SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY, 4-14-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem begins with these words: “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives.
I’d like to simply pause there and think about the geography of it all – as we stand at the gate of Holy Week. Consider this detail that Jesus enters into Jerusalem from the East from the Mount of Olives. We’ve heard this before from the time we were all children, waving Palm Branches ourselves. But consider that for those first century Jews who lived and breathed in the writings of the prophets, and Scriptures, this should have been like an alarm bell, their eyes should be bulging, all should drop to their knees in absolute wonder. As they see the Messiah, the king, at his triumphal entry.
And why? Well, you see, God has always wanted to dwell with his people, since the very beginning. Think about his presence in the Garden at the dawn of creation, perfect communion between God and man. Think about his dwelling among his chosen people after their exodus from Egypt. God instructed Moses, saying, “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” Recall His presence in the pillar of cloud illuminated by the Divine Glory filling the tabernacle.
God’s glory later came to dwell in the temple built by Solomon. But just like the splendor and radiance of paradise, that glory was short lived. Because the people fell into false belief and apostasy.
They turned away from the true God to the worship of idols, and it was only a matter of time before that luminous shimmering glory of God departed from that earthly temple.
Ezekiel, in his day, had a haunting vision of this departure. He writes in chapter 10: Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. In other words, the divine chariot of the presence of God moves to the east gate of the temple, poised to leave the defiled area completed.
This was judgment on the temple. A judgment against the wicked kings. A judgment against God’s people. How devastating. How tragic.
But when that glory departed God did not leave His people without a promise. Just listen to this prophecy of Ezekiel which follows “Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory.”
So the glory, the presence of God, the Shekinah, has left but will surely come back from the East, and the temple, a greater temple will arise – the Shekinah will return in a far superior way – that is the prophecy and the promise.
It’s a promise about the glory of the Incarnate Lord who will establish His Kingdom and reigns forever.
So how about those wise men following that bright shining star? How about those shepherds at Christmas seeing the glory of the Lord light up the sky as angels announced the birth of the Savior King? How about the coming of Christ, the glory of God in the flesh, coming to dwell with his people, as our Immanuel. Recall our Gospel reading on Christmas morning: “And the Word, that is Christ, became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Ponder deeply those words of Jesus to the Pharisees, seeking to entrap him, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.”
It’s Jesus approaching from the East, from the Mount of Olives, east of the temple, just as Ezekiel prophesied it would all happen. The glory of the Lord is returning. The glory and presence of God is on the move. But this time, he’s not being carried off by flying cherubim, on a divine chariot. No war horses or stallions here. No. The Lord is entering in exactly in the way the prophet Zechariah said he would (some 500 years earlier): 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.”
Got it? It’s Palm Sunday. It’s the Return of the King. And I’m not talking about Lord of the Rings. This is much greater. It’s the Story with a capital S from which all other stories find their inspiration, at least the good ones. About God becoming man in Christ, to dwell with his people. To overthrow our enemies of sin, hell, and the grave and bring everlasting peace. You see when Christ comes riding in, he brings with him the glory of Yahweh, He is the glory of Yahweh, the eternal God, made manifest in flesh and blood. And guess what? This King is coming to take His throne upon the cross.
So what sort of King do you have? Listen to St. Paul this morning in our epistle: Have this mind among yourselves…He your king, made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he 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 is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What sort of king do you have? Behold Him, your King, coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey. A beast of burden to carry your sorrows. His kingly crown will not be made of gold but of thorns, the sign of sin’s curse. His royal reign is seen in bearing this curse for His people, for you, saving us from our enemies by sacrificing his own life. The cross and passion of Our Lord are the hour of His glory. The cross is his throne.
The sinless one takes your place so that you can be freed and bear the name “Barabbas,” which means “son of the Father.” Because through baptism that’s just what you are, God’s son – and an heir through faith.
Jesus was speaking of his own body, his death, and resurrection when he said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” You have a crucified King. One who died yet rose for your justification.
It is at the name of this exalted Savior, Jesus, that we bow in humble faith. With the centurion who declared, “Truly this was the Son of God!” we are also given to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This morning we stand at the gate of Holy Week. We worship the crucified, risen, and ascended King Jesus. And in him, is the glory of the Lord, and in Him heaven and earth meet.
The crucified and risen Lord reigns as King on the altar this morning. So don’t miss him as He rides in humble and mounted on bread and wine. Body and blood which pardons, forgives, and whose presence dwells within you. That you would truly be his temple, in whom he dwells through His Holy Spirit. That he would be your God and you his people. In the name of Jesus. Amen.