Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011

Philippians 2:5-11 (Palm Sunday—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 17, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.

It wasn’t popular then.  It isn’t popular now.  How dare we confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord?”  You do realize what you are saying, don’t you?  If the Lord is Jesus Christ, then no one else is Lord.  If the Lord is Jesus Christ, then no one else is our Master.  If the Lord is Jesus Christ, then He is God.  That’s what we confess when we say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  It wasn’t popular then and it is not popular now.

On the first Palm Sunday “the whole multitude of Jesus’ disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke19:37b-38)  But it wasn’t the popular thing to say.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  Why would Jesus need to tell His disciples not to say those things?  What was the problem?  The problem was that the followers of Jesus were announcing Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord!  The Pharisees rejected in Jesus the fulfillment of the messianic promises of the Old Testament.  The Pharisees rejected Jesus as Lord and God.

This cannot be more clearly seen than during Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.  We read in John 19, “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’  When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’  Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:5-7)  To confess Jesus as Lord and God was vehemently opposed by those religious leaders who even questioned Pilate himself regarding the inscription put on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  The chief priests said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews.’”  But Pilate refused to change his words.

Then there was Caesar himself, the Roman Emperor.  When Pilate tried to release Jesus the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.  Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)  Not only had Jesus been confessed as the Christ, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, but He was called “Lord.”  In Greek, that’s the word kyrios.  It’s a title that was especially used for Caesar.  In the Roman world, including the city of Philippi to which our Epistle was written, the current notion about Caesar was that “Caesar is Lord.”  In other words, Caesar is divine—he is God.  If you make Jesus King and Lord, what then would you be saying about Caesar?  If Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not!  It would not be a popular move with the Imperial cult to have Jesus be Lord instead of Caesar, would it?

The confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is just as unpopular today as it was in the first century.  Christianity is mutually exclusive.  If Jesus is Lord, the Muslim god Allah can’t be.  If Jesus is Lord, Buddha can’t be.  If Jesus is Lord, no other god worshipped or any set of religious beliefs adhered to can be accepted.  And that’s not acceptable or popular to many.  They say, “How dare you Christians claim that Jesus alone is Lord, the only way to heaven, the only way to obtain salvation!  How un-politically correct.  How un-inclusive.”  Yet, if Jesus is Lord and God, none of the others can be.

If Jesus is Lord, this also means that I cannot be the one who is in charge of my life.  If Jesus is Lord, I can’t just do whatever I like and whatever feels good.  If Jesus is Lord, I am under His Lordship, and that’s not very popular either.  How many people do you know that were baptized into the Christian faith that “Jesus is Lord” and yet have rejected Him as their Lord in favor of a life without His Lordship.  It is a life that people choose to live on their own with their own set of standards instead of the good and gracious standards of the Lord Jesus.  It’s not popular to save sex for marriage as the Lord Jesus commands.  But it is popular to have sex before marriage, increasing your chances of divorce by 60%.  It is popular to live together as a couple before marriage thereby increasing your chances of divorce to 80%.  (Really makes a lot of sense, huh?)  It is not popular to attend the services of God’s House, regularly hearing the Word of the Lord Christ and receiving His holy Sacrament.  But it is popular to sleep in, hit the golf course, , go to the amusement park, or the ever popular, “I can’t go to church, Sunday school, or Bible class because we have to go to breakfast.”  Really?  I guess having Jesus as Lord is just too much of a burden.  I guess Jesus is simply too demanding.  Besides, we wouldn’t be in the popular crowd if we have Jesus as Lord.

But, Jesus Christ IS Lord.  That truth is not based on what I or anyone else thinks or feels about Jesus.  Jesus Christ is Lord because that is precisely who He is in His person and in His work.  Jesus is Lord because He willingly humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Jesus is Lord because He died for our sins, including our desire to be lords of our own lives.  Jesus is Lord who shed His holy, precious blood to cleanse us from our sins.  Jesus is Lord who was raised again from the dead, giving us the victory over death.  Jesus is Lord—the Lord who loved us so much that and sacrificed Himself so that we might be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom.  Jesus is the Lord who rose from the dead and lives forever as King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is King above all kings and Lord above all lords, at whose name every knee should bow and every tongue confess, “Jesus Christ IS Lord.”

This is what the Christian faith acknowledges, believes, teaches, and confesses.  Jesus Christ is Lord!  No one else is Lord and Master.  No one else is true God, the Messiah-Savior, who suffered, died, and rose again to save humanity from death, from sin, and from the devil.  No one else is His equal.  And there is no one else under whose Lordship we would want to be.

I ran across this troubling statement on the internet:

Jesus is not lord.
There, I’ve said it.
It’s been bugging me for years.
Lords are pompous rich people who usually inherit a lot of wealth,
talk funny and think they are better than anyone else.
They even get a say in how to run the country and think it’s their right.
They live up to their name and ‘lord’ it over people.
So thank you that today, at last,
Jesus is not lord.

This person truly doesn’t know what kind of Lord Jesus is.  Jesus is eternally rich, but He is not pompous.  He made Himself nothing and took on the form of a servant for us.  Jesus is better than anyone else because He is the sinless Son of God.  Yet, He took on human flesh to be our substitute in life and in death.  Jesus  humbled Himself in this way as God and Lord so that He might share the riches and wealth of His Lordship with us, making it our own.  And never once does Jesus “lord” anything over people.  He loves us—greater love has no One than this that He lay down His life for His friends.  And Jesus calls us friends, children of God, inheritors of the Father’s Kingdom by grace through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

This is the kind of Lord Jesus is.  He is the Lord who died to save us from sin.  He is the Lord who gave up His life so that we might live eternally.  He is the Lord who rose again defeating death and the devil.  Jesus Christ is the Lord who has ascended into heaven and is preparing a place for us there.  Jesus is the Lord who is with us always to the end of the age freely giving us mercy, love, grace, and help in our time of need.  That’s why at the beginning of Holy Week and every day of our lives, we confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

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