by geography, that Jesus willingly, of his own accord, came to suffer and die for you and me in Jerusalem.
In fact, it is important to note that Jesus conducted his ministry with meticulous carefulness. Consider Luke’s Gospel, in chapter nine, where it is recorded for our comfort that Jesus put in motion, like a carefully scripted military maneuver his plan to enter Jerusalem. The text there reads, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” And for the rest of Luke’s Gospel from that point, Jesus is getting closer and closer to Jerusalem. To do what exactly? To enter as king, as our text shows, but this was lead-up to his death that came shortly afterwards.
Friends, God was in control the whole time. You heard of all the characters and events from our lengthy Gospel reading, it was all planned beforehand the foundation of the world. This should comfort us, because it shows God’s concern for us. And the meticulous care and attention that He paid to redeem us from our sins. And it shows that a suffering savior was the plan all along. This must be grasped. A meticulously planned suffering savior is a must, or there is no savior at all, and there is no Gospel. And you and I are stuck in our sins
Indeed, notice the divine control of events revealed in our Gospel text. By divine omniscience, Jesus knew the two disciples would find a colt tied in the village ahead of them. This in itself is good news, because it means we have an all-knowing Savior, a divine Savior, one who was not conceived by Joseph or some other man, but one who was God himself and “conceived by the Holy Spirit” as we confess in the Creed.
And let’s not forget that Jesus was carefully fulfilling all the glorious and wonderful promises of the Savior. Consider especially Zechariah and our Old Testament text. God used the pen of Zechariah some 500 years before to comfort God’s people with the promise of the special King who would come and: would bring righteousness and salvation, and, interestingly, he would be a humble king, riding on a donkey.
And so we are comforted friends by this text on several accounts. In Jesus Christ is very God of very God, omniscient and all-powerful, who knew all things and could predict all things and arrange all events according to his will. Indeed, we don’t want a Savior who was just a man, a good fellow, a decent carpenter; because he could not win for us salvation. We want a Savior who was perfect, Godly perfect, the Son of God himself; because he could (and did) win for us salvation.
But at the same time that we have an all-powerful divine savior, as our text indicates, we also have a humble Savior. We have a savior who hide his divinity and power, and only revealed glimpses of it throughout his ministry. Indeed, we must also remember Jesus’ humility, because it, too, forms the core of the Gospel. And Paul mused about it when he wrote the our epistle text to the Philippians and said that Jesus Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a chariot of fire and blast everybody with divine wrath, which he could have done as that is what we all deserve. No, praise be to God, he came humbly, on a donkey, in obedience to the Father, in order to suffer and die for you and for me.
And praise be to God there were people who greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem exactly as he should have been greeted, with shouts of praise. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest” Luke records that the people also shouted, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” This is comforting. It reminds us that while the satanically inspired false church conspires against God’s Holy Christian Church, as small and as feeble as she seems, seeking to snuff it out and kill its preachers and anyone who should call them to repentance for their false worship; nevertheless, God will always have a little group of faithful believers who praise him and call on his name. Hallelujah.
But make sure friends, that you have such praises on your lips and in your heart! God commands us to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” Repent of your pursuit of riches and the cares and worries of this life, and your lack of faith, that has resulted in your silence and lack of praise for Jesus, the Savior of the world. Repent and believe! God forgives you your sins for Christ’s sake. Hallelujah.
Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke records that while Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people were rejoicing and praising God for the mighty works they had witnessed Jesus do. This was a reference to Jesus’ miracles of healing the sick, raising the dead, multiplying the loaves and so on. And these miracles revealed Jesus’ divine stature as the powerful Son of God, but they also revealed his compassion on poor, miserable people.
Jesus had compassion on the sick and diseased and troubled people of his time, and he has compassion on you today. The Good News is that Jesus has done a more mighty work for you than a healing of your diseased skin, or multiplying food, he entered Jerusalem as your humble king, and died on the cross for your sins. So it is that we can say with joy in our hearts what we were taught in our catechism in the second article of the Creed, that Jesus “is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He has risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true” May God grant us all faith to acknowledge our sin, to trust in Him who forgives us our sins for Christ’s sake, and to sing and shout His praise out of thanks. Amen.