Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

Palms and Cross


Matthew 21:1-9; 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

To be sure, Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. However, before, above, and beyond all that, Jesus Christ is God. In the beginning, our First Parents dwelt with God in a garden kingdom, knowing, loving, and capable of doing His will. Until temptation came, and then desire, discontent, covetousness, and pride, and man sinned and fell and was in harmony with God’s holy will no longer. Our First Parents came to fear their Creator. They hid from Him, they lied and they blamed each other, and they blamed God. No longer able to abide in God’s holy presence, they were mercifully expelled from the garden and barred from eating the fruit of the tree that must necessarily keep them alive forever, but separated from God’s holy presence.

Outside of the garden kingdom, sin quickly began to bear fruit. In anger, jealousy, and resentment, Cain rose up and murdered his brother Abel. Like his parents, he was afraid of God and tried to justify his wicked deed, driving himself further into sin and despair. He feared that other men, his own brothers and cousins, would attack and kill him even though God promised to protect him and to avenge him seven-fold. From this point forward, there began a divide between the descendents of our First Parents, those who walked with God, trusting and fearing Him, and those who hated and feared God and raised up for themselves false gods, even themselves as god. Therefore the promise God gave of a Messiah, a Savior, in Genesis 3:15, was preserved, not through Cain and his descendents but through another son of Adam and Eve, Seth.

The biblical record chronicles the ever-increasing wickedness of mankind: idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery and fornication, coveting, theft, tyranny, slavery, warfare, and much, much more. In fact, it was so bad that, by the time of Noah, God looked upon mankind and saw that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So, God sent the flood and washed the earth clean while saving eight repentant souls who trusted in Him. Though God promised to never again destroy all life by a flood, the flood was a foreshadowing of the Red Sea crossing, and both were a foreshadowing of Christian baptism which drowns the old sinful nature in each of us and raises up a new man in Christ, joining us into His death and resurrection. Yet, sin was still in the world, in the flesh of men. Men were, and are still, conceived and born in sin and concupiscence, assuring that, despite our best intentions, apart from faith and trust in God and in His Word of promise, wickedness and evil will continue to proceed from the hearts of men.

Which is why, despite the promises, the covenants, God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, despite the providence with which He protected and provided for Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, despite the miracles He performed through Moses and Aaron, leading them out of slavery and captivity to Pharaoh in to the land of promise, the people of Israel rejected God’s kingship and demanded a king like the Gentile nations that surrounded them. Still they set their will against God’s will and Word. Still they put their fear, love, and trust in their own wisdom, in the works of their hands, and in men and in gods of their own making. And, this was still going on in Jesus’ day, even as He rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey to mount His throne as King of kings and Lord of lords, not the throne in Herod’s temple, but upon the throne of the cross on Golgotha.

King Jesus entered the Holy City in the way no other king ever would or ever did. He did not ride in upon a warhorse in great pomp backed by military might, but He rode upon a lowly beast of burden, an animal commonly used by humble peasants for humble work. He was received, not by the high and the mighty, but by peasants and women and children who laid down before His path their garments and branches of palm. Who were these crowds? They were those who were still looking for the Messiah of promise, who still trusted in God and in His Word, they were the remnant of Israel. They had no doubt heard that Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind. They had heard that He had miraculously fed the five thousand. And now there were rumors circulating that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. So they clamored around the streets of Jerusalem leading to the temple to catch a glimpse of this great Rabbi who seemed to be fulfilling prophecy all over the place believing that He just might be the promised, prophesied Christ of God. Indeed, the words of their praise indicate just that. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they cried the words of Psalm 118, “blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” However, though they were looking for the Messiah, the crowds did not understand Jesus’ kingship in the light of the cross. Do you?

The remnant of the children of Israel were watching and waiting for the coming of the Messiah, but they had become confused about how the Messiah would come and what He would do? Had they forgotten about the Lamb that God Himself would provide so that the offspring of Isaac and Jacob could be spared? Had they forgotten about the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy who would be wounded for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities? They, who were once no people, whom God had made to be a people, had come to expect that certain gifts and blessings from God should continue or be realized once again. Since God had once made Israel a great nation and blessed her with kings who were known amongst the nations for their might and strength, they came to expect that God would make the people of Israel a great and renowned nation once again. And so, even these faithful, this remnant, expected God’s Messiah to restore glory to Israel by freeing her from her Roman occupiers, for they had come to place their fear, love, and trust in God’s blessings before and above God Himself, and this is a form of idolatry that you practice as well.

For, when the nations rattle their sabers, when the economy appears unstable, when the cost of the necessities of life climbs higher and higher, are you not overcome with fear? Does your fear turn into anger or despair? Do you look to a charismatic preacher, a politician making promises he cannot keep, or to the government as a savior? That’s what the children of Israel were looking for when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – a political savior, a king, someone they could put their fear, love, and trust in who would give them what they wanted: food for the belly, prosperity for their descendents, freedom from their captors, and glory amongst the nations of men. God had blessed them before, they thought, now their trust was in His blessing, and not in God and His Word.

Pilate was right, Jesus is a king, but He is not that kind of king. Zechariah said it best, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” To believe that the Messiah would be anything other than a humble, selfless, self-sacrificing savior is simply to not believe in the Word of God. But, that is exactly the problem, isn’t it? God’s Word consistently describes the Messiah using words like humility, lowliness, righteousness, peace, forgiveness, and suffering. He does not come to conquer our enemies, but He comes to redeem us from sin and death. He does not come to bring Israel, the Church, or even you personally, glory, power, wealth, and prosperity, but He comes to suffer and die to set you free from your guilt.

But, Jesus is a king; He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. His throne is not of gold and precious jewels, but His throne is a cross of wood. His crown is not of gold, silver, and gemstones, but His crown is a gnarled and twisted crown of piercing thorns. When He is lifted up in death upon the cursed tree of the cross, it is then that He draws all people to Himself. This man, Jesus, crucified and dead upon the cross, is the King of the universe, God’s Son, our Savior; He is the love of God poured out for all men so that all who look to Him will be saved from death and hell and live in His kingdom forever.

Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who did what kings and lords are truly called to do, lay down their lives for their countrymen, their friends, leading the troops into battle even when death is certain. And that is what King Jesus has done, He has gone to battle with our true enemy – not Pharaoh, not Caesar, nor any other man, king, or nation – but sin and death and Satan. In dying, He has defeated these three and has taken away the strongman’s armor in which he trusted: He has removed the sting of death, which is sin, and has disarmed Satan so that his only weapons are lies and deception. He has poured out His own holy and innocent blood as a new covenant, setting all who trust in Him free from the waterless pit. And, for all your sins that have kept you separated from God and life, He has restored to you double in blessing, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Thus, on this Palm Sunday, as on every Lord’s Day, we receive Him who comes in the Name of the Lord, present with us in the humble and lowly forms of bread and wine that we may eat and drink and live in and through Him in Holy Communion. And, this day we are pleased to welcome to this communion a young son and daughter of our Lord to the glory of God in Christ Jesus through His most Holy Spirit. “Hosanna! Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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