April 4, 2004
“The King Still Comes to You”
While the prophet Zechariah made
it clear, it was not clear to the disciples. Every previous time that Jesus had come into Jerusalem He had
gone on foot. They could
see no reason why this time would be any different.
They knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of David.
They knew that He was the Son of the living God and the Savior of
the world. This was the
faith that their Lord Jesus had spent three years teaching them, though
their most difficult lessons lay ahead.
On this first Palm Sunday they would hear this teaching confessed
by the praises of a large congregation.
The preachers preach Christ.
The hearers confess Christ.
The preachers have a single duty.
They are to set Christ before the people.
The people have a single duty.
They are to declare Christ’s praises.
On this Palm Sunday, as we direct our attention to Christ’s
triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding on the donkey, let us then
consider how Christ is to be preached and praised in our day.
It made no sense for the heir of
David’s throne to ride into Jerusalem on a beast of burden.
Should He not have entered riding on a war-horse protected by
armed soldiers? Instead, He
rode into the city in humility on a donkey.
Does not a king have power?
Why such a humble appearance?
Why should a powerful king assume such a posture?
While it made little sense to the disciples, they nevertheless
did what Jesus told them to do. They
went into the little village of Bethphage and they loosed a donkey and
her colt from a tree and they brought them to Jesus.
They were confident that whoever the owner might be he would be
willing to let the Lord Jesus use them.
Not that they necessarily had too much confidence in their fellow
man, but they did have confidence in Jesus.
If Jesus said so that was good enough for them.
The disciples represent the
faithful ministers of Christ. They
serve the church only by serving Christ.
They can be of no benefit to the church unless they carry out the
instructions that Jesus gives. They
may not presume to go on the basis of what seems good to them.
This or that course of action may make sense, but when you are
working for someone you do what he says.
He makes the decisions. You
carry them out.
How did Jesus want to be
presented to the people? How
did Jesus want to appear before those gathered together to worship Him?
He wanted them to see Him riding on a donkey.
He wanted them to see Him in a posture of deep humility.
He did not want to frighten them or lay any burden on them. He did not want them to perceive Him to be a military ruler
or a social reformer or a stern judge.
He wanted them to see Him and to know Him as a gentle and lowly
king who comes to His people in such a way that they can receive Him.
What if Christ were to appear to
us in His native glory as the only begotten God of God and the King of
the Universe? What if He
chose to come to us without hiding His glory under a cloak of humility?
We could not bear to receive Him.
Jesus chooses the manner of His coming.
Jesus told His disciples that if
anyone questioned their taking the donkey and the colt they should say
that the Lord needed them. He
did not identify himself as Jesus or even as the Christ or the King of
Israel, but as the Lord. When
Jesus commands His ministers to do something, it is the Lord God who is
issuing the command. The
disciples understood that. They
did as the Lord Jesus commanded them to do.
They did not assume any
authority other than to carry out Jesus’ instructions.
They knew that Jesus was in charge.
They did not need to be in charge because they knew the One who
was in charge. That was
enough to compel them to follow His instructions. The minister of Christ
sets Christ before the people as Christ Himself determines.
The ministers don’t make this decision.
The people they serve don’t make this decision.
The society at large doesn’t make this decision.
Jesus alone makes the decision as to how He will be presented to
His people. He decided to
ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Jesus decides enter His
Jerusalem today in similarly humble means.
He gives His ministers instructions that they are to follow if
they are to be His ministers. They
are to preach the gospel. They
are to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. They are to absolve
the penitent and withhold forgiveness from the impenitent.
They are to administer the Lord’s Supper to those who have been
baptized and instructed in the saving mysteries of the faith. In none of the duties set down by the Lord of the church for
the ministers of the church does he require them to rely on their own
clever ingenuity. They are
to rely on His plain instructions.
Jesus wants to be revealed in
the washing of regeneration. This
is not merely an outward washing of the body.
This is a washing by which the one who was born of sinful flesh
is reborn by the Holy Spirit. Just
as we are not born physically by our own power, so we are also powerless
to effect our new birth. We
baptize babies because we believe this.
