Lessons: John 12:12-19, Zechariah 9:9-12, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-9
Hymns: LSB 443, 442, 450, 420, 422, 441
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some have described life as a roller coaster. There are emotional, physical, and spiritual highs and lows as we journey through life. Sometimes the switch from happiness to sadness—and even back—can happen in moments. Some of our joys are the result of our works blessed by God while others may be the joys people bring to us. Some of our lows are also caused by ourselves, while some lows have been inflicted upon us. The joys of the spirit are worked by God through His Word. Palm Sunday is certainly a joyous day, even during Lententide.
St. John records some of these roller coaster-like events which lead up to Palm to Sunday and our Lord’s Passion. Last week we heard of a previous visit our Lord made to Jerusalem (from John 8:31-59). After Jesus faithfully preaching the Word to the ire of the Jews who were accused by God’s Law, they tried to stone Him. But He hid Himself and passed through the midst of the people, leaving the Temple. Later (in the next chapter), Jesus healed a man born blind and the Pharisees excommunicated that man for faithfully confessing Christ. Imagine being born blind and then Jesus comes along and heals you! What an amazing high point in life. You would think everyone would be joyful with him but then some angry people cast him out!
In John 10, Jesus declared He is the Good Shepherd. He spoke some incredibly comforting words which we Christians love to hear, saying, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30). In the very next verse, John reports, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him” because Jesus was making Himself out to be God. They sought to seize Him, but Jesus escaped from their hands. So, He travelled to beyond the Jordan River where John the Baptist had previously conducted his ministry. While there, many witnessed His miracles and believed.
Things appeared to be going well but then Jesus received word from Mary and Martha that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Perhaps shockingly, Jesus did not drop everything He was doing to go heal Lazarus in Bethany—a town only two miles away from Jerusalem.
In our fast-paced day of instant communication and instant gratification, I wonder how much patience people would have to be willing to wait. Yet that’s what they must do because Jesus continued to preach the Word where He was for the next two days. Then finally, Jesus called His disciples and said, “Let’s go to Judea.”
But our Lord’s disciples knew Jesus was not safe going there, for the Jews had been trying to find opportunity to stone Jesus. Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus sleeps and He must go to wake him up. The disciples, not understanding our Lord’s words, said, “If Lazarus is sleeping, then he will get better.” Jesus then puts it bluntly, “Lazarus is dead. Let’s go.” Thomas, who would later doubt the eyewitness testimony of our Lord’s resurrection, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
They were probably glad Jesus didn’t drop everything right away to see Lazarus when he was sick. They were probably hoping to never to return to Jerusalem. They knew it was a grave thing to go there. And plus, Jesus had already spoken of His death and resurrection.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha reported to Jesus that Lazarus was dead, to which Jesus replied saying, Lazarus will rise. Martha replied that she knows Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the Last Day. Then Jesus said, “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). Jesus then went to place where Lazarus was laid. They rolled the stone away, and Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
At that Word of Jesus, Lazarus rose from the dead. He came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was also wrapped with a cloth. Many Jews saw what Jesus did and believed. Word of this amazing resurrection spread like wildfire, and many Jews heard and believed. Others reported the event to the Pharisees who then plotted to kill Jesus. Those who hated Jesus became even more galvanized in their hatred.
The crowds not only wanted to see Jesus, but they also wanted to see Lazarus. As a result, the chief priests also plotted to kill Lazarus. Obviously, they had no case to kill him. They thought they had a case against Jesus, for they thought He was guilty of blasphemy. It was their hatred of Jesus, which was driving them to plot to kill Lazarus, for when many saw the risen Lazarus, many believed in Jesus. I’m not sure what they would have accomplished by killing Lazarus. After all, Jesus already raised him from the dead once. Jesus could certainly do it again. Knowing that the chief priests were ready to kill Lazarus also helps us understand why the disciples were so quick to scatter when Jesus was crucified and hide in fear when Jesus rose from the dead.
The day after this plot to kill Lazarus is when our Gospel readings begin. The crowds are increasing as the report of Lazarus’ resurrection spread. They are just days away from the Passover, so many had travelled to Jerusalem for the Feast. And Jesus enters Jerusalem with much fanfare. They are excited to see Him. They worship Him. They rightly confess who He is—the Son of David, the King of Israel, the Savior. They sing Hosanna to Him, which means, “Save us now.” They even give Jesus a welcome fit for a king. They laid down cloaks and palm branches as He rode into Jerusalem. It was all very festive.
I hope you’ve tracked some of the rollercoaster highs and lows. Jesus performing miracles, preaching the Word of truth, and crowds following Him are clearly highs. But then you have the lows of nearly being stoned (that is, rocks thrown at you), Lazarus’s death, plots to kill Jesus and Lazarus, and the church leaders being against Jesus.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd grows, and the joy intensifies. Our Palm Sunday hymns capture that wonderful tone.
Yet, many were not seeking Jesus to be their Savior from sin. Instead, they were hoping He could rule over them as King, freeing them from the Roman government. Others were interested in simply seeing Jesus perform miracles, instead of seeing Him take away the sin of the world.
Yet, the praises they offered to Jesus took root in the children, who continued to praise Jesus during the week as they were crying out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” That also angered the chief priests and scribes, for they asked Jesus if He heard what they are saying, as if Jesus should stop them from saying falsehoods. But Jesus replied, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants you have brought forth perfect praise’?” (Matt. 21:15-16). The children were right. Jesus is their Savior. Their praises were wonderful. Earlier, Jesus had said, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Jesus extolled the faith that children can have and the danger of hindering children from hearing the voice of their Good Shepherd when He said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:3-6).
Everyone agrees how evil it is to physically abuse children, but why are so many unconcerned about the spiritual abuse so many children face when they are robbed of infant baptism, and the opportunity to be in the Word of God at both home and Church? You heard what Jesus said for those who cause our little ones to sin, and that includes causing them to break the Third Commandment.
It is sins like these that Jesus carries with Him to the cross. Amid the great joy as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, Jesus is entering the Holy City to be serve as the substitutionary sacrifice—the Lamb of God who sheds His Blood to take away the sins of the world. Jesus knows that for Him to be the King of kings, He must go to the cross. Jesus knew that as our High Priest, He would offer Himself as the ransom payment for our sin. Jesus knew that He would suffer the wrath of God as He bears the world’s sin in His Body. Jesus knew that many would forsake Him and flee as He underwent His passion.
Yet it is love that caused Him to go through with all this. He loves you. And so He did everything that was required to earn your salvation. He took your sins away on the cross. He rose to give you eternal life. He sends you His Spirit to guide you into His truth.
This week is an important week for us Christians. The importance of focusing on our Lord’s bitter sufferings and death cannot be overstated. Our Lord Jesus is going to the cross to be glorified. He rides into Jerusalem to die. Of the 89 chapters found in the four Gospels, 30 of them focus on Holy Week and our Lord’s Resurrection. This is a week for us to slow down with our busy lives and focus on what Jesus has done to reconcile us to our Father and grant us the gift of eternal life. For in Him and in no one else, you have eternal life and everlasting salvation. Behold the Lamb of God! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen