Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palmarum (Palm Sunday) / Sunday of the Passion (The Second Sunday In Passiontide)

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.
Today God’s Son makes His way to the mountain of sacrifice, the Lamb of God’s own offering for the sins of the world. Today, Abraham’s son is spared, and so are you and all the spiritual children of Abraham. Today is the day Abraham rejoiced to see when he spied the ram caught in a thicket and quickly exchanged it as a substitutionary sacrifice for his son Isaac. Today Jesus entered Jerusalem as had Jehu and Solomon before Him, riding on a donkey, with cloaks and palms strewn upon His path. He is the Anointed of the LORD, the LORD’s Messiah and Christ, a man after the LORD’s own heart like His father David. He is the LORD’s Servant, the true King of a kingdom not of this world, who leads His subjects into battle with Satan and defeats him by dying for them and their guilt. He is the Blessed One who comes in the Name of the LORD. He is God’s salvation and deliverance from sin and death and the devil.
Though He was in form and essence God, at His Father’s bidding He made Himself nothing and took up the form of a servant, being conceived and born as a man that He might suffer and die for the sin and guilt of all humankind and redeem them. There is no higher kingly duty and vocation than to die for his subjects, just as there is no higher love possible than to lay down one’s life for his friends. Yet the kings of men are the exact opposite of such humility and sacrificial service. When Israel cried out for a king like the nations around them, the LORD gave them precisely what they asked for. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you,” says the LORD; “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” He will take, and he will take, and he will take…. Did you catch that? Such is the way of the kings of men.
However, a true king is the servant of his people. The children of Israel were to have the LORD as their king. He would care for them and protect them even as the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, seeks them when they stray and get lost, and brings them safely home, even to the point of laying down His life for His sheep. But, the kings of men are not true shepherds, but hirelings who abuse and take advantage of the LORD’s sheep and flee when the wolf comes. Not so our Good Shepherd and King Jesus. Thus Jesus enters the Holy City in lowliness and humility as a Servant King. He processes, not to Herod’s throne or Pilate’s, but to the throne of His cross. He is robed in humility, scourged and torn for the sin and guilt of His people, crowned with cruel thorns and pierced with biting nails. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep and saves them from the lion’s jaws. He does not take, and take, and take, but He gives, and He gives, and He keeps on giving, even when mocked, spat upon, scourged, crucified, and rejected and abandoned by all. The crowds that praised Him on Palm Sunday were right to sing Hosanna, God Save! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD! But, they were wrong about the kind of king He would be. Jesus is King, but He is not a king like Saul, or even David, but Jesus is the LORD’s Servant and true King, His anointed Messiah and Christ, and He lays down His life for His people, even for those who reject Him.
Christ the King comes to take His throne. He rules from His cross for you and for all the world. The Word from His mouth kills and it makes alive. His holy, innocent blood cleanses from the uncleanness, disease, and death of sin and guilt. The water that pours from His pierced side is healing and forgiving and restoring. Throughout His ministry He cast out demons, healed diseases, and raised the dead, all the while taking the world’s sin and guilt upon Himself. This is how the true King rules and reigns. Laying down His life for you and all humankind, He died for you. His death in your place He gives to you; it is your death, even as His resurrection is your resurrection. Now, raised from death and ascended to the right hand of His Father, He reigns through His Church exorcising demons, healing, and raising from the death of sin and guilt in Holy Baptism, feeding, strengthening, protecting, equipping, and sending through His Word and Spirit and Supper.
His reign is for you, and His reign is through you. By Thursday evening, the crowds that received Him today began to reject Him. When He was arrested in Gethsemane, even His closest disciples and friends began to fall away. But, He continued on alone, for them, and for you, and for all the world. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Thus, Passion Sunday is a perplexing day, beginning in Palm Sunday joy, but quickly turning to Thursday’s betrayal, Friday’s trials and crucifixion, and Saturday’s burial in the tomb. Such is your fickleness, hardness of heart, and unbelief, and such is your God’s love for you that He would send His own Son to die for you that you might be restored to Him and live. Though He dwelt in unity and glory with His Father and Holy Spirit, He humbled Himself to become a man that He might be your King and Redeemer. He was rejected and abandoned by all, even His closest disciples, friends, and family. When the women came to the tomb Sunday morning, they came to anoint a dead body. It was necessary. Jesus had to be forsaken by humankind and by His Father and die alone – for the wages of our sin is only and always death. Moreover, ultimately, no one was saved because they saw His miracles, His power over demons, His healings and resurrections – all who saw these things still abandoned Him and considered Him dead. Truly, as Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
This is good news for you and for me. Oh, we might like to dream about what it would have been like if we were there. We wouldn’t have rejected Him. If only we could have seen what they saw and heard what they heard, we would believe. Don’t kid yourself. Besides, that’s not the point. The point is that Jesus did all this for you. God did all this for you. God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh that He might be your King and Redeemer by suffering and dying for your sin and guilt. He did this for you, wholly apart from your faith or unbelief. It’s an objective fact. Because of this, His Father raised Him up and bestowed upon Him the Name that is above every name, “that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This, too, is an objective fact, wholly apart from your faith or unbelief.
But, blessed are those who believe and trust in Him. For you, your King Jesus came, not only then, but He comes to you now under the humble and lowly forms of bread and wine to forgive you anew, to strengthen your faith, to protect, preserve, equip, and send you as His subjects, His people, His very own body, to reign with Him here on earth and in heaven – “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Still, your reign with King Jesus is no more glorious in the eyes of men than was Jesus’ ministry and cruciform coronation on earth. As many rejected Jesus, so will you be rejected because of Him. If you will be Jesus’ disciple, then you must take up the cross appointed for you and follow Him. Truly, the life of a Christian is a cruciform life. You will be mocked, ridiculed and rejected by the world, your neighbors, friends, and family. In humility and lowliness you will endure hardship, want, suffering, even persecution, and, finally, death. But, because your King has endured these for you, and even now He accompanies you through them, you will persevere. And, already, there is laid up for you a crown in heaven that will be placed upon your head on the victorious day of resurrection – a crown that can never be taken away. Therefore, be comforted and have hope in the truth that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Let us follow in the way of our King Jesus, the LORD’s Suffering Servant, this Holy Week through rejection, betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial, and let us rejoice in the victory and redemption He won for us as we celebrate His glorious resurrection on Sunday. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you!” “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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