Palm Sunday

Sermon for Palm Sunday based on Matthew 21:1-9

Dear crowd singing hosanna: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The kingdom of God does not come with violence. Jesus does not force anything on anyone. As powerful as He is, He does not come with His legions of angels to force you to believe, force you to behave, or force you in any way.

He comes in humility, so the prideful laugh at Him. He comes in service, so the arrogant mock Him. He comes in weakness to suffer and die, so the strong deride Him.

God’s children, however, receive Him who comes humbly. They sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” We sing this as He humbly comes to us in His body and blood, just as those children of God sang it when He came humbly, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Christ comes to His own, and they receive Him. They are His Church, and He gathers them to Himself. The Church is not a group of spiritual people who decide to get together and do religious things. The Church is God’s chosen people of all times and places whom God Himself gathers through the forgiveness of sins to be the body of Christ. To us Christ comes with salvation, which is why we sing “hosanna,” which means “save us.”

Christ came for the very purpose of saving us. He has saved us from sin, death, and the devil. He has saved us from the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He has saved us from eternal death in hell, which is the just reward for our many sins. He saved us from the Evil One who seeks day and night to devour us.

He saved us by His bitter grief and woe, His suffering and agony, His death and resurrection. He saved us not just by His suffering and death, but also by His life and resurrection. During His life, He fulfilled the Law of God which we have broken. In His resurrection, He burst the bars of death for us and all believers.

He comes to us humbly and in weakness to save us. This is a stumbling block for the prideful and arrogant. Earthly kingdoms come with violence and strife. They spread by means of killing others and taking from them. They grow with political manipulation, betrayals, and lies. Those in power get richer and richer by taxing the people into poverty, oppressing them, and by stealing from the public coffers. Bribes are paid and critics are silenced. This is how earthly kingdoms work. They grow and get stronger until the next earthly kingdom rises up and destroys them.

The kingdom of God does not come to earth with violence. The kingdom of God came through the violence done to Jesus. Now it spreads through the forgiveness of sins freely given. It grows through the Word preached to listening ears. It grows through the waters of Holy Baptism and is nourished through the food of the Holy Supper.

The kingdom of God comes so humbly, it can be rejected. You don’t have to fight it if you don’t want to be part of it, you can simply walk away. You can simply cease to care. You can grow cold. You can grow indifferent. You can simply stop listening to the Word and stop being nourished by Jesus’ body and blood and have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.

Because Christ comes in weakness and humility, do not make the mistake of believing Him to be weak or powerless. Quite on the contrary, He is God in the flesh with all the power and authority of God. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. It is for your sake that He comes humbly.

Our Epistle lesson tells us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He was in the form of God because He is God. He is of one substance with the Father. Yet He humbled Himself to serve us, and that is the mind we should have among ourselves.

To be Christlike means to serve your neighbour. The strong help the weak. The rich help the poor. Those who have a voice speak for those who do not.

To be Christlike also means to suffer unjustly, which is nearly impossible for us to do without grumbling and complaining. Even when we suffer justly we cannot but complain about our suffering.

If our pride is attacked, we get angry. We want to defend ourselves. We struggle in any way to be like Christ, the Lamb who was led to slaughter without complaint. We cannot bear to hear unkind things said about us. We cannot bear to have our reputations tarnished. We need to repent and follow the example of Christ. We need to turn from our sin and trust in Jesus for forgiveness.

Peter writes, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (I Peter 2:21-24)

Jesus was continually slandered. He is still today spoken against and much evil is said of Him every day. He endures this evil because He desires that everyone would turn from their evil and be saved. He does not return evil with evil, but He grants forgiveness.

The day of His return will be a stark contrast to His first coming. He will not come humbly as a baby. He will not ride into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey. He will not suffer and die. When He returns, Christ Jesus will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Then every knee will bow to Him, even those who spoke evil of Him. Every tongue will confess that He is Lord, but Christ will divide those who confessed it before His return from those who confess it only on Judgment Day.

Christ will put those who did not confess Him as Lord when He came humbly on His left side and give them the due reward for their wickedness. They will be punished eternally for their sins. That will be justice. They will pay for every sin.

He puts those who confessed Him as Lord when He came humbly on His right side and will give them the kingdom prepared for them from before the foundation of the world. They are not judged for their sins. Their sins are covered by His own blood. They will not be punished for their sins. They are forgiven. To top it off, they are credited for all the good that the Holy Spirit worked through them throughout their lives.

Jesus came humbly on Palm Sunday and He comes humbly today to do everything for you so that you will be on His right side on Judgment Day. He suffered everything for you, so that you do not have to suffer eternally. He has washed you with water and the Word and nourishes you with His own body and blood. He gave His life for you, the sinless dying for the sinful.

