Lent VI (Palarum) - Matthew 21:1-9 - March 20, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - pg. 15Hymn #160 All Glory, Laud, and Honor
Collect for Palmarum, the Sixth Sunday in Lent
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who hast sent Thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross that all mankind should follow the example of His great humility, mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of His patience and also be made partakers of His Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Today’s gospel lesson begins and ends with the preaching of Jesus and the response of those who hear Jesus’ preaching. The text begins with Jesus arriving in Bethphage, near Jerusalem. There He sends two of His disciples into the village opposite Bethphage, with this word, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” We have no reason to think that Jesus had previously made this arrangement with the owner of the donkey and young colt. He has not been to the village opposite Bethphage. He has just now arrived in the area. Jesus sends these two disciples on this errand to demonstrate to them His almighty power. He is truly omniscient, knowing and seeing all things. The two disciples know better than to put human reason over the word of Christ. They could have said, “But Lord, isn’t that stealing?” They could have asked, “But Lord, what if the owner won’t consent?” Nor do they ask Jesus if He’s already made the arrangement. There is no need. Jesus has spoken. When Jesus speaks, faith hears the words of Jesus and believes them to be true, over against all the objections and clamoring of human reason. This is how it is for all who would be Christians. When Christ speaks, human imagination must yield to faith. When Christ utters His word, faith simply trusts that it is true above all things. In this way, these two nameless disciples serve as an example for each of us, that we submit ourselves to the words of Jesus in faith, firmly believing them and not doubting. If we hear the word of the Lord without mixing it with faith (Hebrews 4:2), then it does not profit us whatsoever. The words of Jesus are to be received only in faith, for it is only by faith that Jesus’ word benefits us.
2) St. Matthew goes on to explain why Jesus sent these two disciples on such an errant. Jesus’ purpose was not simply teach us faith in His Word. Jesus purpose was to fulfill the Holy Scripture. In order to enter Jerusalem rightly, Jesus needs a donkey and her colt. The prophet says so. Zechariah prophesied, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus needs a donkey and her colt, not simply because the prophet said so. The Word and promises of God are never arbitrary without purpose. The donkey and her colt show everyone what kind of king they have in Jesus. Their king comes to them, not on a war horse. Their king does not arrive in a royal chariot. Their king is not like Caesar the tyrant. Nor is their king like Pilate the politician. He does not come to His people in military might. He does not come to them in pomp and power. He rides into the holy city on a beast of burden with the disciple’s clothing for a saddle. The king of Zion, the true ruler of Jerusalem, comes in lowliness and humility. He does not come to be served but to serve. He does not come to demand justice but to work God’s justice. He does not come expecting gifts. He comes to bring gifts to men. For the prophet says, “He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). By His entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus teaches the disciples, the crowds, and we who hear this story two-thousand years later, that He is a king whose “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
3) He rides into Jerusalem to work God’s justice for mankind. He does not come to give mankind what it deserves from God. That would mean that Jesus came into the world to condemn the world, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). If Christ arrived among men to work God’s justice as we imagine justice being done, no man would stand before Him and live, for as David sings in Psalm 130:3, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” According to justice all human deserves the wages of its sin, which is death, physical death as well as eternal death, wrath, and punishment, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). No, Christ comes in humility, in gentleness, and in lowliness not to bring humanity to God’s justice, but to endure the justice of God for all humanity. He rides into the holy city so that He may die upon the cross. As Christ knew that there would be a donkey and her colt tied up in the town opposite Bethphage, so Christ knew what kind of fate awaited Him in Jerusalem. Not only is Jesus fully God, knowing all things, but He had inspired Moses and the prophets to prophesy the exact details of His passion and death. In the justice of God, God demands that sin, and the sinner, be punished. For God is holy and does not tolerate any deviation from His will as revealed in the law, written on the two stone tablets as well as upon the hearts of men at creation. Jesus will suffer will the pangs of Hell upon the cross. His physical suffering will pale in comparison to the agony of soul when, in one of the great mysteries of the Godhead, God the Father abandons God the Son, leading Christ to cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
4) This is the Holy Gospel. That Christ Jesus, the son of God, endures the wrath that sinners deserve upon the cross. By His innocent, bitter sufferings and death, Christ atones for the sins of the entire world, as St. John writes in 1 John 2:2. “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” Christ comes to be that propitiation, the thing that satisfies God’s full wrath against sin. By His death He atones for the sins of all mankind so that every single lustful thought stands paid for. Every single wicked, biting word of ours stands atoned for. Every single self-serving act and every devious deed we have done is heaped upon Christ so that He may receive the full punishment for all of it. In His life, Jesus was perfectly obedient to the law, perfectly righteous in thought, word, and deed. But He didn’t need that righteousness, being already righteous in and of Himself. On the cross He atones for every sin every committed so that every sin might be paid for and punished. In this, God’s justice is fulfilled. Christ makes atonement for our sins and acquires a perfect righteousness for us, so that all who believe the gospel have that atonement applied to them, their sins forgiven, as well as Christ’s righteousness applied to them, so that they are perfectly righteous in the sight of God. In this, God proves Himself to be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26), because God applies all of this only to sinners who believe the gospel of Christ crucified. This is why St. Paul, with the entire Scriptures, confesses repeatedly that it is faith alone which justifies, since faith receives the atonement made by Christ and the righteousness won by Christ for us.This is what it means when the prophet says that “He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
5) Jesus’ fulfillment of Zechariah 9, this is why the crowd, who is in Jerusalem for Passover, responds the way they do. As the two disciples responded in faith when Jesus told them to fetch the donkey and her colt, so the throngs around Jerusalem receive Jesus visible preaching. He does not have to say a word as He enters into Jerusalem, His actions say it all. He is the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets have written. He is the king who comes to bring about God’s justice and bring salvation to all who believe in His name. At this visible preaching of Christ, the crowd does exactly what the prophet told them to do. They rejoice. “A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Their joy leads them to prepare a royal highway for Christ. Their joy erupts from their lips so that they cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!” They are chanting Psalm 118:25-26, which says, “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” Hosanna means, Save now, O Lord.” They rejoice in the prosperity that Jesus comes to bring, not physical prosperity, not wealth, riches, or a worldly kingdom. They rejoice that He comes to fulfill God’s justice and bring salvation for their souls burdened by sin and guilt, death and the devil.
6) Such a response is fitting for all Christians on this Palm Sunday and every day. Christ comes to bring a kingdom, but not a physical one. Christ comes to bring salvation from affliction, but doesn’t mean that He will remove the affliction. Instead it means that He will change men’s hearts through the preaching of His gospel. Christ comes among His people to earn the forgiveness of all their sins, so that all who believe the gospel, all who trust in Christ’s promise to forgive sins, receive everything He wins by enduring the lashing, the spitting, the mocking, the beating, the crown of thorns, the nails in His hands and feet, and the full wrath of God the Father. He comes to fulfill God’s justice so that you do not have to endure it in eternity. He comes to bring salvation to all who hear and believe. This is what makes Him the king He is. For this, rejoice. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.