Sermon for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion based on Matthew 27:38-66/John 12:12-19
Dear crowd crying out, “Hosanna”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not totally unique. In fact, it wasn’t that different in outward appearance from the entry of others kings before Him. Previous kings of Israel had had similar entries into the city at their coronation. King Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a similar animal: a mule (1 Ki. 1:32 – 40). When King Jehu was anointed, people laid down their cloaks underneath the king (2 Ki. 9:12 – 13). Jesus had the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, and was received with loud shouts of people rejoicing and following Him, as people had received other kings of Israel. Palm branches had been used at previous celebrations and times of rejoicing (Lev. 23:40, Neh. 8:13 – 17, 2 Macc. 10:5 – 8), and were now used to celebrate this triumphant king riding into Jerusalem.
As Christ entered Jerusalem, did the people really know what triumph they were celebrating or who this king is? Did they really know that they were welcoming God Himself? They shouted, “Hosanna,” meaning “save us!” They called Him the Son of David, and recognized that He is coming in the name of the Lord. The throng was thus openly acclaiming Him as the Messiah, the promised Saviour of the world, and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
However, the crowd misunderstood the King and His kingdom. They did not understand the tension between Jesus the King and Jesus the humble servant. They did not comprehend the reason their King rode a lowly donkey, and even that had to be borrowed, instead of a majestic horse. Nor did they realize that their King did not come to be crowned with a crown of gold, but with a crown of thorns. Anticipating His rise to a royal throne, the crowd did not expect Him to be raised up on a cross. Seeing the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, they did not foresee that later that very week, He would have the royal privilege of being buried in a tomb in which no one had yet been laid.
The crowd had seen the miracles of Jesus, and it was for this reason that they wanted to crown Him king (Lk. 19:37), as they had attempted to do previously when he had miraculously fed 5000 of them (John 6:15). They were looking for an earthly king, a king that would save them from under Roman rule. They wanted to be free from paying taxes to Caesar. They sought the benefits of being associated with the victorious king, who could miraculously feed them with food for which they did not have to pay, and heal those suffering in their midst.
The disciples themselves struggled with this understanding, Peter even took Jesus aside to rebuke Him for saying that He would suffer and die. Jesus responded to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (Mt. 16:21 – 23).” Peter was thinking about earthly glory and an earthly kingdom, and his focus on worldly things was a hindrance to the things of God.
How often are we like this Palm Sunday crowd? On Sunday morning we worship God, we come to church, we recognize that Jesus is the promised Saviour, but throughout the rest of the week, beginning with Sunday afternoon, we live our lives focused only on worldly things. How often, like the world around us, do we ignore the things of God and only focus on the things of man? Our focus is clouded with the haze of comfort and earthly security. We love life here in this world. We pursue worldly things. We want life to be easy and comfortable, so we chase after comforts and indulge in them to the point of borrowing from our children to pay for them. We want life to be pleasurable, so we lust after the delights of the eye and sacrifice the well-being of our families.
We tolerate all sorts of wickedness in our lives, in the lives of our families, in our communities, and in our nation, because we are worried that confronting wickedness will result in our discomfort. We are more concerned with offending our neighbour, which might be uncomfortable, than with offending God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Mt. 10:28). We too often have our mind fixed on the things of this world, the things that will pass away, instead of on things above, which are eternal.
Since we cannot get rid of our sinful nature – our Old Adam – we must daily repent. We must daily drown our sins and evil desires. We must not make provision for the flesh and thus must drown all sins and drown all evil desires. Living in repentance, we thus keep our eyes on the things above. We focus on our new life in Christ, not on the desires of the flesh. We thus have the mind of Christ who made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, and humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus knew the hearts and minds of the people on Palm Sunday, and He also knows our hearts and minds. Despite the mistaken view these people had of Him and His kingdom, out of His love for them, and out of His love for us, He went on with His mission. He did more than conquer the Romans and save them from paying taxes. He saved them, and He saved us, from the power of death and the devil. He saved them, and He saved us, from our sinful nature. He saved us by suffering. He conquered by dying. His death gives more than freedom from the Romans; Christ’s death gives freedom from sin, death, and the grave.
As the crowd on Palm Sunday shouted, “Hosanna,” “save us,” the King of kings did indeed save us. He saved us by becoming our righteousness. As Jeremiah writes, He will be called, “The Lord is our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6).” Before the judgment seat of God we can claim His merits and His righteousness. Christ fulfilled the Law and is righteous, but since He is our righteousness, we are declared righteous, we are declared blameless, we are declared as having fulfilled the Law. Jesus died for your sins, and thus takes them away from you. Not one sin is left out. Jesus atoned for all sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13:11) Each day, each moment that goes by, brings us closer to the day of Christ’s return. Each day brings us closer to the day when we will, with all the saints, that great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in our hands cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9)
This is the kingdom of the King of kings. This heavenly kingdom is our promised inheritance. So stay awake! Do not fall into spiritual inattentiveness. Do not fall into a life of unrepentant sin, a life of darkness.
Instead cling to the promises of the Gospel! Know that the punishment for every time you have been a hindrance to the things of God by seeking after the pleasures of this world, this punishment was put on Christ. With Christ dwelling in you, you have His righteousness, so you can say, “Christ is my righteousness.”
Jesus has triumphantly entered His kingdom after defeating your enemies, and He prepares a place for you in that kingdom. He has promised to be with you, and to strengthen you during your time here below through Word and Sacrament, until you triumphantly enter the joys of heaven. Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, you have a triumphal entry awaiting you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.