Palm Sunday

March 28, 2010

“Palm Sunday and the Eye of Faith”

St. Matthew 21:1-11


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!"

St. Matthew 21:1-11


Jesus rules over his Church.  The threefold office of Christ is as prophet, priest, and king.  On this Palm Sunday we look to Jesus as our king.  Kings exercise authority over a kingdom.  They rule.  How?  Christ’s humble entrance into the holy city shows us what kind of a king he is and what kind of a kingdom he rules.  The eye of faith sees Jesus for who he is.


Once the eye of faith is turned away from Christ, the humble king, whose gracious kingdom is hidden under sufferings and the cross, the eye must turn to a counterfeit king and kingdom.  Invariably, the counterfeit king is remade in the image of sinful men.  Consider the people of Jesus’ day.  At first they adored Jesus and sang Hosannas to his name.  But listen to the hymnist describe how fickle was their praise:


Sometimes they strew his way

And his sweet praises sing;

Resounding all the day

Hosannas to their King.

Then “Crucify!”

Is all their breath,

And for his death

They thirst and cry.


The events of Palm Sunday fulfilled the prophecy of the Holy Scriptures.  God himself had spoken through the mouth of the prophet the words we heard a few moments ago:


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.


The events of Palm Sunday weren’t accidental.  Down to the last detail, Jesus directed the events of that day.  Should anyone ask the disciples why they were taking a donkey and her colt, they were to appeal to Christ’s authority.  And consider the fact that St. Luke points out in his Gospel: Jesus rode on the back of an animal that had never been ridden before, and the animal was tame and docile under his direction.


Here is a king with power!  He comes to rule and he shows his divine authority in so doing.  He assumes the authority of the Lord God.  He accepts the title, “Son of David” because he is the promised Christ.  He fulfills the Scriptures.  The eye of faith trained to see God according to the promises of the Sacred Scriptures sees the Savior of the world riding on that donkey, on that colt, into his own city to rule as Lord.


We know the events of Holy Week quite well.  These events are the gospel in which we trust.  The gospel will never agree with human wisdom.  The king came to be crucified.  His triumphant entry into Jerusalem was for that very purpose.  This flies in the face of our wisdom.  St. Paul writes in his first Epistle to the Corinthians about the wisdom of God as seen in the crucifixion of Jesus:


For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . .  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25)


We think we are so wise.  But we are fools.  And this is the first thing we must admit if we are to welcome this King as he comes to us.  We must admit that our highest powers of the intellect and will keep us away from him.  We cannot figure our way to Jesus.  He does not govern as we think he should.  We don’t go to him.  As our text says, “Your king comes to you.”  He comes to us.  Our wisdom won’t let him go to the cross.  That’s not where a reasonable person would put his king.  But that is where this King must go.  He won’t be your King in any other way than his way.


He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  As true God, he has the form of God.  That means he has glory, majesty, honor, and all divine attributes.  But what does he do with this divine form?  He hides it.  He covers it under deep humility.  As we heard in today’s Epistle Lesson, Jesus,


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 2:6-9)


He doesn’t look like God, but he is.  He covers up his divine form and takes on the form of a slave.  This is how you must see him if you are to know God.  It is as a suffering servant that he comes to you.  He comes in humility.


He comes.  The crowd welcomed him with their cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  The church of Christ still welcomes him with those same words as she sings in the words of the Sanctus, “Hosanna, in the highest.  Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.” 


Then Christ comes in a very humble form.  Just as he covered the form of his true deity under the form of a humble bondservant, so he comes to his church hiding his glory under the humble forms of bread and wine.  He comes to his people, giving them to eat and to drink of his body and blood.  Human wisdom is repelled by this teaching because this is clearly impossible.  Human wisdom says that the bread must be merely bread and the wine must be merely wine for that we what we see.  But it was the true God of Israel who came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, the foal of a donkey.  This we know because the Bible says so.  So we know that this same Jesus comes to his Jerusalem, the Holy Christian Church, and says: “Take eat, this is my body.  Drink of it all of you, this is the New Testament in my blood.”  We know that it is what Jesus says it is because the Bible says so.


The Holy Sacraments of Jesus cannot be grasped by human wisdom.  We simply believe the words of God.  How can water wash away sin?  It cannot.  But the Bible calls Baptism a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says that Baptism washes away our sins.  We believe what God promises even though we cannot see anything but water. 


Don’t trust your own eyes.  Trust God’s word.  Your eyes would have told you the King on the donkey was only a man.  Your eyes would have told you that the man on the cross was a failure before God and man alike.  Your eyes will deceive you.  God won’t.  God comes to his people clothed in humility.  In humility we receive him.


We must humble ourselves if we are to meet our humble king.  We must humble our minds, and our bodies, and our hearts.


We humble our minds by taking them captive to the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom of a love that found us in our sin and loved us in spite of it.  We humble our minds by placing our rational objections to God’s clear truth under the authority of the Holy Scriptures.  God says it and that must settle it for us.


We humble our bodies by living in imitation of Christ, looking at his attitude and seeking to make it our own.  He, who had all the glory of God by his very nature, chose to embrace all of our shame.  It was the shame that we deserved.  He was willing to bear it in order to set us free from it.  So we live in humble service.  We look to Jesus as our life.  The good life is a life of humility, setting the needs of others before our own.


We humble our hearts.  We admit our need for this King and the kingdom he comes to bring.  He can only be met as he comes.  He comes in a humble form: on a donkey, on a cross, in water, bread and wine, in the speaking of mortal and sinful men.  He can only be received by humble hearts that admit their own loss without him.


All the glory of the world pales in comparison with the kingdom of Christ.  All other kings rule by force.  He rules by grace.  All other kings require you to serve them and you’ll suffer if you don’t.  This king serves you by suffering and thus moves you to serve him willingly.  All other kings require payment from their subjects.  This king paid your debt of sin on the cross.  All other kings threaten you with punishment if you disobey them.  Jesus forgives you your disobedience by bearing your punishment on the cross.  All other kings offer you protection only in this life.  Jesus offers you eternal life.


And he delivers.  There will come a time when he no longer comes in humility, but reveals himself in glory.  Then those who have known him in his humility will be conformed also to his glory.  They will see God.  They will experience a joy that never diminishes or grows old.  Their bodies will be free from pain or any kind of suffering.  Their minds will be filled with wisdom, for they will know Christ directly by sight and it will be a blessed sight.  Their hearts will never again be worried about the future or weighed down with sin or guilt or regret.  This is the promise Jesus gives.  Unlike so many rulers of this world who promise heaven and deliver hell, Jesus endured hell so that he might give us heaven.  Amen.