Palmarum, Palm Sunday: Joy as Jesus Rides into Jerusalem

Lessons: John 12:12-19, Zechariah 9:9-12, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-9
Hymns: 443, 442, 435, 454, 422, 441

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Today is a joyous day, for our Lord Jesus, amid a crowd of excited disciples, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It is joyous because here we have the Son of God—Jesus—fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah as He enters the Holy City. He is surrounded by a crowd of followers, young and old, who sing their praises to their Lord, the Son of David. As they sing Hosanna, they are acknowledging that this Man is their Savior.

      This crowd knew Jesus was no ordinary Person. Many were following Him because they heard what Jesus did to Lazarus. Lazarus had died four days before Jesus arrived at Bethany. His sisters, Mary and Martha, were weeping over his death. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).  And then Jesus declared, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall He live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Then Jesus goes to the cave where Lazarus was buried and shouted, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus, who was dead, rose and came out of the cave with his hands and feet bound with linen strips and his face wrapped with a cloth (John 11:43-44).

      Jesus had performed many stunning miracles. This one is perhaps the most amazing. And so the crowds followed Him and listened to His preaching.

      There is much joy in this procession with palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem, because here the Savior was coming to do what He has set out to do. He was going to fulfill His passion. He was going to open the gates of Heaven and make the salvation of sinners possible.

      But not all were filled with joy. Some of the Jews who saw what Jesus had done for Lazarus reported His miracle to the Pharisees. The chief priests and Pharisees assembled a Council and decided Jesus needed to die. They were worried that if Jesus continued unchecked, many would believe in Him and the Romans will take away their place and their nation (John 11:45-53). They were so angry with Jesus over many believing in Him for raising Lazarus from the dead, that they sought to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus, too! (John 12:9-11).

      Even after Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the children sang their praises which made the chief priests and scribes even more upset. They became indignant when the children kept on singing “Hosanna to the Son of David,” that they asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus replied, quoting Psalm 8:2, “Yes, have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, You have brought forth perfect praise?’” (Matt. 21:15-16). Also, Jesus also drove out the moneychangers from the Temple, preached against the leaven of the Pharisees, confounded the Herodians, the Lawyers, and the Sadducees.

      You can see from this a reality that extends even to this day. Some joyously follow Jesus. Some do not. And, as Jesus teaches, saying to the Church in Laodicea, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:15-17). Jesus also preached, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30). What this means is there is no neutrality when it comes to Christian discipleship. We either boldly sing our praises, confidently trusting in our Savior for the salvation of our bodies or souls, or we deny our Lord through indifference, love of fleeting worldly things, or surrendering ourselves to a godless culture.

      Our country claims to allow for religious freedom, taking a neutral stance when it comes to matters of faith. There’s some truth to this. We have the First Amendment to guarantee our freedom to believe and to gather. There have been several Supreme Court rulings in recent years siding with religious freedom. But there have been many attacks by the government and even our fellow citizens against us Christians. Christian schools have been excluded from receiving grants. Christian business owners have been forced to violate their consciences. Christian employers have been forced to offer abortifacients. Christian adoption agencies are being forced to place babies into the homes of same-sex couples or they’re forced to shut down.

      There’s an obvious lack of neutrality. Remember how worried Americans were when the first Roman Catholic president was elected? And Lutherans have been condemned by the public for our Bible-based views on the papacy, male-only clergy, and belief that marriage is between and man and a woman. This past year showed some considerable darkness over the churches God established in our land. A Lutheran pastor in Michigan reflected on how last year at this time, if he walked from the parsonage across the church’s parking lot and into the church alone, he could have been ticketed for a misdemeanor, for churches in Michigan were supposed to be completely closed. The covid restrictions were extreme there, yet people could pack into grocery stores. Also, the Equality Act, should it make it through the Senate, will lift religious protections. Christian doctors may be forced to perform abortions and sex-change operations on children. Girls will have boys compete against them and boys can then use the girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms. The word equality makes the bill sound nice, but the Equality Act will make many Christian beliefs intolerable, illegal, and subject to punishment by fines or prison. If passed, so much for our freedom and protection under the First Amendment.

      Why the hostility? Our country’s strong stance on morals have steadily eroded. The devil is constantly fighting Christ’s Church. The world did not want our Lord Jesus to have a place to lay His head. And even our sinful nature is opposed to the New Man who has emerged in us by virtue of our Baptism. Our flesh wars against our spirit. Satan knows there’s no neutral ground. This great triumvirate—the devil, the world, and your sinful nature—are trying to tear you away from the blessings bestowed to you in your Baptism—to pry you from the very One to whom you sing Hosanna each Sunday. Salvation comes to you through Jesus. He brings you peace which the world cannot give. Jesus is Lord, a confession we know and believe, to the glory of the Father.

      Jesus rode into Jerusalem, not to offend people to the degree that it will lead to some sort of suicide carried out by those whom He antagonized. No, Jesus rode into Jerusalem for a purpose. He became Man to bear our sins in His Body, go to the cross, and shed His innocent Blood to pay for the sin of the entire world. The chief purpose for His incarnation is so that He could meet our Father’s demands for justice by being held accountable for our sin and making the necessary ransom payment for our sin. He rode into Jerusalem, as we will boldly sing at the close of the service today, to die. By this, He reconciled the world to Himself and secured salvation for us sinners.

      The world can prate and rage against Jesus for defeating the Devil and disarming all the principal powers of darkness. The world can take offense at the divine truth established by God the Father and revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. But we will bow our knee to Jesus our Savior and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

      From an earthly and political perspective, no doubt troubled times await us. But then again, there’s been no generation that has not been concerned about the future and the health of Christ’s Church. Come what may, we will sing in great faith as the children did on that first Palm Sunday. We will take comfort in the promises of God. Jesus will lead us on to the Promised Land. He will continue to bless us with His presence. He is, after all, the Victor. He has triumphed. He is risen. He lives. And so shall we. We will take up our crosses, bear what may come, and follow Jesus, who has overcome sin, death, and Satan and has opened the gates of Paradise to us. We, as God’s people, will not succumb to the pomp of the world or its enticing rubbish. We, as Christians, will boldly sing our Hosannas, even if it may cost us our lives.

      For our lives are not lost. They are won. Jesus has claimed us as His own in Holy Baptism. He laid down His life for us. He rose to give us eternal life. For Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. All who believe in Him will never die.

      Everlasting life and salvation belong to us. Our time here is temporary. We have nothing to fear or worry about. Jesus is with us. He will shepherd us and take us through this valley of tears to Himself in Heaven. And so, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord—our Lord and Savior—to whom we sing Hosanna, “save us now.”

      When we keep this reality in view, we know that every day is a joyous day, for each day is a day the Lord has made. Every day is a blessing and gift from God. And on the days we can gather in God’s house to receive God’s gracious blessings, we know that we are blessed beyond measure. We have nothing to fear and every reason to rejoice, singing God’s praises as the children did during that first Holy Weekp. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen