Lent 6a -- Palm Sunday

Preached: April 17, 2011

Our Gentle King Comes to Save
Matthew 21:1-11

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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 shows us our Savior is Matthew 21.

(Matthew 21:1-11)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Look at Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. "See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5 NIV1984), the prophet proclaims. Our gentle King comes to save. That's the theme this morning. He does not come riding a war horse armored for battle. He rides a donkey, a beast of burden. And it's not even his own donkey, but a borrowed one. He does not come to force himself upon his subjects. He comes in gentleness.

Now what does that mean? Sometimes gentleness flows from weakness or softness. For example: The classroom was in chaos because the teacher's gentleness kept her from disciplining the teenage boys. That's weakness. But here we have the King. He is the God, the Almighty. There's no weakness in him. That's not what gentleness means here.

Sometimes gentleness refers to a person or animal that's docile, easily managed or manipulated. For example, they had no trouble breaking this horse because it had such a gentle nature. But Jesus isn't someone we can mold into our own likeness. He isn't a piece of clay for us to shape as we please. That's not what gentleness means here.

Rather, dear friends, his gentleness tenderly invites us. He doesn't force himself upon us. He doesn't coerce you and me to follow him. He tenderly invites. Look at the events on that first Palm Sunday. See how the crowds honor him. He didn't send out his disciples as enforcers to make the people show their support. They simply come, lay their cloaks in the road, as well as branches cut from palm trees. A crowd followed him from Bethphage and a crowd came out from Jerusalem to meet him. They shout his praises: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9 NIV1984). All this came unforced, uncoerced. How different from a modern, middle-east dictator! Jesus is our gentle King.

Keep that in mind as you present Jesus to others. He is the gentle King who tenderly invites. Don't use him like a stick or club. "Do you think Jesus is happy with what you've doing!" Does that sound like a gentle invitation? Rather it aims to use Jesus to guilt people. It aims to manipulate others into doing the right thing not out of joyful service, but with the attitude that says between clenched teeth, "I suppose I should try to make Jesus happy." I, for one, don't want that kind of Savior. That's not the gentile King who road a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem.

Yet how often doesn't that attitude infect our own hearts as we view Jesus with a mindset that says: "I suppose I should try to make Jesus happy. I should go to church. I should pray more. I should be nice to others. I shouldn't gossip. I shouldn't worry. I shouldn't complain." Following Jesus becomes a bunch of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," "shoulding" all over Jesus, as if he were another lawgiver, forcing, coercing, manipulating us to obey him. That's not the gentile King who road a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem.

You see, we don't need Jesus to come in order to tell us what we should and shouldn't do. It's not as if Jesus were a pushover, pretending not to see the bad we do. He's not like that teacher who loses control of the classroom because he's too weak to discipline. And he's not like a piece of clay whose words we can mold into whatever shape we want them to mean. Rather, we don't need Jesus to do tell us the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" because God's Law already does that.

Now God's Law doesn't say, "You should do this, and you shouldn't do that," in the sense that this would be a good idea but if you can't, well, that's just the way it is. Try harder next time. Rather the Law says "you must do this and you must not do that." It demands obedience. It requires that you keep it with no exceptions, no excuses.

What's more, the Law doesn't simply list a few dozen or even a few hundred actions such as: "You must go to church. You must pray. You must not curse. You must not call names. And so on." If that were the case, if the Law were only a list of action, people might be able to keep it, at least some of the time.

But the Law aims at the heart. "Do all this gladly," the Law demands, "with a cheerful heart, and if you don't, you're going to hell." "If your neighbor damages your property, or gossips about you, or even hits you in the face and for a brief moment you want to get back at him or her, you're going to hell. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself." "If you've had a long, hard day and are so tired out that you become upset with your spouse or, if you're child, with your parents, you're going to hell. That's not loving and honoring your spouse. That's not showing love and respect to your parents." "And if you've started to think that this doesn't sound too fair, you're going to hell. For rather than fearing and loving God above all, you've accused him of injustice. How dare you assault the integrity of the Almighty, your Creator!" That's the Law speaking, speaking to you and to me.

