Call to Worship:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who on this day received the worship of those who hailed you as their King: accept our praise and adoration, our worship and love;
grant that we, who now confess you with our lips,
may never fail to give you the service of our lives,
for the honor of your holy name,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.
Heavenly Father, we praise you this day for your amazing grace which came to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We praise you for the amazing grace you showed in becoming human, humbling yourself into the pages of history, living the perfect life and offering the atoning death on a cross, for us, your estranged creation. As the people of old opened wide the gates of Jerusalem and received their King, the Messiah, may we open wide again the gates of our hearts and be reminded of your great love and the salvation that has come to us in Jesus Christ. We pray all of this in his strong name, who himself taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day, our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
“Raise a Hallelujah”
“Your Name is Power”
Call to Confession:
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
A Christian is one who knows on their own, they are in darkness
But who has come to know the light of Christ
A Christian is one who, like all, was born of the flesh
But who, by grace, has been born again by the Spirit and made to be a child of God.
A Christian is one who knows the law of God
Yet also knows how far they fall short of its keeping
And continually run to Christ – the Light, the Savior, the Lawkeeper, the Giver of Grace.
God, we praise you for the re-birth, the salvation, the identity as your children that is ours in Jesus Christ. God, we have received you into our hearts, much like the crowd at your triumphal entry received you with shouts of “Hosanna!” Yet, there are times – perhaps even this day, certainly this week – where we behave more like that same crowd gathered at your crucifixion, refusing to believe who you really are. God, those moments of unbelief, those lapses in our faith, those moments of rejecting you are sin and lead to sinful expressions, passions, and indulgences in our lives. God those moments of unbelief lead us to transgress your holy law, to sin against you in our thoughts, words, and deeds. For these things, we repent. For these things, we ask for your mercy. For these things, we once again seek the grace brought to us from the Father’s side by Jesus. In his name, amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
“John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
We are assured in these verses of John 1, that from the fullness of the unseen God, we have received the fullness of grace, seen and given, through Jesus Christ. Moses gave us the law of God – spelling out his perfect holiness and the expectations for his creation – yet it was Jesus, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who brought us the grace of that law fulfilled and its perfect keeping credited to our account, by faith. Therefore, we can be assured though we try and debit from that account by our sin, it remains fixed, and we remain forgiven and loved by God because of Jesus Christ. He has given us grace upon grace.
“Behold Our God”
“Build Your Kingdom Here”
Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for always sticking with us. Thank you for the continued companionship of your written word, the Holy Scriptures, which direct us to the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ. Please bless its reading now, and give us eyes to see our Savior, high and lifted up. Amen.
Reflection: “Two Sets of Palm Branches”
Palm Sunday marks the day in which we, as the Church, turn our attention to the Passion Week (also called Holy Week) of Jesus Christ, his last week on earth, the week which culminated with his atoning death on the cross of Calvary. So it is that Matthew 21:1-11, marks the textual turning point in Matthew’s Gospel, as the “The Triumphal Entry” officially kick starts Jesus’ week in Jerusalem, a time he kept cryptically telling his disciples was coming, and again, the time that would end with him on the cross.
The anticipation in the passage of Matthew builds, almost like a classic Western movie. The riders on their horses, cowboy hats drawn low, crest the hill and look down upon the town they aim to rescue from corruption. So it is here that Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem, looking down over it from the Mount of Olives which only lies about a mile east of Jerusalem, rises roughly 2,600 feet high, and has a direct view of the temple mount. You can imagine, just like the cowboys in those Western classics, Jesus and the disciples pausing and quietly, anxiously even, considering what lies ahead as the wind blows and the sun sets.
