Palm Sunday| April 5, 2020| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 21:1-9
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “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.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, `Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! `Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:1-9
Today is the first day of Holy Week. This week begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey hailed by the adoring crowd as the Christ, the Savior. It ends with Jesus dead in the tomb, having suffered the very worst kind of death imaginable. The Son of David, the Savior of the people, who received praise from the crowd on Palm Sunday, received from the crowd abuse, scorn, and insults as he was crucified between two criminals. It looks like things didn’t go his way.
It looks like things aren’t going our way. A pandemic keeps us home on a Sunday morning. We may not gather together with our brothers and sisters to sing hosanna to our King as we prepare to eat and to drink his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Things aren’t going our way at all. Our investments have shrunk. Many of our jobs have been lost or at least downsized. Our children’s education has been disrupted. We’re stuck and can’t go freely where we want to go. No, things aren’t going our way at all.
Ah, what do we know about that? Look at the events of that first holy week and see for yourself that things went just as Jesus intended. Don’t confuse humility for weakness, dear Christian! It is in Christ’s deepest humility that he displayed his greatest power. He was always in control of the situation. He told his disciples to go to the village opposite. They would find a donkey and her colt. They were to bring them to Jesus. Jesus told them that if anyone asked what they were doing they should say that the Lord needed them. The parallel accounts in the Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us that people did ask them, the disciples answered as Jesus had instructed, and they let them take the animals. Tell me: who is in charge here? The prophecy of Zechariah had to be fulfilled.
Tell the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Meek does not mean weak. That the king is riding a donkey, humble and lowly, does not mean he is weak. It does not mean he’s not in charge. He rules. He rules as no other ruler rules. He rides a donkey. He shuns a warhorse. He is accompanied by no soldiers, VIPs, or any fancy entourage. He is surrounded by his people, by those he came to save. He doesn’t flaunt his power. He covers it up with humility. Don’t be misled by his humble demeanor. He is in charge!
Jesus is God. He therefore has the form or bearing of God. As God is he is for he is God. He hides the majesty of his deity under the humility of his humanity. The greatest of God’s attributes is his love. This is not hidden when Jesus covers up his majesty with humility. Indeed, he does so, he humbles himself, to reveal his love.
Look at your King! God is invisible. You cannot see him because he is a spirit. God the Son became a human being. Looking at his humanity you see God. The only way to see God is to see him in Jesus’ humanity. When you do you see a humble man. He is almighty God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the transcendent Lord over all. See him in his humility. See your Creator as your brother who humbled himself, took on the form of a slave, submitted to his own law, and obeyed all the way to death on a cross. He holds the universe in his hands and lets evil men capture him and subject him to the most humiliating abuse. He looks so helpless.
He was never helpless. After offering himself up as the obedient substitute for sinners, God the Father exalted him up on high, and gave him the name that is above every name. Christ’s exaltation glorifies God the Father. But there could be no exaltation of Christ without his prior humiliation. So it is for us. Palm Sunday teaches us that humility and power go together. This is counterintuitive. It runs contrary to the usual way of thinking.
Whether the swaggering boasts of the famous athlete or the self-aggrandizing claims of the politician, we see that power and pride go together. Jesus teaches us otherwise. The world thinks that there is no power in self-abasement. St. Paul speaks to this in First Corinthians, chapter one:
[W]e preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23b-25)
God doesn’t force himself on us. He doesn’t rip the hate out of our hearts and shove the love in. His love destroys our hatred by suffering. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” He comes to rule over us. That’s what kings do. He comes humbly, riding on a donkey. He comes to reign.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign.
From his humiliation in death comes his power to rule. Love destroys hatred by overcoming it. God as God can be neither humbled nor exalted for God is by his very nature exalted up on high far above all powers in this world. But the wonderful mystery we worship in Jesus is that he is true God and true man and he most certainly was humbled and is most certainly now exalted. This is love! His humiliation is his love for you. In his humiliation he bore all your sin to take it away. His exaltation is his love for you. He is exalted at the right hand of the Father to intercede for you.
You see your King come to you on Palm Sunday. He claimed his office as King in humility, riding on a donkey. You see your King gain his kingdom on Good Friday. He humbled himself to death, even the death of a cross. You see your King come to you today in the gospel you hear, and sing, and confess.
We’re stuck at home on a Sunday morning. We watch the news on TV to see how many have died. The number rises every day. We’re losing money. Our financial security isn’t so secure. We’ve made plans. We have to change them. That’s because we’re not in control. That’s a humbling experience.
To be humbled can be either a curse or a blessing. Those who do not know God in Christ are humbled on the outside but confirmed in their pride on the inside. When they lose control over the things they thought they controlled they become bitter, resentful, and look around to point the finger at people to blame. A worldwide pandemic provides fertile soil for villain-seekers.
Those who know God in Christ, that is, those who trust in him who humbled himself all the way to the death of the cross are grateful to God for humbling them. They know their pride to be their own worst enemy. They have learned to find strength in weakness. They look to Christ in his humiliation and find there, not weakness, but power. They see a pandemic that disrupts their lives not as a sign of God’s impotence, but with confidence that God will use it for good.
What good can come from being shut out of church? It is good for God to humble us. It is good for us to learn to rely, not on our strength, but on God’s. When we may not gather together as Christ’s body in one place we are learning what a privilege it is to do so. God takes it away. He holds it right out of our reach. He does so, not to torment us, but to show us what is really needed in our lives.
One hour a week. At St. John’s it’s an hour. At Trinity it’s more like seventy minutes because the distribution of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper takes a little longer. Not much time, but what a time it is. God takes us all as we are, he takes us all together, he takes us as his own, his very own body, his people, the apple of his eye. We sing out our praises to him who feeds us with his body and blood. We join the Palm Sunday crowd every Sunday singing Hosanna! We sing for salvation in confidence that he will save us. As surely as Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem in the midst of the singing of Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, he comes to us in his body and blood and saves us from sin, death, and hell.
The schoolyard bully humbles the weaker kids because he takes joy in asserting power over them. This is the picture of power that so many people have. Tragically, this is their view of God as well. Look and see God in the humiliation of his dear Son. See the power of his humble obedience. See that from his self-abasement he bore your sins, defeated all your enemies, and won for you peace with God and eternal life. Forgiveness from God is free. It is powerful to change your life, fill you with love, and empower you to love. Whence does this forgiveness come? It comes from Christ, your king, humbling himself.
God humbled his Son to exalt him. He humbles us to exalt us. Let us pray that during these trying times God will humble us under his almighty hand that he may exalt us in due time. Amen.