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LSB Palm Sunday Sermon – John 12:12-43

March 29, 2015

March 29, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

Jesus has come to Jerusalem. He is there among the throngs of pilgrims who have come for the Passover Festival. All of them are tied together by their belief in the LORD who had delivered the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from slavery in Egypt and settled them in the Promised Land of Canaan. This great act established their identity. The LORD made His Covenant with the people and kept His promises to them. They are the LORD’s favored people. And that favor extended beyond the bloodlines of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; some who did not share that particular ancestry were incorporated into that nation. John notes their presence: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.” But all of them were bound together by their shared faith in the Covenant that the LORD had made.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He heard the pilgrim psalms being sung by the Passover attendees. This wasn’t the first time He had heard them. Jesus experienced this as He went up to Jerusalem at the Passover with Mary and Joseph. During their annual trips to the holy city, the lyrics of the psalter came from their mouths and entered their ears. Jesus had heard the words before: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.” But this time, the experience was different because the crowds who were singing those words directed them to Jesus: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel!’”

The crowds’ acclamations testified to Jesus’ identity. They proclaimed Him to be the King whom the LORD had promised to send: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus enters Jerusalem to the great joy of the people. They expect salvation from Him. And Jesus is there to deliver it.

But how is that salvation to be given? Is it to be an overthrow of the Roman occupiers? Will Jesus raise a great revolutionary army? No, that is not the way. Jesus tells how it will take place: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus’ statement is an allusion to His own death. He is the “grain of wheat” that must die to produce a true harvest. But this is the way that salvation will be given.

When Jesus comes to Jerusalem, He comes with that purpose. He fulfills the psalm’s declaration: “The LORD is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” Jesus had heard those lyrics during His previous Passover pilgrimages to Jerusalem. But that day, He comes to be the sacrifice that will be offered. And it is that sacrifice which will bring deliverance even greater than the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob experienced at the Exodus.

As Jesus prepares to accomplish this deliverance through His sacrifice, He speaks of the daunting task that faces Him: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Jesus knows what awaits Him during that week in Jerusalem. He knows what He will confront: rejection by the chief priests, scribes, and elders; betrayal by one of His disciples; trials in front of Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate; torture and beating; shameful, excruciating death. These trouble Jesus’ soul. But there is no calling on the Father to take Him away from this.

Jesus has willingly come to this time and place. This is His purpose and goal. Everything that He had done had been leading up to this week: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Jesus knows the salvation that His death will bring. And He knows what the Father will do for Him in the resurrection: “I have glorified [My Name], and I will glorify it again.”

Jesus has come to Jerusalem to be your salvation. You have been added to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promises made to them are extended to you. Their pilgrim psalms are now your songs. Their declarations about Jesus are what you confess. This has happened because Jesus’ words have been fulfilled: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” You are the fruit that has been borne by the events of Holy Week that Jesus performed. His being glorified happened in His resurrection, as Paul declared: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name….” But the glorification of Jesus also takes place as His dying has produced life in you. When you receive righteousness through the work that Jesus performed He is glorified and exalted: you are made part of His kingdom and the number of His subjects is increased.

The benefit of Jesus’ work for you is stated in His description of what He did in Jerusalem so many years ago: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Jesus has brought judgment to this world. It is a judgment of righteousness that speaks against what has corrupted and enslaved His creation. He levels all His authority and power against everything that has tried to usurp it.

The judgment that Jesus brings to the world is how He fulfills the prophecy given through Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus has come to bring salvation. But it’s not by raising an army. Salvation comes through His suffering and dying, followed by His rising from death. That is how Jesus overthrows an oppressive ruler—not Egypt’s Pharaoh or Babylon’s Emperor or Caesar of Rome, but the Deceiver who had brought the LORD’s creation to ruin and enslaved all of humanity. That is how Jesus breaks the bonds of those who have enslaved you.

Bringing that salvation is what the LORD promised: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” Your rescue comes from what the King sent by the LORD to fulfill His covenant has done: “Being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That has broken the grip that death had over you. That has broken the grip that sin had over you. That has broken the grip that Satan had over you. You are set free, being brought under the gracious rule of the true King, the one who is righteous and has salvation for you.

Because Jesus has accomplished this in Jerusalem, the pilgrim song becomes yours to sing. You call out for His aid: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!” But you also confess Jesus’ identity as the King sent by the LORD to bring salvation: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless You from the house of the LORD.” You tell of the favor that the LORD has shown by doing this: “The LORD is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us.” You speak of the atonement that Jesus made by being lifted up and fixed to the arms of the cross: “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” You testify of what happened to Jesus after His rejection by the chief priests, scribes, and elders: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

These statements are made because of the truth that Jesus spoke: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” That hour came, and Jesus did not evade it: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” That is what you began to hear again on Palm Sunday. And it is what you will hear throughout the entire Holy Week.

Jesus fulfilled the role that He was sent to perform: He was lifted up; He has drawn you to Himself. So this Sunday that begins the holiest of weeks on the calendar is praised by you: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” You will praise Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday—for each of them are days that the LORD made and the times when His promised salvation was delivered.

Because you have received that salvation, you have become Jesus’ servant who follows Him: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.” You follow Jesus through the days of this Holy Week. But that following will not just be a recounting of what He has done. No, you also will follow Jesus through your own death and resurrection. That is the salvation Jesus provides. Since you have received that promised salvation, then you will be able to say on the day when you go on your pilgrimage: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.” And the glorified Jesus who stands in the heavenly Jerusalem will gladly welcome you into His presence.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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