The Last Week – Palm Sunday

This is the final week.  We’ve reached Holy Week at the end of this Lenten season in which we have been preparing for Holy Thursday, Good Frida, and Easter Sunday.

This preparation is something that our Lord Jesus Christ did as well.  His whole purpose in coming to us in the flesh leads up to this Holy Week.  Indeed, God’s promises throughout the Old Testament lead up to this week, when Jesus will die for us by being raised up on the cross.  It’s going to be a tough week for Jesus.  He says in John 12:27 that his soul is troubled, because he knows what the end of this week holds for him, but it is for this purpose that he has come.

In fact, in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, we see a contrast between the glory that comes from man and the glory that comes from God.  John notes that some of the people refused to confess their faith in Jesus, even though they believed, because they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.  They were scared of being ridiculed or ostracized.  They were afraid of losing the glory that comes from man.

The glory that comes from man is shiny and flashy and flattering.  It looks nice, like marble floors and pressed suits and pristine cars and wads of money.  This is a glory that appeals to us, and tempts us, and may even cause us to strive for it.  We like the outward glory that comes from being honored by other people.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t strive for this glory, though.  Of all people, he deserves all glory and honor.  He is God incarnate.  He was there in Isaiah 6 with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the seraphim sang their three-fold praise of the Triune God, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  The prophet Isaiah saw Jesus and his glory; this is what John means in John 12:41.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was there in the throne room, in the presence of creatures who sang his continual praises.  How could he ever leave that glorious place?  How could he leave the presence of creatures who always praised him?  Certainly, we would never leave.  We love to hear people speak well of us, and would be perfectly content to live among those who constantly sing our praises.  Why on earth would we leave the realm of praises to come to the land of our enemies?

However, Jesus didn’t act as we would act.  Instead, as Paul says in Philippians, “Christ Jesus… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but 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” (Philippians 2:6ff).

Jesus left the truly glorious presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the praises of the angels to come to earth.  He came to the land of his enemies, all of us sinners who were born opposed to God.  And he came to die for us so that we will no longer be enemies of God, captured by sin, enslaved to eternal death, but rather be God’s children instead, freed from sin, and brought into eternal life.

So, Jesus left all that heavenly glory behind to come to do what God had promised in the Scriptures.  He came, in fact, to be the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah 52 and 53, raised up and sprinkling the nations with his sacrificial blood in order to cover our sins.  So, in accordance with the Scriptures, Jesus was born as a humble baby to a humble virgin mother.  He was dirty and hungry and thirsty.  He lived among a people who did not recognize him as the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity come in the flesh.  His glory was veiled from anyone but those who looked at him through the eyes of faith.

Even when he healed the sick and raised the dead, like Lazarus, and manifested his glory through these actions, people continued to reject him.  The chief priests reject Jesus and want to put both him and Lazarus to death so that more people will not go away and believe in Jesus.  Jesus threatened their glory that they had as the leaders of the people.  So, they reject the true leader, they reject the Son of God.  They all want the continued praises of others, while rejecting the only one who is truly worthy of all praise and glory, the one who left it all behind in order to come to die for these very people who are so unthankful.

So, Jesus enters into the city on a humble donkey in order to begin his final week.  This is no grand kingly procession into the city.  The Romans – in the bygone days of the great Republic – when a conquering general earned a triumph for some great victory, would allow the general to enter into the city with a large procession of captured enemies and plunder, standing on a horse-drawn chariot, wearing a laurel wreath, and surrounded by admirers.    The Romans knew how to show off the glory that comes from man; they perfected this type of self-aggrandizing glory.

Jesus, though, enters into Jerusalem riding a beast of burden.  This donkey has been pressed into service, just as Jesus himself, in just a few days time will perform his service on the cross.  Jesus is hailed by the crowds, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

They seem to think Jesus is a conquering general, they think that they are giving him his triumph.  They think that he has come to kick out the Romans and give the Jews back their kingdom.  But, this is not what Jesus is coming to do, so in just a few days time, when he is arrested, many in the crowd will change their tune and shout “Crucify him!” instead.  They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.  Jesus came to do so much more than restore the kingdom of the Jews, he came to restore us to God and each other, and ultimately, restore all creation to perfection.