Whatever the collective feeling of that group was, as they crested the hill, Jesus in his Divinity knew exactly what must be done and so he instructs two of the disciples to enter the village and secure for him a donkey and her colt. In Luke’s gospel (ch. 19) the villages of Bethany and Bethpage are seemingly conflated together in his account. In either case, here in Matthew, we have Bethpage mentioned and know it is likely situated near Bethany –perhaps is even part and parcel with it – and is on the east side of the slope of the Mount of Olives on one’s way to Jerusalem and so here it is that the disciples likely got the donkey and her colt. What has always struck me though, is how potentially awkward this encounter could have been!
Just imagine – two strangers walking into town, undoubtedly nervous, undoubtedly looking all around and over their shoulders – and thereby looking even more suspicious – coming up to a donkey and her colt which would’ve clearly belonged to someone else and untying them in order to be taken away. You can imagine if in that moment of untying, the shocked and angry hand of the owner clamped down on the wrists of the disciples, only for them to assure the angry owner that they aren’t common thieves but rather, “The Lord needs them.” You can imagine the possible doubt these two disciples had, the grumbling and muttering perhaps even between them, as they tried to concoct in their minds another excuse they might use if they were to be caught, besides something so hilariously simple and hard to believe as, “The Lord needs them.” And yet, this is the power of our God. This is the faith the disciples had slowly learned to have in their Lord, after seeing miracle upon miracle. This is not a story that teaches us we can go into our local department stores, take a bunch of items without paying, only to reply miraculously to the clerk, “The Lord needs them!” Rather, it demonstrates once again the authority of the Lord Jesus, he is God over all of creation, and his word carries power. Just like he could calm the raging sea with a word, so here, his word can accomplish what it sets out to do, what it has assured his disciples it will do.
And so, as the disciples went back to the rest of the group still waiting for them outside the village, they brought the newly found donkey and colt with them and began to see that before their very eyes prophecy was being fulfilled. How humbling, amazing, do you think it was for the two disciples who had gone into the village and returned, to now realize that they were part of how God in his eternal wisdom decided the ancient words of Zechariah would be fulfilled? Think in your own life today – how humbling and amazing is it to know that God still uses us, lowly and small as we may be, to accomplish his eternal purposes? How humbling and amazing is it to think that plans he laid before the foundation of the world come to pass through us human vessels? He uses us as his ambassadors and messengers to share his gospel and lead others to salvation. Surely, treasure is found in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). Amazing!
And yet, in typical fashion, as Jesus fulfills prophecy, the Messianic texts and images he most closely associates with are the lesser-known ones, the ones that speak more to the servant nature of the Anointed One, the less glamorous ones, if you will. Just as he preferred the “Son of Man” title often in his ministry, so here he closely identified with and employed the humble image in Zechariah of the king who would ride into Zion, not on a war horse or with a battalion, but on a lowly donkey. When Moses approached the Promised Land in Numbers 13 and sent the two spies (Joshua and Caleb) to scout it out, we know that they too, like the disciples here, had a measure of anticipation and wonder, and yet that was ultimately to be a mission of conquest. The mission of Jesus Christ – the Greater Moses and Greater Joshua – after sending his two disciples to fetch the donkey, would be a mission of compassion, salvation, and “conquest” of another kind – that of triumph over sin, death, darkness, the devil and the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 5:12).
So it is, that as Jesus and his merry band of men (disciples) rides into town, again, like in the Western classics of American film, they are initially received with gladness and rejoicing. This is no tumble-weed scene whereby the citizens of the town are holed up on their porches, where the saloon doors blow open and shut in the breeze, and whereby resident cowboys with boots propped up on barrels look skeptically under the brims of their hats pulled low while the town is eerily quiet. The scene here in verses 8-11 that day as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, and then as he enters the official city limits, is one of loud, exuberant jubilee. The disciples, the steadily increasing crowd, the curious, and those who simply get swept up into a party whenever and wherever it can be found are throwing their cloaks on the ground – a practice common when recognizing a king (think “rolling out the red carpet” in today’s language). Further, they begin grabbing palm branches wherever they can be found and waving them crazily (think of the yellow sea of “terrible towels” waved at Pittsburgh Steelers games) – a practice that had precedent in Jewish military victories of the inter-testamental times, and again was something the crowds would do to recognize a conquering hero who has returned, or one who was on the precipice of a great victory. All of this chaos and commotion and excitement was accompanied by the rhythmic choruses (now think of rowdy, European soccer match chants) of “Hosanna!” – a Greek rendering of Hebrew and Aramaic words that mean, “save us!” or “deliver us!” Again, all indications that the crowd of that day was charged with hope and expectancy that this Jesus – with his mixed reviews, some thinking he was legitimate and others not – would actually pull it together and bring the rescue they all craved.
