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Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,  Celebrations are a big part of life, aren’t they? What do you celebrate? At the end of the month we’ll have 4 confirmations and there’s going to be celebrations. Next month there’s going to be graduations and there’s probably going to be celebrations. We have birthday parties where we celebrate a specific person. We have wedding celebrations, anniversary celebrations, retirement celebrations, championship celebrations, grand opening celebrations. I think it’s safe to say that we humans enjoy celebrating. But, how often do you just celebrate to celebrate? Do you ever celebrate for no reason? There’s almost always a reason behind a celebration, there’s something that is happening that is causing your celebration.

But maybe you’re thinking to yourself right now, “Celebrate? Celebrate what? I have nothing to celebrate. I have no reason to celebrate. My life stinks right now.” But if you’re saying that you’re not celebrating not because you have nothing to celebrate but because you’re not celebrating the right things. Or maybe you’re saying to yourself, “You’re right I’m celebrating! I’m celebrating my children, my achievements in life, my promotions, my friends, etc.” But if you’re saying that you may be celebrating but you’re celebrating the wrong things. So, why are you celebrating?

We see people in our text celebrating. Palm Sunday is always kind of a strange day. We’ve been in the season of Lent for the last 5 ½ weeks. Lent is a time when we reflect on the sufferings of our Savior, we remember what our sins cost our Savior, we’re sorrowful over sin. We wear black, our songs are more mellow and sorrowful, our joy is somewhat muted.  And we know how this coming week is going to end. We remember how Jesus was betrayed on Maundy Thursday, how the disciple abandoned him, then on Good Friday we’re going to see Jesus nailed and crucified, die and be buried. But then here we are on Palm Sunday and…we’re celebrating!

Palm Sunday was an incredible event. Thousands of thousands of people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. For what I read the normal population of Jerusalem was around 20-30,000 normally, but at the time of the Passover the population swelled to some 200-300,000 people. And when you’re coming to Jerusalem from the west, you come over the Mount of Olives and all of a sudden- there’s Jerusalem! Right in front of you! And here’s Jesus. He has just days earlier raised Lazarus from the dead and the news spread. And it wasn’t the only thing that Jesus had done. Jesus had done all kinds of miracles, healing the sick, making the paralyzed walk, the blind see, feeding 5,000, then feeding 4,000, so thousands and thousands of people knew about Jesus, heard about him, and now he’s coming to Jerusalem! Can you sense the excitement in the air? Throngs and throngs of people lining the streets, laying their garments on the road, cutting down palm branches to lay on the road. Can you picture it? They’re celebrating!

But why are they celebrating? What’s the reason they are celebrating? The crowds are shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” They are praising and hailing Jesus as the long promised Messiah riding into the Holy City at none other than the very time when they are commemorating the glorious deliverance that God brought about when He brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. Could it be that they were thinking that Jesus was going to begin a wonderful and powerful earthly kingdom? Could it be that they were thinking that now they could have a king to feed them with free food, heal all their sicknesses, free them from the Romans and give them a wonderful life? Could it be that they were expecting a king like King David? We know that the disciples had their own misunderstandings. James and John wanted to sit at the right and left in Jesus’ kingdom, Peter wanted Jesus to have nothing to do with suffering and crucifixion. Could it be that they are celebrating but for the majority they are celebrating for the wrong reason, they are celebrating an earthly kingdom? By the end of the week the crowds won’t be shouting “Hosanna!” They’ll be shouting, “Crucify!”

