Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we have come Your house to meet You! We have come to praise Your name and give You honor because You have saved our souls and given us the gift of eternal life! But, even more importantly, You have come to us this day through Your powerful Word of forgiveness in order to honor and uplift us! Our sacrifice to You is a broken and a contrite heart. Your sacrifice to us is never-ending love and peace with God. To avoid acting like the first Palm Sunday crowd who later rejected You, may our focus always be upon You riding into our hearts and lives through Your humble means of grace: the Gospel in both Word and sacrament. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE KING OF KINGS!
TEXT: Matthew 21: 1-11
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Fact: more people attend church on Palm Sunday than on Good Friday. Why is that? After all, Good Friday is the actual day that God’s Son bought back our souls and our lives from sin, death, and Satan’s power. Good Friday is the actual day when He paid the penalty to His Father for our fickleness and our headstrong pride. Good Friday is the actual day when God made peace with humans all because the blood of His Son was weighty enough to wipe away our guilt and shame. Good Friday is the pinnacle of our deliverance.
So, why do more Christians celebrate Palm Sunday than Good Friday? Why do many of you skip God’s Friday in favor of Palm Sunday? I suppose it all boils down to this: everyone likes a celebration and a party more than a funeral. We view Palm Sunday as an “upper” and Good Friday as a “downer.” But, God doesn’t. If He did, Christ would have exercised His divine power and walked away from the cross. But, He didn’t. He embraced it. He voluntarily trudged the road to the cross because it was vital, all-important, to save our souls and reveal the depth of His love for us.
And yet, Palm Sunday was still important to Him and us. For it reveals a singular truth. That being:
IN LOVE GOD INITIATES CONTACT WITH SINNERS
Since the fall into sin, all human beings have known in their hearts that God is “out there.” And everything we do in life is designed to initiate contact with Him, to find Him. O, it may not appear so. After all, most people don’t go to church, most seem to care little for Christianity. And most humans openly reject and mock Godly truths. And yet, who doesn’t deal with guilt and shame in their life? Where does that attitude come from? It stems from knowing that God is “out there” and we must do something to make ourselves right with Him. And so, people try to initiate contact with God. They see a shrink to placate their conscience. They work hard to show that they are a “good person.” They invent false religions so that they can meet God on their own terms. We have a great example of that in Genesis chapter 11 where the tower of Babel story is told. Those folks wanted God on their own terms, too. So they agreed to build a tower reaching up to heaven in order to: “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Their sin was trying to impose their will on God and make Him dance to their tune. And as a result of this haughty pride, God confused their language and their effort collapsed.
When we humans attempt to initiate contact with God on our terms, we will always meet with frustration. That’s because the God we confront that way is perfect, holy, and full of anger over our hubris. You can almost hear Him saying: “Who do these people think they are talking to? I’m not a puppet that they control. I’m not defined by their misguided notions. How dare they try to pull Me down to their level!” The vast chasm separating humans from God is kind of like the difference between an earthworm and you. If the earthworm tried to define you and pull you down to their level, you’d simply walk away in anger and disgust.
But, what if you reached down and initiated contact with the lowly worm? That would be a totally different story. And what would prompt you to do so? Won’t it have to be love and compassion? Well, my friends, that’s what makes Palm Sunday so great and so uplifting to us! For on Palm Sunday, the Son of God initiated contact with sinners like us in love and compassion. He did what we could not do. He rode into Jerusalem to meet sinners in need of salvation.
Our lesson is o so simple, yet o so profound. Christ leaves Bethany and the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where He slept the night before. He leads the disciples toward Jerusalem at dawn’s early light. He even sends some of the disciples on ahead to procur a donkey colt, tells them where to find it and what to say to get the owners to release it to them. In all-knowingness He works another miracle. And then, to fulfill a prophecy of Zechariah, He mounts the colt and rides into the holy city in triumph. He initiates contact with the crowd, not the other way around. And as St. Paul tells us in our epistle, He does so in humility, born of pure love.
The rest of the story is very familiar to all of you. The crowd reacts in joy. How could they not? After all, it’s hard to be negative in the face of uninhibited love. The mass of Passover pilgrims cut down Palm branches and strew them in His path. They shout praises to God and to Christ: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!” God spontaneously moves their hearts. He moves them to praise His Son. He initiates contact with them in pure love and they respond. Do they all understand exactly Who He is and what’s going on? No. Some ask: “Who is this?” Others reply knowingly: “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Note well, that they didn’t say: “The Messiah.” Obviously most were unclear on that issue. Yet, they did acknowledge His miracles, His power, and His teachings as being prophetic, from God.
I began this sermon by reminding you that Palm Sunday is widely celebrated because everyone likes a party. It’s true. Our lesson proves it. But, not everyone enjoys a funeral. And that helps explain why the mob turned against Him on Good Friday and shouted: “Crucify, Crucify!” And yet, the exact same love which prompted Jesus to initiate contact with them on Palm Sunday was evident even more on God’s Friday. For on that day “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Yes, the giant truth of today and of this week is that God initiates contact with sinners in self-sacrificing love. He reaches down from heaven to meet us and to save us by giving up His life in place of ours. He makes peace with Himself over our rebellion against Him. And that peace sustains because it isn’t born of human pridefulness but of God driven love.
So, the focus today must be on God riding into our lives full of humility and self-sacrifice. The focus must be on Him honoring us instead of us trying to honor Him. And when we grasp that truth, which is the core truth of Christianity, every Sunday, every time we hear His Word, every time we commune, every time we recall our baptism, and every time we hear His forgiving Word of absolution—we will find ourselves at peace within. We will find ourselves praising His name. For in love God initiates contact with sinners like us. And He does so only in Jesus Christ! Amen