Matthew 21:1-1126: 38-42Philippians. 2:5-8

Palm Sunday 4/2/2023

"Don't let them see you sweat!" This often-heard exhortation could serve as an epitaph describing our fallen human race. It goes against the grain of our sin-weakened nature to allow any of our innermost fears or bodily weaknesses to be known by others. And, heaven forbid that any of our failures be found out! After all, we rationalize that we make ourselves appear vulnerable whenever we appear weak, and others will only seek to take advantage of us. We much prefer to project ourselves as bold, confident masters of our fate. We want to be the one who calls all the shots. We don't want to be dependent upon anyone else. We have it in our heads that it is a disgrace to appear weak.

This same attitude transfers to the expectations we have of our leaders. Who wants a meek and mild-mannered President or King? Others, especially foreign leaders, will only push around such a leader. At the same time, we also don't want our leader to be Vladimir Putin, some egotistical tyrant. But we expect them to be strong and rule with justice and might. Then, we feel this leader can truly protect us and save us.

This whole mindset has also led to the tendency among us to think Might is right to the strong go the spoils. Only the strong survive. The good things in life go to the bold and mighty, while the meek receive only the leftovers.

Oh, How God has turned this earthly mindset on its ear! The Lord says, "Blessed are the meek (humble), for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:3,5). In our Epistle Reading, we hear the Lord's apostle instruct us, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).

The actual mindset that pleases God is not characterized by arrogance but humility. God's paradigm for leadership and even service by his people are not demanding respect from others but joyfully honoring all others with respect. It is not keeping oneself above the fray but being willing to be in the midst of it. The mindset God desires to be that of His servants is to see oneself as a servant of all others. Dare we even say it? The mindset pleasing to God is that of Jesus, who desired not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for others.

Palm Sunday is about declaring God's way to the world, not man's. In a carefully choreographed procession through the streets of Jerusalem, God displayed a mere carpenter from lowly Nazareth to be His King. "See this Man astride a lowly donkey," He declared, "He is My chosen King, My appointed Savior of the world!"

Jesus ensured no one got the wrong idea about the kind of king He was and how He would reign. He sent two disciples into Bethage to retrieve a donkey and her colt. That was His chosen kingly chariot. One He intentionally chose to fulfill God's promise of the Messiah King as spoken centuries earlier through His prophet Zechariah: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

For Jesus to ride into Jerusalem astride a donkey was an intentional throwback to King Solomon's day. Not since Solomon had a son of David and accepted his reign as king by riding a donkey. ( I Kings 1:38) Through this act, Jesus embraced His kingship as a true Son of David and demonstrated that His reign would not be marked by a display of strength and worldly splendor but by weakness and humility.

This gesture of kingship, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, was noticed by Jesus' disciples and many others in the city. In token that they would submit to Jesus' reign and embrace Him as their King, they re-enacted a traditional custom that went back to King Jehu's day, that of laying their outer cloaks and garments on the donkey upon which their King sat and on the road upon which He would travel (II Kings 9:11-13).

Immediately the shouts of praise went up from the crowds in front of Jesus and those following Him, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

Interestingly, Matthew does not include the rest of the crowd's song of praise. Mark and John record that the crowds also named Him "The King of our Father David" and "The King of Israel." Instead, Matthew wants his hearers to be focused on the more Messianic designation of this King, He who comes; that is, He is the One who comes to you for your benefit, to bring you salvation. (Lenski, p. 203).

All ideas of earthly kings and their reigns are out of place here. As Jesus later tells Pilate, this King's Kingdom is not of this world. He does not come with great power and might to destroy but in all humility to win the hearts and lives of people. This King comes not as a Lion but as a Lamb.

I believe it is of interest to note that this very day Jesus chose to embrace His kingship was the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the day the Paschal Lamb (The Passover Lamb) was to be selected by the people so that later in the week it could be sacrificed and eaten. It was not an accident that Jesus chose this day for His triumphant ride. Jesus' message was clear: on this colt rides in all meekness God's chosen sacrificial Lamb on account of whom God would pass over the sins of people and forgive them.

Accordingly, the cry of Hosanna to the Son of David reverberated off the buildings and walls of the holy city of Jerusalem and out into the whole world. Hosanna is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew "Hoshi ah-nna," which means "grant salvation." "Hosanna to the Son of David" does not directly appeal to the people for Jesus to save them. Still, it was meant as a prayer calling upon Almighty God to help, save, and bless this Messiah so that He might succeed in His reign and accomplish victory for His people. They were saying, "Help the Son of David succeed. May this hosanna resound in the highest heaven so that the help from God who dwells there may come down to Him!" (Yilvsaker)

All this beg's the question; Do you and I want a King who requires the prayers of His subjects? Do we want such a King as this Jesus, who was poor, had no place to lay His head, had to ride on a borrowed donkey, was pushed and shoved around by His enemies, and was despised by the religious elite? Do we want a King who does not ride a "man of war," a magnificent white stallion, but on a lowly beast of burden and a colt? Do we want a King who comes with no army to back Him up, only a rag-tag, beleaguered group of followers and a crowd of poor, public sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes? More than this, do you and I want a God who appears so weak, needy, helpless, and easily exploited by manipulative people who, as his taunters would later criticize Him, couldn't even save Himself from being killed? Is this the Savior King we want?

