Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sermon: Lent 6 - Palmarum

5 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 27:11-54 (Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

For three years, Jesus has been slowly revealing the kingdom to those with ears to hear.

But even among those with ears, very few understood. Our Lord had been teaching in parables – not, as many often suppose, in order to make His teachings easier to understand, but rather so that His intended audience would grasp the kingdom, while others would be left in the dark: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God,” says our Lord to His disciples, “but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

The events of Palm Sunday, and indeed of the entire passion, were seen plainly and publicly by all. And yet, some of those who witness these events see, but don’t see; they hear, but don’t understand.

The Lord’s reason for revealing the kingdom to some while confounding others is a mystery to us. We are in no position to make judgments as to who is worthy of the revelation, and who is to rather to be puzzled and reject the kingdom. But we, the bride of Christ, the bearers of the revelation, can rejoice that the kingdom has not only been revealed to us, but entrusted to us. The expansion of that kingdom is not dependant on any numbers-driven program or agenda – no matter how well-intentioned – but rather, the kingdom is based upon revelation, upon the revealing of that kingdom by the Holy Spirit. Some get it, and others don’t.

On first glance, the king of the universe riding into His royal city on a donkey is ridiculous. Mighty men ride aggressive stallions, not female donkeys watching their colts. Kings and lords are conveyed by sleek, fast, intimidating steeds, not lumbering and braying beasts of burden.

And yet, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the prophet Zechariah had foretold this advent of our king six centuries before these events happened: “Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey.” The prophet goes on to describe this great King not as a man of war, but as the Prince of Peace; not as a conqueror bent on enslaving his enemies, but rather on setting prisoners free.

Even those students of Scripture who called history to mind should have recognized the gesture. For a thousand years before our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, King Solomon also rode into the city of his father, King David, mounted on a donkey, immediately after being anointed king (and it is hardly a secret that the Greek word for “anointed” is “Christ”).

No indeed, the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was neither pathetic nor comical. The priests and scribes and Pharisees knew exactly what was being said about David’s Descendant, and the prophetic and eternal kingdom of peace He was laying hold of, and which they feared.

They understood, but tried in vain to oppose it.

Interestingly, it was children and common Jews who waved palms and “made sweet hosannas ring.” For the word “hosanna” means “save!” – and only those in need of a Savior will truly embrace the kingdom and cry out for salvation.

And once our Lord and King was in the city that personifies His timeless and borderless kingdom, we see the depth of this revelation. The priests and scribes and Pharisees whip the deluded crowds into a bloodthirsty mob, seeking to save a terrorist instead of the Peacemaker.

An unlikely recipient of this revelation of the Lord’s kingdom is Pilate. Again and again, the Roman governor protested our Lord’s innocence – a remarkable conclusion considering the Roman Empire didn’t make it a habit to allow just anyone to be called “king.” But Pilate not only believes Jesus, he annoys the Jewish leaders by placing “King of the Jews” above the Lord’s cross.

In Pilate’s case, the revelation about the kingdom was given directly by God, as a prophetic dream to his wife, and by the direct testimony to him from the mouth of the Word of God in the flesh. And even having this revelation, Pilate refuses to confess Christ, but instead allows the mob to take Him away and crucify Him (his claim of clean hands in the illegal execution notwithstanding).

Most of the Roman soldiers were clueless about the kingdom of God, being servants of a different king, a man who claimed to be a god in the flesh, the adopted son of Julius Caesar who was bestowed the title “Augustus” – “the exalted one.” These servants of the false god mocked our Lord’s claim of kingship, even using phony royal gestures to taunt Him: a scarlet robe, a crown of thorns, a reed in the hand, spitting and striking and shouts of “Hail King of the Jews.

Simon of Cyrene, who was conscripted to carry the Lord’s cross could hardly have been expected to understand what was happening. But according to longstanding tradition, he is said to have later embraced the revelation of Christ’s kingdom even as on this day, he embraced the Lord’s cross.

At the Place of a Skull, the mockers of the crucified Jesus missed the revelation of the kingdom when they claimed that they would believe in the kingdom if Jesus came down from the cross. But there would have been no kingdom had He done so. For this kingdom serves a self-sacrificing King who rules by love and who takes the “form of a servant” and does not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” It is precisely because “He was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” that God has “highly exalted Him.” He is the true Augustus – not a Caesar, but the Christ; not a bloodthirsty power-monger and empire-builder, but a bloody sacrificial peacemaker between God and mankind.

The Lord Himself never doubted His own standing as King nor the truth of the revelations – even when He prays the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” For the Psalm doesn’t end there. But many of those with eyes to see lacked understanding, thinking Jesus was calling upon Elijah for help. However, it was the Lord Himself who “yielded up His Spirit,” not the leg-breaking Roman soldiers. Jesus the King is always in command. Jesus knew the revelation because He is the one who revealed it.

And yet even among some of the soldiers, such as the centurion, there were those whose eyes and ears were opened to the Gospel, who were given the revelation of the kingdom, and who proclaimed: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

We Christians confess with the centurion that Jesus is the Son of God, the Son of David, the Son of Man. We believe He is the King of an eternal kingdom. We believe He is our Savior – which is why we children raise palms and sing “Hosanna” to our King. We are the recipients of this revelation, and what is more, we are the recipients of the forgiveness of sins and of eternal life.

For “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that 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.”

And though the palms we wave on this day are part of a fallen and falling creation, and though they will either be burned to ashes or simply rot away, another revelation about the kingdom has been given to us. According to St. John in the Book of Revelation, we Christians will again wave palms, free of corruption and decay: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

That, dear friends, is the revelation of the kingdom. We have ears to hear. We are that kingdom. We wave palms to Jesus Christ our king. We have received forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And we will sing “all glory, laud, and honor” to our Redeemer-King for all eternity. Amen.

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

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