A sermon preached Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD by the Rev. Justin Clemente.
The Triumphal Entry?
What a day! I often refer to Palm Sunday as the Super Bowl of Sundays, just because it’s so different from other Sundays – there’s so much going on! On the other hand, when we come to the Triumphal Entry, it some how feels a little, well, underwhelming. As “Hosanna” comes off of the lips of the disciples that greet Jesus, you can sense their desire that he “save NOW!” Liberate by force NOW! But this is not that kind of parade. Donkeys, you may have noticed, are not war horses. And at the center of Palm Sunday is Jesus – so far as we know, he never rode anywhere except on this occasion (!). And so, when Jesus calls for this colt that’s never been ridden, this is deeply meaningful. Anyone who was paying attention would have seen in Jesus’ actions a startling fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah (9:9) and a prior prophecy from the book of Genesis (49:11). These passages refer to the divine and rightful King who is at the same time the Humble Servant. What the crowd did not get and what we cannot miss, is that Jesus comes as the king who will cast of his crown and meet us at our deepest need. And because of that he will be forever exalted, forever praised, and forever worshiped.
Highly Exalted Because of His Death
This morning, our reading in Philippians 2:5-11 makes this point explicit by reminding us that:
“Being found in human form, [Jesus] 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, 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.”
That first Palm Sunday, what the first disciples did not comprehend is that Jesus would be highly exalted, not for conquering Rome and liberating national Israel, but for conquering the sin and death which held all humanity, including us, as captives. The price for winning that war was far higher and the condescension required on his behalf far deeper than they had yet to imagine. But it is because of this that our knees and the knees of millions throughout the world this very day now bow – not out of fear, but out of love for our redemption. And here, we must pause to note that it is same love which will draw others near the cross with us.
Peter Kreeft writes:
“Calvary is judo. The enemy’s own power is used to defeat him. Satan’s craftily orchestrated plot, rolled along according to plan by his agents Judas, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, culminated in the death of God. And this very event, Satan’s conclusion, was God’s premise. Satan’s end was God’s means. God won Satan’s captives – us – back to himself by freely dying in our place.
It is, of course, the most familiar, the most often told story in the world. Yet it is also the strangest, and it has never lost its strangeness, its awe, and will not even in eternity, where angels tremble to gaze at things we yawn at. And however strange, it is the only key that fits the lock of our tortured lives and needs. We needed a surgeon, he came and reached into our wounds with bloody hands. He didn’t give us a placebo or a pill or good advice. He gave us himself.”
Son of the Father, Exchanged
He gave us himself. I want to end by highlighting this in one other place as we see it in The Passion. After Pilate’s initial verdict of “not guilty” we’re told in Luke 23 that the Jewish leadership eggs on the crowd and that, “They all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder” (Luke 23:18-19). Do you know what the name Barabbas means? I didn’t. I never caught it. It means “son of the father.” Here, a revolutionary and an insurrectionist – someone willing to take on Rome – is released by the crowd, while Yeshua, whose name means “God’s salvation” and who is the true “Son of the Father” is condemned. The rebel goes free, while God himself becomes the rebel. The guilty one is pardoned, the Innocent One condemned. The Son becomes a prodigal, the prodigal is given new life. The king casts off his crown and takes up the Cross of another. Mine. Yours. Ours.
G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king.”
Our rightful king came to his throne, and the shocking thing that we discover here in this week, is that the throne turns out to be the Cross. Just as shocking, we find that we exiled him there. What’s more, he pleaded from that throne for our forgiveness and he obtained that forgiveness himself with his precious blood and death. From time to time, we sing the song “Father, Open Our Eyes” by Jamie Brown. I leave you with some of the lyrics:
Infinite grace and mercy, tenderness deep and wide
A strong lion for our defense, a humble lamb as our sacrifice
How can we take Him for granted? How can our hearts become hard?
Oh, that again we would run to our friend, embraced by the grace in His arms
Innocent, perfect beauty, met by our wicked sin
The King eternal becomes the judged, His enemies to be made His friends
How can we take Him for granted? How can our hearts become stone?
Oh, that today we would fall on our face, undone by the love He has shown
This Holy Week, come squarely beneath the Cross of Jesus this week, receive his forgiveness and his triumph anew.
To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
Painting by Michael O’Brien (http://studiobrien.com/). Used with permission.