Lent 6b

Preached: March 29, 2015

Shout Out: “Blessed Is He!”
Mark 11:9

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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 draws us to Jesus is Mark 11.

Those going ahead and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Mark 11:9)

This is the Word of the Lord.

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

What a welcome the people gave Jesus! Some honored him by laying their cloaks on the road in front of him. Others laid down palm branches from the fields. Both the crowds that followed from Bethany and the ones that came out from Jerusalem shouted out to welcome him. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9 NIV11), words from Psalm 118. Hosanna is Hebrew for, “Save now, we pray,” which became a word of praise acclaiming the one who saves. Yes, what a welcome!

What kind of welcome do we give Jesus? Have you thought about that lately, or do you just assume that he's already here so why welcome him? We regularly take these words on our our lips, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Their part of the Common Service right before the Words of Institution. We sing, “Blessed is he, blessed is he, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” How much thought and intent, though, do we put into these words?

Through the Scriptures, may the Holy Spirit open our hearts to think about why we call Jesus blessed. For when we cherish the reason why, then our welcome is much more than lip service. Then we shout out with all intensity, “Blessed is he!”

A. Because he came to Jerusalem to become completely cursed for you

Did Jesus look blessed as he came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so long ago? He wasn't blessed with earthly wealth, no fine clothing, no stable income, savings, or insurance, no home of his own, even the donkey he rode was borrowed. Some might say he was blessed with popularity. But fame is fleeting. In a few days another crowd would shout: “Crucify him. Crucify him.” But he was blessed with dear friends and family, wasn't he? They didn't shout, “Crucify him.” But one betrayed him. Another denied him. And all ran away like scattered sheep. Wouldn't such abandonment by those closest cut much more deeply than the crowd's fickleness? Well, at least he still had his health. Isn't that what people say when disaster strikes? But even the healthiest body won't last long scourged and nailed to a cross.

But maybe you've noticed that we've been focused on earthly blessings here: health and wealth; fame, friends, and family. None of that is necessary for true blessing. Instead, Jesus was certainly blessed with the Father's favor, wasn't he? Hadn't the Father twice spoken from heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5 NIV84)? Didn't each of Jesus' miracles demonstrate his dear relationship with his Father? Didn't he regularly commune with him in prayer, fully united with him in depth of love far beyond our comprehension? What closeness!

The Father's favor certainly made Jesus blessed, more blessed than anything else could've. But even that blessing would soon be torn away from him. That closeness, sliced apart. The Father forsook him, abandoned him. God estranged from God. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? ... My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 NIV11). No blessing, none at all, was left to him who is the Blessed One.

And that, dear friends, is why he came to Jerusalem. He came to become cursed, completely cursed, no blessing left at all. He came to become completely cursed for you, dear friend. That means he became cursed because of us and instead of us.

Yes, dear friends, it was our sins that made the Blessed One cursed. We confess with the hymn writer, “Ah, I also and my sins Wrought your deep affliction. This indeed the cause has been Of your crucifixion” (“Jesus, I Will Ponder Now,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 98:3). We caused the Blessed One to become cursed not because we were so lovable that he just had to die for. We caused the Blessed One to become cursed not because we had such innate value in ourselves that made us worth the price. Those weren't the reasons. Yet even Christian writers that ought to know better get this wrong. I've read books that say, “God created you lovable” and “He considers you worth dying for” (McDowell, Josh, 10 Ways to Say “I Love You”, Harvest House Publisher: 2015, p. 34, 35). Such thinking fails to see how thoroughly sin corrupted us. Even though you and I our God's creation and all that he makes is good, yet from the very beginning of our existence, sin completely corrupted us. Sin so thoroughly corrupted us that nothing good was left, nothing of any worth. That's why the Apostle Paul writes, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 NIV84 footnote). That's why the Scriptures declare of each and every one of us, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless” (Romans 3:12 NIV84). Jesus suffered so much because your sin and mine is so bad. He became completely cursed because of us.

