Palm Sunday| March 25, 2018| Rev. Rolf Preus| Isaiah 6:3 & Matthew 21:9
And one cried to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3
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 21:9
The Divine Service has two focal points, and each one points to the other: the sermon and the Lord’s Supper. Before hearing the preaching of the word from the pulpit, we hear the reading of the Holy Scriptures. As we confess the faith of the Christian Church in the Creed, we call on the preacher to preach according to this confession. The preacher preaches the gospel. The gospel is the good news about Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. It is good news because it delivers us from death to life by forgiving us all our sins.
The topic of the preaching is the topic of the Lord’s Supper. The preaching is to be centered on the central topic of the Christian religion: that God forgives us and justifies us, not because of good things we do, but solely by his grace for the sake of the holy obedience and suffering of Jesus Christ, who offered up his body on the cross and shed his blood for us, and this forgiveness is receive through faith alone. Nowhere is this pure gospel more purely proclaimed than when God puts into our mouths the very body and blood by which Christ has taken away our sins. The sermon and the Supper go together.
The Lord’s Supper is, as we confess in the Catechism,
The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and the wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ himself.
When Jesus instituted this sacrament he said, “This do in remembrance of me.” When we think of Jesus, what should we be thinking about? His body given for us and his blood shed for us. Where his body is given and his blood is shed, there is our loving, gracious, forgiving God.
There is only one God. We Christians do not confess three gods. When Jesus instituted baptism, he did not teach us to baptize in the names of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He taught us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There is one God and only one God.
The Holy Trinity is revealed in the Old Testament. The angels in Isaiah’s vision said, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” They did not sing “Holy, holy, holy, holy.” They did not sing, “Holy, holy.” They sang, “Holy, holy, holy.” The one God is three distinct persons. Each person is God. Yet, there are not three gods, but one God.
The glory of this one and only God fills the earth. As the angels of Isaiah’s vision cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” As we sing in the Sanctus every Sunday morning: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” He is holy. He is glorious.
We cannot see God in his uncovered glory and live. We read in Exodus 33:18-23,
And [Moses] said, “Please, show me Your glory.” Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
You cannot see God’s naked glory and live to talk about it. This is why Isaiah, after seeing God in a vision and hearing the angels of God cry out “holy, holy, holy,” lamented:
Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)
You cannot see God’s uncovered glory and live. Just as light destroys darkness, holiness destroys sin. There is only one way for the holy God to destroy sin without destroying us sinners. It is for him to take upon himself our nature and to cover up his glory in humility and humble himself all the way to the death of the cross. This is what he did. Speaking of Christ, St. Paul writes:
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 bondservant, 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. (Philippians 2:6-8)
This is where Jesus was going when he got on the donkey and rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday nearly two thousand years ago. He was on his way to the cross.
Did the crowd know where he was going? Some did. Most probably didn’t. They did know he was their king, and that their king came to them in humility, not to judge them or condemn them or destroy them for their sin, but to forgive them and rescue them. Hosanna! Save now!
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.
We sing the Sanctus as we prepare to eat and to drink the body and the blood of Jesus, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. We sing, “Holy, holy, holy, heaven and earth are full of thy glory!” The king who covered up his glory and rode a donkey on his way to the cross where he would sacrifice his body and his blood for us all is the LORD God whose glory brought terror to Isaiah.
From holy, holy, holy, heaven and earth are full of your glory; to blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest! God uncovered terrifies. God covered saves. He is the same God. First he becomes one of us. Then he humbles himself. He humbles himself in obedience all the way to the cross. On the cross he bears our sins. He endures his own punishment against sinners in his own body. He dies, and by his sacrificial death he washes sins away. The blood of Jesus Christ washes away all sins.
But before he dies, he gives us the Sacrament of his body and blood. The same King who rode the donkey into Jerusalem to die gives to us to eat and to drink his body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. Here we commune with the God from whom Moses had to hide under the shelter of a rock. Here we commune with the God whose glory caused Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me! I am undone!” Here we are joined in intimate communion with our Creator. He chose to become our brother. He chose to humble himself and obey – all the way to his death on the cross. And so that we would remember him specifically where he wants us to remember him, we eat and drink his body and blood.
When we think of God as God dies for us, bearing in humility our burden of sin, embracing our death, fighting our battle against the devil and winning, we are grounded in true faith and true love.
True faith is the faith that clings to what God actually promises. It doesn’t soar up in the clouds, or descend into the depths of the heart. It listens to Jesus, “Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.” It believes what Jesus says and receives what Jesus says and rests confident before God. This is the true faith. God sees me at my worst and reckons me to be righteous in his sight on account of Christ’s obedience and death. God tells me I am forgiven of all my sins. This means that I am forgiven of all my sins. I am a saint and I know I am a saint because God said so. This is the true faith.
And this is the foundation for true love. Do you want to love? Humble yourself. Think like Jesus thought. Set aside whatever glory you think is your due, and bear up under the burdens of others. Don’t vindicate yourself, but entrust yourself to God. Don’t take revenge, but leave it up to God. Don’t defend yourself. Let God defend you. Humble yourself. Take the hit without complaining about it. Act like Jesus. After all, when you eat his body and drink his blood, when you are in him and he is in you, when you are joined to him in a communion that is tighter than any merely human bond of affection, you can make his mind your mind. Think like Jesus. Know what true greatness is.
As we sing the Sanctus together, week after week, crying out our hosannas, calling on Jesus to save us, eating and drinking, believing what Jesus says, receiving salvation, and thanking God for it, let us remember that our God chose to reveal his glory to us in humble obedience. May God deliver us from our pride, humble us before him and one another, and strengthen us in the true faith unto everlasting life. Amen.