And what about us? Why do we celebrate? Why are we celebrating? Or, why are we not celebrating? What are our reasons for celebrating or what are our reasons for not celebrating? You see, we aren’t much different from the crowds of people here. We, too, are by nature sinful and therefore also selfish. We want what’s best for us, we want things to go our way, we want life to be on our terms, we want life to meet our expectations. And so, when life goes according to our wants and desires- we celebrate. But then when life goes opposite of what we want – we refuse to celebrate. And I’m not talking about being happy all the time. I’m talking about celebrating as in singing God’s praises, praising, honoring, glorifying God – do we do that in the bad and in the good times? Or are our hearts selfishly focused on this life, this world, and our own expectations? Do we celebrate the wrong things and fail to celebrate the right things? Are we just as fickle as a Peter? Praising Jesus on Sunday and denying him with our words and actions on Thursday. Are we just as fickle as this crowd? Praising him on Sunday and abandoning him on Friday?  We don’t deserve to celebrate- we deserve to mourn, to cry, to weep because the only thing we deserve from this King the King is to be separated from him forever in hell.

But then there’s Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem not on a warhorse or a stallion, but humbly and gently, meekly and lowly. He came to Jerusalem not to claim a throne, but to a climb a cross. He came not to drive out the Romans, but to drive out sin, death, and hell forever. He came to do exactly what they and us were singing: Hosanna. It’s a Hebrew word that means “save us.” That’s exactly what we needed Jesus to do- to save us, to pay for our sins in full, to save us not from the Romans, but from eternal damnation. And that’s why Jesus rode in to Jerusalem.

And there’s more reasons to celebrate- right here we see them!  What do we see first?  As Jesus is coming to the village of Bethphage close to Jerusalem, he sends two of his disciples into the village.  Why?  Because Jesus tells them at once they will find a donkey and a colt there and the Gospel writer Luke adds that the colt is one on whom no one has ever ridden.  How did Jesus know those things?  Jesus is all-knowing and he’s showing that to his disciples.  And is that not something to celebrate?  Jesus knows all things.  That means He knows your life.  Jesus knows what’s coming in my life.  Jesus knows when the challenges are going to come, the good times are going to happen.  Jesus knows how he will use each thing that happens in my life to serve my good.  That’s something to celebrate!

Look at something else here when Jesus directs those disciples He tells them when they get to the donkey and her colt, “If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”  Literally the Greek says, “The Lord has need of them.”  The Lord has a need!!  And what does he need?  A donkey?  Really!  Think about that!  What amazing humility and lowliness!  The Lord…has lowered himself to what extent?  That he has need of a donkey!

But it was all according to God’s plan: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Our God rides into Jerusalem not in pomp and glory and strength and might, but in lowliness and with gentleness.  Is that something to celebrate?  For sinful human beings like you and me, absolutely.  For God could deal with us with anger and power and give us what our sins deserve.  But he doesn’t.  He deals with us with gentleness and graciousness.  While the crowds are celebrating and cheering, Jesus however remains focused and keeps his sight on one place, the cross, to go to the cross and pay for the sins of the world.

And again that Jesus had his sights set on the cross to pay for the sins of the world and came riding into Jerusalem to do just that, that’s something to celebrate.  For when our final hour comes, when the end of our life comes, when we are getting ready to leave this world, what are we going to celebrate?  Are we really going to care about that promotion that we got at work?  Are we really going to care about that advanced degree?  Are we really going to care if we won the big game?  Is it really going to matter if we were healthy or unhealthy, popular or unpopular, rich or poor?  At our final hour we will see all of those things for what they really are – things of this earth, which are fine and good by themselves, but just that, things of this earth.  Rather, as death draws near it will be the eternal things that will matter to us.

And because Jesus came riding into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday we have something worth celebrating!  For we have salvation, we have forgiveness, we have a God who deals with us with gentleness and grace, we have a God who knows our lives through and through and will continue to guide and direct things in order to bring us to the eternal mansions of heaven!  Celebrate that!

And so today we sing “Hosanna!”  And it’s incredibly fitting.  For “Hosanna” means “Save us, Lord.”  And that’s exactly what we need, we need a God to save us and that’s exactly what our King, our Lord, our Redeemer Jesus gently, humbly, knowingly and willingly rode into Jerusalem to do.  And that’s the real reason that we celebrate today, tomorrow, and forever.  Amen.