Lent6 - Palmarum - St. Matthew 21:1-9 & 2 Maccabees 10:7 - March 29, 2015
Order of Holy Communion (pg.15)
Opening Hymn 160 "All Glory, Laud, and Honor"
Sermon Hymn 142 "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth"
Closing Hymn 162 "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty"
1) In the year 167 B.C the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV, marched into Jerusalem, erected an image of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a swine on the altar of God. All this desecrated the altar of God and the entire temple worship, for the Lord had said in Deuteronomy 14:8 that “the swine is unclean for you, because it has cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud; you shall not eat their flesh or touch their dead carcasses.” So the Divine Service commanded by the Lord in Exodus and Leviticus ceased. For centuries, lambs for Passover and the Day of Atonement had preached the greater Lamb of God to come who would atone for the sins of the world. But no more. Along with the defilement brought about by the unlawful sacrifice of swine’s flesh, it was commanded that the Jews profane the Sabbath, worship Greek idols, and leave their children uncircumcised. Antiochus’ religious war against the Jews had one purpose, “To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances.” (1 Maccabees 1:49) Antiochus wanted to make pagans out of them, the ones that hadn’t already forsaken the truth of God’s Word. So the wicked ruler sought to defile them according to the Law of Moses. Defilement separates one from the Lord so that the defiled one is not able to approach His presence in the Temple. What Antiochus did was defile the people and the Temple in order to cut them off from their Lord and the gifts He gave them in the Levitical sacrifices.
2) These events are the cause of the Maccabean revolt over the new few years. Their leader, Judas, called Maccabeus, organized military campaigns to harass the Gentiles and ultimately retake Jerusalem and the Temple. The Lord had put His name in that spot, His doctrine, His teaching, and it was there that atonement for sin was made. We may think of this as solely Jewish history with nothing to do with Christianity but that isn’t the case. The Temple was the center of Jewish faith and piety and would need to be operating correctly because the Messiah was to come into the Temple. The prophet Malachi prophesied, “The Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple.” (3:1) So Judas and his brothers retook Jerusalem with the Lord guiding them. (2 Maccabees 10:1) Two years to the day that Antiochus had defiled Judah, her inhabitants, and the Divine service, Judas and his brothers cleansed the Temple, made a new altar, and dedicated it. You may recognize the name of the festival that arose from that dedication of the new altar, for in Hebrew, dedication is “Hanukah.”
3) Gone was the defilement brought about by Antiochus. Removed was the reproach of the unclean animals and false gods of the Greeks. The Temple was cleansed. Atonement for sin was available once again. The author of 2 Maccabees writes, “Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.” (2 Maccabees 10:7) Palms are a sign of victory over one’s enemies. Palms are a sign thanksgiving that defilement is now past and atonement for sin is once again available. Palms are a sign of joy that one has come to cleanse impurity, to cast out the enemy, and to establish the true worship of God. This is most surely a portrait, a type, of the purification that the Lord God would bring about through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. On this day our Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem, the holy city, to shouts of acclamation while people remove their outer garments and lay them on Jesus’ path. This day the day in which kingship is ascribed to Christ Jesus as He enters into Jerusalem to establish a kingdom that is not of this world but of a much better one. This is the day in which men cut palm branches from trees and lay them at Jesus feet while others wave them in the air in joy and gladness of heart. Waving palms means that One is here to undo the defilement that has been done and to make atonement from sin available once again.
4) The impurity that Antiochus brought about through the unlawful sacrifice, and the defilement he brought about by erecting the image of a false god, these are pictures of the defilement of sin which makes all mankind impure. We don’t erect false god’s make of precious metals and stone in our day. But we do fashion idols in our hearts and put our trust in those them. They are not obvious golden calves or images of Zeus but they are the everyday things of this life. Anything that we look to for good in our life that is not the Lord God is an idol, whether it be relationships, employment, hobbies, wealth, or worldly pleasures and carnal desires. When we trust that something will give us comfort we have made an idol out of them. How often do we fear external forces in the world than we do the true God? How often do we love the pleasures of this life more than the true God? How often do we put our trust and confidence in things that are not God Himself? St. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. The prophet tells you that you “have defiled yourself with the idols which you have made.” (Ezekiel 22:4) Looking to anything other than the true God for your good in life is sin which defiles the heart.
