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Triumphal Entry

Palm Sunday

Sunday of the Passion

April 9, 2017

Matthew 21:1–9

The world knows triumph. The world seeks glory. Three centuries before Christ Alexander the Great sought to conquer the known world, and in practicality he was successful. A half century before Jesus Julius Caesar sought to bring the Roman Empire into a golden era and the Roman Empire became a dominating world force. Throughout history are examples of men who sought glory and basked in the triumph of their conquests and accolades people showered on them.

Right around this time of year in a.d. 33 in Judea a king entered into Jerusalem in what in the headings of many Bibles is called the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. And indeed that is what the people thought of the entry of Jesus into their holy city. Here comes our king to deliver us and to conquer our enemies.

But where countless men have sought glory for themselves and sought to conquer in triumph, we are told by Matthew in the Gospel reading today that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem wasn’t one of a king basking in the glory of triumph.

The details, in fact, are rather ordinary. Simple, not glorious at all. When they got near Jerusalem Jesus sends two disciples. They are to go into a village and find a donkey that is tied up. They are to untie the donkey and bring it to Him. If anyone says anything to them they’re simply to say, “The Lord needs it,” and he’ll let them take the donkey. The disciples do this and put their cloaks on the donkey and Jesus sits on them and enters Jerusalem.

He didn’t lead an army. He didn’t ride in on a war horse. He didn’t wear armor or carry a spear. He didn’t bask in the glory of the accolades being showered upon Him.

Why He was riding into Jerusalem was beyond the awareness of anyone there. To say it was a triumphal entry was to miss the point of what He was doing. He was not coming in to conquer a regime or establish an empire.

Rather, as Matthew says, He was fulfilling what was prophesied by Zechariah: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” He sought no glory, only humility. He craved no accolades, only entering the city as a lowly servant. What no one there was aware of was that He was coming into the city to die.

This procession into Jerusalem where the crowds hailed Him as king would be far from the reality of Jesus processing to the cross alone on Friday of that week. The king who rides into his city fresh from victory rides in on a proud animal, his trusted war horse. Jesus rides in on a lowly animal, one that is called a beast of burden. The king that donkey bore into Jerusalem was the king who would bear the burden of the sin and guilt of the world in suffering and dying on the cross.

What no one there could conceive of is that this is the true glory of the king Jesus. His great triumph is bearing the sin of the world on the cross. Why is this? Why when glory and triumph to us means power and pride and wealth did Jesus consider it all joy to suffer in our place and die a miserable death? The Epistle reading describes Jesus’ action: “[He] 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.”

There is only one answer. While we seek glory for ourselves our Lord sought salvation for us. He has all glory but His love is His greatest characteristic. His love for us moved Him to be a servant in which He sacrificed all so that we may partake of the glories of heaven.

The little kingdom you set up in your own life where you rule things and work things out in your favor and seek the accolades of others is a kingdom that will end as all others on this earth have, in ruins. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world. When you sin, when you seek your own glory, when you act at the expense of others, you seek a kingdom of this world. And it is a kingdom of your own making. It won’t last. It will land you in hell.

But this is exactly what Christ delivered you from. By taking on Himself your sin and guilt He has brought you into His Kingdom, which lasts forever. You cannot comprehend the glory that awaits you in heaven and that will never crumble or fall. The glory that awaits you is because Jesus chose the entrance not of triumph but of humility. He chose to enter into Jerusalem not to conquer any empire but Satan and sin and hell.

See what those on that first Palm Sunday did not see. See your life not as a triumphal entry but as a procession that is marked by lowliness and humility. Because your Lord has not changed anything. Even with His rising victoriously from the grave, He has not changed to coming to you in glory and power and majesty.

No, He still enters into your life in lowliness and with ordinary things. He has given you eternal life through something as simple as water. In your Baptism you joined Him in this procession from death to life. Every day you live as one who is Baptized. You have entered into the death of Christ so that you may also live with Him in His resurrection.

The words you hear in the proclamation of the Gospel are ordinary words. But these words have power because they bring to you life and forgiveness. There is no motivation or great secret to life that could ever accomplish what the simple, pure proclamation of the Gospel does for you, and that is forgive you your sins.

He also invites you to a procession of sorts up to His altar. You process as He did, not seeking glory but in humility, bringing only your sins and your burdens. You come to this altar seeking not to give your Lord anything but to receive simply what He gives you. And what He gives you is nothing short of the King Almighty Himself, coming once again in humility to forgive you and strengthen your faith. The donkey carried Jesus toward the cross even as the bread and wine on this altar carry Jesus right into your mouth. His body and His blood are given to you to eat and drink.

Your procession then is from this altar to the world. Instead of going back to your little kingdom you have set up for yourself you go back into the world, to your home, where you work, in all your dealings and interactions and you serve in humility, bearing the burdens of others. Loving them as your Lord has loved you. It’s not triumphal entry as the world would see it but it is glorious beyond measure because God’s love is greater than any human kingdom or glory or power.

And on the Last Day when you see that there is nothing you have done deserving of any accolades or glory, that you have not triumphed in anything but rather have failed utterly in your sin, it will be the glory of your Lord to welcome you into His eternal glory. Amen.

SDG