I certainly hope so. The necessary victory must be secured by something other than brute force or silver-tongued diplomacy. The real enemies that besieged the people of Jerusalem and still seek to destroy and enslave us are not earthly powers like the mighty Roman army. Our enemies are spiritual forces of darkness; sin, death, and the devil. Such enemies require spiritual weapons. We can only be released from them and saved from them through the forgiveness of our sins, and that can only be accomplished by the willing sacrifice in our place of the One who is both God and Man, Jesus Christ, the One who rides a donkey in all humility.

Our victory is only won by this divine King who wins by losing, defeats by being defeated, destroy the strong by being beaten, conquers death by dying, frees sinners from their guilt by becoming the chief of sinners and taking upon Himself the guilt of all frees the damned from the tortures of hell by being abandoned by God, Himself, heals all our diseases by taking those diseases into His own body, and releases you and me from our debt by paying our debt with His precious lifeblood. Yes, this King comes to us, meeting us in our flesh and blood so that by His great humiliation, He can lift us in all heavenly exaltation. Hosanna to this King!

When Jesus sent the two disciples to bring back his steed of humility, the colt of a donkey, He told the disciples that if anyone questioned why they were taking them, they should respond, "The Lord needs them." Think about that for a moment. The Creator requires an ass, and it's a colt! Indeed, they are to be pressed into the service of their Creator. They are to serve Him by becoming His mount to victory. No claims of glory and honor are to be found in this Lord. Though He is the Creator of these lowly creatures, He needs them to carry Him in His final procession to take His throne- the cross of suffering and death. The mighty LORD condescends to be carried along in merely earthly means to show forth His greatest glory-- humility.

That is the essence of Jesus' reign. He comes not touting power and glory to make war but exuding humility to make peace (Zech. 9:10). As one ancient Christian commentator wrote: "He does not sit on a golden chariot, shining with priceless purple. Nor is he mounted upon a foaming horse, the lover of discord and quarreling, which has a chest filled with glory's boasting, which sniffs out war from afar and rejoices at the sound of the war trumpet and, when it sees a bloody battle, says in its own heart, 'It is well done.' Rather, he sits upon an ass of tranquility, a friend of peace" (Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 37, A.C.C. on Scripture, vol. 1b, Oden, p. 124).

At the same time, however, these lowly beasts of burden were granted a privilege no other creature on earth was given. They were blessed to carry the King of Israel, The Messiah, The World's Savior King! Through His humiliation, He brought such lowly beasts the greatest of honors!

In the same way, not only has Jesus, through His humiliation, exalted us as sinners to the right hand of God where He is, so our Crucified, risen, and ascended Lord has pressed us into His service to carry Him and lift him before the whole world. As members of His Body in the world, the Church, Jesus honored us by pressing us into the service of carrying Him in procession into all the world.

He commissioned us by saying, "You are my witnesses... You bear my name. He who listens to you listens to me. Make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them everything I have commanded you." 

That is, of course, not an earthly glory trail but a riding on, like that of Jesus, to die that others might live and not die eternally. That is a ride for the salvation of our world. Yes, like Jesus, we will be despised by the world, poor in earthly assets, weak in numbers and strength, plagued by all sorts of shortcomings and failures, and, as this past week's mass shooting in the Christian school in Nashville reminds us, we will ride on with a target placed on our backs by the enemies of Christ and His truth. But as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administer His Holy Sacraments following His command and promises, our Humble King will bring victory and salvation into people's lives through the likes of such weak and cracked vessels as ourselves. No more incredible honor could any of us beasts burdened under the consequences of our sins ever be afforded.

May this Palm Sunday Procession never end until all the ends of the earth proclaim, "Blessed is he who comes in all humility and the name of the Lord!" Amen.

In a carefully choreographed procession through the streets of Jerusalem, God displayed a mere carpenter from lowly Nazareth to be His King. Not since Solomon had a son named David, who accepted his reign as king by riding a donkey.

Through this act, Jesus embraced His kingship as a true son of David and demonstrated that His reign would not be marked by a display of strength and worldly splendor but by weakness and humility. This gesture of kingship, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, was noticed by Jesus' disciples and many others in the city.

In token that they would submit to Jesus' reign and embrace Him as their King, they re-enacted a traditional custom that went back to King Jehu's day: that of laying their outer cloaks and garments on the donkey upon which their King sat and on the road upon which He would travel. All ideas of earthly kings and their reigns are out of place here.

Jesus later tells Pilate, this King's Kingdom is not of this world. I believe it is of interest to note that the very day Jesus chose to embrace His kingship was the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the day the Paschal Lamb was to be selected by the people so that later in the week it could be sacrificed and eaten.

It was not an accident that Jesus chose this day for His triumphant ride. Jesus' message was clear: on this colt rides in all meekness God's sacrificial lamb selected, on account of whom God would pass over the sins of people and forgive them.

We can only be released from them and saved from them through the forgiveness of our sins, and that can only be accomplished by the willing sacrifice in our place of the One who is both God and Man, Jesus Christ, the One who rides a donkey in all humility.

Our victory is only won by this divine King who wins by losing, defeats by being defeated, destroys the strong by being beaten, conquers death by dying, frees sinners from their guilt by becoming the chief of sinners and taking upon Himself the guilt of all, frees the damned from the tortures of hell by being abandoned by God Himself, heals all our diseases by taking those diseases into His own body, and releases you and me from our debt by paying our debt with His precious lifeblood.

Yes, this King comes to us, meeting us in our flesh and blood, so that, by His great humiliation, He can lift us in all heavenly exaltation.

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