What can an infant do except to cry?
And what can any sinner do to rid himself of his sin but to cry
out to Jesus, the sin-bearer for forgiveness?
Jesus wants to be revealed in Holy Baptism.
Jesus wants to be revealed in
the preaching of His crucifixion. Jesus
said, “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all
peoples to Myself.’ This
He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:32-33)
People are not drawn to Jesus by the clever manipulation or
skillful oratory of preachers. He
draws people to Himself from the cross where He takes upon Himself the
burden of all sinners. The
message of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins is to some a deep
offense to their pride and to others utter foolishness.
This is why so many who call themselves ministers of Christ avoid
preaching about His blood and righteousness and promote instead a
message that they think will win over the crowds.
But winning over people to follow a preacher is not the same as
winning them over to Christ. St.
Paul made it clear to the Corinthian Christians why he preached the
crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus wants to be revealed in
the preaching of His crucifixion. And
He wants to be revealed in His Supper. If Christ wants us to remember Him by eating His body and
drinking His blood, what is it that He wants us to remember?
Jesus wants us to see Him at the specific time and place where He
redeemed us and set us free from all our sins.
This is why the true ministers
of Christ follow His instructions, placing Jesus before the people as
Jesus wants it to be done. Jesus
remains the Lord of His own church and He will not abdicate that office
Jesus’ humble entrance into
Jerusalem on a donkey foreshadowed His humble suffering.
He came in peace to make peace.
He signified by the way that He entered into the Holy City that
He came, not to fight His enemies with weapons of steel, but to bear in
humility the burden of His people.
And it was as Savior that the people received Him.
A large and adoring crowd surrounded Him.
They worshipped Him as their Savior.
They laid their own clothes and palm branches on the road before
him. They hailed Him who
came in the name of the LORD.
The crowd represents the
congregation at worship. When
we come together to worship we come together to welcome Christ as King.
Palm branches are used to pave the way of a mighty ruler.
He comes to rule over us. The
palms of Palm Sunday honor Christ for who and what He is.
He is the Christ, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
He is the King, who rules over us by His grace.
He is the Savior to whom we cry Hosanna, “Save us, Save us
The praise of God’s people is
always centered in Jesus and what Jesus does to save us.
Nothing is sweeter to God’s ears than the songs His people sing
to magnify His grace. In
fact, this will be the song of the church in heaven, as we read in
Revelation chapter seven,
Nowadays many churches are
wracked by controversy over how to worship.
It is said that traditional forms of worship with pulpits,
altars, hymnals, liturgies, and old hymns will not attract today’s
religious seekers into our churches.
We should replace chancels with stages, traditional hymns with
“praise songs,” and organs with bands featuring drums and guitars.
Usually the worship wars center on the kind of music and
liturgical forms that are used. While
this is important, the focus of our praise is much more important.
The problem with so much of the
“contemporary worship” so touted by self-appointed Church Growth
experts is not primarily the quality of the music.
It is the quality of the theology.
It celebrates the piety of the Christian instead of God’s grace
in Christ. What does it
mean to praise God? We do
express to Him how much we love Him and adore Him and want to serve Him.
But true Christian praise is not focused on how much we love God.
It is always centered in how much God loves us.
There is no greater hymn of praise than the hymn that asks God to
be gracious to us. That’s what He wants us to ask for. “Hosanna! Save
us now! Come to our aid!
We need you. We cannot love you, worship you, or serve you unless you come
to us and humbly bear with us in our weaknesses.”
Jesus rode the donkey to His
death. There he answered
the plea of the crowd for salvation in the only way He could answer it.
He became their Savior by taking upon Himself the sin from which
they needed to be saved. No one was singing His praises when He did it, but wherever
Jesus comes to serve His church through the gospel and sacraments He
gives His ministers to administer, through this holy ministry He elicits
true praise. True preaching
presents Jesus to His people as He suffered for their sins.
True praise glorifies God in Christ for that suffering and
imitates Him in His humility. Our
King still comes to us, humble and bringing us salvation.
And He still cherishes the hosannas that we sing.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus