Lent 6c -- Palm Sunday
Preached: March 28, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit lifts up our hearts is Psalm 24
A psalm of David
The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord -- the world and all who live in it. For he founded it by the seas and established it by the currents.
Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? He whose hands are clean and whose heart is pure. He who does not use his life in vain and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This kind of people are searching for him. They are seeking your face -- Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, you gates. Be lifted up, you everlasting doors. And the King of glory will enter. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates. Lift up, you everlasting doors. And the King of glory will enter. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord of hosts. He is the King of glory. Selah. (Psalm 24:1-10)
This is the Word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
As the buzzer sounded and the visiting opponents last-second shot circled the rim and fell throw the net, the home fans fell silent. Their heads drooped. Hopes for a championship dashed by a one-point lose.
A family gathers at the grave sight, checks stained with tears, eyes downcast, faces staring at the ground.
How many scenarios can you imagine when our heads droop in disappoint, sadness, or heartache? How often haven't the burden of your troubles and toils weighed down your eyes? If your life stumbles along from one frustration to the next, don't let that surprise you. The Lord God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19 NIV). That's the inheritance Adam passed down to us. No wonder our eyes droop and our faces are downcast.
But dear friends, lift up your heads. Yes, lift up your heads in joy and celebration. For the Holy Spirit lifts your hearts as his words here fill you. For his words bring you the King of glory. Yes! Lift up your heads! See the King of glory!
But how dare we lift up our heads in the presence of such a glorious King? Even in many earthly throne rooms people bow their heads and avert their eyes. How much more before him who reigns over all things! “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1 NIV). From the massless photon to the largest super cluster of galaxies, it all belongs to the Lord. From the smallest virus to the great blue whale, it all belongs to the Lord. Even the human achievements that fill the modern world belong to the Lord. For who gave humanity its abilities and opportunities? “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1 NIV).
“For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:2 NIV). He is the Creator of all. On the third day of creation he had the dry ground rise up as he gathered the waters together. He called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” He covered the land with green plants and fruitful trees, bearings seeds after their own kinds. On the fifth day he filled the seas and the air with fish and birds, and the next day he filled the land. (Genesis 1:9-13, 20-28). How dare we mere creatures, formed out of the dust of the earth, lift up our heads in the presence of the King of glory, through whom all things were created!
But what is more, he is the holy One. “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3 NIV). When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, even the holy Seraphim covered there faces with a pair of their wings as they called out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV). How dare we lift up our heads!
Are your hands clean? Is your heart pure? Not one speck of guilt? Not one smudge of failure? How far from it! We fail to set our heart fully on God alone. When life goes well, we find happiness in the gifts but neglect the Giver. We rely on our good circumstances to keep life pleasant. We find comfort in a steady income or money in the bank. Our worry when those things waver shows how much we depend on them. We fail to depend on God alone, to trust only in him as the source for all happiness and security. And when life goes badly, we doubt God's love and kindness. We question his ability to answer our prayers. Our hope grows dim as if God were unreliable. How impure our hearts are! We've lifted up our souls to those false gods of money, pleasure, worry, doubt. Our words and our actions betray the impurity in our hearts and prove you and me to be sinners. How dare we lift up our heads!
“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3, 4 NIV). Who is such a person? How could it be you or me or anyone else, sinners all of us? Who is such a person?
See him riding on donkey into Jerusalem. The Lamb of God, pure and holy. Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Holy God, the Almighty, the eternal Son of the Father. But look! He comes wrapped in our flesh and blood. For he, our Creator, has taken the nature of his creature, our human nature, into his person. What's more, he, the Righteous One, has covered himself with our sin and guilt, our shame and filth. He the glorious King lowers himself, humbles himself even to death on a cross. He rides into Jerusalem to die for you, dear sinner, to die for you.
How that changes everything! A dirty rag can't wipe our hands clean. So even our own best efforts only wipe more guilt onto us. Isaiah writes that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But Jesus, the holy One, the righteous One, he can wipe you clean, inside and out. For his blood “purifies us from all sins” (1 John 1:7 NIV), as the Apostle John writes in his first epistle.
That's why Jesus rode into Jerusalem. That's why he went to the cross. That's why he rose from the dead on Easter. To wash your hands clean. To purify your heart. So, dear Christian, lift up your head in joy and celebration. Lift up your heads as in faith you ascend the holy hill washed clean in Jesus' blood. Lift up your head and see your glorious King. For his glory is his work of saving you. His glory is the shameful cross on which he bore your sins. His glory is his blood that washes you clean inside and out is his glory. “There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Immanuel's veins, And sinners plunged within that flood Lose all their guilty stains, Lose all their guilty stains” (“There Is A Fountain Filled with Blood,” The Lutheran Hymnal 157:1).
How can we dare to lift up our heads and see the King of glory? Only because his blood washes us clean.
But how do we do it? With what kind of attitude do we lift up our heads and see the King of glory? We certainly don't do it as if to challenge him, such as when someone lifts up his head to look his earthly opponent in the eye. We certainly don't do it as if to claim to be on equal terms with him. We certainly don't do it as if to deceive him, pretending to be more than we are, imagining we're calling his bluff, like players in Texas hold'em. We certainly don't do it as if to bargain with him, thinking if we lift our heads high we can maneuver a good deal out of him.
Any and all of these attitudes reject the blood of Jesus. They leave us standing with filthy hands and impure hearts, filled with dirt and sin, condemned and damned to hell. For without Jesus washing us clean, no one can ascend the hill of the Lord. No one can stand in his holy place.
Rather, we come as beggars, knowing we have with nothing to offer. We come as humble supplicants pleading for his mercy. We come as seekers, turning to him alone as our mighty Hero.
“Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:6 NIV). Do you remember Jacob? He wrestled with God, holding the Lord to his promises. Yet he did so in all humility, recognizing his total unworthiness. He was afraid to meet his brother Esau,whom he had tricked out of the birthright and blessing twenty years earlier. At that time he had fled for his life with only the shirt on his back and the staff in his hand. The Lord now had told him to return with his new family and flocks, and he would be with him. But Jacob finds out that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. So Jacob sought the Lord.
He prayed: “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,' I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted'” (Genesis 32:9-12). He held the Lord to his promise.
Like Jacob, dear friends, seek the Lord in his promises. For that is how he has chosen to be found. That's how his gracious face shines on you. That's how he looks on you with favor. Through his promises.
And what has the Lord promised you? That Jesus is your mighty Hero. He has conquered sin, your sin, by his death on the cross. Here is victory cry: “It is finished.” He has conquered Satan for you, parading through hell in victory early Easter morning. He has conquered death, showing himself alive to his disciples, letting them touch his wounds. Yes, the same Jesus who sacrificed himself as the Lamb of God in your place has risen from the dead. He lives! He lives! Who once was dead! He is your mighty Hero.
The gates of heaven, those ancient, everlasting doors, open wide to welcome him back as the ascended Lord of glory, the conquering Hero. “Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and might the Lord mighty in battle . . . Who is this King of glory? the Lord Almighty -- he is the King of glory” (Psalm 24:8, 10 NIV). So if even the gates of heaven lift up their heads in joy, how much more so, you and I, his people, his blood-bought, ransomed people! For our Lord will visibly return to take you and me and all his faithful people with him through those ancient gates. He will lead us as mighty throng home to heaven following him our Lord, for he is the Lord of hosts, the Lord of Sabaoth.
Such a mighty Hero! Why would we not seek him with all our heart? Why would we not listen to his voice and follow him? Why would we not cling to his promises and rejoice even in the crosses that we get to bear for him? Why would we not strive with all our strength to live with clean hands and a pure heart, to live for him who died covered with our filth and rose in victory as our mighty Hero?
Lift up your heads and see the King of glory coming to you through his promises in word and sacraments. Feel him place his nail-pierced hand beneath your chin. And though your head is weighed down, he lifts it up and says to you, “My blood washes you clean. I am your mighty Hero.” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.