Sermon audio here.
Everything was going according to plan. Christ, the Son of David, had finally come to Jerusalem. Surely it was only a matter of time before this heir to David’s throne would take His rightful place in the capital city, overthrow the Romans, and restore the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory.
And it was about time! Living under foreign rule hadn’t exactly been a picnic. Under the Seleucids, it was illegal to own a copy of the Bible. They even made circumcision, the sacred sign of the covenant between God and Israel, a crime punishable by death.
Antiochus Epiphanies, the worst of the Seleucids, set up a statue of Zeus in the Jewish temple court, sacrificed a pig on the altar, and demanded that the Israelite priests participate in pagan sacrifices.
Naturally, the Jews revolted and were led to victory by the Maccabees. The celebration, however, was short-lived. Civil war broke out, and the Jewish leaders looked to Rome for help. Rome was only too happy to oblige, and, for their services, imposed a tax on the Jews.
Things only got worse when the Roman ruler Archelaus went into the temple during the Passover, murdered 3,000 Jews, and then cancelled their festival. You don’t cancel the Passover! That was the last straw. Again, the Jews went into battle, this time led by the zealots.
But this time, they were rewarded for their efforts not with independence, but with the destruction of their city, their temple, and the death or capture of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Dissatisfied with Roman rule, it’s no surprise that the crowds tried to make Jesus king by force after He’d fed the 5,000. Not only was He benevolent, hadn’t He Himself taught that He was the Christ, a King? And though He clearly taught that His Kingdom was not of this world, that His throne was at the Right Hand of God, His enemies seized on this teaching and used it to accuse our Lord of treason.
St. Luke writes,
“Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”[i]
In response to Pilate’s desire to release Jesus, the crowds again fell back on our Lord’s claim to sovereignty, saying, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”[ii]
Even right up to the point of His Ascension into heaven, the disciples were looking for Christ to overthrow the Romans. They had taken what our Lord had said about His Kingdom out of context and heard what they’d wanted to hear. Their vision of Christ’s reign was very much political.
It’s with this context in mind that we hear the crowd in today’s Holy Gospel shout the politically-charged phrase, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They didn’t intend these words as praise and worship.
David was, after all, the most beloved politician in Israel’s history. “Hosanna to the Son of David” was very much the sort of chant you’d expect to hear at a political rally. There was no love lost between the Jews and the Romans, and Christ was their candidate. They were looking for Jesus to make Jerusalem great again.
But then things, as they so often do, took a horrible turn for the worse—at least, from the people’s perspective. Soon it became apparent that Christ would wear a crown not of gold, but thorns. The crowds began to chant “traitor” instead of “Son of David” and “crucify” instead of “hosanna.”
Even His disciples began to panic and flee. Peter denied even knowing Him. This from the very disciple who surely saw himself, once upon a time, as chief of staff in a Christ Administration.
A similar reversal of fortunes recently took place in American politics. Prior to the election, Secretary Clinton was up in virtually all the polling. At one point, she’d even wondered aloud why she wasn’t up by 50 points. Victory was all but assured. For many, the election was just a formality, regardless of who they supported.
And then November 8th happened, which has been hailed as the biggest upset in U.S. political history.
Now whether it’s politics or anything else, a sudden reversal of fortunes can be jarring—for us. But it’s not for Jesus. He’s been in complete control the entire time, both on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, on Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, on the day you were born and on the day you will die—today, yesterday, and forever.
There has never been a time when God wasn’t in control. He who watches of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. And even when our Lord was sound asleep on a boat in the middle of a storm, even then He had everything under control.
The disciples, as usual, we panicking, no doubt getting ready for last rites. You’d think surviving that storm and seeing our Lord in action again and again would have better prepared them for Good Friday and the agony of the week that followed, but it just goes to show that nothing can cure the Old Adam of his atheism. You would rather worry than trust that your Lord has everything under control. If you truly believed He did, you’d never worry.