5) We are not unclean because we eat pork, for Christ has declared all foods clean in Acts 10. Swine’s flesh cannot render the Christian impure. But we are often tempted to make an unlawful sacrifice as Antiochus did with the swine’s flesh. When we feel convicted of sin, when the terrors of an evil conscience will not let us out of its grasp and we fear for our souls because of the many sins we have committed, our flesh is ever tempted to put forth some work, some sacrifice, something to make satisfaction for our sin. The human flesh is prone to works-righteousness, that if I can do something pious, God will turn His face towards me with favor. If I can find some good work to do, something that is sacrificial to show God how sorry I am, then He will give me peace. The human mind can take any work and make it into something it imagines will be God pleasing. The conscience terrorized by the Devil, the Law, and its own sin will seek out anything to try to make atonement for the sin that haunts and hinders it. But the Apostle reminds us that no work will bring peace to the soul troubled by its sin, as He writes in Galatians 2:16, “By the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Sin defiles our hearts as we stand before the Lord who is holy. Our transgressions against both tables of the Law make us impure before a God who is purity itself. The commandments show us just how far off the mark, how impure, and how defiled we truly are, so that any work we could work to atone for our own sins would never suffice.
6) But here is a man being welcomed into Jerusalem with palms once again. Jesus enters Jerusalem to purify His Zion. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to cleanse her from the sins which defile her. Judas Maccabeus rode into Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple so that sacrifices to atone for sin could be reestablished. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He atoned for the world’s sins “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12) We could never work enough good works to atone for a single of our many and manifold sins against God and neighbor. So the Lord, in His mercy, provides atonement for our sins. We cry out with the Psalmist, “Help us, O God of our salvation, For the glory of Your name; And deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins, For Your name's sake!” (Psalm 79:9) He answers that penitential cry by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, humble and lowly, to make atonement for our sins since we are unable to do so. Elsewhere the Psalmist confesses, “Iniquities prevail against me; As for our transgressions, You will provide atonement for them.” (Psalm 65:3) Judas Maccabeus cleansed the Temple and rededicated the altar so that sacrifices for sins could continue. Jesus, through His sacrifice, atones for the sins of the world so that there is no longer any sacrifice the Christian can make, for the sacrifice the Lord demands are “a broken spirit and contrite heart” which the Lord will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
7) Palms are entirely appropriate on a day such as today as we give thanks for the cleansing that Jesus brings. Jesus comes as One greater than Maccabeus, who cleanses our hearts from our idols. He cleanses our hearts by faith (Acts 15:19) and with that faith makes our hearts into temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus arrives as the greater Maccabeus, not to reestablish atoning sacrifices that look forward to the Messiah but to make the final, the greatest, the all-encompassing, world-covering atoning sacrifice for sins. Jesus comes to end sacrifice for sin by being THE sacrifice for all of our sins. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ's obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous.” (FC:Epitome:3:4) Jesus comes as the greater Maccabeus who reestablish true worship, which is not bound up in Mosaic ceremony but in faith. The difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the true worship which receives the benefits offered by God. For God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers. (Ap IV:49) So we raise the palms of joy and gladness within our hearts. The Devil no longer holds mastery over us. Our sins, though they are great and many, can no longer accuse us. Our consciences, sullied and tainted as they may be, ought to no longer terrify us. Our King comes into Jerusalem to cleanse our hearts and purify our minds by given us a sure and certain confidence in His once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sins the whole world, indeed for all of our sins. Amen.