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A Sign FOR Joyous Faith

John 12:12-19

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Palm Sunday
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View PDF file

Sun, Apr 9, 2017 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Perspective matters.  Things tend to look a whole lot different depending on where you’re standing; depending on where you’re coming from; depending on the company you keep.  Hourly employees always see things differently than the salaried managers, who see things differently than the owners.  Players see things differently than the coach, and parents and fans see things way differently than all of them.  Enlisted see things differently from officers.  You get the picture.  Even personal tastes within a close-knit family provide for very different perspectives.  My eldest daughter and I can go to a place with tons of ethnic food booths, and we’ll have the time of our lives, whereas my wife is not impressed.  It’s all lost on her.  She’s not a “foodie.” But…go to a play or a musical, and my wife is thrilled.  Me?  There’s no popcorn vendor and I’m not allowed to be on my phone, so it’s basically me praying for appendicitis or a meteor strike.  She thinks it’s the most beautiful, wonderful, maybe even romantic type of thing, and I sit there in my misery thinking, “maybe there is something to Purgatory and karma, because clearly I made somebody angry and now I’m being punished for it.” True story. 

Anyway…the reason I begin with all this talk of perspective is because today’s Gospel lesson, which isn’t typically read on Palm Sunday, provides us a very different perspective from the more oft-read account from St. Luke, and that difference in perspective matters.  You see, in St. Luke’s account, we’re told very plainly that the huge crowd gathered along that road leading into Jerusalem was shouting their loud hosannas and waving palm branches and covering the street with their cloaks “because of the mighty works they had seen.” As I’ve mentioned more than a few times over the past nine years, this definitely puts a bit of a stain on the whole event, doesn’t it?  Suddenly the disciples alongside this festive parade route don’t exactly seem so faithful and pure in their intentions, do they? 

John’s perspective, which we hear today, records how some of that crowd (not all, but some) were raising those loud hosannas and waving the palm branches because of the great sign/miracle they had either witnessed first-hand or had heard about; the great sign/miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It’s the same…but yet it’s different, isn’t it?  Yes, they were rejoicing because they, too, had seen (or heard about) a miraculous work/sign that Jesus had done, but this rejoicing is just different than the rejoicing we hear about from Luke’s perspective.  This is “good” rejoicing.  This is rejoicing over the great reversal from death to life.  This is rejoicing over the fact that this long-prophesied Messianic promise of redemption, renewal, and resurrection is now being recognized and fulfilled in the Word and person of Jesus Christ.  This difference in perspective changes things.  But…should it?

When you get down to it, there really isn’t anything different between the two groups crying out their loud hosannas.  The difference in perspective may soften our view of at least some of the crowd, but it doesn’t change the facts.  It didn’t matter where you were standing that day.  It didn’t matter what group you were with.  It didn’t matter if you were rejoicing for the right reasons or the selfish and self-serving wrong reasons.  NOBODY that day (except Jesus) saw the cross coming at the end of that week.  NOBODY recognized that parade as the long-prophesied and purposeful procession to Calvary for the express purpose of making atonement for the sins of all the world; atonement which could only be made through the shedding of blood and the sacrificial death of the Paschal Lamb of God.  Whether you’re crying out “hosanna” for the right reasons or not, everyone along that route still wound up devastated and shell-shocked six days later.  Everyone looked on the arrest, the abuse, the mockery, the shame, the crucifixion as total, abject failure and utterly shameful defeat.  Nobody saw God’s Word and promise being fulfilled amidst all the darkness and blood and mockery.  Nobody saw the serpent’s head being crushed in eternal defeat.  Nobody saw victory, even though the Victor Himself declared victoriously, “It is finished” before bowing His head and confidently, peacefully commending His spirit into His Father’s loving hands. 

Even the very faithful ones that we get a glimpse of from John’s perspective, who were crying out their loud hosannas for all the “right reasons,” were still just as terrified and devastated six days later when life took a terrible and unexpected turn towards Golgotha.  Just think of the faithful women, who were undoubtedly part of that Palm Sunday procession, who were also hurrying out to the tomb three days later, not to be the first ones to greet their resurrected Lord and Savior, but to anoint a corpse.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is risen, just like He told you He would.” They didn’t see.  They were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place because they hadn’t listened.  The apostles?  The guys who just spent three years in Jesus’ inner-circle?  They’re worse.  They’re back hiding behind locked doors.  They know what they saw just three days earlier, and they don’t want the same thing to happen to them.  Even after the women come to tell them the Good News about Christ’s resurrection, they don’t believe it.  Mark tells us in his Gospel that Jesus appeared to them later that evening, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. 

