Palmarum, the 6th Sunday in Lent + Philippians 2:5-11 + April 9, 2017


Introit
O LORD, - || do not | be | far | from - | Me; *
                O My Strength, hast- | en - | to - | help | Me!
|| Save Me from | the | li- | on’s - | mouth *
                And from the horns of | the - | wild - | ox- | en! (Psalm 22:19, 21a)
|| My God, My God, why have You | for- | sak- | en - | Me? *
                Why are You so far | from - | help- - | ing | Me?
|| All those who see Me | ri- | di- | cule - | Me; *
                They shoot out the lip, | they - | shake - | the | head.
|| They say “He trusted in the Lord, let | Him | res- | cue - | Him; *
                Let Him deliver Him, since He | de- - | lights - | in | Him!”
|| Be not far from Me, for | trou- | ble | is - | near; *
                For there | is - | none - | to | help. (Psalm 22:1b, 7–8, 11)
(From Judica through Holy Saturday the Gloria Patri is omitted).
|| O Lord, do not | be | far | from - | Me; *
                O My Strength, hast- | en - | to - | help | Me!
|| Save Me from | the | li- | on’s - | mouth *
                And from the horns of | the - | wild - | ox- | en! (Psalm 22:19, 21a)

Collect for Palmarum, the 6th 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.  

Readings
Zechariah 9:9-10
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-9 

Sermon

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Let this mind be in you,” St. Paul writes, “which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” With these words St. Paul describes the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. This Jesus Christ is in the form of God and did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. “Being in the form of God” means that Christ is truly God. He is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, begotten before all worlds were made. The Apostle John calls Him the Word of God, making Him coeternal with the God the Father, because there was never a time when God would be without His Word. The Word of God is that which God the Father used as His instrument for creating all things seen and unseen. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Elsewhere, St. Paul calls Christ the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is to God the Father what brightness is to light, so when we see Christ, when we hear Christ, when we learn from Christ, we are seeing, hearing, and learning from God the Father since Christ is “the express image of His person.” Christ Jesus is in the form of God, being the everlasting Son of the Father, the Only-Begotten Son of God. That is why He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” He IS equal with God the Father. There is no robbery involved in calling Him God.

2)         That fact is what makes what Paul says next so mysterious, so ineffable, and so incredible. The eternal Son of God “made Himself of no reputation, took on the form of a slave, and came in the likeness of men.” The one who shares in the honor of God the Father makes empties Himself and makes Himself nothing. The one who is, by nature, in the form of God, takes on the form of a slave. The One who created man in the Garden of Eden now comes to earth in the likeness of men. The translation before us today reads, “He made Himself of no reputation.” A better way of translating it might be, “He emptied Himself out.” All His divine prerogative He lays aside. All the glory He has the eternal Son of God is hidden away and concealed under human flesh. Everything that He is by nature, he puts aside, though not in a way so that He ceased to be God. He takes on the form of a slave, and came in the likeness of men. He assumes our human flesh. He assume His opposite and comes to earth. This is what St. John is speaking of in His first chapter when He writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The incarnation, the enfleshment, of the Son of God is the chief mystery of the Christian faith because who can fathom with their mind how this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is fully man and fully God at the same time, so that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily?” (Colossians 2:9). Human reason and understanding can’t comprehend such a thing. It must be taught by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. We can explain this great mystery with as many words as the Scriptures give us. We can confess what the Scripture teach us about Christ. But ultimately, only faith can believe this man, Jesus of Nazareth, to be fully God and fully man.

3)         What is even more mysterious about this enfleshment of the Son of God is the reason He did it. In the ancient Greek myths the pagan gods come down from heaven and appear in the form of men from time to time. When Zeus came down from Olympus it was to fulfill his own desires, usually the desire he had for a human woman. The Greek gods came to earth to gratify their lusts and their desire to be praised by men. The Greek gods are obvious forgeries of God because they behave just like men do. That is the sure sign of idolatry, when your god behaves just like you do. But Christ Jesus is different. He does not assume human flesh to gratify some desire or to fill a need of His own, as if God can have unmet needs. The Lord says in Psalm 50:12, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is mine, and all its fullness.” Nor does He come to be worshipped and adored as a prince among men, though He deserves man’s worship. He does not appear in the likeness of men to threaten men’s lives and destroy them. No, He comes in humility. He comes in charity. He comes in meekness. He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). He demonstrates His humility again today as He comes to Jerusalem “lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Christ comes not to take from mankind but to give.

4)         The final goal of incarnation of the Son of God, the purpose of all of this, is His death. St. Paul says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” This is the reason for the incarnation. He must come as man so that He can die as a man for the sake of all men. For all men and women are born sinful, born under the wrath of God because they are born of the line of Adam and Eve who brought sin and death into the world through their disobedience. The Only-Begotten Son of God assumes human flesh so that He might bear the wrath of God upon the cross for all mankind to atone for the sins of all mankind. God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Every Old Testament sacrifice, every Passover lamb, all the blood of bulls and goats pointed forward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), for “without shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Christ comes to us humbly and meekly to die for us, to be “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He atones for the sins of the entire world by His death upon the cross, so that all who believe in Him have what He offers: the forgiveness of all their sins, salvation, and everlasting life. He earns a perfect righteousness, one which no man, woman, or child could accomplish, and He offers that perfect righteousness to all, and gives it freely to us when we believe the Gospel: that for Christ’s sake we have a God who is merciful to us and loves us.

5)         Today Christ humbly enters Jerusalem so that He might be betrayed by one of His own, that He might suffer for our sins and die to win the forgiveness of all our sins. He goes willingly to be wounded for our transgressions, to be bruised for our iniquities, to receive the chastisement that brings us peace, so that “by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). How do we respond to such an incredible, ineffable, mysterious promise? How do we receive such a glorious God who is willingly crucified for sinners? Let the humble multitude outside of Jerusalem show us. They “spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:8). Let us put no obstacle in the way of receiving our humble and crucified Lord Jesus. Let us prepare our hearts by removing not our physical clothing, but the garment of the sinful flesh. This means that we receive the crucified Christ by confess our sins and laying them aside. We repent of them, we sorrow over them, and we desire to be rid of them. So let us cast them off as one casts of an old garment. Others outside Jerusalem cut down palm branches to lay before the coming Christ. So let us cut down the high branches within our hearts, our haughty thoughts, our ambitions, and any imagination that says we don’t need what He comes to win for us. For if you think you have no sin, or that your sins aren’t that bad and don’t deserve death and Hell, then you think don’t need a crucified Christ. Let us humble ourselves at the coming of our humble Lord, knowing that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Let us gladly confess ourselves to be sinners who are sick with sins, for Christ says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

6)         Finally, let us fill our hearts and mouths with the words of the crowd outside Jerusalem. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Hosanna is Hebrew for “Save us, please.” Let us not only confess our sins but believe His Gospel so that we firmly trust and do not doubt that by His death covers all our sins so that they are blotted out and remembered no more by God our heavenly Father. Let us bless One who comes in the name of the Lord, the Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all that He has given to us by the mystery of His incarnation. Let us bow the knee, if not physically, then let us bow in our hearts before the one who came to give His life that we might have everlasting life, the one who knew no sin yet became sin for us so that by faith in Christ and confidence in His mercy and merits, we might become the righteousness of God. Let us praise God our Father for sending His Only-Begotten Son into the world in human flesh. Let us praise God the Son who, “though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich” in heavenly blessings (2 Cor. 8:9). Let us praise God the Holy Ghost that for the faith He works in our hearts to believe this mysterious, ineffable, and incredible Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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