How damned we are! How hopeless and helpless! The Law has no loopholes. It accepts no excuses. It lays bare the attitudes and motives of your heart, not to mention the evil thoughts and intentions that lurk there. And for even the smallest infraction, it has only one verdict: Damned to hell. Oh yes, it does graciously promise God's blessings to anyone who keep all the law perfectly all the time. But that feels like salt in the wounds, making us all the more resentful since by the time we take our first breath, everyone of us has already been law-breakers for nine months as an unborn, sinful child. The more our inborn flesh hears God's law, the more it seethes with hatred against God, accusing him of utter unfairness. But that just adds to our sins all the more. Who could anyone ever imagine that we could in anyway help make ourselves right with God? How hopeless and helpless I am. "Jesus, save me! I cannot save myself. Jesus, save me! I am lost and condemned without you. Jesus, save me! O Lord, save! Please, save! Hosanna!" For that, dear friends, is what "hosanna" means: "Please, save!"

Your gentle King comes. He comes to save. He calls to you in Word and Sacraments: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle [there we have that word again] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28, 29 NIV1984).

Jesus rode a beast of burden into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday, but he carried the real burden, our burden. All that law-breaking, all that guilt, all that resentment against God for demanding more from us in the Law more than we could ever give -- all your sin and guilt, Jesus carried for you. For he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He takes away your burden. That's the gentleness he shows as your King. He lifts the full burden from off your back and carries it in your place.

He carried it all the way to the cross. That's why he came into Jerusalem: to nail your burden to the cross, to appease the Law's justice by suffering your punishment, to wash your record clean with his blood, to ransom you to be his very own people, no longer under the condemnation of the Law, but his own blood-bought people, for he is your gentle King who came to save.

No wonder the Common Service, page 15, echoes the hosanna's of Palm Sunday as we prepare for the Lord's Supper. On that first Palm Sunday Jesus came into Jerusalem to offer his real body and blood to save you. In the Lord's Supper he gives you his real body to eat and his real blood to drink to bring you the salvation he won for you on the cross. All who come to his table in faith, trusting his body and blood, believing that the body they eat and the blood they drink brings them the full and free forgiveness they desperately need -- they surely have his salvation. What a gentle King he still is! What a great salvation he still brings!

Like suave and soft gauze on a wound, his forgiveness heals the guilty conscience rubbed raw by the sandpaper of the Law. What a gentle King he is! Like a soft pillow for our weary heads, he brings peace and rest to our souls, for he has taken our burden on himself. He has secured for us what all the labors of our hands could never have earned. What a gentle King he is! Your gentle King came to save you.

What else would we do but follow him? How else can we express our joy but to serve him? What better way is there to thank him than to honor him as our God and Savior? What a gentle King Jesus is! This isn't about "shoulds" and "shoudn'ts." Such joy and service come not because we feel we "should" do it, but because we love our King who came to Jerusalem in our place, to carry our burden, to win our salvation.

Think of the service of the two disciples who fetched the donkey and its colt for Jesus. I doubt they understood why Jesus wanted to ride this time. But they gladly obeyed their Lord. We may not always understand why God's commandments tell us to do this and not do that. But when we know our gentle King, our new self doesn't listen to the resentment and excuses from our old flesh. Rather in our new self, we delight that God has given us the Law so that we may serve our gentle King by gladly obeying, even if you may not understand the reasoning behind a command.

Think of how they honored Jesus. The disciples laid their cloaks on the donkey. The crowds laid their cloaks in the road and cut palm branches to lay before the King. Even though our King has the entire universe in his hands, yet he gladly accepts our time, talents, and treasures as we honor him with them. Lay before him your time, talents, and treasures as you use them for his glory in your home, your community, your work, your country, and your church. Use all for his glory as you honor him in the various roles he has given you for this earthly life. For he is your gentle King, who came to save you. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313