Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Each year on Palm Sunday we remember and we celebrate the coming of the Son of God Jesus Christ to be our King. We remember how the crowds received Him that day waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks before Him crying, “Hosanna,” “God save us!” “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Indeed, the coming of our King is so momentous an event that we remember and sing those very words, not only on Palm Sunday, but each and every Lord’s Day in the Divine Service as we prepare to receive our King who continues to come to us again and again in the Lord’s Supper.
However, this day we also remember how quickly the fickle crowd turned on their King. When He proceeded, not to Herod’s or Pilate’s palace, but to the temple, where He angrily turned out the money changers and those who traded in sacrificial livestock, they quickly became disillusioned and wondered, “What kind of king is this anyway?” By Friday of that same week, their cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed” were replaced with shouts, “Crucify Him! Crucify!” Either by acclamation or by silence they all together handed over their King to be crucified. Wittingly or unwittingly, they confessed, “This man is not our King. We have no king but Caesar. Let Him be crucified.” And, He was. King Jesus was crowned with thorns, sentenced as the “King of the Jews,” and was mounted to His wooden throne for all the world to see.
Either way, indeed in both ways, He was their King. And so is He our King. This truth we confess in the Small Catechism, in the explanation of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”: “The Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” The point is, as we confess each year in Advent with the same Gospel theme as today, our King is coming, ready or not, like it or not, whether you receive Him or not. Therefore, the question is only and always, “How will you meet Him?” Will you meet Him in faith to your temporal and eternal blessing, or will you meet Him in unbelief and rejection to your judgment and condemnation?” The King has come. He comes now. And He is coming again. He comes in blessing to those who receive Him. But, woe to the one who rejects Him, who betrays Him, and will not receive Him as King. In Jesus Christ, God’s Kingdom has come. O, that it would be received by all His creatures. O, that we would receive His Kingdom amongst us and live under His gracious rule in love and obedience.
At the beginning of St. Matthew’s Passion narrative, Jesus said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” The phrase “will be delivered up” in Greek is one word, paradidotai, which literally means “is betrayed.” This word was translated into the Latin as traditur, from which we get our English word traitor and its derivatives to betray, to hand over, and, perhaps surprisingly, tradition. The point that Jesus makes is that, in His Passion, He was being “handed over” by His Father to be the atoning sacrificial Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the sacrifice of God’s self-offering, the Lamb that Abraham confessed the LORD would provide for Himself. Jesus is Isaac’s ransom, Israel’s ransom, and the ransom of you and I and all who receive Him as their Savior, Redeemer, Lord, God, and King.
As the Prophet has written, “It was God’s will to crush Him.” Indeed, it was God’s will to hand over His Son to suffer and die for the sins and redemption of men, but still, Jesus says, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is [handed over].” Immediately the Evangelist tells us of the plot that the chief priests and elders of the people were putting together in the palace of Caiaphas the high priest. And then we are told of Judas who went to the chief priests and offered to hand over Jesus for a price, thirty pieces of silver. From that moment Judas sought the right opportunity to hand Jesus over and betray Him. On Thursday evening, when Jesus gathered with His disciples for a final Passover meal, Jesus took this opportunity to teach about His Kingdom and the kind of King He was and would be. Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him.” The LORD’s Messiah and King was prophesied of old from that First Gospel was proclaimed by the LORD in the Garden after the Fall of our First Parents. Since then the LORD renewed His covenant promise with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and David. The Prophets proclaimed it again and again in Word and Sign. The Son of Man Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all those prophecies, and He was about to pour out a New Covenant in His blood. Truly, this Passover celebration would institute a New Passover. Once again the Angel of Death would pass over those marked by the blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb, Jesus. But, woe to the one who rejects Him and His Kingship in unbelief.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Jesus taught. Greatly distressed, the disciples each began to ask, “Is it I, Lord?” When Judas asked the same, Jesus answered him saying, “You have said so.” Now, Christian theologians and laity alike have debated for centuries the role of Judas and the nature of his betrayal. The questions they ask are typically these: Did Judas truly have a choice? After all, it was necessary that someone betray Jesus, right? Is Judas culpable for his betrayal? Didn’t God use him in this capacity? Wasn’t Judas actually being faithful in furthering Jesus’ mission and purpose? Etc. I say to you, all this is speculation. Truly, God’s will in this matter is a great mystery. We have only what He has revealed to us in His Word, which may not answer all our questions, but provides us what is necessary for faith, life, and salvation. In such cases, let us then consider simply what the Lord has said. When Judas asked, “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered only, “You have said so.” Should we conclude from this that Judas had no choice? That he was destined to betray Jesus? That he could not have done otherwise? By no means does the Word of God say any such thing! That is a reading that is forced upon the text by human reason and rationalism. What lies behind those words is the wisdom and will of God which is a light too bright for man, His creature, to gaze into. What we have is His Word, and it is sufficient for all our needs.
What is clear, however, is that there is a “handing over” that is holy and good – the Father’s “handing over” of His Son to suffer and die – and there is a “handing over” that is sinful and wicked – the rejection and betrayal of God’s self-offering in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my body.” Then He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Herein Jesus instituted a new Passover, a New Covenant. He offered to mark all with His atoning blood that the Angel of Death might pass over and spare them from death. This covenant is for all who will receive it in faith, but woe to the one who rejects this covenant of grace.
That night in Gethsemane, Jesus prophesied to His disciples that they would indeed all betray and hand Him over. Though Peter insisted that he would never do such a thing, Jesus prophesied that he would deny Him three times before dawn the next day. “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.” We are all traitors. But, are you Judas or Peter? Do you believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is for you? Do you believe that it is finished, just as He said? Do you trust in the New Covenant in His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, the New Passover blood which marks and seals you that the Angel of Death may pass over? Judas did not believe; he fell into despair and hopelessness and took his own life in desperation to be relieved of the agony of his guilt. Peter, though every bit as guilty, trusted in Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. After His resurrection, Jesus restored Peter, forgiving His sins, much like the Prodigal Father received his wayward son home again and restored him proclaiming, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
Thanks be to God that He has handed over His Son as the atoning sacrifice that covers our sin and restores us to sonship with the Father. Glory be to Jesus who willingly handed Himself over as the sacrificial Lamb of God that His blood might mark us prodigal sons and daughters who have strayed far and wandered from the love of our Father that the Angel of Death might pass over us that we may live now and forever in His mercy, grace, and love. Let us not betray Him and hand Him over with sins and unbelief we treat as lightly as a kiss. For such sins and unbelief did Jesus shed great drops of blood in intense prayer in Gethsemane. For such sins and unbelief was Jesus’ soul in anguish and did suffer the separation from His Father’s grace and mercy that we justly deserve. For such sins and unbelief does Jesus hand over His precious body and His holy blood that we might eat God’s Passover Sacrifice and live now and forever.
This is the nature of God’s Kingdom, and this is how God’s King reigns: in selfless, sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. “Thy Kingdom come.” Though “the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, […] we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” “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” in bread and wine which are His body given and His blood of the New Covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. How do you receive Him? Believe and receive; He is for you. He is your King, and He is for you. God has handed Him over for the life of the world. Take. Eat. Believe. Receive. Trust. Keep. Live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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