Catch More than the Majesty
4/4/04Times New RomanArial
Historically, this Sunday emphasizes the Passion of Christ with the palms being no more than the entrance rite for this particular Sunday. In the Reformation, the Lutherans changed that and made Palm Sunday the theme for this day, and if you'll listen and look about you today, you'll see that Palm Sunday carries the day in every liturgical Church. There is something irresistible about the parade into Jerusalem, the crowds shouting hosanna, and of course the palms. There's a real majesty to Jesus today as we sang in the sermon hymn. But as in the hymn so in this day, there's something else besides majesty here today, and it's actually that "something else" which makes this day so special to Christians like us.
Jesus does come into Jerusalem as He never came before, in royal majesty, denying done of the glory, laud and honor that rightly belongs to Him as the king of the Jews, the true heir in David's line. See Him assert His Lordship over His disciples. He commissions 2 of them with the command "Go." See Him assert His Lordship over creation by requisitioning a colt from it's owners commanding the disciples to tell them, "The Lord of it needs it." And see how not just the disciples and the owners obey, but even the young beast of burden does. It's no small feat to be the first one to ride a donkey colt. Yet the beast allows its Master, Creator, and Lord to ride.
We have no record of Jesus riding anywhere, at anytime except here. And as He rides into Jerusalem, do you catch the majesty? The people are tearing off their cloaks and throwing them on the road so Jesus can ride on them. They are tearing down branches, some of them palms, to make a royal, majestic carpet. But that's not all; they greet Him not just as their King, but as their Savior, that's what Hosanna means, and as their Messiah. And Jesus accepts it all. Where in the years previous He had been staying away from Messianic titles and worship, here and now He soaks them up.
Jesus rides right up to the temple, goes in to it, and looks around like He owns the place because indeed He does. Where's the Son of Man with no place to lay is head? Where's the Rabbi who doesn't have the money to pay His temple taxes? Where's the Jesus who was tired and hungry at the well in Samaria? Where's the Jesus who people tried to kill in Nazareth? It's all but a memory pushed into the background by this pomp and circumstance. Jesus has made it, and this is the Jesus the people want, and so do you. The people who follow such a Jesus as this wouldn't get depressed, sick, worried, or afraid. A Jesus who is so obviously the Lord of nature wouldn't let natural disasters harm His people. A Jesus who is the recognized king of religion would have the biggest, best, and most people in His churches. We want thee O Jesus of such majesty!
But there's more than majesty here, isn't there? There's this nagging little thing called reality which our sermon hymn shows well. The royal majesty is there, but there's something else. There's pomp but it's lowly, and angel armies who are not just wondering but sad, and though Jesus enters as a victorious conqueror in reality the "last and fiercest strife is" just beginning. Yes, Jesus is Savior, King, and Lord, but He's Lord of not even a full-grown donkey but a donkey's colt. While David put Solomon on a donkey to prove Solomon was his rightful heir, it wasn't a miserable, little colt. Haven't you ever seen how silly a full grown man looks sitting on a small horse? Don't you know that all the world believes riding even a full grown donkey to be beneath riding a horse? Yet royal Jesus rides a small donkey!
And don't think the world has missed this. In the second century pagans depicted Christ on the cross having the head of a donkey. Muslims in the Middle East right up till the 19th century required Christians to ride donkeys not horses. But even some Christians have embraced the symbol of the donkey. In Germany, the Palm Sunday procession into church had a Palmesel which was a wooden donkey on wheels bearing on its back the figure of Jesus. Yes, dear friends, the donkey is the accepted symbol of the Church of the crucified One.
Where's the majesty now? Even in the text it's fleeting. Jesus came as a conquering king but no Romans fled. Neither did sin, death or the devil. They're all here licking their chops. At last the One who God had foretold would crush their heads is here. He's no longer staying in the outlying areas. He's no longer hidden from them by divine protection. At last it's their hour. That's what Jesus says right after His triumphal entry. The hour has come for Him to die. It's time for the Son of Man to be crucified. He even says for the first time, "Now My soul has become troubled." There's something beside majesty here, and I can relate to it very well. There's the gathering gloom of death, the threatening of the devil, and the ever so oppressive sin I feel and breathe day in and day out.
