I love preaching for festivals. Preaching any Sunday of the church year is an awesome privilege, naturally, but the atmosphere is more, well, festive for festivals. You can sense that it’s a special occasion in the life of Christ and therefore in the life of the church. These events from the life of Christ still have meaning for us today, because through faith they’re our story too. We become part of His story, because what He did and said is applied to us through the faith the Spirit gives. Luther’s sermons on this text are especially helpful; if you want some real good sermons on Palm Sunday, don’t read mine, read his. 🙂
Thanks for reading anyway! Peace be with you!
28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ”
32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40 niv)
You can usually tell what the reason is for a parade. In the town I grew up in we always had a Christmas parade. You’d be driving downtown in the middle of November, and all of a sudden you’d see traffic cones and signs out. You’d wonder what’s going on, and then remember, oh yeah, there’s a parade. Fourth of July, Memorial Day – these are good occasions for a parade. When your team wins the championship or even does well in a tournament, there’s often a parade. Today we see Jesus at the center of a parade. He enters Jerusalem cheered by the crowds. They praise him and welcome him – but do they really know who they’re cheering for, and why? This Palm Sunday, we take a closer look at who Jesus really is. According to Scripture, we could give many answers. Today, we’ll narrow it down to just a few. As we do so, we too will acclaim Jesus as our king – and not just any king. Jesus is The Kind of King We Need.
The crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover proclaim Jesus is a king. They shout it and sing it at the top of their lungs. And not just any king – the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the Son of David, the Messiah. Even the psalm they sing shows who he is – the Coming One, the one they’ve been waiting for. But he doesn’t necessarily look like a king. He’s sitting on a donkey – just a humble beast of burden. It would be like the President riding a tractor into town – it just doesn’t fit. The donkey hasn’t been ridden by royalty since Solomon’s time, hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. He doesn’t even have a proper saddle. He’s sitting on the coats of his followers. He doesn’t have an honor guard, but he does have happy crowds shouting his praises. This simple man, this teacher from Nazareth, is a king? He sure doesn’t look like it.
Palm Sunday is so good for us because we need to be reminded that Jesus is a king, our king. The unbelieving world isn’t going to remind us. Ask the world, and they’ll say plenty of nice things about Jesus. But they won’t give him the praise that he deserves. They won’t call him king, or at least the kind of king we need. The world approves of Christ as long as he fits into their ideals. As long as he follows their script and fits into their desires and plans, they’ll accept him. The world will sing Jesus’ praises as long as it seems like he’s following their agenda. They’ll say lots of nice things about Jesus. They call him a great teacher. Jesus is good for teaching you to be nice to others and to be more loving and compassionate, non-judgmental. He can teach you to be more of a moral person. The world looks at Jesus like he’s a life coach, someone to help you improve yourself. His advice can help you to lose weight and get organized. He’ll help you fight the clutter in your house and your self-defeating, negative thoughts. They look at him as if he’s a CEO. He did build a global brand from scratch. Anyone who can get that many people to follow him can surely teach us something about making money. They even call him a spiritual leader. He did come up with Christianity, after all. If what he taught works for you, more power to you. You can just as easily follow Buddha or Mohammed or any of a hundred other people, but Jesus is good too. We need to be reminded that Jesus is a king because the world won’t tell us that.
We also need to be reminded that Jesus is king because so often it doesn’t seem like it. We watch the wicked prosper. They do whatever they want. They usually get away with it. We watch the innocent suffer. Nobody seems to be paying attention. Nobody does anything to stop it or to help. Most times, when we look at the world, we see people hell-bent on doing what’s wrong and stamping out what’s right. We even have problems in our own lives. We experience pain, loss, and setbacks of our own. Sometimes they’re so bad we want to know why a loving God would allow those kinds of things to happen to his children. That’s why Christ had to ride into Jerusalem: to show us that God has not forgotten us, he has not left us alone to fend for ourselves.
Jesus might not look a lot like a king, but he’s exactly the kind of king we need. He is the Christ, God’s Son. He is God’s chosen one, come to redeem the world. You can tell this in a couple of ways. Consider this: How does Jesus know so much about the donkey? He knows where it’s tied up, even that nobody has ever ridden it. He knows that someone’s going to ask why they’re taking it, so he tells the disciples what to say. How can he know all that, unless he’s God’s Son? Jesus also fulfills the prophecy given by Zechariah. Zechariah had prophesied that a king would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The prophecy is very specific and so is Luke’s account. He lists place names and the specific circumstances of Jesus’ triumphal entry. The Lord needed the donkey, not because he couldn’t walk or he was too full of himself to walk. He needed it to fulfill the prophecy. These things prove that Jesus truly is the Christ. Jesus deserves to be praised as the Coming One and God’s chosen king.
Truer than they know, the crowds sing Jesus’ praises for what he brings. He stills all warfare between us and God. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. He stops all fighting by making us God’s friends, where before we were only enemies. We aren’t at war with God anymore. He stills God’s wrath over your sins by his own sacrifice of himself. The crowds are singing right now, but in a few days they’ll be shouting for his blood. Jesus knows this and calmly accepts their praises, because that’s what he came here to do. He’s not driven by polls or popularity – he wants to be your Savior. Jesus rode into Jerusalem because he cares about you, because he wants to free you from the power of the devil and to set you free to walk in the light of God’s love. Jesus came to make us into a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. He delivers us from hell, sin, and death.
With Jesus in charge, we are no longer afraid. He has taken away our sins and made us into his holy people. Jesus is ruling over all things for us. Zechariah said that his rule extends from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. That covered all of the known world at the time. The prophet was picturing Jesus’ total control and complete authority over all things for our good. Paul declares the same thing in our reading from Philippians for today. He says that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Sooner or later, everybody will acknowledge that Jesus is the only Savior, the only King over all creation. Whether in joy or in despair, they will acclaim him as King and Lord over all.
Palm Sunday is the beginning of that rule of Jesus. He rides into Jerusalem hailed as a king, even though he looks like just a man. The crowds were really cheering the beginning of God’s saving work, that through Jesus God would release his people from their sins. We can’t have Palm Sunday without thinking about what happens later in the week. There can be no Palm Sunday if there’s no Good Friday, no Easter. That was when Jesus accomplished the Father’s will and God was glorified in the highest. The angels’ song at his birth would finally come true. God would be glorified through the crucifixion of his Son, because by his crucifixion comes all the blessings and riches God has to give.
What Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish is so great that even if we kept silent, even the stones would cry out. His praise must be heard. This is too great to keep to ourselves. Let’s sing his praises. Let’s praise our Savior, the humble King who rode into town on a donkey, whose death frees all of us from our sins. Let’s bring him our offerings – not only our money, but also our time, our love, our service in whatever station of life we happen to be in. Jesus didn’t turn up his nose at what his disciples gave him. He accepted their coats spread out as a saddle, and on the road as a royal carpet. He let them praise him, because their praise was acceptable according to the faith they had, and not what they didn’t have. Even though it may not seem like we have a lot to give, let’s bring what we have gladly. Let’s worship him joyfully and serve him gladly. Let’s study and love God’s plan of salvation for us and Jesus’ rule over us, and let’s speak about it to others. If we keep quiet, even the stones will cry out. Jesus is the kind of king we love; the kind of king we need. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.