And truth be told, we’re no different either.  Sure, our perspectives change.  We have good days, and then we have not-so-good days.  There are times that we look around at all the goodness and abundance in our life, and we give thanks to God for all the wrong reasons, firmly convinced that all that goodness is proof that God loves us and is well-pleased with us.  Then again, though, there are also those times that we are forced to see life from a different perspective; from the perspective of suffering and shame and heartache and loss.  There are times we look around, and all we see is defeat.  It looks like the whole world is out to get us…maybe even God is angry with us.  Maybe He’s punishing us. 

Both perspectives are WRONG!  Does abundance of health, wealth, and earthly “stuff” mean that God loves you and is pleased with you?  We know the right answer, and yet how often we still fall into the trap of confusing God’s patience with us for His approval.  Does pain, sorrow, and misery equal God’s displeasure with you?  Does sickness or poverty or any other cross we try our very best to avoid translate into God’s anger and vengeance?  If we’re having a rough go of things, does it mean that God doesn’t love us?  If that’s the case, then the hospital, the cancer ward, the battlefield, the orphanage, the women’s shelter, and the homeless shelter are filled with people that God doesn’t love and is angry with.  Does hardship and cross-bearing serve as evidence that God doesn’t love us or is angry with us?  Again, we know the right answer to such a foolish question, but still all too often the fruits we bear tell a different story. 

We may not want to admit it, and I know that some of you will absolutely refuse to admit it, but we’re all guilty of it.  We’re all guilty of doubt.  We don’t always trust what God says when we’re not seeing the results we want or expect or feel entitled to see.  We’re all guilty of false confidence and trust in the wrong things when we see only what we want to see, and turn a deaf ear to God and His Word.  We’re all guilty of looking to Jesus for all the wrong things, but not looking to Him for that which matters most—our eternal salvation.  We’re all guilty of, at least occasionally, looking to karma for explanation and guidance rather than looking to Christ. 

We may not call it that (in fact some of us would NEVER call it that), but that’s what it is.  If things are good, it must be because we’re good.  Clearly, God is rewarding us and is pleased with us.  Quid pro quo.  Conversely, if things aren’t going so well, you just need to have more faith and turn it around and get yourself right with Jesus, and then good things will start happening.  I hear that one a lot.  If things are bad, maybe it’s because we’ve done something bad and God is punishing us.  Again, turn things around and good things will start happening.  “God, I’m in a bit of a bind here.  If you just help me out this one time, I’ll do this, that, and the other thing for you.  God, here’s what I’m gonna do for you….” Sound familiar?  If it doesn’t, you’re either not listening or you’re a liar.  And I can say this with all certainty because every single one of us here wears the flesh of Old Adam, and this karmic-type of works-righteousness and assurance is Old Adam’s default setting.  It’s what comes naturally to everyone who wears Adam’s sinful flesh. 

Here’s the thing, though: It doesn’t matter what your perspective is.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not.  It doesn’t matter if things couldn’t be better or things couldn’t possibly get any worse.  God loves you.  Bottom line.  The proof is not found in your bank accounts or your beautifully manicured yards or your new car or your clean bill of health.  Rank pagans have all those things too.  The proof is not found in an absence of pain or sorrow or despair.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  The proof is found in the lowest, most God-forsaken place of all time—the cross of Jesus Christ. 

Here is God’s full wrath and punishment against all sin.  Here is what Jesus was processing towards on that first Palm Sunday.  Jesus was processing to the cross.  Jesus’ whole mission and purpose was to come and die for us and our sins.  This is why He was conceived and born.  This is why Jesus gave up all of heaven’s glory and majesty—for the sole purpose of being punished for all sin, the wage of which He paid in full for all time with His all-redeeming bloody sacrifice.  How often we miss that. 

Look here [Word and Sacrament].  Here is your reason to rejoice.  Here is the answer to the prayerful cry “hosanna – save us now.” Here is the sign and proof.  Here is where your victorious Lord and Savior continues to come to you, humble, yet triumphant, veiled under the simple elements of Word, water, bread, and wine.  Here is Jesus—the risen Savior—the One who once was dead, but now lives and reigns triumphantly.  He comes to you this very day to bring you His free and unmerited gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.  “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” Here is that cruciform, eternal peace of God…for you.  Here is His body and His blood, risen and victorious, coming to you and for you.  Here is true peace, both on earth and in heaven.  That’s saying something.  From God’s perspective, here is where heaven meets earth—Jesus Christ—where angels, archangels, all the company of heaven gather around the one and same Christ at the same exact time we do, joining their voices with ours in praise and adoration of the Lamb of God. 

My fellow redeemed: May this perspective of true peace, which surpasses all human understanding; a perspective only recognized on this side of eternity through faith—God’s perspective—fill you with all joy and peace and assurance, now and into all eternity. 

AMEN



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