This morning I had the privilege to return to my high school alma mater, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, Wisconsin, and lead their morning chapel service. Pastors from churches in KML’s federation take turns leading the Friday morning chapel devotions. The other devotions are led primarily by members of the faculty and, once a week, by a senior student. Each week’s devotions have a theme; this week’s theme focused on the passion prophecies in the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Today’s devotion was based on the Palm Sunday prophecy in Zechariah 9:9-10.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The church bells ring. The guests have gathered for the Saturday afternoon ceremony. The groomsmen take their places in the front of the church. The music begins, and the bridesmaids come down the aisle one by one. Finally the music crescendos and the bride walks in, escorted by her father down the aisle to meet her groom. But how does she walk in? Comfy yoga pants and a well-worn t-shirt, hair not done and slippers for shoes? Of course not! She comes in the most beautiful dress she will ever wear and takes her new husband’s breath away by her beauty.
The announcement echoes through the stadium. The fans have gathered for the Sunday afternoon football game. Bill Jartz, the announcer at Lambeau Field, leans into his microphone as “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited blares its backbeat over the stadium speakers, and he says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome your 13-time world champion Green Bay Packers!” But how do the Packers come into their home turf? Strolling slowly through the tunnel onto the field, maybe checking their cell phone for any final pregame texts as they seem oblivious to the 80,000 screaming fans who have come to their feet for the starting lineup? Of course not! They dart through that tunnel and run out at full speed, “high fiving” their teammates through the line that extends out of the Packers tunnel and toward the Packers sideline.
Entrances are important. Entrances tell you the relative importance of the event you are attending. A grand entrance tells you that what you are watching is not to be taken lightly or frivolously—whether a wedding, or an NFL game, or the entrance that the class of 2017 will make at its graduation ceremony in a few weeks from now!
There was no more importance entrance in the history of humankind than the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem during the first Holy Week. Everything that you and I believe in and everything that you and I put our eternal hope in was going to take place over the next 168 hours. The eternal and incarnate Son of God was going to put sin, death, Satan, and hell in their place once and for all. So how would Jesus enter? With trumpet blasts and paid singers, mounted on a majestic horse, wearing a kingly robe with sword-wielding soldiers flanking him? If there was any time for pomp and circumstance, surely the entrance of the Son of God into Jerusalem deserved a little ceremony!
Hundreds of years before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance, the Old Testament prophet Zechariah previewed what that entrance would look like. As you have learned during your chapel services this week, Zechariah previewed many details that would come to pass during Holy Week. Our Bible reading for today’s chapel devotion previews and predicts Jesus’ Palm Sunday process parade. But it is not what you would expect: Humility! Lowliness! The King of the universe riding in not on a stately stallion but on a borrowed beast of burden! This is not what we would expect! This would be as strange as the seniors processing on graduation day in their pajamas—and don’t anybody get any wise ideas now!
But why does he do this? Why does he come in so humbly? We have a room of 400 fairly recent Lutheran confirmands here! You know the answer! Jesus’ life had two stages: his humiliation and his exaltation. During Jesus’ humiliation, he set aside his full power as God to live and die in a lowly way to be our Savior. The CEO of the universe become lowlier than the night shift janitor! God became man and then became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And how else can I respond to that incredible humility of Jesus for me, who only humbled himself because of his great love for me, then by humble Christian lives of thanks and praise. And who better to know how to live a humble Christian life of thanksgiving than the nice, humble, godly Christian kids at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School?
May I share with you a little anecdote from my days as a student in this school? I am a KML graduate from the class of 1993. At some point, for an occasion that I don’t remember anymore, there were a bunch of us out one random Friday or Saturday night at a pizza joint somewhere around here. As we were about to leave, our waiter, who recognized that he had just served a group of 16-18 year olds, said, “Remember, we’re a family place, but we don’t want you guys making families tonight.” It was his pithy way of reminding these random high school kids to obey the Sixth Commandment.
I think we were all a little annoyed at this very parent-like admonishment. I know I was. And so as we all left our table and headed for our cars, I told our “poor, uninformed” waiter, “I just want you to know that we are from Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, as if to say that he recognized that we had slightly higher moral standards, and so his admonishment wasn’t so necessary. I thanked him for caring enough to tell kids to do the right thing. But I also think that I said what I did because it was a point of pride. We are Kettle kids, and we’re a notch above the rest — so I must have thought. And now I look back on what I said and I think to myself, “Pastor Strey, you arrogant fool!” As if there’s never been sexual sin or temptation in the student body of KML. As if there has never been temptations to cheat our way to a passing grade, or to build ourselves up by back-biting gossip that tears another down, or to turn a blind eye to the student who we think is “weird” but is really hurting inside. As if there is some reason with us to be proud of our status before God. As if we didn’t have as much need for humility as other high school kids.
You and I might be able to convince ourselves that we are a notch above, but there is no hiding reality from our all-knowing God. The One before whom we should be humble has every right to humble us to hell for every sin he sees in our hearts and lives. And so what does he do? The exact opposite we expect! The exact opposite we deserve! He mounts a lowly donkey and rides into Jerusalem only to ride on to die. He does not consider the fact that he is the Son of God as something to cling to, but he humbles himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. And by that utter humility and suffering and pain—all done for you and me and our forgiveness—he takes away the sin that produces the battles we have with each other and that ultimately produced war with God, and Jesus replaces all that with a peace that extends to everyone on this globe who believes in Jesus and that will extend to every believer one day forever in heaven.
We are on the verge of celebrating the most important events of human history this week. Nothing that you and I accomplish or experience will ever compare to the Son of God riding humbly into Jerusalem, walking humbly to the cross, but rising victoriously from the dead to bring us everlasting peace and to establish his everlasting kingdom. Do not take for granted our Savior’s humble entrance into Jersualem and all that it means for us, as Zechariah the prophet teaches us in chapter nine of his book:
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
This is the Word of the Lord.