Palm Sunday

Readings: Zechariah 9:9–12 | Philippians 2:5–11 | Matthew 26:1-27:66

Text: John 12:12-19

Among the four Gospels, St. John’s provides a unique perspective.  Matthew (Matt. 21:1-9), Mark (Mark 11:1-11), and Luke (Luke 19:28-40) all contribute to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Yet, the Holy Spirit inspired John with additional commentary on events in the Lord’s ministry. We’ll consider three of those today.

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

First, the disciples that day, who witnessed these things first-hand, did not understand their full import.  We often think that if we were there in person, we would have a better time believing, and the Church would have a better time convincing people of the truth of the Gospel.  But it’s not true.  Even the disciples, who were with Him day after day did not understand.  At times, it even says they didn’t understand “because it was hidden from them” (Luke 18:34, also Matt. 11:25)

Now, why would God do this, if He indeed desires not the death of the sinner, and for all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? [Ezek. 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4]  It’s because we are not gods; we are mortals, finite, time-bound creatures of God.  It was kept from them that day because it wasn’t time for them to understand yet.  That time did come, and they did reflect on it.  Despite what the Internet would promise us, we will not have all the answers at our fingertips.  With the things of God, we must wait on Him.

Our Lord taught this to Nicodemus, who was convinced that he had discovered by his own wisdom that Jesus was a teacher come from God.  Jesus took that boast right out of him by saying, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)  This is what happens in every Christian’s growth as God’s child.  The adult convert often looks back on their past and says, “Why didn’t I get it sooner?  Why did I squander so many years in sin and rebellion?”  Any Christian who has prayed for a wayward child or friend has been mystified why the Spirit doesn’t move sooner in someone’s life.  But this waiting teaches us to rely completely on God to move and work in our hearts.  We cannot take any credit for it; we can only reflect on it in hindsight and give God the glory!

The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.

The next thing the Evangelist John points out is the witness of the crowd.  Even though the disciples could not yet connect the dots, the crowds did not hesitate to share what they had seen.  A man who had died, and was four days in the tomb, was now alive and walking around again.  Certainly, they couldn’t explain the fine points of doctrine, or argue against heresy in a systematic way.  But, it’s like the man born blind, whom Jesus healed, in John 9, who said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)  This man bore simple witness to who Jesus was and what He had done.

We are far too preoccupied with convincing others by human reason.  I suppose this is because so many persuaders are around us: advertisers convincing us that we need this or that, the desire to live up to peer or family expectations, the flexing of persuasive muscles on social media by who has the most viral meme.

But when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus, success does not hinge on our eloquence, but on God’s work.  From the noble St. Paul who was an unskilled speaker (1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 11:6), to Moses who stuttered (Exod. 4:10-16), and Jeremiah who was a youth (Jer. 1:6-7).  But also consider the witness of Rahab in Jericho (Josh. 2:8-14), Ruth in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:6-14, 4:13-17), and the slave girl whose words led to Naaman’s salvation (2 Kings 5:1-3).  Whoever says that Christian witness is an elaborate program of training and traveling long distances is trying to sell you something.  God uses the witness of lowly people like you and I where we already are, who have this treasure in jars of clay [2 Cor. 4:7].  The convincing and persuading belong to Him, the timing of events and saving of lives is His.

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Human power seems mighty.  The devil is a strong foe.  Our sinful nature is pervasive.

We Christians today would say that the world is going against Christ and toward antichrist.  The church after Covid seems all too content to “attend” through a screen.  Membership in many places continues to decline, as people find purpose and community elsewhere  Content creation has given rise to YouTube stars who—for better or worse—are able to contribute their opinions and delivery into the salad bar of bespoke (that is, self-chosen, tailor made) Bible study.

Children are indoctrinated with new racism, misandry (the hatred of men), and socialism at schools and by popular media.  Public policy is directed by a godless, materialistic worldview.  That worldview touts an ability to save our planet from forecasted man-made catastrophe and to upend natural law by redefining gender identity.  This is not about right versus left, but light versus darkness.

Isn’t it interesting that both the enemies of God and His followers today believe they are on the losing side of the battle?  But it is God’s will that is done, and we, as His children, do well to remember that.