Yet, this glory that comes from God is veiled, so many people miss it.  It’s on the other side of the cross; it’s in the empty tomb.  It’s behind the shadow of  death in the resurrected life.  Jesus gave up his apparent glory to come to us in flesh and blood and to die for us on the cross.  During his earthly ministry he healed the sick and raised the dead and manifested his glory through these acts for all who had ears to hear and eyes to see.  But, even for the most faithful of his disciples, the cross seems to end all of this.  Death seems like it’s the end.

But, like a grain of wheat which dies and then rises to bear fruit, so too does the cross on Good Friday lead to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  Jesus is restoring his fallen creation, and it is a manifestation of his glory.

This Holy Week of seven days, beginning today, echoes back to the initial creation in Genesis.  In Genesis, God created in 6 days and rested on the seventh.  Now, this week, Jesus enters into Jerusalem to begin his work on Sunday, the first day of the week.  He works all week, cleansing the temple early in the week and then instituting the supper of his body and blood on Thursday.  Then, he finishes his work on Friday, the 6th day as he is killed on the cross.  Then, he rests on the tomb on Saturday, the 7th day, the Sabbath rest.  Jesus truly is completely obedient to the will of the Father, dying for our sins and doing everything according to his Father’s will, even resting on the Sabbath for us in order to fulfill the whole Law on our behalf.  He completed his work in 6 days, resting on the 7th.

Then, on the 8th day, the first day of the new week, Jesus rises.  Death has no hold on him.  Our sins can not keep him down, because he killed them there on his cross.  So, Jesus died, but he also rose, and then 40 days later he ascends back into heaven into the presence of the Father to justify us before Him with his own blood.  Jesus was glorified, and he manifested his glory through his resurrection and then his ascension.  He defeated sin, death, and the devil.  He took away the punishment for your sins and reconciled you to God and each other.  He began the restoration of all creation.  This is truly glorious, and Jesus has done it for you by dying and rising.

So, this then is the glory that comes from God: you have died and risen with Jesus.  It is a glory that you have from God that is veiled to the eyes of the world.  For in Baptism, God killed you; but, He also raised you again.  He killed your old self, but then raised you to new life in Christ.  You have lost your life, but now have kept it for eternal life, because Christ has given it back to you, washed and cleansed and saved.  This is the glory that comes from God, the gift of eternal life in Christ.

So, this last week is what Jesus came to do.  It’s what God had been promising ever since Adam and Eve brought sin and decay and death into the world.  Jesus came to humble himself by going up on the cross for you and dying there.  The same God who Isaiah saw and to whom the angels sing praises died for you.  He was bloody, sweaty, thirsty, tired, and finally gave up his life for you.  While the crowds looked on, some now gloating who only days before had hailed him as their king, the Son of God died on the cross for them, for you.  In him, we see what true love is.

What Jesus the Christ did was anything but glorious in the eyes of the world.  It wasn’t shiny, it wasn’t fancy, it certainly wasn’t clean.  But, it was what was needed and it was expensive, costing Jesus’ body and blood.  But, it didn’t end there.  On the third day Jesus was raised back up to life and now lives.  He has been glorified, having accomplished your salvation for you by defeating sin, death, and the devil.  And now he draws all people to himself through the sign of the cross and the empty tomb.

To him be all glory, laud, and honor.  For he has died and risen for you, and is returning to resurrect your bodies at the end of the age in order to bring you into a fully restored creation.  Amen.

 

 

(Image: The Entry into Jerusalem [Whole folio] Preface to the blessing for Palm Sunday. Christ is astride a donkey, and followed by a group of people with golden palm branches. Two youths at the city gate spread mantles under the donkey’s feet, and above them other figures lean out from the city walls or are up a tree throwing flowers. The scene is surrounded by frame of ‘Winchester’ acanthus, with round bosses at each corner.  Taken from Benedictional of St. Aethelwold.  Originally published/produced in Winchester; 971-984.  Held and digitised by the British Library, and uploaded to Flickr Commons.A higher resolution version may be available for purchase from BL Images Online, imagesonline.bl.uk, reference 012592.  This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections.Catalogue entry: Add MS 49598, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31452483)