As for the election, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or independent. Our trust is in Christ alone, not politicians. As the Psalm says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”[iii]
And this trust in Christ is especially needed because life rarely goes according to plan—our plans, at least. But God’s will—His plans—are always done.
The trouble with God’s plans is that we don’t always know what they are. His plan for your salvation has been revealed in His Word and is proclaimed to you week after week. But as for the day-to-day stuff, there’s no way of knowing God’s will until it happens. That’s why we call it living by faith.
The other problem we have with God’s plans is that we don’t always like them. That’s why the Christian life is one of daily contrition and repentance.
Seminary students often wrestle with the question of whether or not they’ve been called to be a pastor, if that’s in God’s plan for them. But the fact is, they have no such call until they receive one from a church.
One of my professors once told our class a story about a prospective student who woke him up at like 2am and was driving through the night from Kentucky or somewhere because he had this feeling in his gut and just knew he had to be a pastor.
My professor told him that his feeling was probably indigestion—we can turn anything into a sign from God—and that he should turn his car around and apply to the seminary the normal way, like every other student.
We like signs and feelings, but God prefers the mundane. You can catch a baseball at an important game and take that to be sign from heaven that you should go pro, but probably a better indication is whether or not you have any athletic talent.
God has given you freedom when it comes to deciding on a whole host of things, from what to wear to career path, but He does set limits. God formed you with great care, giving you particular DNA, particular aptitudes and abilities, but not others.
Sometimes you might feel called to do something, like some of the guys I knew who went to seminary but never graduated. One guy even failed vicarage twice before giving up. And it’s probably good that he tried again. Just because God said no the first time doesn’t mean He can’t be persuaded.
Perseverance is a virtue, so long as your plans aren’t contrary to what God has revealed in His Word. So by all means, we try again within reason or find something else. This is where we rely not on signs from heaven for guidance, but on God’s gift of reason. As for my friend at the seminary, God had other plans for him.
Frustration and worry are always sinful, and the only thing we can do with sin is to repent of it. To worry is to doubt the good and gracious will of God, which is always done. Worry stems from wanting to be in control, which is a job that belongs to God alone. But we’ve taken our own, idolatrous plans, turned them into gospel, and sought refuge and comfort in them.
Consider the parable of the talents. To some are given five, to others two, and to others, only one. We all want to be given five, not two, and certainly not only one. But this exposes the greed in our hearts.
Everything God gives you remains His, and whatever He entrusts to your stewardship, however much or little, is more than any of us deserve. The important thing is not how much you’ve been given, but that you use it faithfully, be it abilities, possessions, money, or opportunities.
Whatever it is you’re planning, whether it’s how to spend your life, your time, your money, even what to do today, the driving question should always be, “What best serves the Gospel? How can I best live by faith in God and in fervent love toward my neighbor?”
On Palm Sunday, Christ shows us that life is about expending yourself for the benefit of others. That’s something you can always do, however much or little you’ve been given.
Consider just how little our Lord had, that though the earth is His and the fullness thereof, that He gave it all up for your sake, so that you, through His poverty, might become rich. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head.[iv]
Behold, O daughter of Zion, your King is coming to you, humble, and proclaiming Holy Absolution, cleansing you with His own blood, not begrudging you for the unfairness that God willed Him to suffer for your sins. It was an injustice He suffered gladly.
The Son is not jealous that His Father regards you as His own beloved child, even though “child” is a title which rightly belongs only to His only-begotten. Yet, you who call upon God as Father are all sons of God through faith.
Your King has not only given you a place to live, a luxury which He was denied in this life, but has baptized you into an eternal inheritance, complete with a room in His Father’s house and seat with Him on His throne, where you will reign with Him for all eternity.
Your King comes to you today in flesh and blood, not to set up a political kingdom, but to give you the life He won by His death, to assure you of His plans to prosper you and not to harm you.
Behold, O daughter of Zion, your King comes.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] St. Luke 23:1–3
[ii] St. John 19:12
[iii] Psalm 146:3
[iv] St. Matthew 8:20