Our Father is He who said even to the ocean, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11)  It is not an arm-wrestling match between equal forces of good and evil.  Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem, His innocent suffering and death, crying out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) changed everything.  It didn’t just turn the tables; it chained the devil [Rev. 20:2] and broke his teeth, as the Church prays in Psalm 3: “For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.”

Beware of those who would drive you to fear the encroaching darkness of the world, as if it had power greater than your God.  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) And it will shine, because the darkness cannot overcome it [John 1:6]!  Remember the lessons of our forefathers: the Israelites under mighty Pharaoh, God’s people in Exile in Babylon, the Christians of the first few centuries who lived in a similar godless world.  The Lord prevailed and preserved His people then, and today is no different.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Palm Sunday (Palmarum) (John 12:12-19)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Palm Sunday (Palmarum) + April 14, 2019

Text: John 12:12-19

The anticipation was great.  This wasn’t something just thrown together at the last minute.  The people of Israel had been waiting for literally centuries for this day to arrive.  The Son of David had finally come.  How could they know?  The signs pointed to this: The water into wine, the healings, the feeding of the 5,000, walking on the water, and raising the dead.[1]  Now it’s nearing the culmination of the Son of David coming to accomplish what was foretold: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

That is why they gave Jesus a king’s welcome, laying palm branches on the ground before Him, and crying out, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  They were anticipating great things from Jesus, that He would bring an everlasting Kingdom of perfect righteousness and justice.  They were ecstatic about His arrival.

In contrast, you know who people aren’t excited to see arrive?  A representative from the government.  In our lives today, take for instance the county sheriff.  Far different from joyful anticipation, there’s a dread as he (or she) parks in your driveway, gets his things in order, and then walks up to your door.  What could it be for?  This visit usually isn’t just dropping by; there’s something behind it.  What could it be?  The good thing would be a welfare check (although that usually means your neighbors are worried about you).  But it could also mean someone is serving you with a lawsuit or divorce papers.  Oh great!  I guarantee nobody who gets a surprise visit like this says, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the law.

But, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” because of what had been foretold about His coming: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming to you” and from the original Zechariah 9 adds: “Righteous and having salvation is he.”  The reason Jesus arrives is to bring something not found anywhere else in the world.  The sheriff brings notice of wrongdoing, impending condemnation, of failures and troubles.  Your conscience brings up the ways you’ve failed family and friends, how you’ve hurt others with your words and actions, and how people have put their confidence in you and you’ve let them down…again.

Blessed is Jesus, who comes in the Name of the Lord because He has righteousness and salvation with Him.  The prophecy from Zechariah goes on to say, “Humble and mounted on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) He comes not only as a King, but as a servant for your good.  Even though He is very God in flesh, He humbled Himself to take your place under condemnation.  Jesus came to carry the sins of the world—your wrongs, your failings, your hurts, all the putrid stuff that weighs you down.  He humbly carried all of it to the cross so that you might be free before God.  All of His passion that you heard today was in service to you.

The people that day, expected a very different fulfillment of the promise to King David.  Most expected Jesus to reign from Jerusalem in an earthly kingdom.  But that wasn’t the plan.  Just a few days later, the crowds were incited to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (John 19:6)  He would reign, but His enthronement was nailed to the cross.  His Kingdom would not be visible, but hidden and received by faith.

That’s where we find ourselves.  God’s promise has been fulfilled.  The Son of David did come to reign, and the Kingdom He established will last for everlasting ages.  But we have not reached the end of the age, the consummation.  So, we who believe in our King receive what He brings us: His righteousness and true salvation.

That’s what lifts the weight of what we continue to face in life—the unexpected bad turns, being cheated out of money, our health declining.  Because a Christian has the righteousness and salvation of Jesus, these troubles—though painful—are temporary.  They literally are not the end of the world.  Our sufferings should be of no surprise to us, for He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)  So, if we follow in His train, singing Hosannas to Himn, this teaches us that God is not taken offguard by the things we suffer.  His sinless Son suffered all these things that were not His sins, so that through His righteousness and salvation, we would have peace.  Because Jesus has served us, the end of the world will unveil our hopes to be true. Amen.


[1] The seven signs in John include: Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11; Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54; Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15; Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14; Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24; Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7; The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45