March 24, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”
Jesus had become a celebrity; Jerusalem was rolling out the red carpet for Him. That’s the theme of the reading that began today’s Palm Sunday Divine Service. The Gospel of the Palms records Jesus’ triumphal entry into the holy city. He is there at the very time when Jewish pilgrims from around the world were gathering for the Passover Festival. He is there, and the people want to see Him: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him….”
The crowds are interested in seeing Jesus. They are excited about what they had heard concerning His works. The Gospel writer tells us: “The crowd that had been with [Jesus] when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.” Jesus’ sign was remarkable: a dead man was brought back to life. So the crowd wanted to see the One who had brought life into the midst of death. The sign had driven the crowds to make great statements concerning Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
That exuberant and celebratory mood carried through Sunday morning. Jesus even says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The glory of that procession leading into Jerusalem is expected to remain forever: the Messiah had come! But then Jesus drops a different, even unexpected statement on the people: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Those words are heard, and the glorious mood seems to seep out, like air escaping a leaky balloon. Yet, Jesus makes a definitive statement that confirms His earlier words: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
What is Jesus doing here? What is the point of His statements? Jesus is showing that the glory of Palm Sunday, the triumphal nature of His entrance into Jerusalem, is not His end goal. To be sure, it is good, right, and salutary that Jesus receives the acclamations and praise of the people. He rightly is called the King of Israel. The people are correct in confessing that Jesus has come in the Lord’s name, with the Lord’s authority. Their prayer for salvation—“Hosanna!”—is right on target. But Jesus is not there to bask in the glory of that day. No, He is present to do something else, something that does not seem glorious at all.
Jesus is in Jerusalem with a purpose: to be the Unblemished Lamb offered at Passover. He is present to have His blood painted on the beam of the cross in order to bring salvation. That is His goal. That is what this parade into Jerusalem leads up to. This is how Jesus brings judgment against the rule of Satan, the realm of sin and death, casting out the ruler of this world. He reveals that purpose to the people on that first Palm Sunday: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”
Jesus tells the people that He will die. That is what He is in Jerusalem to do. It seems like the last thing that should happen. How does that mesh with the palm waving and the adoring crowds? How can the Messiah undergo such things? That’s the question Jesus is asked: “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can You say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” But what they do not understand is what Jesus knows. Through His dying, life will be given. By His rising again, death will be done.
This is the heart of Jesus’ statement: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus’ dying is how He does not remain alone like a single grain of wheat. Instead, it is how He will make mankind be like Him. They will have His righteousness. They will have His life. They will have His glory. Jesus will produce a harvest of people who are just like He is, because His path leads not only to the cross but also beyond it. Jesus’ path leads to what the apostle mentions years after His dying and rising occurs: “He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name….”
Jesus was not in Jerusalem to receive the glory that comes from man, but to go through the actions that leads to the glory that comes from God. He was present to have what was always rightfully His, but also to make for Himself a people who would share in His glory. This is how Jesus answers the cries of “Hosanna! Save us, Lord!” It is how He takes for Himself the crown not only of Israel but of all nations: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This comes to Jesus who does not stop at Jerusalem’s gates, but goes out those gates to Calvary, crashes through the gates of Hades, and opens the gates of Paradise.
This is the path that Jesus invites you to follow. His statement discloses how you will share in what He earns for you: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him.” Your place is with Jesus—with Him in His humility, His betrayal, His suffering, His death and also with His exaltation, His resurrection, His ascension, His being seated at the right hand of the Father, His eternal rule. That place is given to you, as you follow in His path, as you receive the salvation that He provides to you.
The statement in the Old Testament Reading spoke of this salvation that the Lord provides. But note when He gives it: “The Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” This is what He does for you when all the trust in your ability is removed, when all your thoughts about what is glorious and worth keeping are dispelled, when all the attempts to love your life are ended. Instead, the call is to recognize that you have no hope in yourself, so you know the need the Lord’s aid. You are called to forsake the honors of this world, so that you may have the eternal honor that comes from the Father.
Your identity is not to be master of your own fate, but to be disciples of the Master. Made disciples of Jesus, you have His mind in you. Made disciples of Jesus, you recognize the truth about Him: “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” Made disciples of Jesus, you are called to die and rise with Him.
From this day through next Sunday, you will have the opportunity to hear again how Jesus humbled Himself and became an obedient servant for your sake. You will see Jesus walk the way of death to life for you. You will be made to understand how you are the fruit that Jesus bears by being falling into the earth and dying. He has drawn you to Himself, to follow the sign of the cross in which victory is found.
This path that Jesus traveled is now your path of pilgrimage. As you follow, you will be where He is. You will have the red carpet rolled out for you, when the Father bids you welcome because of what His Son Jesus has done—His bringing life into the midst of death by becoming obedient unto death and rising to life again. Then the Scripture will be fulfilled for you: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” He will answer your cries: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” And your response will be: “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.