Today Jesus enters into Jerusalem to suffer and die. First Satan tried to stop this in the wilderness, when he enticed Jesus to use His power to save Himself. Having failed, Satan next speaks through the voice not of Judas, but Peter of all people, when after Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter insisted, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Immediate satisfaction, no suffering: that’s the way of Satan. And sadly, how many Christian churches teach the same exact thing? It seems the want to have Palm Sunday and Easter, but not Good Friday.
Well, the church has seen fit to celebrate Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday at the same time, for in this way, there is no mistaking: there is no victory without suffering. And lest we forget that God’s plan includes suffering both for Jesus and for you, remember what Jesus said: Take up your cross and follow me. Fear not, for God is in control, and things are going according to plan. Even Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem happened exactly as God has said it would, well over 500 years before it happened through the prophet Zechariah.
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
But St. John tells us Jesus’ disciples did not understand these things at first. And could you blame them? Today we not only have Zechariah and Palm Sunday, but we have Good Friday and Easter too, and we still have doubts and often fail to discern God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. We forget what sort of King Jesus was, just like the disciples, and we forget what it is like in His Kingdom. It’s not one of power and glory; not this side of heaven, at least. On earth, His kingdom is marked with suffering and death.
Jesus isn’t a worldly King and His Kingdom is not of this world. He rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed animal and the crowds put palm branches and garments in the road because He had nothing of His own. Jesus isn’t your typical King. He wasn’t concerned with worldly riches and power. He was content with borrowing a crib from some animals and borrowing some animals for His chariot.
We struggle today when we have the same false expectations of Jesus as did those living in the 1st century. Our priorities are often worldly; Jesus’ are not. We want to go from victory to victory; from the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday right to Easter. But we must not forget the reason why Jesus made His way into Jerusalem, the very thing both Satan and Peter tried to prevent: Jesus’ death on the cross for your sin.
Death isn’t all bad. If it weren’t for our Lord’s death, we’d suffer eternally in hell. The same goes for our death to sin through the waters of Holy Baptism, and our daily dying and rising through confession and absolution. You see, we’re dead either way. But without the grace of God, we stay that way. But by His grace, He raises you up to new life. So take, eat: His living Body and blood, for there is Life in this Bread from Heaven and in His blood.
Our Lord’s teaching is not a worldly one. His doctrine is both strange and wonderful, which couldn’t be any more at odds with the ways of this world. Jesus doesn’t sugar-coat it, He tells it like it is. Life isn’t about doing whatever makes you happy. That’s the way of Satan, and the sinful flesh would go along with this all too willingly. It just goes to show how lost and hopeless apart from His grace. This is a hard teaching, one that goes against every last fiber of the Old Adam’s being. But what a relief this is! With Jesus, you don’t have to pretend everything’s okay. Pretending you’re okay is not only exhausting, it’s a lie. It’s okay to not be okay.
So Jesus turns everything on its head. It may be jarring, but it’s the only way. Deep down, you know things aren’t the way they should be. The only way for things to get right-side up again is for Jesus to first turn everything upside down. According to the experts, Jesus’ preaching shouldn’t have worked. You should all be offended by it and leave, never to come back. Why do you sit here week after week, confessing your sins and pleading for mercy? Because, by the grace of God, you know it’s the truth. So deep is our corruption that the sinful flesh cannot be reformed; it must be put to death. There’s nothing more comforting than to acknowledge your desperate need and to receive the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus isn’t a worldly King and His Kingdom is not of this world. Here’s a king who defeats His enemies through death. He’s a different sort of a King because His reign didn’t come to an end when He died. If anything, it was just beginning. Jesus is not a King who reigns through diplomacy and democracy. He reigns among His saints now through Word and Spirit, and in the eternal Holy City as the Heavenly Bridegroom.
Jesus didn’t meet the people’s expectations. Nor does His Church. The Church isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s full of broken sinners. But when broken sinners gather together, there is Jesus binding them up. For the Good Doctor came not for the healthy, but to heal the sick.
The disciples knew what Zechariah and the Old Testament said about Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and even Easter, but still, when it happened, it came as a surprise. Right when it mattered most, it was as if they had never heard of these things before. It just goes to show: you can’t know Scripture too well.
Like the disciples, you’ve heard the gracious promises of your Lord before. But it seems we forget them right when we need them most. The cares of this life are at war with your Spirit, constantly threatening to take your eyes off Christ and Him crucified. It’s easy to celebrate the glory of the triumphal entry and forget about the agony of Good Friday. It’s easy to thank God for the good things and despair when suffering. But this isn’t the way of the cross. Jesus went there so that you might live in daily contrition and repentance, that He might raise you up by His life-giving Absolution.
We do well to learn from crowds on Palm Sunday. They lost sight of who Christ was. The King they saw in their mind was not the same King that Zechariah described. Jesus’ disciples are those who abide in His Word, who make it their daily bread and live by it. His Word reminds us who we really are and who Jesus really is. Only God’s Word can show us how desperately we need God’s grace, and how eager He is to give it.
Soli Deo Gloria
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 12:12—19
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, 2014