There is no such thing as a minor sin. Every time you or I fail to welcome Jesus wholeheartedly, we are as deserving of death as Peter who denied him. Our lukewarm welcomes place us along side Judas, who betrayed him with a welcoming kiss. “Jesus, I'll get to you later. I'm too busy this week.” “Jesus, could you wait in the other room. I don't want you to see what I'm watching.” “Jesus, could you cover your ears. You wouldn't like what I'm about to say.” “Jesus, you're in my top ten, somewhere mixed in there with my family, work, and fun.”

How tempting to try to soothe our guilt by saying, “I'm sort of welcoming him. At least I haven't ...” and fill in the blank. But then see Jesus riding into Jerusalem to become cursed, completely cursed. That's how bad your sin and mine is. Take to heart another Lenten hymn: “If you think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great, Here you see its nature rightly. Here its guilt may estimate” (“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 127:3). For dear sinners, when we try to lessen our guilt, the guilt doesn't go away. Maybe we've bandaged the wound so that it doesn't like so bad. But underneath the guilt festers, poisoning our faith.

Yes, believe that Jesus was completely cursed because of you. That's how bad each and every one of your sins is. But then when we see that he was cursed because of us, the Holy Spirit also opens our hearts to believe that Jesus was cursed instead of us. Jesus, who rightly deserved God's favor, took our curse instead. So we, who rightly deserve the curse, receive God's favor instead. What blessing! He came to Jerusalem to become cursed instead of you, in your place, as your Substitute. He did it for you. What a reason to shout, “Blessed is he!”

B. Because he comes to your heart to bring every spiritual blessing

Because he became cursed in your place, in him you have every spiritual blessing, for in him you have the Father's favor. Jesus is truly the Blessed One because through him we receive every spiritual blessing. So shout out, “Blessed is he!”

What blessing? God's favor that frees us from guilt. As I noted in the first part, trying to hid our sin doesn't get rid of the guilt. It only festers beneath the skin. But blessed is he who came to take away all your guilt. That's why he rode into Jerusalem. That's why he became cursed on the cross. He was cursed instead of you. So that you may be blessed, truly blessed through him, blessed with freedom from guilt.

This is the heart of justification: God's undeserved favor freely declares you not guilty because of Jesus. That's the verdict: freedom from guilt. This is forgiveness: Your sin is graciously removed as far as the east is from the west by the cross of Christ. Freedom from guilt. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord to bring our hearts this freedom! How fitting that we use these words before the Lord's Supper! In the Supper, Jesus comes to your heart. He comes to take away the guilt, all of which he nailed to the cross in his own body when he was cursed instead of you. He comes to your heart to free you from guilt. And that makes you blessed as well. Psalm 32 declares: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him” (Psalm 32:1, 2 NIV84). How blessed you are because your sin was counted against Jesus instead of you! What blessing flows to you because of him who is the Blessed One! Why wouldn't we continually welcome him shouting, “Blessed is he!”

Now, where there is forgiveness, that is, where there is true freedom from guilt, every other spiritual blessing comes as well. Dear Christian, you don't have to pretend to put on a good face before God. For through faith in Jesus, you are washed clean and clothed with his righteousness. You have open access to the Father. For in Christ you are God's own dear child. Lay out your heart before him. Call out to him with your every want. Rely on his goodness. For his Son, Jesus Christ, has come into your heart through the Gospel. He reigns within you as your King. You are victorious no matter how difficult life becomes. You are more than conquerors through him who loved you. For your King reigns, and you reign with him. Eternal life is yours. Heaven is your home. Shout out, “Blessed is he,” because he comes to your heart with every spiritual blessing.

How blessed is Jesus because every blessing flows from the Father through him to us! Welcome him, for he came to Jerusalem to become cursed for you. His cross frees you from guilt. Welcome him, for he comes into your heart to bring your every spiritual blessing. So keep on gladly hearing his Good News of forgiveness. Keep on remembering your baptism, which has washed away your guilt. Keep on eating his body and drinking his blood in the Supper through which his blessings flow to you. For through these means of grace he keeps on coming into your heart as you shout out, “Blessed is he!”

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

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

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