Sermon in a Sentence
Some people think sermons are too long. Take heart; they're getting shorter. In the 1930s the standard LCMS sermon was about 45 minutes. In the 1970s, it was 20 minutes. In the 1990s it was 15, and the push is less still. Actually, they can get much shorter. In fact, even on a festival like Palm Sunday, I can give you a sermon in a sentence. Since it's so short, I'll give you three.
The first is, "The Lord of them need has." That's a literal translation of what Jesus told the disciples to say to the owner of the donkeys. Today Jesus moves royally; He asserts His kingship, His being the Creator and true owner of a donkey and her colt. He takes the colt and its mother, since the foal won't be happy without her, without asking because He is the true Owner. If you think I'm making too much of this incident, read Job 39 & 40. There the Almighty asserts His absolute lordship over Job by pointing out His dominion over all animals, donkeys included.
The Lord Almighty has need of these because today for the first, last and only time, He rides into Jerusalem. Jesus is pushing all the kingly, messianic buttons. Zechariah had prophesied that when the true King of Israel came He would ride into Jerusalem precisely this way. Jesus is announcing, "Your king is here." He who had for the past 3 years been saying, "Shh, don't tell anyone I'm the Messiah," shouts it from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem today.
And don't miss the palms. The Palms are the equivalent of waving an American flag as the Americans marched into Paris after defeating the occupying Germans. Palm branches were used in the rededication of the Temple in 164 B.C. In 141 B.C., Simon Maccabees triumphantly entered Jerusalem while palm branches waved as a symbol of victory. When the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 A.D. palms were minted on Jewish coins.
This is Jesus Christ Superstar. Only yesterday, He had raised Lazarus from the dead. He had waited 4 days to make sure he was good and dead. Then with a crowd present He had stood before Lazarus' tomb and shouted, "Lazarus come forth." All of this had been orchestrated to produce this welcome fit for a Rockstar says Jn. 12: "The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign."
God Almighty, Yahweh incarnate comes to reign in Jerusalem today. What a sermon! But there is a problem. Our sermon in a sentence ends with "need." The Lord has need'. What? The Lord never has a need. The Old Testament says that if He was hungry He wouldn't tell us. And this is only the beginning of His needs. Jesus will need disciples to prepare a place for the Passover, so the betrayer can't betray Him too soon. He will need feet to wash, His cross carried, His mother cared for, to be given a drink, to be prepared for burial, and finally, He will need a grave. The King of kings is going to need this coming week so very much.
This neediness is what draws needy people on Palm Sunday. It's what causes us to walk in with Jesus waving our feeble little palms feeling a bit foolish and humble as we do it. That's the reason the church does it: to get some sense of the humility Jesus had on Palm Sunday. To show we know who Jesus really is, yet we know what is going to happen to Him. What's more; we know that He knows but comes anyways!
The Lord of them need has. That's one sermon. Here's another. "The King of you comes to You humble." Do you see again the strange combination of royalty and humility? Kings don't come to their subjects; subjects come to their kings. Subjects seek audiences with their king. He doesn't make house calls. And if he visits a city, he brings power and pomp with him, not King Jesus. He left the mansions of eternity; lived in the land of His subjects for 33 years as one of them; He suffered the oppression of the Romans, the repression of the church, and all the griefs and sorrows of fallen men. He came down so very far to be with us. He takes the last step down by coming to Jerusalem.
And don't miss this: He comes to the Daughters of Zion. He doesn't come to self-righteous clergymen. He doesn't come to those who have their religious ducts in-line, strong faith, or good works. He comes to the city that had persecuted and killed every prophet sent to her. He comes to people with false ideas about salvation, God's kingdom, the Messiah, and to people with doubts, fears, and just plain errors. King Jesus comes to those who only have sweaty clothes, broken branches, and broken lives to offer.
This should have humbled them, but look whom Scripture says is humbled? "The King of you comes to you humble and riding upon a donkey even upon the foal of a donkey." Jesus doesn't even ride the full-grown donkey; He rides the colt! The feet of Jesus scrape along the ground as He rides. Have you ever seen an adult ride a child's bike? Looked kind of funny, kind of humbling, didn't it? From the 300s, a donkey has been part of the Palm Sunday events. The bishop at Jerusalem was placed on a donkey which he rode into the city. The palms weren't used for another 200 years. Wouldn't you think Jesus could've used and the early church could've focused on some more profound, devote thing than a donkey?
