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2024-03-24 Palm Sunday

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

Our Old Testament lesson comes to us from a troubled time in the history of God’s people. It takes place just after the exile so the majority of people were not feeling super great about life or about their relationship to God. There was not much hope in exile, but the faithful held tightly to God’s promise of deliverance – just as they were delivered from slavery under the Egyptians. But there was also the promise of the Messiah, that God would send someone to deliver them from oppression. Therefore as we read this short lesson, we read the words “Rejoice greatly” and “Shout aloud” as the prophet implored the ancient people of God to celebrate God’s faithfulness and promises to them despite the overall unpleasant conditions of exile.

Zechariah prophesied today’s reading to encourage God’s people back then that, yes, your King is coming to you! Hang in there. Chin up. Your King is coming. And this King is a righteous king, referring to his royalty, his legitimacy, that this coming one is the correct and rightful heir to the throne. Also, this King is said to be “having salvation” – but this isn’t quite what the Hebrew text actually is getting at. Rather, this means that this King is saved. Weird, isn’t it?! The English translation that we have doesn’t give us this detail. But what is meant by it is that the coming King is restored to his place only because God will have intervened – that God will enable him to assume power. Therefore, this King’s reign is dependent upon divine action, not human effort. This brings to mind Psalm 33:16 that says “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

This coming King is humble and lowly. This King doesn’t need the pomp and circumstance that normal Kings of men demand and the people expect to see. Zechariah says that this king is humble and that is illustrated as he comes to the city riding on a donkey. Most Kings would arrive on beautifully adorned chariots, drawn by strong war horses – like those mentioned in verse 10. But we see from the Psalm that even the mighty war horse is a false hope for salvation. Rather, this King comes humbly and brings peace to the nations. But also here, nations in the Hebrew refers to the gentiles, those who have been outside of the chosen people of God. It is only this King who can bring peace to not only God’s chosen people, but also to those who have been outside of God’s promises.

This is indeed a beautiful prophecy from the Old Testament – which is another great reason to be well steeped in it, just as well as the New. And it is in the New Testament when we actually get to see just who this King was, is, and is to come. It is Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ. “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:1-11).

All of the four Gospels record our Lord Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is because it is so important to hear about the King who is coming to you! King Jesus is humble and lowly, and in this manner He comes. But this way, God’s way, is not what people expect or necessarily want. The Jews at the time of Jesus earthly ministry were looking for a triumphant, military King who would come in and kick the Romans out and set up an earthly reign. Someone who would make their enemies into a foot stool. Someone brave who would lead the armies to conquer their lands and take all their goods and put them into slavery for a change! The Jews wanted a military warrior King who would rule over the gentile horde with an iron fist!

And the majority of people today, Christians today, want exactly the same thing! We look for a God just like that in our life. A visibly glorious God! A God who gives us prosperity that the world can see and envy! Riches, wealth, health, and status above and beyond the non-believers. We even ask ourselves, doubtingly, that “if God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just step in and stamp out all the evil that is in this world?!” But all too often, we look at the world and we are tempted to think that this all powerful God has turned His back on his creation.

A couple of years ago there was a rather odd game show on TV. It was put out by the BBC and it was called “The Weakest Link!” People were asked a bunch of questions, then they were voted off and ridiculed when their stupidity proved them to be the “Weakest Link!” To the non-believing world, Jesus looks exactly like this weakest link! He comes into town riding a donkey?! What kind of “triumphal” entry is that?! But this so called weakness is actually righteousness and humility. This King, King Jesus, is righteous and humble – and He comes in ways that we don’t expect, and often this seems weird to us. People always look for the mega-powerful, sovereign, glory-parade, military conquering God! … Jesus shows up, riding a donkey.

This whole scenario sets the stage to answer the question of why Jesus comes to Jerusalem in the first place. He had His eyes set on the cross. The humiliating death of common criminals – anything was more glorious and triumphant than the slow, bleeding death of the cross. Yet it was there, on that old rugged cross that Jesus did conquer! It was nothing short of divine intervention – that God would break into this world of sin and take on human flesh in the God-Man Jesus Christ! The death that Jesus died won forgiveness for you and for me!

And now He comes to us today, and we celebrate with Palms and Hosannas to remember the event, to remember the coming of our King. But this King of ours comes to us in ways we don’t expect. He came to us on the cross. He comes to us in the waters of our Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion. These are the mysteries of Christ, the sacraments, where God works His miracles of faith. We look at these things and we think “what?! How can this be!?” How is an all powerful, conquering King present in there? But he is. This King is righteous and humble and comes in the common place things: water, bread, and wine – all places that don’t make any sense to the way we think of glory for a King of Kings.

We can be tempted even to question these mysteries. Thoughts like “Why don’t I feel anything when I take Communion?” Or “I don’t feel any different after being baptized!?” But all the while, this humble King is there, working in ways we perceive only by faith. Baptism and Holy Communion contain the promises of God: forgiveness for our sins, life and salvation, fellowship, family and love. Therefore we must hold to these promises just like the ancients of Zechariah’s day.

God the Father has caused Jesus Christ to conquer as King – not only of the Jews but also of the gentiles, us, who have now been grafted in to the vine of God’s promises. And as Jesus has conquered the powers of sin, death and the devil by His precious sacrifice on the cross we now are members of His kingdom and participate in His peace and his hope – even as the entire world around us is blinded by shadows. By the power of this humble and righteous King, He changes us by his Word to have hearts of humility and righteousness that flow out to our neighbours. We now seek to serve not ourselves but to serve our conquering King – and we serve Him by serving our neighbours.

So it turns out that the words of a prophet from long ago now abide and dwell in our hearts and minds today as we consider this humble and righteous King who makes His way to us today on Palm Sunday. To the world, Jesus is nothing more than the “weakest link.” But to us, those who have been washed in the humble water and word of our Baptism, we have in Christ an unbreakable connection to everlasting victory, life and salvation. May the work of this humble and righteous King keep your hearts and minds ever mindful of His journey to the cross for us. Amen. Hosanna to the Son of David!

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