Christ in the Psalms, clean hands, daughter of zion, donkey, favorite baseball team, favorite football team, good intentions, hosanna, humble, hypocrites, king, palm sunday, palms, power of sin, pure heart, Temple mount, victory parades
For this Sunday’s bulletin, click here: Palm Sunday 2012
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosannato the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosannain the highest!”
— Matt 21.1-9 (niv84)
Everybody loves a victory parade. Many times when soldiers return from winning a war, there’s a parade for them. That custom goes back to Roman times and the triumphs they had, where they showed off all the wealth they captured in conquering their enemies. If your hometown high school team wins the state championship or your favorite baseball team wins the World Series, or your favorite football team wins the Super Bowl, or you know there’s going to be a parade. Whether they’re soldiers or athletes, those who take part in victory parades look like winners. They look happy, confident, and successful. In our Gospel for today, we also see a victory parade – but the One they’re holding the parade for isn’t very impressive looking. He doesn’t look like much of a winner. In fact, He hasn’t even won the championship yet, and they’re throwing Him a parade. If this is a victory parade, it’s fair to ask what Jesus is victorious over. He didn’t lead an army, or even fight in one. He didn’t wear a uniform or lead troops. Yet here He is, getting a victory parade. Who did Jesus conquer?
He conquered the power of sin. He did this by being without sin. Jesus broke the power of sin by keeping God’s law perfectly, which is something we could never do. It’s a cliché to say that nobody’s perfect, but unless you understand what sin does to you, you won’t care about what Jesus rode into Jerusalem to do. Think about how powerful sin is in your life. It sneaks up on you and makes you do thinks you regret later – sometimes almost immediately. It keeps popping up whenever you get lonely or tired or angry or scared. Other times, you work and work to put down your sinful flesh and be good, and then when you’re exhausted and worn out from the struggle, sin comes back at you one more time and you give in. Sin hollows you out inside and makes you into a hypocrite because of the times you’ve sinned and nobody knows it. Others think you’re a good person but you still know what you’re like. Sin corrodes your relationships. It puts distance between you and the people around you. It frustrates your best intentions. It ruins your hopes. It makes you afraid of God’s punishment – and rightly so, because you know you deserve to be punished for what you are and what you’ve done. Sin wracks your body and saps your strength. It makes you weak and sick in body and soul. Eventually it kills you – not just in this life, either. Maybe one of the worst things sin does, this deadly, crippling, evil thing, is it makes us joke about it and laugh about it. When we laugh at other people’s sin, or our own, sin seems okay, so it goes unchallenged and unchecked. Sin shouldn’t be laughed at. It needs to be dealt with, because if it’s not dealt with, sin always wins in the long run. That’s true for you too, if you’re paying attention to what goes on in your heart.
Only God is able to overcome the power of sin. It took God becoming flesh to save us and deliver us from sin’s power forever. First Jesus had to humble Himself to become one of us. He didn’t do this for Himself. He did it for us — to redeem us. Even though He was in very nature God, yet He did not consider being God and receiving all glory and honor the most important thing. We were most important to Him. He willingly laid aside His glory and power and honor for us. Palm Sunday shows us how low Jesus stooped to save us – to the point of riding into Jerusalem a humble and gentle nobody, a raggedy preacher that had to borrow a donkey. He had to use coats for a saddle at His own victory parade because He didn’t even have a proper saddle to sit on.
Yet this humble, gentle Teacher is not only poor and lowly, a nobody by the standards of the world – He’s also the Christ. Jesus was the only one who truly had clean hands and a pure heart. No sin stained His words and actions. He was the only one who was able to ascend the hill of the Lord and to stand in His holy place. St. Mark tells us that after He entered Jerusalem, Jesus went up to the Temple and looked around at everything. Even that small detail was prophesied by Psalm 24, and it was fulfilled by Jesus. After Palm Sunday He went up another hill, but it wasn’t the Temple Mount. It was Golgotha, the hill shaped like a skull, and He went there to die a death He didn’t deserve. He had humbled Himself to walk among us and not to claim His full rights as God, and He took it further than anybody else has ever done because He was dedicated — really dedicated — scary dedicated: He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Then He rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He entered heaven, the true Most Holy Place, by His own blood which pleads for our forgiveness before the Father still.
That’s why the crowds sing, “Hosanna in the highest!” They call Him blessed, they bless and praise His name, because He came to do God’s work. He set those free who were trapped in the prison house of sin. He overturned the works of darkness and saved us. He still feeds those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The crowds bless His holy name and thank and praise Him because He is the King, even if He doesn’t look like it here. That’s why they sing, “Hosanna in the highest!” — God is saving His people.
It’s more right and fitting than these crowds know that they sing Jesus’ praises. We should too. Nobody should be praised more than Jesus for what He’s done. He deserves the utmost of our thanks and praise because for us He was slain, and with His blood He purchased us for God, and now He lives again too. The Lord says in Isaiah (46:10), “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all I please.” He makes known the end from the beginning. He knows how it’s all going to turn out and what He’s going to do. He knew how He was going to triumph on the third day after the worst defeat imaginable, so it’s right and good that the crowds hail Him as a victor even before the last battle has started. There was never any doubt that He would win, if you believe what the Scriptures say about Him. They sing, “Hosanna in the highest!” because of what Jesus was doing to save us.
Thus it is right that they worship Him however they can – by kneeling down and spreading their coats in the road, by cutting down palm branches and waving them, by singing His praises as the Messiah, the Savior, the King. We too praise Him however we can – with our words, with our actions, with the thoughts of our hearts; with everything we have and are. We too fall in behind Him and sing His praises to those around us. We sing them with our lips and with our lives. We live for Him who did not shrink back from the shame of the cross, and is now exalted to the highest place. We confess Him to be God and Lord with our mouths and we show that we are His by the way we live, because that’s what He deserves: everything, all we can give Him. What else can we give to our King who’s given us everything?
We always sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!” in the Communion liturgy for the exact same reasons those crowds sang it: Jesus is here among us in the Lord’s Supper, as real and present as He sat on that donkey the first Palm Sunday – and not only is He here in the Lord’s Supper, He’s here to save us. That’s what hosanna means: Lord, save us! He’s here to bless us and set us free from the power of sin by giving us His true Body and Blood, so we won’t be helpless in the face of sin – so we can start to fight against sin with His help. We too worship Him, and we worship Him best when we trust in Him, we receive His Supper for forgiveness and comfort and strength, and we do everything to His glory. Hosanna to the Son of David! Amen.