Having finished our midweek sermon series on a certain faith in postmodern times, we certainly don't want to fall back into the abyss that your point of view changes reality. But you can see different things depending on your vantage point. Our text says that the Palm Sunday events looked different to the disciples after Easter than they did before.
Depending on your vantage point you'll answer the question of who is coming differently. On the one hand you'll see a king is coming. At this point, you could slip into the usual Palm Sunday lament that the crowds were looking for an earthly king to deliver them from the Romans. This misses the fact that Jesus did present Himself as their king.
Jesus had been doing this for a week or more. At Jericho, blind Bartimaeus called Jesus the messianic, kingly title "Son of David," and Jesus didn't rebuke Him, but ordered he be brought to Him as a king would. Then just yesterday, Jesus had permitted Mary to anoint His feet richly in the manner of a king. Though Mary and Jesus knew it was for burial, the rest of the disciples were indignant at the waste of money.
And now look. The crowd cries, "Blessed is the King of Israel!" And Jesus doesn't rebuke them, correct them, or stop them. They stream forth from Jerusalem carrying palm branches. The palm was like the national flag of Judea. Palms were used in rededicating the Temple in 164 BC. In 141 BC Simon Maccabeus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and palms were used to greet him. Palms were stamped on Jewish coins as a national symbol during the revolts against Rome that happened around 70 A.D. and 130 A.D. Waving palms to greet Jesus coming into a Roman occupied city would be like waving a French flag in Nazi occupied France. Yet Jesus lets them do it because He does come as their king.
But there's another vantage point. From here we see that Jesus enters as the true Passover Lamb. John goes out of his way to make sure you see this. Our text begins with the words, "The next day." This goes back to 12:1 where we read, "Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor." Palm Sunday is the next day. This was the day the Old Testament required people to select the Passover lamb for their homes. Jesus comes as the Lamb God has selected for His Passover.
From the kingly view, we get a sense of majesty. From this view you ought to get a sense of the pathos. Thinking of the Passover lambs selected by the people will help. Imagine if today a family left church and bought a baby goat. I know a place on Cameron road that sells them. They bring this cute baby goat home. The kids play with it; probably name it. On Thursday the parents and kids too know what's going to happen to the baby goat. If you can't get a sense of pathos from this, then you've never taken a stray puppy to the pound after it's been around your kids a few days.
Who's coming is answered differently and so is how He comes depending on your vantage point. You can see royalty in Jesus coming in riding a donkey. This is how David made sure everyone knew Solomon was his choice for king. He placed him on his donkey. Yet, John makes clear that Jesus came "seated on a donkey's colt." Here's a picture of humility. A grown man on a small donkey. His feet drag the ground. It's a laughable picture that lasted for centuries. Some Muslim countries use to require Christians ride donkeys instead of horses. In Rome, there is a 3rd century sketch on the wall of the Imperial pages' quarters. It's a crucified man with the head of a donkey. At the foot of the crucifix is a young man. The inscription reads, "Alexamenos worships his God."
From your vantage point who is coming? From your vantage point how is He coming? From where you stand why is Jesus coming? Here the vantage points merge into one. He's coming because of blood. The reason Jesus entered Jerusalem on this fateful day is because of the blood that runs through His veins.
Royal blood flows in Him. He is a legitimate Son of David. In modern terms, DNA could link Jesus' blood to that of David who lived a thousand years earlier. But there's more; Jesus' blood is divine. It's the blood of God. We Americans who've never known a monarchy, whose royalty is movie stars, athletes, and singers, have a hard time appreciating this. No one is before or behind us based on blood. Every now and again someone will refer to a family or person as being a "blue blood," but us Americans know everyone bleeds red.
Jesus did too, but His blood did give Him the right to reign over the Jews and over all people. It was the blood of David which was required to reign over Judea and it was the perfect blood of a Man which was required to reign over all mankind. Jesus won the right to sit on the throne of the world by never sinning. Though tempted by Satan himself in person, as opposed to you and I who are tempted at a distance, still Jesus didn't sin. Though all the temptations that attack you attacked Jesus, He remained sinless.
We readily acknowledge that whoever gets 51% of the vote has a right, and in our minds almost a divine right, to rule. Surely, the One who goes a lifetime without sinning in thought, word, or deed has a right to rule over us. He has done the impossible, the unimaginable, and surely the One who has Divine Blood coursing through His veins does have a Divine Right to rule over everyone else.
His life and blood win Him the title of King of the Jews and King of Mankind. But if you claim the throne of sinners; you claim their obligations too. When you buy a business, you don't just get its assets; you get its debts too. A court of law will hold you liable for them. Likewise, you ascend to the throne of a kingdom, and you fight its wars, come to its defense.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem to claim a kingdom that rightfully belongs to Him because of His holy life and Divine Blood. Because it's a kingdom of sinners it also means He comes to die. People picked their Passover lamb on this day. They took it home; the kids played with it and surely named it. Then on Thursday, the father took that lamb up to the Temple and, only for this sacrifice, did the father kill it with his own hands. The little lamb must bleed and die for his family. A priest caught the lamb's blood spewing from its severed artery in a bowl and handed it back till a priest splashed it at the base of the altar. The father than placed that slaughtered lamb across his shoulders and walked home. The family would feast thankfully on it that night. Since the Fall, the only way for human life to be sustained is for another life to die.
Jesus, God's Passover Lamb, comes today to die by His Father's hands. In Gethsemane, He will ask His Father if there is another way. There isn't. Even then Jesus knows He can call to His Father and He will instantly send 12 legions of angels to His rescue, but Jesus doesn't call. On the cross, the Father will do the bloody deed of putting His Son to eternal death. We know the Father is the one doing it because Jesus cries out to Him, "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?"
Jesus is forsaken on the cross for the same reason the father puts the knife to the throat of that innocent lamb and cuts it: for the sake of the Father's family. Our sins call for death. Your casual sin of losing patience, that passing lust, that fretful worry, has earned the wages of sin which is nothing short of death. The only way the angel of death passed over the homes of the Old Testament Church was if they were painted by the blood of the Passover Lamb. You can't get that much blood without killing it. So the Father could pass over our sins, He bled His little Lamb dry. There was no other way. Our enemies Death and Devil rightly called for our blood based on our sins. The Father gave them the Blood of His only Son instead.
From our various vantage points, we have answered who is coming; how He comes; why He comes, and now we answer when does He come? The crowd indicates the approach of their King and the Father's sacrifice with the words, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" During the coming week Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and promises, "You will not see Me again until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
When will Jerusalem that killed every prophet and stoned every messenger God sent to her ever say these words of praise to Jesus? On the Last Day. That's when Philippians says "every knee will 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's when every tongue will say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."
At the end of the ages Jesus comes, but not only then. Jesus comes not only at the end of the ages but at the beginning of the new age. You announce His coming every Sunday by singing, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," in the Communion liturgy. Jesus comes here as our king, and we bow and kneel before Him. Even though He comes humbly hidden in Bread and Wine, since He comes as our king we bring Him our requests, our problems, our battles. And because He comes as the One who was sacrificed for our sins, we eat His Body that was given for us even as the Old Testament Church ate the body of the Passover lamb given for them. But rather than painting His Blood over our doors to shield us from the angel of death, we drink it. His blood covers our sins and preserves us from death far more than any Passover lamb could or did.
The proper vantage point to greet the One who comes in the name of the Lord is with bowed heads, bended knees, and mouths opened wide to receive and praise Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20090405); John 12: 12-19