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!

The Shepherd dies for sheep that love to wander;

The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,

Who would not know Him.

 

The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;

The sinful child of man may live in gladness;

Man forfeited his life and is acquitted;

God is committed.

 

And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven

To me the crown of joy at last is given,

Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,

I, too, shall praise Thee. (LSB 439 st. 4,5,15) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Celebrating with Palms

Sermon for Palm Sunday based on John 12:12-19

Dear people celebrating with palms: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Palm trees in the middle of a barren desert wasteland are a sure relief for dry eyes and a parched tongue. Palm trees indicate an oasis; a place with water to sustain life. They indicate food since many of them provide edible fruit. They indicate rest, shelter, and shade in a barren and hostile place.

The Israelites found such water and food, rest and shelter camped at an oasis with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees after God saved them from Egypt (Ex. 15:27). As a yearly reminder of God bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which included rejoicing and celebration with palm leaves (Lev. 23:33-44). They rested in the Promised Land from their years of slavery and hardship, and celebrated in the lush, fertile land of Canaan, an oasis from the wanderings in the wilderness.

Once settled in the Promised Land, God gave rest, refreshment, and safety to His people in the Temple. It was thus fitting that the decorations of the Temple included engraved palm trees around all the walls of the inner and outer rooms, on the doors of the inner sanctuary, and on the leaves of the doors at the entrance of the nave (I Kings 6:29-35). The Temple was the place where God refreshed His people with forgiveness, gave them rest from work, and safety from sin, death, and the devil.

How fitting then, that when Jesus entered Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for our sin, He was greeted with palm branches and celebration. Jesus is our rest, refreshment, and safety. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to fulfil what God prefigured and foreshadowed by bringing His people out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus entered Jerusalem to save all of us from the slavery of sin, our true enemy.

If it was fitting for the Temple to be decorated with palm trees as a sign of rest, refreshment, and safety, how much more fitting it is that Jesus would be greeted with palm branches since He is the Temple made without hands. If the people of Israel had reason to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with palm branches every year, we have more reason to celebrate Palm Sunday with palm branches every year.

In fact, we are in good company when we celebrate with palm branches. The book of Revelation tells us that the saints enrolled in heaven praise God with palm branches in their hands (7:9). Those who have come out of the Great Tribulation and have been washed by the blood of the Lamb celebrate with palms because Jesus entered Jerusalem to be save us.

“Save us!” That’s what Hosanna means. It is a prayer to God that He save us. It is thus a prayer to Jesus that He be our rest, refreshment, and safety, our oasis in this world of sin.

Jesus is our rest. He is our rest because we can rest from our attempts to save ourselves by trying to earn God’s favour. We can rest in Jesus because He has completed the work of saving us. And He is our eternal rest as He will take us from this life of toil and sorrow to His eternal celebration feast which has no end.

Jesus is our refreshment. He is our refreshment because He has given us new life. He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink which takes the heavy burden of our sins from us. He nourishes us with forgiveness so that we have strength for the days to come.

Jesus is our safety. He is our safety from sin, death, and the devil. Sin cannot harm us because we have been forgiven. Death cannot harm us because Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead, promising us that we also will rise from the dead. The devil cannot harm us because Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated him and all he can do is thrash around helplessly as Jesus has crushed his head.

It is most fitting that we sing “Hosanna” in the Sanctus as part of our communion liturgy. We pray to Christ who comes to us in His body and blood that He would save us. And He does. He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety by giving us forgiveness in His body and blood. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil through this most sacred of meals. He joins us in communion with Himself, with each other, and with the saints already enrolled in heaven.

We are in a barren and hostile place. We are in a barren desert wasteland that is this world of sin and death. Jesus has given us an oasis with palms here in His church, where He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety.

Thus, we take up palm branches in celebration. We celebrate with God’s people of old who were saved from slavery. We celebrate with God’s people who were refreshed in the Temple and given rest and safety. We celebrate with the saints in heaven who are no longer in the Great Tribulation in which we still find ourselves.

We celebrate with palms this wonderful day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with one purpose – to suffer and die for us all. He never sinned, but He suffered the punishment for all the sins of the world, so that we who have sinned will live with Him forever in the joys of Paradise.

Hosanna! Save us we pray! Lord Jesus, be our rest, refreshment, and safety until You take us to rejoice with all the saints in heaven who praise you with palm branches in their hands. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Triumphal Entry

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.

Hosanna to the Son of David

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-11

Dear crowd shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Son of David rode into the city of David. He was received with much fanfare and celebration. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly, riding on a donkey rather than a majestic horse. He came in great power and might because He is God in the flesh, the creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. However, His power and might were veiled. They could not be seen. The King of kings and Lord of lords humbled Himself and did not come in great demonstrations of power and might. The glimpses that He did show of His power and might were to heal, help, cleanse, and raise the dead; not signs of force or intimidation.

