Sermon for Palmarum 2014
Zechariah 9:9-10 + Philippians 2:5-11 + Matthew 21:1-9
The Holy Spirit has painted such a powerful Palm Sunday portrait for us of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of that Holy Week, with palm branches and with the joyful cries of the crowd, Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! In the face of all the world’s hatred of Christ and of Christians, in the face of all the devil’s accusations and temptations and deceptions, in the face of the rotten rebellion of our own sinful flesh and all the doubts and fears that attack us and all the apathy that also threatens to creep in and cut us off from Christ—here is this image again, this spectacle of Jesus riding down from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley, and up again toward the gates of Jerusalem. This portrait of Jesus is able to burn through all the world’s hatred, all the devil’s tricks, and all the raging of our flesh, to imprint His image on our hearts, to reveal Jesus to us as the Savior that He is.
Jesus intended for this day, this Palm Sunday, to be memorable; He went out of His way to turn it into a spectacle of sorts. Of course, as the Son of God, He could have come riding on the clouds, as He will come again one day. He could have come with all the dread judgment of the righteous God. But no. That’s not the kind of spectacle He was looking for. Being in the form of God, He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God; He did not consider His equality with God as something to be held onto and flaunted. Instead, He came from the bosom of God the Father humbly into the virgin’s womb. He came humbly into a manger. He came into a life of willing service under God’s Law, a life of not working a single day to get ahead or to make a better life for Himself, a life of humble obedience right up to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
And so He didn’t enter Jerusalem with the glory and pomp of the Son of God. The spectacle He chose was anything but glorious. He sent His disciples to go and get a donkey. Actually, He sent them to go get two donkeys, a mother and her colt. (All four Evangelists mention the colt. Only Matthew mentions the mother donkey.) He knows exactly where they are, He knows exactly what the reaction of their owner will be, and that the simple explanation, “The Lord has need of them,” will be sufficient for their owner to let them go. He has divine power to make the animals come willingly, even though the colt had never been ridden, according to Mark’s Gospel. Isn’t it ironic that, with all His divine knowledge and power, the spectacle Jesus chose to herald His arrival in Jerusalem, the image He chose to have embedded in our minds, was the image of Him riding—probably sidesaddle—on a pair of donkeys? Why that image?
He chose that image, because He had a sermon to preach on that day. Everything was coming to a head. This was the week that God had been preparing the world for for 4000 years, ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. All the Jewish Passovers over the centuries pointed to this week. This was the time that all the prophets had written about. Jesus was the Christ, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But He couldn’t come right out and say that about Himself—not yet. Instead, He preached to the people through the mouth of someone else, through the mouth of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, so that, both at that moment and after the events of Holy Week were over, they could go back and put it all together, even as we are doing today. Matthew quotes some of Zechariah’s prophecy. You heard the whole thing in the First Lesson today, the lowly King riding into Zion on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This is Jesus’ sermon to Jerusalem, and to all who put their hope in Him. Rejoice! Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem for this Holy Week is good news. In fact, it’s the best news ever. Behold, He says to Jerusalem, your King is coming to you. The world may hate, and the devil may tempt, and the flesh may rebel, but this Jesus is riding into Jerusalem to conquer these enemies of ours. He looks so gentle, so meek, riding somewhat awkwardly on these two donkeys. And to the lowly, to the penitent, He is gentle and meek. But to the proud, to the impenitent, to His foes, He is a mighty warrior, a King whom no one can defeat, the One whom God has now exalted above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
He is just—righteous—and having salvation. But if He has salvation, then salvation comes from Him, not from you. So don’t imagine for a moment that you can save yourself. If He is the righteous One, then you are the sinner. So don’t look for righteousness in yourself. Instead, see in yourself the sin that has earned God’s wrath. But see in this King the one who volunteers to suffer God’s wrath for your sins and to bring you into the shelter of His righteousness. Turn from your sin and trust in this King.
Zechariah then goes on to speak of the great peace this King will bring: I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.
Notice, this King doesn’t come to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to bring entertainment to the ends of the earth. He doesn’t come to bring happy feelings or personal fulfillment, or to put an end to poverty or sickness or suffering or to bring out the better “you.” He comes to speak peace.
Now this peace is something we really need to understand, because this is the same Jesus who said in Matthew 10, as we heard on Wednesday evening, Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
So, the King riding into Jerusalem on a pair of donkeys does not come to bring peace to our households, or peace to our society, or political peace between nations. He does not come to make life on earth easier. Instead, He comes to bring this kind of peace to this world: the peace of reconciliation with God through faith in His blood, shed on the cross, the peace of a conscience at peace, because all the sins for which your conscience rightly condemns you were laid on the back of this King. That peace He brings with Him and offers to the people of every nation on earth, to bring them out of Satan’s kingdom and into fellowship with the living God. He comes to save sinners and restore them to God’s favor, to give them a Father who is a God of love.
That’s real peace, and it has real benefits. As Paul says to the Romans, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
The crowds outside Jerusalem on Palm Sunday understood only a tiny bit of who Jesus really was and of the peace He came to bring, but they shouted out to Him their joyful Hosanna’s and their songs of salvation as they watched Him ride humbly into Jerusalem in that spectacle of humility.
We who know of the much greater spectacle of humility and shame of Good Friday, of the humble King hanging from the cross, have much greater reason to rejoice and sing. The King has humbled Himself to the point of death, even the death of a cross. That’s how much He loved us and loves us still and wants us to be with Him in His kingdom. Today, on Palm Sunday, we witness again the spectacle of humility of the King riding into Jerusalem on a pair of donkeys, volunteering to suffer for us, as the Lamb that goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of all men bearing. Every Holy Week service that we will observe this week, every day, paints the picture of Jesus’ love for us as He willingly suffered what we should have suffered for our sins. Let us walk with Him during this Holy Week and watch Him again through the words of the Holy Gospel, to add our Hosannas and our songs of thankfulness and praise as we see the love of God on display. Amen.