Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 29, 2010

Palm Sunday Sermon (2010)

THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM: A PLACE FOR PRAISE

  1. Praise offered for good reason
  2. Praise met with great opposition

Part of a Lent sermon series titled “The Places of the Passion”

Text: Luke 19:37-40

Introduction

During our school chapel service last week Wednesday, I talked about Palm Sunday with the children.  We learned during the devotion that on Palm Sunday, the crowd that surrounded Jesus praised him by waving their palm branches and shouting an unusual word.  That word was “Hosanna!” and it means “Save us, please!”

Think about that.  “Hosanna!  Save us, please!”  When I imagine someone saying, “Save me,” the context I envision is someone trapped in a burning building or someone drowning and unable to swim.  When I think of someone who says, “Save me,” I don’t think of someone shouting out exuberant praise.  But that was the scene on the road to Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.  Jesus’ followers greeted him with a cry for divine help in the form of joyous praise.

The four sermons that will be preached in the next eight days—today, Thursday, Friday, and Easter Day—will conclude the sermon series that we have heard the previous six Wednesday evenings during our midweek services for Lent.  Our sermon series is called, “The Places of the Passion.”  We have studied the Passion history scene by scene to examine what happened on Jesus’ way to the cross.  We previewed the Passion history during the Wednesdays of Lent; today we backtrack and start the journey over again, knowing that this time is not a preview, but the celebration.  Let’s follow Luke’s account of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey on the road to Jerusalem, and we will discover that the road to Jerusalem was a place for praise.  The praise Jesus received on Palm Sunday was offered for a good reason, but it was met by great opposition. 

I.

For months, Jesus said that he was heading for Jerusalem one last time, where he would lay down his life to atone for the world’s sin.  And now the day had finally come.  Jesus’ entrance is met by the praises of the people.  Luke is the only Gospel that doesn’t mention that the crowds said “Hosanna!”  That missing detail doesn’t need to trouble us.  As we have noted in previous sermons and Bible classes, the four Gospels are really four witnesses.  A witness doesn’t necessarily relate every little detail he knows, but if you put several witnesses’ testimony together, you get a fuller picture of the incident.  And here is what Luke specifically records from the crowd’s praises:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The crowd quotes Psalm 118, a psalm that carried a connection to the fulfillment of God’s plan to send the Messiah—and that was exactly what was happening! 

The crowd’s praises were not empty hope or emotional hype.  They had good reason for praising Jesus.  Luke tells us, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.”  These disciples of Jesus knew that Jesus was not your average Joe or even an above average rabbi.  They had good reason to praise him.  They saw his divine power with their own eyes.  Perhaps some in the crowd were the direct beneficiaries of Jesus’ miracles.  Perhaps some had seen him raise his good friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead.  The fact that the Jewish religious leaders gave Jesus a less than favorable rating did not dissuade these disciples from praising God for the divine deeds Jesus carried out before their eyes.

Palm Sunday is a great day for children to participate in worship.  This is the second successive year that our school children processed with palm branches during the opening hymn and sang an anthem in our Palm Sunday service.  Last year they introduced us to the hymn in Christian Worship: Supplement that we all sang just before this sermon.  This year the children introduced us to another hymn from the supplement.  Do you know what was arguably the best aspect of their participation today?  The song the children sang was not just a cute little ditty.  The song that the children sang to you was the message of Holy Week and Easter and all their significance wrapped up into a few short stanzas.  Isn’t it neat to hear little children confess that “[Jesus] sighs, he dies, he takes my sin and wretchedness.  He lives, forgives, he gives me his own righteousness”?  Those are not empty words!  There is a ton of biblical truth packed into those words!  Praise like that teaches us the truths of Scripture and shows us the reason we have to praise God in the first place.

The word “worship” comes from an old English word that means “to ascribe worth.”  It is true that our worship is really secondary; God’s service to us in his Word and Sacrament is the most important thing that happens here each Sunday.  But that doesn’t mean our praise is unimportant.  We have good reason to offer our praise.  We have good reason to ascribe worth to God.  Just look at what he has done for you!  Look at what he has done for you this Holy Week!  By nature you and I are hell-bound, fist-shaking rebels who have no room for God in our lives or hearts.  And instead of nailing us to the wall with the penalty for our sin, God sent his Son to be the sacrificial Lamb who was nailed to the cross to pay that penalty for our sin.  Instead of dying eternally in hell, Jesus endured eternal death for us as the perfect, final, offering that paid our debt in full.  That’s how much you were worth to God!

