Palm Sunday

April 9, 2017


Matthew 21:1-9


Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to Me.  "And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:  "Tell the daughter of Zion, `Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"  So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them.  They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! `Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!"


The event today’s Gospel Lesson describes is well known and well loved by Christians everywhere.  For hundreds of years this has been the Gospel reading for both the First Sunday in Advent and Palm Sunday.  The praises of the crowd welcoming Jesus, their King, have been echoed by Christ’s church over the centuries.  As she prepares to receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper she sings, “Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


The King comes to his people.  She doesn’t draw him down from heaven to earth.  He comes to her.  He comes of his own free will.  The prophet Zechariah foretold it:


Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you;

He is just and having salvation,

Lowly and riding on a donkey,

A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)    


The King comes.  The church receives him who comes.  He comes in humility.  She receives him as her Savior.  This is why she cries out, Hosanna, which means, Save! 


Did the crowd understand what their salvation would cost?  In less than a week he would be crucified.  We don’t know exactly what they knew, but we do know what they said.  What they said came straight out of Psalm 118.  Listen to verses 19 through 26 of this psalm:

Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.

I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.

The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.

The “gates of righteousness” through which the righteous may go is the gateway provided by Jesus, our humble King, who by his obedience and suffering has become our righteousness.  This is how he became our salvation.  But the chief priests and the religious establishment do not confess him as their Savior or King.  Instead, they engineer his crucifixion by the Romans.  He is “the stone which the builders rejected.”  He becomes the chief cornerstone of his church.  The day that the Lord has made is the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  This is why the church gathers together every Sunday to worship him who comes to us in the name of the Lord.  He comes to us as he came to them: with salvation.


The church is not an ad hoc gathering of religious folks who decide to get together to do religious stuff.  The church is the ark of salvation.  It is the temple of the living God.  It is the body of Christ.  It is the bride of Christ.  It is our mother.  It is a royal priesthood and a holy nation.  It is God’s chosen people.  The church was there on Palm Sunday as her humble King rode meekly on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  The church welcomed him.  He came to save her.  She confessed her faith in him as Savior by praising him.


He comes to his church today.  She welcomes him.  We cry out hosanna!  Save us!  We plead to him for what we need more than anything else.  And he gives us what he alone can give.


But what does this mean?  What does it mean to be saved?  To save means to rescue or deliver.  Jesus rescues us from sin, death, and hell.  He was delivered over to death because of our sins.  He was raised to life because of our justification.  His humble death and victorious resurrection save us, rescue us, deliver us, from our spiritual enemies.


God brings to us the saving events of Holy Week by his means of grace.  The means of grace are his gospel and his sacraments.  God speaks to us here and now and makes us partakers of what Jesus did for us then and there.  The hosanna we sing we sing with the Palm Sunday crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  The King rode into Jerusalem to claim his kingdom.  He obtained it on the cross.  There, he washed away our sin by giving his body into death and shedding his blood for us.  This is the same body and blood that he gives us to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper.  Today, we sing hosanna with the church gathered on that first Palm Sunday.  We receive the same King.  He to whom they cried out for salvation comes to save us.


“Brother, sister, are you saved?”  So asks the eager evangelist.  We say, “Yes, I am saved.”  “Praise God,” he replies.  “When were you saved?”  “Why every Sunday morning God saves me.  He comes to me in his body and blood and gives me to eat and to drink the body that bore my sin away on Calvary and the blood that was shed for me for the remission of sins.  I am saved.  God has saved me.  He saves me by giving me the salvation my Lord achieved for me on Calvary.”


What’s it like to be saved?  It means you aren’t going to hell.  You are not going to be punished for your sins.  Jesus took your punishment.  You don’t have to face it yourself because he already faced it for you.


What is it like to be saved?  It means you’re going to heaven.  God has prepared a place for you where sin cannot enter.  There will be no pain, no sorrow, no disease, no hatred, no war, no bitterness, no regret, and no death.  It is a wonderful place where those who are saved will live forever in glorified bodies that cannot suffer or die.  We will love purely and live lives filled with joy in the presence of God.


What is it like to be saved?  It means you’re living a life here on earth fully forgiven of all your sins.  You don’t live under judgment.  You are sheltered by the grace you receive from God’s hand.  As surely as you were baptized into Christ you were joined to his death and resurrection.  You died and rose again and are living under God’s favor.


What is it like to be saved?  It means you are conformed to the image of Christ.  God upends the false values of a dying world and renews your mind by giving you the mind of Christ.  When you have the mind of Christ you see things as they really are.  St. Paul reveals to us the mind of Christ by pointing to the fact that he had the form of God and gave it up to take the form of a servant, becoming obedient all the way to his death on the cross.


Here is what Paul wrote,


Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)  


The form of God is glorious.  The form of a servant is humble.  Jesus had the form of God because he was God.  He didn’t cease to be God when he humbled himself.  He was true God and true man all the way to his death on the cross.  But he humbled himself.  He suffered.  His obedience led him to death. 


We see in Jesus that humility is truly greatness, for it was precisely what he did in his humility that saved us, rescued us, delivered us from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.  This means that when we assume the mind of Jesus, the mind of humble obedience, we know it does not denigrate us.  It does not diminish us.  It does not ruin us or leave us at the mercy of others.  To be conformed to Christ’s image in his suffering is pure joy.  For we know that Christ’s suffering was followed by glory.  And so it will be for his Christians.


To be saved from sin is to be saved from the evil that lies within.  Part of our problem is that we look to our problem for its solution.  We respond to assaults on our pride with anger, determined to vindicate ourselves, because, well, because we must!  But we don’t have to.  We can endure the unkind words, the slights, the neglect, and everything else that hurts our pride and evokes anger within us.  We can overlook our neighbor’s offenses against our pride because we know we don’t need our pride.  We don’t need to vindicate ourselves.  We don’t need to stand up and defend our rights and privileges.  We can face what they threw in the face of our Savior.  If he saved us by enduring it, why should we whine and complain when we face what he faced? 


We cry, Hosanna!  He, who saved us from hell, for heaven, by forgiving us, saves us from our pride.  He saves us from ourselves.  He gives us his own mind on things, and clears our heads to see life for what it is.


The humble King rides the donkey into the holy city to claim his kingdom.  They cried out, Hosanna!  Save us!  He left the praise of the crowd to embrace the shame of the cross.  That’s how he saved them.  That’s how he saved us.  This King comes to us here and now and saves us.  We cry our hosanna, and he gives us his body and blood to eat and to drink, assuring us that it is given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  He who saved then and there saves us here and now.  “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.”


Rolf D. Preus


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