Jesus Gives Much More Than He Is Given.
Palm Sunday – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 21:1-9
In Christ Jesus, “the Son of Man,” who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28), dear fellow redeemed:
It was not just another Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem. He had come there many times before, but this time was different. Shortly before this Jesus had called his dead friend Lazarus back to life. News about the miracle had spread throughout Judea, and now many who heard about it were coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Would Jesus come there too?
It was not a sure thing. The people knew how much the chief priests and the members of the ruling Jewish Council despised Jesus. They charged Him with blasphemy and wanted to have Him arrested. It felt as though something was about to happen. It seemed like some sort of showdown or struggle for power was unavoidable. It was hard not to favor Jesus, since no one else could do the things He was doing.
We see how excited the people were about Jesus by how willing they were to accommodate Him. All Jesus had to do was express his need for a donkey and its colt, and they were freely given to Him. There was no lengthy negotiation. No contract was signed, and no deposit was left. Finding a suitable way to ride the donkey was no problem either. The disciples removed their cloaks and draped them over the animal, so Jesus would have a comfortable place to sit.
By this time, word had spread about Jesus’ presence in the area. Great crowds of people came out of Jerusalem to meet Him. As He rode along, He didn’t have to worry about dust getting kicked up on the road, because the people spread their cloaks in front of Him on the road. Others cut branches from palm trees and laid those down also.
Jesus was certainly getting the “royal treatment”! In fact the crowd had exactly this in mind. They cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 9). “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mar. 11:10). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luk. 19:38), “even the King of Israel!” (Joh. 12:13).
This was not some idea thrown out by the crowds on a whim. They believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that He would take the throne of his forefather David. The Jewish people knew their Scriptures. They knew the LORD’s promise to David that He would raise up an offspring of David whose kingdom and throne would be established forever (2Sa. 7:12-13).
They also recognized that the words of Psalm 118 applied to the coming Messiah. This is where their “hosanna” and “blessed is He” came from as Jesus approached Jerusalem. The translation of the Hebrew word “hosanna” is “save us, we pray.” As the people sang the Lord’s praises, they quoted directly from this Psalm: “[Hosanna]—Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (vv. 25-26).
It appeared that whatever could go right for Jesus was going right. The Pharisees threw up their hands and said, “Look, the world has gone after him” (Joh. 12:19). It seemed like whatever earthly glory Jesus wanted was His for the taking. He was hailed as a King, the people gladly let the donkey He rode walk on their cloaks, and they welcomed Him as the coming Messiah.
But those gifts and praises had shallow roots. The donkey, for one thing, was not His to keep. He probably returned it when He went back to the town of Bethany that night (Mar. 11:11). The people picked up their cloaks and dusted them off, and for all their eagerness to give them to Jesus on Sunday, He would be hanging on a cross naked by Friday. The enthusiastic cries of “hosanna!” and “blessed is He!” stopped too. They were soon replaced by mockery, jeering, and cries of “crucify Him!”
What Jesus was given on Palm Sunday did not hold up. They were appropriate gifts at the time, and we see that each part was a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. But Palm Sunday was not the ultimate goal. Jesus had not come to Jerusalem to receive earthly glory. He came to win heavenly glory for sinners.
To do this, Jesus had to walk a lonely path. Only He could travel it. He had to shoulder the burden of all sin and carry it to the cross where it must be atoned for by His death. We see in these loving actions how Jesus Gives Much More Than He Is Given.
He had the benefit of a donkey to ride as He came to Jerusalem. But that donkey’s burden was light compared to what Jesus carried. People offered their cloaks and palm branches to prepare the way to Jerusalem’s gates. But Jesus gives His own righteousness to prepare sinners to enter the gates of heaven. Many welcomed Jesus as an earthly king. But Jesus lifts us up to reign with Him in His eternal kingdom. Jesus Gives Much More.
We could never match these immeasurable gifts of Jesus. But our sinful nature makes us think we can. Our prideful self loves to be recognized for the good things we do. There are many—Christians included—who think that these good things put them in better standing with God. They believe that the more good works they do, the better chance they have of getting to heaven.
We know this is not the case. We know we cannot earn favor with God by what we do. We know we cannot get into heaven by any of our own efforts. We are saved by God’s grace through the faith He gives us. All of it is a gift and not a result of our works (Eph. 2:8-9). But that doesn’t stop us from thinking that we are owed something because of our good deeds and our sacrifices.
It is very easy for us to be bitter toward God when we experience a loss, or when we have to deal with pain or injury. We may think to ourselves, if not express it out loud: “Lord, I have done so much in Your service. Why are You letting this happen? I thought You loved me. I thought You appreciated how faithful I have been to You.” We think God should give His faithful children a happy and carefree life.
Or the opposite happens. We go through hard times, and we are convinced that God must be angry with us. He must be punishing us for past sins. In these times, we are quick to lose hope and to set aside faith in the Lord’s promises. We think God must not really care about us.
Both responses show how little we appreciate the work Jesus did to save us. On the one hand, we expect that our service to God should keep us from the effects of sin in the world. But our service to God is not even close to what He requires. We have not always done what He asks of us.
Where would we have been that first Holy Week? We might have offered our cloaks, palm branches, and praises on Sunday. But what about on Friday? On Friday, even Jesus’ closest disciples deserted Him, and we shouldn’t think so highly of ourselves to imagine we would have been different. We are not as faithful as we should be, so God sends us crosses to bear to teach us to trust in His strength and not ours.
On the other hand, to imagine that God is angry with us and does not love us anymore, is to totally ignore Jesus’ sacrifice. If God is punishing you for your sins, then why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross? There certainly may be consequences for one sin or another. But the punishment for sin was carried out against Jesus. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
The things we do for God are important—honoring His name, hearing His Word, leading a disciplined and decent life, serving our neighbors out of love for Him. God is pleased with these things, and we should want to improve and do more. But while we do good, we pray for a humble heart and a humble disposition, and we pray that God leads us to repent when we fail to do what we should.
The self-righteous love to look at themselves in the mirror and be publicly recognized for all the good they do. The faithful keep their eyes on Jesus and see everything He did out of love for them. If anyone could be prideful, it is Jesus. He had done nothing wrong. He was perfect. But as today’s Epistle lesson says, our Savior “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” (Phi. 2:7-8).
He humbled Himself and went the way of the cross because He loves you. He refused an earthly throne in Jerusalem, because He had much more to give than what could have been given to Him. He wanted you to be freed from your sins through His death in your place. He wanted you to have His perfect righteousness, so you could stand before God unashamed. Everything you needed to get into heaven has been won for you by your humble Lord. He gives it all to you. It is yours.
And you will have still more. You will one day be glorified as He is glorified. You will be exalted as He is exalted. Then, as it is described in the book of Revelation, you will join the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is “The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)