Some kings rule through tyranny and force. History is full of military dictatorships, despots, and tyrants. History is full of rulers who crushed their opposition through sheer force and violence, who murdered those who disagreed with them, and controlled their subjects through violence and threats of violence. We can think of examples such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Mao Zedong in China. Their reigns were filled with conflict, murder, genocide, and war crimes.

Even in the modern-day western world, many politicians depict Machiavellianism, which is an unscrupulous approach to politics characterized by immoral behaviour, dishonesty, and even the killing of innocent people if it advances their political aspirations and goals. It was Machiavelli himself who said that if as a leader you cannot have both, it is better to be feared than loved.

What a far cry from Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem. Jesus came with more power and might than any world leader ever, but He did not come to lead His people by coercion and tyranny. He did not come to force people into subjection through oppression.

Jesus didn’t come on a war horse with an army of soldiers in a sign of force. He didn’t strong-arm people to sing His praises. He didn’t demand that they spread their cloaks on the road in front of Him or cut palm branches and lay them before Him.

Rather, God’s people were stirred to excitement and praise because they had waited for thousands of years for God to send the promised Saviour, and the crowds believed that that time had come. They shouted “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” Thus, they believed their Saviour had come. They called Him “the Son of David” which confessed that they believed that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets (see esp. God’s promise to David in 2 Sam. 7:12-13).

The crowds may not have understood what it all meant, but Jesus understood. The crowds may not have known how Jesus would use His power and might, but Jesus knew.

Jesus did not use His power and might to coerce people to follow Him. He used His power and might to defeat the enemies of all mankind.

Jesus did not do this in the way that might have been expected. He could have attacked the devil and his demon hordes with the host of heaven and cast them into eternal chains of darkness. He could have destroyed Satan and his evil angels and rid the earth of them without even becoming man.

This, however, would have left mankind to pay for our sin. We would still have had to suffer eternally in hell for our sin if Jesus would have killed our enemy instead of allowing Himself to be killed. If Jesus had come in great power and might and defeated the devil without defeating sin and death for us, we would still be subject to sin and death.

That is why Jesus became man. That is why Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. By His suffering and death, He not only defeated the devil for Himself, but He defeated the devil for us. He defeated sin and death for us. Because Jesus paid the price of our sins, now we do not have to make the payment. Because Jesus died for us, we will not die eternally. Because Jesus defeated the devil for us, now the devil has no more power over us.

Sure, the devil will rave and storm and try to devour us and accuse us of our sin. Yes, we are still sinful and commit sin. And yes, we will die from this life.

But we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5). That means, “Satan, drop your ugly accusation: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!” (LSB 594)

The devil has no power over us. He is a tyrant who tries to coerce us to follow him, but he cannot snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:27-29). He tries to tempt us and accuse us, but he cannot entice us away from Christ, and God will not listen to his empty accusations because Jesus’ death has taken our sin away from us.

Sin has no power over us. Baptized into Christ, we don’t have to follow our sinful desires. Sin does not rule over us (Rom. 6:17-18). Because Jesus died for our sin, He took the punishment of our sin away from us. Our sin is removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12) because Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, bringing us to God (I Peter 3:18).

Death has no power over us. It may look like it has power over us since we will die from this life, but we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection, so we will rise from the dead as surely as He rose from the dead (Rom. 6:8). Death is now nothing to fear. Death for us is now nothing more than the doorway to eternal life.

Jesus will return as He has promised, and then He will come in power and might that is visible (Matt. 24:30). He will come in great glory that will be seen by all, even those who rejected Him, and all will bow down (Rom. 14:11).

Until that time, Jesus still comes to us humbly, in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus does not come to us as a tyrant and coerce us to believe or force us to go to church. Jesus comes to us in His Word which from the outside just looks like a book, but Jesus says His words are life (Jn. 6:63). Jesus comes to us in Baptism which from the outside just looks like water, but which Scripture teaches gives the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar which from the outside just looks like bread and wine, but which Jesus tells us are His true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:26-28; I Cor. 11:23-24).

Through these humble means Jesus gives us faith and keeps us in the faith. Thus, it is also appropriate that as part of the communion liturgy we join the Palm Sunday crowd and sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

We recognize that the Saviour promised long ago comes to us in humble form. We sing “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” because we believe our Saviour comes to us in His body and blood to save us from our sins. We sing that He comes in the name of the Lord because we confess that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets.

We receive our Lord with fanfare and celebration who comes humbly to us. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.