Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mark 11:1-11 (Palm Sunday)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 1, 2012

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

Our text the Palm Sunday account recorded in Mark 11:

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

We know that Palm Sunday received its name from the leafy palm branches that were waved and placed on the road in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.  We know that Jesus rode a donkey’s colt in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s prophecy, “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 on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)  But the significance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is tied up in who the people identified Him to be with their shouted prayer, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.  Hosanna in the highest.”

“Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “Save us.”  It is a request for rescue and deliverance.  In fact, the prayer of the crowd is a quotation from Psalm 118, a psalm of thanksgiving for national deliverance.  “[Hosanna] Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, give us success!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.” (Psalms 118:25-26)  The prayer for salvation is offered, followed by words sung as God’s people would enter the temple.  On Palm Sunday the people had this Psalm in the forefront of their minds because it would have been sung following the Passover, a mere few days after Jesus’ triumphal entry.

But notice what is happening here.  Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt.  He is coming into the Holy City, not as a conquering hero or a royalty on a fine mount.  He comes as Zechariah said the King of kings would come, humbly mounted on a donkey, yet bringing salvation!  And so the people, knowing their Bibles, affirmed this very fact, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.  Hosanna in the highest.”

These, of course, are words filled to the brim with meaning.  The crowd that went before Jesus and the crowd that followed were declaring Jesus to be the promised Messiah-Savior, THE descendent of King David, who would usher in God’s greater kingdom.  Unfortunately, neither the crowd nor Jesus’ disciples understood what that meant.  There was an expectation of Jesus that He was going to establish an earthly kingdom by overthrowing the hated Romans and establishing the reign of Israel like it was during King David’s time.  When they were crying out “Save us!” this is what they had in mind—“Save us, Jesus, from the Romans!”  But that’s not what Jesus came to save them from.

The people at Jerusalem celebrate Jesus’ arrival without a clear view of His express purpose for coming there: to die for the sins of the world!  Jesus enters Jerusalem in humility to fulfill the plan of salvation by laying down His life for sinners.  St. Paul says in 1Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

This, then, is the focus of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

We as God’s people bring Him our “Hosannas.”  We bring to God our heartfelt cries, “Save us, O Lord, we pray!” for this is the cry of every repentant sinner.  We know what we fully deserve because of our sins.  “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23a)  We know that we can claim no status before God.  He is just and holy and we are not.  We don’t possess the glory that we must bring with us when we should stand before the Lord’s judgment throne.  We do not do the good that we want to do, but the evil that we don’t want to do. (Romans 7:19).  Depraved and impious thoughts appear in our minds.  Vain, useless, and harmful words come out of our mouths.  Perverse, depraved, and unbefitting deeds pollute us.  All of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

Do we dare to assert our righteousness before the Lord?  No, we have no righteousness within ourselves to bring before Him!  We have but one choice and one choice only, to throw ourselves at God’s feet and beg Him for grace and mercy.  What we deserve is death and damnation.  That is our just sentence.  But as the people of Nineveh said in Jonah 3:9 after they heard the message of God’s judgment against them and they sat in sack cloth and ashes, “Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

Because of God’s justice and holiness, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished.  Yet, as the Psalmist says, Psalm 116:1, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”  Instead of us sinners receiving the just and right punishment for our sins against God and against our neighbors, God took out His wrath and anger at our sins against His one and only Son.  Jesus, “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance of the Father . . . came down from heaven.” (Nicene Creed)  Jesus “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 unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

Jesus Christ came into the world to save the world from their sins and from the punishment of death.  It was our death He died as He hung on the cross.  It was the wrath of God against our sins that He bore as He cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When Jesus uttered the loud cry, “It is finished” and breathed His last He, the Son of God, answered our prayer of “Hosanna,” “Save us, we pray.”  Jesus’ death saved us from our sins by winning our forgiveness.  Jesus’ death rescued us from the punishment of death by winning for you and me eternal life.

Lutheran Pastor Johann Gerhard, who lived from 1582-1637, wrote in his Meditations on Divine Mercy in 1612, the following which I share with you now.

O kindest Jesus, I recognize the depth of Your mercy and the earnestness of Your love (Luke 1:78).  You appear to love me more than You love yourself because You gave up Yourself for me.  Why was the sentence of death pronounced on You?  You are completely innocent.  Why were You, the fairest among the sons of men, spit on (Psalm 45:2)?  Why did You, the righteous one, undergo flogging and fetters?  All these abuses rightly belonged to me. . . . Because of my sin, I was to be assigned to the unceasing, scorching flames of hell.  But You boiled with the fire of love on the altar of the cross, setting me free from these flames.  I was to be cast away from the face of the heavenly Father because of my sin.  But for my sake, You chose to be abandoned by Your heavenly Father. . . . Because of Your love, Lord Jesus, only redeemer and mediator, I will sing psalms of prayer to Your for eternity.

Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.

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