You would if you knew Church history. Christians were ridiculed for Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Romans called Christians "asinair", that is, "ass-drivers." There is graffiti dating back to the 200s which depict Christ as a crucified donkey. Even in the 19th century where Muslims ruled, Christians weren't allowed to ride horses but only donkeys as a sign of degradation.
Why did the King of Jerusalem, the King of the Jews, the King of earth and heaven choose to degrade Himself and come so humbly? I think the last sermon in a sentence answers that: It's in English one word, "Hosanna!" That's not a literal translation or a translation at all. Hosanna is a transliteration of a Greek word, which comes from the Aramaic, which goes all the way back to the ancient Hebrew. Hosanna! is what the people shouted as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Jesus, the true Lord and King, rides a little donkey into His city, and He accepts broken lives, broken palms and sweaty clothing. All the people do is shout, "Hosanna."
This word ought to be familiar to you. You sing it every Sunday before Communion. You sing what the Palm Sunday crowd shouted: "Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord." Why since the 200s have Christians been singing this in connection with the Communion? You know why. Because in Communion Jesus comes again to His people. It's Palm Sunday all over again.
Palm Sunday is all there in Communion; both the royalty and the humility, the earthly and the heavenly. The heavenly Son of God wraps Himself in earthly bread and wine. The royal Lord Jesus wraps Himself in the simplest, humblest food there is, bread and wine. God gave Himself over to sinful people on Palm Sunday; God gives Himself over to sinful people every Sunday in Communion.
There is a difference, however. Jesus rode into Jerusalem bearing the sins of the world. He comes to our altar bearing the forgiveness of sins. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to pay for sins; Jesus comes to our altar because He paid for all sins the first time. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to be carried outside the city as a sacrifice for the world's sins. He comes to our altar to be carried out the front door in our bodies.
But there is no difference in who does the acting. Jesus makes the journey. He comes in both cases. Jesus willingly sets aside His visible glory and power to come visibly in weakness. Think on this. We don't find Jesus on Palm Sunday saying, "Cut that branch down over there; lay that cloak here, and while you're at it, give up more of your clothes for My sake." So, why do we think our Lord comes to us today, saying "Do that, don't do this, straighten this up, and while you're at it, do more for Me?"
Why do we turn Jesus into a new Moses? Don't we know as John says, "The Law came through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus Christ?" As Paul asked the Galatians, "Who has bewitched us into thinking that though we've been saved by grace we live by works?" Were we saved by observing the Law? No, then how come we think we remain saved by doing the Law? How come many of us think we forfeit salvation if we don't do this or that thing for Jesus? Why do many of us focus daily on ourself and all that we're not rather than rejoicing daily in all that Jesus is?
Consider this too about Palm Sunday. There were some real whackos there. Some thought Jesus came to stomp the Romans. Others thought a Jewish state was on the rise. Does Jesus stop and say, "Wait; you've got this and that wrong?" No, He just comes to give Himself for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness doesn't only belong to those who first get everything straight in their heads. No forgiveness belongs to those to whom Jesus comes for, and look He comes for you!
Do see why you can shout Hosanna with the Palm Sunday crowd? Hosanna means "save us now we pray!" People who've failed a hundred times this week can shout that. People with doubts and religious confusion can shout that. He is the Savior. He loves to hear people shout, "Save me!" What upsets Him is when people say, "No thanks; I'll work it out myself." Or, "No thanks; I don't need saving." Or, "No thanks; I'll try harder."
"Hosanna, save us now we pray," we shout right before our Lord comes to us in Communion. We claim by this shout to be nothing but people in need of being saved. We have sins; we have doubts; we have fears; we have more of these than we can possibly handle ourselves. "Save us dear Lord," we cry. And He hears us and comes in lowly bread and wine to do far more than we ask or even think. Just as the Palm Sunday crowd couldn't imagine all that Jesus was coming to do for them neither can we. Amen - By the way, that too is a sermon in a word.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20180325); Matthew 21: 1-11