Sermon for Palmarum
Philippians 2:5-11 + Matthew 21:1-9 + Matthew 26-27
It’s good that we connect the beginning of Holy Week to the end of it, that we connect Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to His humiliating entry into the grave on Friday afternoon. That way, we learn to expect the right things from King Jesus.
It’s true that some people expect absolutely nothing from Jesus. They want nothing from Him except for Him to shut up and go away, because His unwavering truth and His unchanging moral Law nag at their consciences, and His Gospel of free forgiveness through faith in Him is repugnant to them. But He’ll never shut up and He’ll never go away. Jesus is the King, whether a person believes it or not, whether a person wants Him for a king or not. No one can remove Him from His well-earned throne—the throne at the right hand of God that is not only His by right, but His by merit, because He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.
Still, many people want or expect something different from this King than what He actually came to give. Some people see Him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and they want or expect an always-mild, never-offend-anyone, never-get-angry, let-you-go-on-living-in-sin kind of King. Such people should consider that immediately after riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus went to the temple and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. The same Jesus warned those who rejected Him that they would see Him one day coming on the clouds of heaven for judgment.
Many people want or expect a make-the-world-a-better-place kind of King, or a make-my-life-better kind of king, or a make-me-feel-good kind of king. But you can’t honestly follow Jesus through Holy Week and pretend that Jesus fits that description. No, even if you got that impression from Palm Sunday and the celebration that accompanied it, you get to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and you’re left with the glaring reality: That isn’t Jesus. His kingdom is not of this world. He’s not that kind of King.
What He is, is a King who knows the future like the palm of His hand, who knows where His disciples will find those donkeys tied up, who knows how He will be despised and hated, betrayed, arrested, condemned, tortured, ridiculed, crucified, dead, and buried by Friday afternoon, but still He sends for those donkeys that will transport Him into Jerusalem. Still He gets up on those donkeys and rides gently and humbly into the city, Jerusalem’s true King, righteous and having salvation.
What Jesus is, is a King who knows just how dark and evil the human heart is by nature, who knows your darkest thoughts and your vilest deeds, and yet still He rides into Jerusalem and walks resolutely toward Gethsemane, where He knows His betrayer will find Him. He chooses to drink the cup His Father gives—the cup that was yours and mine to drink.
What Jesus is, is a King who wasn’t ashamed to be dressed in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns, to receive the mock-worship of Pilate’s soldiers, to make Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, a King who yielded to His Father’s will, obedient, obedient, obedient unto death, like a Lamb who went uncomplaining forth, the guilt of all men bearing, a King who, though He knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
What we have in Jesus is the kind of King who earned eternal life for sinners by shedding His innocent blood on the cross, and then gives it all away—His body, His blood, and the forgiveness they earned—through a new Sacrament He instituted, a New Testament in His blood, that He instituted to be administered, not once or twice, but over and over and over again, as long as you have sins in this life that need forgiving, as long as you have need of the atoning blood of Christ. He gives it in Holy Communion.
This is your King, O Jerusalem, O Church of God: not a whatever-you-want-Him-to-be kind of King. But a Redeemer-King who purchased and won you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. A crucified-for-you-and-risen King, a standing-between-you-and-death kind of King. Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.