You see this "something else" when Jesus goes to the temple too. Jesus goes to the temple like He owns the place, but Jesus isn't enthroned there, as He could and should have been. People didn't bow down before the reality that Jehovah who dwelled in a cloudy presence in the holy of holies stood before them in flesh and blood. No, like the condemned scapegoat Jesus was, He had to go outside the camp of Israel, outside Jerusalem this very night. Someone so full of sin, death, and the devil couldn't pollute the holy ground of Jerusalem. Someone whom God made to be sin, Someone whom God would give over to death, Someone whom God would give over to the torments of Satan, wasn't good enough for the holy city let alone the temple.
This Someone is the One we really need. This Jesus of the scars, this Jesus of the cross, the suffering, the sighing, the bleeding and the dying is the One who brings you back here Sunday after Sunday. What comfort, what help, what salvation would Jesus be if He had come to Jerusalem only in majesty, only as the Lord of lords and King of kings He is? Yes, there would rightly be all glory, laud and honor for Him but what would there be for us?
We don't just need a King, or a God, we need a Sacrifice. We don't just need a Good Shepherd we need an unblemished Lamb, and we don't just need a sacrificial Lamb we need a scapegoat. God had put all sins on Jesus publicly at His Baptism. He could only do that if Jesus was sinless. You can't bear anyone else's sins if you have your own to bear. You can't answer for anyone else's sins if you have to answer for your own.
The devil knew this and that's why right after the Baptism of Jesus he pounces on Him in the wilderness. If somehow the devil can make Jesus sin just once in thought, word, or deed, then Jesus can no longer be the bearer of our sins. Jesus didn't sin, and so comes here to Jerusalem as the Sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world, the Sacrifice to appease the wrath of God against sinners. He comes here as the answer to sin, and therefore as the death of death, and as the defeater of Satan. So you can see why sin, death, and the devil can't wait to get one clear shot at Him.
These unholy 3 will lose but there is tremendous comfort in how Jesus wins. He doesn't win by His majestic entrance. He doesn't win by the adulation of the crowds. He doesn't win by being enshrined gloriously in the temple. Jesus doesn't win by being popular, healthy, beautiful, or glorious. And Jesus does not win despite suffering, rejection, and affliction. Jesus wins, overcomes, is victorious over sin, death and the devil by suffering, by hardship, and by affliction.
Do you know what that means for those who follow Him? Suffering, rejection, and affliction are not out of place in our lives. If Jesus had overcome by being beyond suffering, by being accepted by the crowd, by being above affliction, He would be majestic indeed; He would be popular today, but He would be no comfort for those who suffer, are rejected or afflicted. If Jesus had entered Jerusalem only in majesty than He would mean something to people who know majesty in this life. If Jesus had entered Jerusalem only in glory than He would mean something to people who know glory in this life. If Jesus had entered Jerusalem only in beauty than He wold mean something to the beautiful people in life.
I know precious few people who are majestic, glorious, or beautiful in this life, and I have known none, seen none, been with none who looked or felt majestic, glorious, or beautiful in death. Real people need a Jesus who bows His meek head to bear their mortal pain. Real people need a Jesus who comes in lowly pomp to do what they cannot do. Real people need a Jesus who won the last and fiercest strife by dying their death, by paying for their sins, by letting Satan swallow Him in place of them. So shout it from the mountain tops, wave your palms in wild praise for the fact that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is the King of common, inglorious, ugly people. And most importantly shout and wave for the fact Jesus is the Savior of people who know the tormenting of sin, death, and the devil in this life.
Yes, there's majesty today. There's rightful recognition that Jesus is Lord. There's due praise for Jesus as Savior. Jesus fittingly stands in His temple today. So we properly sing all glory, laud and honor to Him, but there's something else in the air: A hint of suffering, a scent of sorrow, a suggestion of sacrifice. It is this something else that makes our difficult life not so difficult, our fallen life not so fallen, our sad life not so sad. The suffering, sorrowing, and sacrifice that hangs in the air on Palm Sunday promises the smell of Easter lilies. The victorious trumpets of Easter lilies only spring from a tomb where suffering, sorrowing, and sacrifice are put to an end because sin, death, and the devil are. But this can only happen at the tomb of our majestic Lord, Savior, and King. To be sure it will be an open tomb around which we shout our alleluias, but a tomb nonetheless. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (4-4-04); Mark 11: 1-10