Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we join with saints and angels in praising Your holy name! Today we come to honor You, to thank You, to worship You and to give You our hearts. We come on this Palm Sunday to pay homage to You for honoring us with Your presence, Your life, and Your forgiving love. May we always take every opportunity to give back to You what You so richly deserve: our praise. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR HUMBLE, YET TRIUMPHANT KING!
TEXT: Matthew 21: 1-11
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
23 years ago I celebrated my first Palm Sunday here at Pinewood. We sang those old, familiar, Palm Sunday hymns. I preached on the very text before us today. We were a smaller congregation in those days. Our average age was quite a bit older than it is right now. We weren’t as “full” as we were the next week, on Easter Sunday. And yet, in proportional terms, that service was better attended than any Palm Sunday we’ve celebrated over the past few years. Why?
I’ve spoken to other pastors about this situation. Our church is not alone. Palm Sunday has been on a downward slope for quite some time. When I was a child, Palm Sunday was a really big deal. People turned out for it. Kids were excited over it. Most Christians viewed it as one of those special, high-point, cannot miss Sundays of the year. But, it seems that view of this special day has changed and not for the better. To me, it’s sad that on an upbeat, glorious day, a day filled with happiness and great joy, so many regard Palm Sunday as an afterthought. And so today I challenge all of you to adopt this mantra:
THE RESURRECTION OF PALM SUNDAY BEGINS TODAY, WITH YOU!
The season of Lent, of personal sorrow over sin, and that personal walk of repentance to the cross, is viewed today as an anachronism. That is, something totally out of step with modern times. To be sure, Lent isn’t “fun.” And make no mistake; modern society is totally focused on having fun. No, Lent is about being truthful with yourself. It is seeing yourself as you really are: a bankrupt sinner who cannot pay the debt you owe to God. But even more importantly, Lent then forces us to look outside ourselves for comfort, strength, and lasting help. It forces us to look to Christ and His cross. And when we do, we find that on that cross God’s Son paid our debt in full to His Father. We’re free! We’re forgiven! The weight over our eternal future has been replaced by joy and lightness of being. All this is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.
From the introspective “lows” of Lent comes a brief shining moment of joy before Christ’s passion and the eternal upper of Easter. That brief, shining moment is: Palm Sunday. So, I have to wonder: “Why don’t God’s people embrace Palm Sunday with a staunch fervor?” The only conclusion I can deduce is: they let all the extraneous “stuff” of life obscure Lent for them. They let youth sports get in the way of personal, inner growth. They let work and tax time get in the way soul searching over what’s truly important in life. They let the drudge of winter get in the way of letting go of the drudge of inner upset caused by our various sins. And yet, yet, Palm Sunday is still here! It’s not too late to free our inner self by letting Christ’s love personally embrace us!
The facts of this day, the singing of “hosannas” and the omnipresent palm branches are familiar to all. If we strip all that aside, exactly why do we celebrate Palm Sunday? What is this day all about? I’ll tell you. It’s about giving Christ His due because He was going into Jerusalem to give us His due. Unlike the disciples, unlike the crowd surrounding Him that day, Christ knew exactly what awaited Him that week. He was going to embrace death. He was going to suffer and die in order to save our souls. He was going to Jerusalem to lay down His life for His sheep.
On that first Palm Sunday, really no one there understood all this. John tells us in chapter 12: “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him.” Then John also talks about the mindset of the crowd that day: “Now the crowd that was with him had continued to spread the word that he had called Lazarus from the tomb…Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.”
That first Palm Sunday crowd embraced Jesus because they viewed Him as a miracle worker, some kind of prophet, and perhaps in Him their popular view of the Messiah—an earthly King who would restore their political freedoms—that view would come to fulfillment. Those first Palm Sunday worshippers really missed the point—totally. They didn’t understand that this Man riding on that donkey colt was actually the eternal Son of God. They didn’t understand that this Man was going to give His life in place of theirs to make them right with God. None of that was real to them, yet, because the crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred. But, Jesus in His gracious love still condescended to accept their praise and acclamation, didn’t He? That’s the irony of the day—He deserved such praise, even if they gave it based on a faulty understanding of what He was all about
You and I have the benefit of hindsight. We don’t have a faulty understanding. We know the truth. We know that when they shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”—we know just how true and yet ironic those words really were. They were shouting about being helped and saved by Jesus from earthly problems and from freedom-crushing earthly rulers.—That’s what “hosanna” means: help and save us! And the irony of it all was that Jesus was helping and saving them from their greatest enemy of all—eternal sin, eternal shame, and eternal death. If they could praise Him in such an amazing manner for all the wrong reasons, cannot we praise Him even more for all the right reasons? The resurrection of Palm Sunday must begin anew! It must begin today, with each of you.
One final thought. Have you noticed how the first glorious day of Spring affects people? Each Spring there comes a time when suddenly winter is gone and the gentle caress of Spring returns. Suddenly, everyone is happy. Everyone is outside. Everyone drinks up the sun. Everyone literally has no care in the world. Aren’t those moments delicious? Well, in reality, that is Palm Sunday! The day is delicious because God’s Son is entering His victory lap of freeing our souls from every anxiety. It’s a moment to be savored by us and for Him. Truly praising our Lord is always something to be celebrated! Amen