Palm Sunday Sermon
“Hosanna in the Highest”
March 20, 2005
A lectionary is a list of Scripture readings
assigned for every Sunday and festival day of the church year. The church followed the same lectionary for about fifteen
hundred years until sometime during the 1970s when a three-year series
was introduced. I followed
the three-year lectionary for several years until I was persuaded that
the historic lectionary was better.
If you hear the same Epistle Lesson and the same Gospel Lesson
read every year, over the years you will learn these portions of God’s
word quite well. Hearing them every three years is not enough.
So while the three-year lectionary has the advantage of having
three times as many lessons, the historic one-year lectionary has the
advantage of being heard three times as often.
Regular churchgoers in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and
older will likely be quite familiar with all fifty two of the Gospel
readings in the historic lectionary.
But actually, while there are fifty-two Sundays in
a year, there are only fifty-one Gospel lessons in the historic
because the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent and the Gospel for
Palm Sunday are the same: the account in St. Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus
riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
A portion of this Gospel lesson also found its way into the
church’s liturgy a very long time ago, as early as the second century.
Before the church goes to Communion she sings:
Holy, holy, holy Lord God
The three holies come from Isaiah chapter six where
Isaiah saw the Lord God in a vision and was undone by the sight of such
pure holiness. The hosannas
come from Palm Sunday where the huge crowd of people praised Jesus as
the Son of David. The
praises of Palm Sunday have found a permanent home in the life of
The cry of the Palm Sunday crowd was “Hosanna,”
which means “save, now!” It
is taken from Psalm 118 where we read:
Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected.
That would become apparent not long after the Palm Sunday crowd
dispersed. The machinations
of the clerical hierarchy would try to bring an end to Jesus’ reign
before it even began. But
they didn’t understand the psalm.
The stone that the builders rejected would become the chief
cornerstone precisely by means of being rejected by the builders.
The Jewish leaders who rejected Christ did not destroy His reign.
The very opposite occurred.
His rejection sent Him to the cross and it was from the cross, as
Jesus was lifted up as King, that He established His everlasting
He rode into Jerusalem in humility.
He rode into Jerusalem to die.
When Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem He set His face toward
death. Even while He
listened to the cries of adoration and blessing and pleas for salvation
He knew that the love would soon dissipate and He would suffer all
alone. Jesus predicted His
betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.
We read in Matthew Mat 16:21,
From that time Jesus began
to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many
things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and
be raised the third day.
And again in Matthew 20:17-19,
Jesus went to Jerusalem.
He rode into the holy city on a borrowed donkey.
He didn’t ride on a war-horse like an earthly king.
He didn’t come to impose His reign by force.
St. Paul writes, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all
acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of
whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
“Hosanna! Save us,
and save us now. We are
sinners in need of a Savior who will deliver us from the evil within our
own hearts. Hosanna!
Save now! We cannot
wait until tomorrow because we might die tonight.
Hosanna in the highest! Only
the God against whom we have sinned and whose majesty we have offended
can forgive us of our sins and rescue us from the punishment we have
earned. Blessed is He who
comes in the name of the Lord. We
bless you because you come in mercy to bring us eternal blessings.
We bless you because you alone are our Savior from our sins and
from death and from all evil.”
The cried “hosanna” to the King who humbled
Himself to ride on a donkey. The
prophet said He would. He
There are no accidents in God’s plan of
salvation. The prophet said
that the long awaited King of Israel would come to His people in
humility, riding on a beast of burden.
Those laboring under the burden of their own sin recognized Him.
They saw their gracious God underneath the humble exterior.
They cried out in adoration.
Five days later another crowd cried out for Jesus’ blood.
The first crowd worshipped Jesus.
The second crowd mocked Him.
The first crowd prayed for forgiveness and salvation.
The second crowd demanded punishment and vengeance.
Jesus could not have answered the plea of the first crowd without
enduring what the second crowd demanded.
But He did not give in to the demand of the Good Friday mob.
No, he answered the prayer of the Palm Sunday worshippers.
It was not the cry of bloodlust that put Jesus on the cross.
It was the cry for mercy, for forgiveness, for salvation, for
life that we sinners offer to God repeatedly throughout our lives.
We offer our cries and our pleas in weakness.
God answers our cries by setting aside the exercise of His
almighty power and assuming the form of a slave.
He humbled Himself and became obedient to the demands of justice
– demands that demanded we face punishment.
He faced our punishment in our place.
And by humbling Himself to the death of the cross He gained the
name that is above every name. In gaining that name He gained our salvation.
We praise God by praising Christ in His deepest
humiliation. The adoration
of naïve and ignorant children is more precious than acceptance into
the most exclusive religious clubs.
The glory of palms strewed before a donkey and her colt is more
beautiful than the glittering gold of the temple itself.
And His suffering on the cross where He bore our sin is for us
the priceless treasure that brings us to heaven.
Our faith holds on to that suffering and sees in it the
humiliation that brings us eternal glory.
Christ keeps coming to His people today in response
to their hosannas. He
isn’t riding on a donkey. He
comes in the Lord’s Supper. In,
with, and under the forms of bread and wine He comes with His body and
blood to save us. We sing
hosanna in the highest. What
then does the Lord Jesus do? He,
who is highly exalted, who has the name that is above every name, who
sits at the right hand of the Father, joins His holy body and blood to
the sacramental bread and wine and feeds us with the food of salvation.
This is why we treasure the Lord’s Supper more than life
Learn from Jesus in what true greatness consists.
He was rejected by the clerical hierarchy of His day.
He showed Himself the King of Israel while riding a borrowed
donkey. In His humility He
showed His power to save us all. He
bore humiliation and shame because He loved us.
This is how we show our love for Him.
We bear slights, insults, and the unfair treatment of others.
We look at the attitude that Jesus displayed as He was answering
our prayer for eternal salvation. As
He was earning heaven for us He demonstrated a willingness to endure
every kind of injustice. “Let
this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
The King who comes to us in the Divine Service is the King we
worship every day, day after day, as mothers and mothers, students,
farmers, nurses, mechanics, teachers, laborers, sons, daughters,
husbands, and wives. What
is worship? It is ascribing worth to God.
What has God shown us that is most worthy of our worship?
Where is God’s greatest attribute most clearly revealed to the
world? “Herein is
love,” St. John writes, “Not that we loved God but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
How did Christ do this? How
did He take away God’s anger against us sinners and establish true
peace with God? It was by
humbling Himself the death of the cross to save us.
Here we see God’s love in its purity and loveliness.
So we will cherish that love by humbling ourselves before each
other and forgiving each other in the name of Jesus.
That we may to do this and that God accepts such humble service
as an offering to Him is one of the greatest privileges in being a
Rev. Rolf D. Preus