If you did not know that and heard that gospel message for the first time, wouldn’t that astound you?  If your conscience had done its work and led you to realize your problem with sin and your need for forgiveness, wouldn’t the news of Christ’s sacrifice for you knock your socks off?  If you learned for the first time that the president, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer of the universe not only forgave you your sins but also gave you the holiness of his holy Son in order to make you right with him, do you think you might want to say, “Thanks!”

This Palm Sunday, we have good reason to join with those who followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, because that is exactly what Jesus set into motion when he processed into Jerusalem.  This Holy Week, we have good reason to ascribe worth to God in worship when we consider what our salvation was worth to him.  Today we have good reason to sing “Hosanna!  Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord!” because Christ came into Jerusalem to do battle with your sin and to win your salvation.

II.

The first Palm Sunday crowd was filled with praise, but it wasn’t filled exclusively with praise.  Just like the many previous incidents in Jesus’ ministry, and just like what would happen on Friday, Jesus met the fierce rejection of those who opposed him.  “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’”  Jesus’ increasing popularity wasn’t helping the Pharisees in the opinion polls.  The Pharisees who objected to this display didn’t offer a polite suggestion, but a stern command that this little parade of praise come to a halt.

I love Jesus’ answer.  Maybe that’s because I love it when someone responds to a ridiculous statement with a snappy one-liner, but Jesus was not about to mute his people’s praises.  “‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”  If you oppose my people’s praises and silence their voices, inanimate rocks will screech out their objections!  What a great image!  What a great response!  And what a great reminder that what was happening that day and that week was God’s doing, despite the Pharisee’s sinful plotting and planning.  It was God’s will that Jesus head to Jerusalem and head for the cross, and if anyone silenced the praises of the Lamb of God, God’s creation would cry out its own objection.

The events and facts that we celebrate this week are still faced by opposition.  The idea clearly taught in Scripture that God requires a payment for sin is ridiculed today as a remnant of medieval religion.  The idea clearly taught in Scripture that faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross is the one and only way to fellowship with God and eternal life is criticized as religious intolerance.  Never mind what Scripture says!  Never mind that the Bible is the most reliably transmitted book of the ancient world!  Never mind that Jesus’ first followers chose to die martyrs’ deaths rather than deny that the crucified Christ rose from the dead and physically appeared among them!

We live in a world where opinion polls seem to create facts.  We live in a society that has decided that the only right religion is the religion that says it’s not right.  We live in a culture that doesn’t want to hear us praise Jesus or confess our faith in him.  And we live in our own sinful flesh that craves popularity among others more than faithfulness to Christ.

There is no question that the Christian confession of faith is faced by great opposition.  There is no question that our world and our own sinful flesh tempts us and often gets us to silence our confession of faith.  And there is no question that Christ would have every reason to reject us forever for our sins and failures.

But the world’s opposition and our own sinful failings cannot undo the facts.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem today to the praises of his people because he was determined to pay for the sins of the world.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem today to the praises of his people because he was about to fulfill the soul-saving rescue mission that his heavenly Father appointed him to do.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem today to the praises of his people only to be led to the torment of the cross on Friday.  But it is there, at the cross, that Jesus inspires our highest praises and truest worship.  For there, at the cross, he erased the guilt for a world full of sinners, including you and me.  There, at the cross, the eternal problem staring at us before we even took our first breath was erased and placed with an eternal promise of peace in heaven’s paradise for those who look to Christ’s cross in faith.  There, at the cross, we find God’s greatest and most gracious actions on our behalf not only saving our souls but also inspiring our worship.

Conclusion

I’ll be honest.  There are a lot of church services this week.  Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and next Sunday.  That’s a lot of church.  That’s a lot of worship!  But when we think about what happened this week, starting on the road to Jerusalem and finishing at the empty tomb, wouldn’t we have to conclude that the one activity we should be involved in this week is worship—publicly for three nights and one glorious Sunday morning, but also privately in prayer and thanks?  Return with me this week as we review the places of the Passion.  And renew in your hearts and minds the reasons we have to praise our gracious God now and eternally.  Amen.

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