Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon -- Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014)

MATTHEW 21:1-11 / PSALM 24

In the name + of Jesus.

     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Jesus came into Jerusalem.  Many had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover—to celebrate, to feast, to rejoice.  Jesus had come not to vacation, but in his vocation.  He had come to do work.  It was the work that the Lord had assigned him to do.  The Lord’s work.  In the Lord’s name.
     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he… (Zechariah 9:9)  And as it was foretold, so it occurred.  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7)  The gates of Jerusalem were opened.  Zion was ready to welcome her king.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, receiving a royal welcome, hearing cries of Hosanna, fulfilling the words of the prophets, and accepting the praises of the people.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9) 
     While Jesus’ welcome was glorious and triumphant, the motives and hopes of the crowd were not entirely pure or consistent.  St. Luke wrote, “The whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” (Luke 19:37)  Some remembered the miracles; others were in the dark.  When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”  And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)  They weren’t wrong, but they weren’t entirely right, either.  Yes, this was Jesus of Nazareth.  But truly he was more than just a resident of Nazareth, and truly he was more than just a prophet.
     To this day, people do not recognize Jesus.  It is no surprise that, as we arrive at Holy Week, the stories are once again going to print about who Jesus really was.  Apparently, some so-called scholars are even beginning to question again if Jesus were a real person.  And if they will accept that Jesus were a real person, the latest story gaining ground comes from a fragment of parchment which was dated some 800 years after Jesus.  The sentence fragments are apparently supposed to prove that Jesus had a wife.  I guess if you are determined to believe that, you can also make the logic jumps that the sentence fragments force you to make.  Sadly, there will be some who are deceived by such nonsense, but they will have no one to blame but themselves.  The Bible, written by Jesus’ own apostles, tells us all we need to know about Jesus.  And those who learn their Scriptures will not be deceived by such lies. 
     But you ought to take warning that you also do not worship the Jesus of your choosing.  There are many people who like Jesus well enough, just so long as Jesus is who they believe he is, stands for what they say he stands for, and preaches what they want to hear.  That Jesus is very popular, just as he was with the crowds in Jerusalem.  But this Jesus is a false image and a false god.
     Who is the Jesus you want?  Is he the one who grants you permission to do the very things that God condemns because you had some pretty good reasons for doing it?  Many young Christians are eager to start living together—wanting to usurp the blessings of marriage apart from actually being married.  Other Christians knowingly and willingly defraud their clients and customers because it means a larger paycheck.  Still others will defend the perversions of other people and the false teachings of other religions for the sake of diversity and peace.  But, dear Christians, if you do this, do not invoke the name of Jesus because he will not defend these things.  There is no peace for those who practice such things, even if the world will go to war to defend such liberties.  A Jesus who accepts people who love their sins does not exist. 
     Nor does a Jesus exist who ignores your sins.  He does not overlook your greed, your lust, your jealousies, your grudges, your warped sense of fairness, or your stinginess in the time you give to other people.  A god who does not exist will ignore these things.  But such a god is not to be taken seriously.  If God does not keep his own word, then who cares what he thinks?  But this is what the Lord says: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)  The Lord does demand holiness.  The Lord does inspect the heart to see if it is pure.  The Lord does test the mouth to see if it is deceitful.  He does not ignore you; he sees and he knows.  And if you fail the test, you cannot stand before him.  Repent!
     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  For, Jesus does not ignore your sinful state.  He comes to reveal the Lord’s mercy to you.  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion.  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:7-8) 
     Yes, the Lord has come to Zion, and he came to do battle.  Though he is the Lord of hosts, Jesus fought alone.  Even eleven of his twelve apostles would only be bystanders, mostly in the shadows.  Jesus did not employ them.  They could not help any more than you can.  They were sinners like you.  Like you, they needed to be set free from sins and faults, and failings.  For them and for you, Jesus came.  For them, for you, for all, Jesus came to do battle.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8)  Though mighty in battle, Jesus won his victory by laying down his life.  He conquered by being slain.  Jesus met the enemy head on so that the enemy turned on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus let sin, death, and Satan have their way with him, doing the worst to him that they could possibly do.  In doing so, they took the bait.  They swallowed up Jesus and hoped to take the entire world along with him.  But Jesus overcame them.  In dying, Jesus absorbed the sting of sin.  He endured its curse so that your sins cannot kill you.  In rising from the grave, Jesus took away the power of death.  Jesus defeated the grave and makes you heirs of the resurrection to eternal life.  In all of it, Jesus crushed Satan underfoot and destroyed his kingdom forever.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:8)  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
     To this day, the Church sings, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  That is because we still need his salvation.  We still partake in the victory.  We do not worship a fabricated Jesus.  Rather, we have our Jesus come to us again in the Holy Supper where we receive the body and blood given into death for our sins.  For, Jesus does not ignore your sins.  Instead, he takes them away.  He acquits you of all your guilt.  He sets you free from a life of sin and shame.  He calls you saints, cleansing your hearts and sanctifying your mouths so that they believe and confess Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord God of hosts, the Savior of the world, and the Redeemer of you.  Therefore, when God tests you, he sees what is clean and pure so that you will stand and dwell in his holy place.  Jesus has saved you and set you apart to live a godly life.  It is a joyous and victorious life that does not have to look for excuses.  It is a life in which God himself calls you blessed, for Jesus has poured out his blessed salvation on you, just as he will do again from this altar.  Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  For, he has come to do the Lord’s work—to deliver sinners from death to life and from shame to joy.  Hosanna in the highest!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.