Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Composite of Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; and John 12:12-18
Sermon Theme: “So Why Is Palm Sunday So Important?”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; “All Hail King Jesus,” wordpress.com; Online “Palms for the Lord”; “The Significance of Palm Sunday, christiantheology.com; original ideas; Lutheran Cyclopedia; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; online China’s End of World War II 2015 Anniversary Parade)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and others use a Lectionary for preaching during the Church Year; there is even a Common Lectionary, as well as a Catholic and Lutheran Lectionary, and they are all somewhat similar. In the 1980’s, the Lectionaries changed, no doubt because many of those denominations were no longer holding Holy Week services, not even on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And most of them, long ago, seemed to have stopped having Wednesday night services throughout Lent.
As a consequence, the Lectionaries added Passion Sunday Scriptures to the traditional readings for Palm Sunday. This raised the question, “Can both be celebrated on the same Sunday?” If you do both, you will have a two-hour long service, so most take the option of observing EITHER Palm Sunday OR Passion Sunday. Having them both on the same day kind of neutralizes both of them.
When I began preaching in 1988, like a lot of other preachers, I used a Lectionary Preaching Workbook that was already offering both a Palm Sunday text and a Passion Sunday text (which is essentially a Good Friday text). Then in 1993, when that Lectionary Workbook was replaced with a new one, Only the Passion Sunday texts were offered, almost as though they did away with Palm Sunday. Although our insert recognizes both, it offers only the Passion Gospel.
To me, eliminating a Palm Sunday celebration is doing away with one of the most important Christian Festivals in the Church Year.
The Church has been celebrating Palm Sunday since 400 A.D., when it was a major Festival. The Psalm Sunday account of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is one of a few of the many activities of Jesus that are recorded in all four Gospels (that fact alone would show how important it was to the writers of the Bible, and therefore to God). Because of this, I have chosen a composite summary of all four gospel accounts for today’s text, so that all the details of the event would be included, and I read the composite a few minutes ago.
So why is Palm Sunday so important? First of all, because on Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ presents His claim to be the Messiah. Always before, He told His disciples not to tell people this or that about Him. On Palm Sunday, He introduces His credentials. He calls attention to Himself and challenges the religious establishment. This was the only time in His ministry when He actually planned and promoted a public demonstration. Before, He deliberately avoided public scenes.
In a sense, this is Christ’s Victory March, — that’s why it’s called the Triumphal Entry. In another sense, it’s a “Peace March,” because the Prince of Peace is bringing Peace to the world. Boy, is it unlike any other peace marches in the world! In 2015, the Chinese celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II with what was considered a “Peace Parade,” The Chinese President and Communist leader led the parade riding in his long black limo, followed by a long procession of weapons, including ballistic missiles and drones, followed by 12,000 marching soldiers plus two formations of veterans, and an air force fly-over.
The parade route was mostly free of cheering crowds, because the route was cleared for security reasons. Ironically, the only thing the Chinese people could see was the aircraft flyover up in the sky.
That’s very different from the Triumphal Parade of Jesus. Adoring crowds of people follow Jesus from Bethany where He had healed Lazarus. Jews already in Jerusalem for the Passover hear that Jesus is coming, so they rush to the City gates; the two groups meet, and the hordes of people are roaring with excitement and joy. In that mix of people, not all are joyful and supportive. Those who expected a mighty military Messiah were disappointed to see Him riding on a donkey of peace, and the religious leaders were full of hatred, jealousy, and outright resistance and disrespect. So not all were shouting “Hosanna.”
Second, you have to know something about the Old Testament and the Messianic prophesies and Jewish expectations of the Messiah. You have to be able to see the Triumphal Entry through the eyes of the Jewish people crowding into Jerusalem. They would know that Passover was only four days away, which made the day of the Triumphal Entry the tenth day of the month. We grasp the importance of this when we read Exodus 121:3, 5-6, which says, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . . your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You shall take it out from the sheep or the goats, and you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month, when all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
You see, unknown to the people crying “Hosanna in the highest,” they were selecting the paschal lamb, without blemish, for sacrifice, the one and only sacrifice, that could take away sin and cause death to pass over us. The ultimate paschal lamb rides through the gates of Jerusalem as the Passover approaches, and as His crucifixion draws nearer.
Everything about this glorious event has special meaning. The Prophet Zechariah had prophesied this great occasion when he wrote in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
For Jews, the donkey was a symbol of peace, whereas the horse was a symbol of war. The great King David and his sons had ridden on mules instead of horses. Jesus was a “Son of David.” While the Jews, due to rabbinic misinterpretations, expected the Messiah to ride on a mighty stallion like a powerful general conquering the Romans, Old Testament prophesies made it clear He would be a Prince of Peace. Whatever the expectations of the people, or the misinterpretations of religious leaders, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday showed who He was and what He would be.
John specifies in his gospel that the people took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet Jesus. They not only threw their outer garments on the path before Him, but also the palm branches. Many folks think that palm branches were used merely because there were so many palm trees in that part of the world, but there were far more significant reasons for choosing them.
First of all, the palm branch was the emblem of Judah that appeared on Temple coins. King Solomon had had drawings of Palm branches inscribed on the walls of the Temple. Just as we process today, waving palm fronds on Palm Sunday, palm branches were waved by worshippers in processionals in the Jerusalem Temple during certain Festivals. The palm branch was a royal symbol of David’s kingdom.
Palm branches also represented a great gift from God, because of their great practical importance to the people. The date palm supplied dates, the coconut palm supplied both coconut and coconut milk. The sap of the sugar palm was dried, beaten and ground into sugar. The trunk of the sago palm provided starch that could be ground into flour and made into unleavened bread. The coarse fiber of most palms was used to make brooms, mats, and baskets, and the finer fiber used to make thread. Oil from palms was used to make butter, soap, medicines, and fuel for lamps. Palm flowers were used for making perfume. Obviously then, the palm branches represented both the necessities and the luxuries God gives to His people.
So, palm fronds represented not only victory, which, of course, they did, but also the good gifts from God, as well as symbols of Judaism itself, which the multitudes waved and threw in front of Jesus.
How many of those waving palm branches and shouting their Hosannas that day later shouted “Crucify Him,” we don’t know. Certainly there were those , like the religious leaders, who did not shout, “Hosanna.” Yet even that does not diminish the importance of the Triumphal Entry and the need to celebrate Palm Sunday, because it was really the day Jesus declared victory over sin and the devil. Riding through the City Gate meant no turning back, as from this point onward, Jesus willingly goes forward to the cross. He has presented His credentials, and He will complete God’s plan of salvation.
He is the suffering servant who will die for His people. He has power over sickness and death (people had just seen that again and again, with the healing of the blind man and raising Lazarus from the dead). Jesus is omniscient, knowing all. He is Lord of all. He fulfills prophecy. He is the king who brings peace.
Don’t shortchange Him on this victory. What you can take home with you on this Palm Sunday is this: The Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday was a pre-taste of Victory from sin for us, and it was a declaration of commitment to all people everywhere, by Jesus. It was NOT a Victory Parade in a military sense, but a victory of peace on earth and peace with God. We go away from our celebration today knowing that Jesus forgives us totally, redeems us fully, and loves us dearly. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.