How about you, this morning?
Did we not crave rescue from our former lives of meaninglessness, hopelessness, lostness, emptiness, and sin before Jesus found us?
Do we still not crave rescue this day from a world, which is at times beautiful, but also at times very broken, and full of difficulty?
Jesus Christ, on that day over two-thousand years ago, rode into Jerusalem to affect an all-encompassing rescue. He didn’t come to rescue the people that day from their political overlords, in that case the Roman Empire. That’s what many were expecting, that’s undoubtedly why many were frenzied and excited – their view of the Messiah was an earthly, geo-political one. In fact, we know that the reason many in this initially joyful and welcoming crowd will also be in the crowd, just a week later, shouting “crucify him” is because it would be clear that Jesus’ conquest did not include an overthrow of their Roman occupiers like they expected. But that’s because the conquest that Jesus came to affect was and remains so much bigger and brighter and everlasting than that. It was and is the conquest over humanity’s greater oppressor – sin, death, and the evil one. It was and is the breaking of sin’s curse, so that people could truly be set free. Not just set free in the moment, not just set free for a generation, but set free from the eternal guilt and the debt we owe before the Holy God because of our sin. Jesus came to ultimately defeat the dragon, the evil one, and ransom the damsel in distress, his bride, which was and is the church, comprised of believers then and believers still. Earthly empires come and ago, but Jesus’ kingdom of peace and righteousness through the grace of the Father lasts forever.
So, we know the Entry as recorded here in Matthew 21 was “triumphant” in its initial reception, but we also know Jesus was ultimately rejected by many just a week later who failed to understand his ultimate purpose. This is still true today. We also know that those who did accept him – not just his entry but his entire purpose – were initially mostly just those who resided in and around Jerusalem that day. But thankfully, the story didn’t end there. Just as this was the initial Entry, the fullness of the Story had just begun. For when we flip ahead to the end, the final book of the New Testament – Revelation – we see in 7:9-12 another set of palm branches. In these verses we see the crowd that recognizes and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior and Triumphant King has grown exponentially. It is now “a great multitude that no one could number” and it is not just those who dwelled long ago in Jerusalem but it is “from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages.” And so it is that this innumerable crowd “stands before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” And this crowd no longer has “Hosanna” or “save us” on their lips, but instead knows the fullness of that salvation and deliverance through Jesus Christ, the Risen One (more on that next week!) and so instead cries out jubilantly, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
For together – this was our hope before knowing Jesus, this was our hope once Jesus found us, and this is our hope even now until we are reunited with him – we join the chorus in Heaven that was already in motion as:
“All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Until, we too, are a part of that Heavenly, Eternal Palm Sunday. Until, the world has been put right and fully made new. We press on. We wave our palm branches here and now. We look to Jesus, who came once and is coming again. We look to Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
Thank you Lord, for coming to rescue humanity over two-thousand years ago. We thank you that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ signaled the beginning of your plan to fully and finally set all things right, here on earth as in Heaven. We thank you that your grace has come to us. We pray Lord, that you would bless us and keep us now; that you would strengthen and encourage us until that final Day when all things are put right forever and when we join the multitude in Heaven praising your name. Father, we ask for your mercy on this world, for your mercy on us your church, for your mercy on each of us individually. We pray all of this in the strong name of Jesus, amen.
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”