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2023-04-02 Palm Sunday

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and had to stay home from church with his mom. His father returned home from church and brought his son one of the palm branches. The little boy was curious and asked “Dad, why do you have that palm branch?” His dad answered “When Jesus came to town, everyone waved palm branches to honor Him. So we also got palm branches today.” The little boy got a disgruntled look on his face and said “Dang it! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!”

Aren’t you glad you didn’t skip church today?! Our Lenten journey is nearly complete again for another year. From the desert confrontation with the devil, Nicodemus at night, the woman at the well, the man born blind, Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and now the green palms of Palm Sunday, at long last, Holy Week now stands before us. This journey is a familiar one. The beaten path is solid after thousands of years of walking down this same road. It is a road that leads to the cross, suffering and shame. But first there is a pre-victory celebration!

Palm Sunday. We encounter it in the Gospels where we see the whole city of Jerusalem having a grand parade for Jesus. As He rode into town the people threw their cloaks and palm branches on the ground, fully believing that this Jesus was the Military Conquering Messiah who would lead the rebellion against the Romans and crush some skulls! As we learned in our Lenten Bible Study, the Palm Branch was not a symbol of peace but rather of war. The Jews who fought against the Greeks before the Romans, like Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus, used the palm branch on their coins to put their military might on display. No doubt this was the backdrop and context for our Lord’s palm-based greeting in Jerusalem.

But the crowds had also heard the absolutely astonishing story of Lazarus from last Sunday too. They were fired up to see for themselves the prophet who could even raise people from the dead! There were lines longer than those for mini-donuts at the fair! People wanted to see Jesus! They believed in Him! And so there was grand celebration and expectation where the capacity crowds thoroughly believed that Jesus would be the Savior. But despite the resurrection of 4 day-dead Lazarus, the crowds just had their hearts set on a political Savior. Someone who would roll into town, rally the people and route the Romans! Finally, the Hebrews would assume their rightful place as top dog in society they imagined! He would ride into Jerusalem on a gold plated chariot drawn by the finest war horses money could buy! … But the donkey should have been their first clue that something was up. Glorious Kings and Champions of War don’t come to town like this. Perhaps though, a few astute members of the crowd would no doubt be remembering the Prophets of old who said of the Messiah: “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, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). And to this grand revealing of Prophecy fulfilled they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (MT 21:9).

God’s grand master plan of salvation had come! But there was this mixture of prophecies and expectations. The prophecies all seemed to be coming true in Jesus. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk! Lazarus, just signed a book deal about death and dying for crying out loud! But the crowd was still hung up on the Maccabees-Mindset. Let those Palm Branches roll! They wanted so bad to get rid of the Romans and rule the roost. They weren’t envisioning the heavenly Kingdom that Jesus brings. They weren’t considering spiritual blessings, which are far greater than earthly ones. At best, they had their minds firmly fixed on “daily bread” rather than the fullness of God’s amazing plan to bring light and life to a darkness ridden, dead world of sin. At worst, they had their minds made up to kill the author of life for reasons of jealousy. “The Pharisees said to one another, You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him” (JN 12:19).

And yet, the Lord rides on. In lowly pomp He rides into Jerusalem. The palm branches wave. The cloaks are laid down like a red carpet to welcome the King. For His supporters, for His detractors, for His friends, for His enemies, Jesus rides into town. Likewise, He willingly goes to the cross. He voluntarily submits to the plans of the evil people. He purposely makes His way to the cross. Here He would show the world the ultimate definition of deliverance and salvation.

If the season of Lent teaches us anything, it should be this: Christ Jesus our Lord lays down His life for His friends – and also His enemies. This is the most scandalous thing about the cross, is it not? For those who love Jesus and for those who hate Him, He shows the same grace and mercy. His forgiveness, life and salvation are offered to all people of all times and places. To those who waved the palms and to those who plotted His death. The message of the love of Christ is the message that is over all.

We struggle with this. A lot. To allow God’s amazing grace to so fill our lives that we know and trust that our sins are forgiven. They have been removed as far as the east is from the west away from us. That all of us who are friends of God began as His enemies. In His great mercy, He has called us by the Gospel to believe that Jesus is the real-deal Messiah. And now, our lives become this giant quest to be as Christ like as Jesus is. Loving not only the people we like but also the people we can’t stand to be around. Instead of talking about other people in a negative way, we speak kindly of them and put the best construction on it. Instead of fixing our minds on the hurtful things others have done, we flood our minds with the grace of Christ that willingly suffered all things for our salvation. We struggle with this. A lot.

But this is the purpose of Palm Sunday. It’s why we wave our Palms today – to welcome our humble King into our lives again this day. The incredible grace our Lord has shown to us becomes a gift we can also show to others. The grace of God’s kingdom trumps all of our earthly struggles. The light of Christ shines brightly in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem, knowing full well that the glad shouts of “Hosanna!” will soon be exchanged for shouts of “Crucify!” The other prophecy, written by Isaiah would likewise come to fruition, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (53:3). Yet, He onward He goes, willingly to the cross, for the same reason. He goes there for you. Thanks and praise be to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen!

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