Plunged Into Suffering And Death - For You

Text:  Matthew 21:1-9

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Within American Christianity, many thousands upon thousands, and quite possibly millions, of Christians see Christianity as an individualized journey of trying to get to the goal of God.  To them, God is off in the distance; He is passive, unresponsive, and stagnant, which means that it is up to the Christian to somehow and someway either get God’s attention or get closer to Him.  Since God is this immovable and uncaring goal to be reached, the task of trying to get closer to Him can take all sorts of forms.  Regardless of the method or technique or strategy of getting closer to God, one thing is for sure, it demands a tremendous amount of effort and religious zeal on behalf of the individual Christian.

More specifically let me give you an example.  According to this way of thinking, all of us Christians are stranded on a deserted island – called earth.  We are surrounded by miles upon miles of deep dark water, which means that we are trapped.  The goal though is for us to escape this island.  We can escape this island – earth – by building some sort of raft and then paddling with all our might to the goal, that goal being God.  Only those who have enough faith and are strong enough for the journey, really have a chance, for one would have to paddle hard enough and long enough through the treacherous waters.  Yes, if you have enough faith and are strong enough, you may then possibly escape the deserted island and reach the goal, which is the heavenly dwelling of God.  In other words, if we Christians ever stand a chance of getting off the deserted island (earth), we must set our sights towards the goal of heaven and get their by our own strenuous efforts. 

Now, if Christianity is all about us Christians setting out on our heavenly pilgrimages by our own strength and cleverly devised plans, then the church must become a rallying place for all of us to encourage one and another in our heavenly pursuits.  Yes, church services will become large pep rallies where we can talk about the challenges set before us and try to convince each other that we can make the journey off the island.  Furthermore, the sermons of the church become simply pep talks or messages that are meant to give pointers on how to build a raft, that is to say, ways to get from earth to heaven.

Dear friends, is this why we gather here at this church today?  Are we here to encourage each other in our heavenly pursuit of working to get from this life to the next?  Should I be giving you pointers on how to build your metaphoric rafts and how to paddle off of this island towards the goal? 

You and I might be tempted to believe this way, since so many Christian Churches teach this; however, our Gospel from the Gospel of Matthew undoes all of this.  Yes, our church service this morning actually overthrows this whole notion of us having to get off of the island by our own tireless and vigorous efforts.   

Today, my friends, is Palm Sunday – it is the day our Lord Jesus Christ rode ‘into’ Jerusalem on a donkey.  It is the day that they waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  It is a day that serves as a gateway to Holy Week.  It is a day that we get to hear the story about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the same story that we heard the first Sunday of Advent.

Now, let us just pause here for a moment. 

Do you realize what is going on here?

The story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey is the exact same story that we heard during the first Sunday in Advent, right before Christmas.  In other words, within the church’s calendar, we focus on this story of Jesus riding on the donkey, each Easter Season (at the beginning of Holy Week) and we also focus on this story at the beginning of the Advent Season (right before Christmas).  But why do we hear this story of Jesus on the donkey two times a year and why do we hear it during the Christmas and Easter seasons?  Why is it significant to hear right before Jesus birth and Jesus’ death?  Why should we Christians learn and treasure this story?  The answer is this: this story is really at the heart of the Christian faith. 

Dear friends, consider this, at Christmas time we hear about the Lord Jesus Christ, “Very God of Very God,” coming down from heaven and being born of the Virgin Mary.  In other words, Advent and Christmas are all about the Lord coming to earth – coming to this island for you and for me.  Indeed, Advent and Christmas are all about the God of the universe not being content to leave us helpless and alone in our sins, but rather about the Lord God pursuing us and coming right into our very midst.  It is about the Light coming into darkness – into the world.  And today’s Palm Sunday Service is about that same Lord coming for humanity’s sin.  The Lord came down from heaven and plunged Himself into a manger; the Lord came to Jerusalem and plunged Himself into suffering and death.  We do not have a stagnant, uncaring, and passive Lord, but quite the opposite.

Do you see what is going on here?  The Lord comes to helpless and sinful humanity.  He comes to Bethlehem.  He comes to Jerusalem.  He comes to the cross. 

Why does this matter?  It matters because there could be no life for you and for me without the Lord coming to us.  We cannot paddle hard enough and our rafts are not sturdy enough.  The water is too deep; the waves are too big.  There is no way off the island – this earth – by our own reason or strength.  We are too sinful and too spiritually sick to arise to the challenge.  Left to ourselves the only option is death on the island – on this earth.  Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.  Therefore, there is only one option; the Lord must come to us.  He must come to this earth and must come and meet our sin… which He has already done. 

Jesus, the promised Messiah came to pay that debt of sin.  He came to us in His birth and He came to us in His death.  Riding on the donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus was riding into death where the sins of the world would be strapped to Himself – your sin and mine.  In Jerusalem, Jesus would be plunged into death – death on a cross. 

There is more though. 

The Christ who came to the manger during that Christmas Season long ago and the Christ who came to the cross that Palm Sunday long ago, comes to you this day as well. 

You, who have ears, hear this!  His purpose of coming long ago was to accomplish salvation for you; His purpose of coming today to you in His Word is to deliver that very salvation to you. 

Indeed, the Christ who comes to you today and this week in the Word and Sacraments was the same Christ who came to Bethlehem and was swaddled in cloths and laid in a manger.  The Christ who comes to you today and this week in the Word and Sacraments was the same one who came on a donkey into Jerusalem, so that He could sit with a “shabby, dirty, soldier’s coat on His bleeding back and a crown of thorns set sideways on His head; with a mock scepter in His hand and the spittle of drunken soldiers running down His face.”[1]

Dear friends, do not deceived, the Divine Services here at your Zion Lutheran Church are not times for you to rally together and somehow paddle to heaven.  We do not gather here to try and plot how to get off of the island – off of earth by our own reason and strength and might and power.  But rather, these Divine Services at your Zion Lutheran Church are times where the Lord comes to you.  This service today and the services this week and the services for the upcoming months are times where the Lord comes to be in the midst of His people – to be with you. 

Oh, the goodness of this news.  We are not alone.  He comes to be in the midst of our lives, our pains, our struggles, and our deaths… He comes to give you and me faith that we might not become weary or disheartened or fearful.  The Lord promises to be with us to the very end of the age.      

Dear blessed Baptized Saints, we are not left alone in this world to fend for ourselves.  We are not detached from the Lord.  He came and comes for you and for me.

Yes, the Lord came to you and joined you to Himself in your baptisms – you are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.  You are bound to Christ and He is bound to you. 

The Lord also comes to you in His Word to speak the powerful words of forgiveness – you are forgiven; I will neither leave you nor forsake you. 

Finally the Lord comes to you in, with, and under the bread and the wine – take and eat, take and drink, this is my body and my blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  You are partakers of a heavenly meal.     

Just as the Lord did not hold back in coming to us in His birth and just as the Lord did not hold back in coming to our sins in His death, He never tires of coming to you and me today.  He never tires coming. 

Today is Palm Sunday.  The Savior came to Jerusalem to save the world from sin.  He comes today to reign in our hearts and minds as well.  Let the cry of Hosanna loudly go forth.  Salvation belongs to our God, salvation that is delivered into our hearts and minds and souls.  Praise be to the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised one, who came and comes for sinners with forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Fred H. Lindemann, The Sermon and The Propers: Volume II (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 99.

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