Gospel: Matthew 26:1-27:66 or John 12:20-43
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm: Psalm 118:19-29 or Psalm 31:9-16
CLB Commentary – Rev. Kenneth Narvesen
The sheer length of this text makes it all but impossible to preach on the entirety. It seems to me the pastor’s task is to first make a plan for the whole of his holy week preaching and fit his Palm Sunday message into that plan. If he has a Holy Thursday service, but no Good Friday service, perhaps a focus on the crucifixion and death of Jesus as the goal of the entry into Jerusalem would be good. If he has a Good Friday service, but no Holy Thursday service, perhaps a focus on Jesus coming to Jerusalem to give his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins would be good. If he has both a Holy Thursday and a Good Friday service, he perhaps should look at his plan for those services and see what emphasis of the whole Passion Week message he is not covering in those messages.
Whichever portion of this lengthy text one chooses to preach on, the text teaches that Palm Sunday makes no sense by itself. One cannot understand Palm Sunday without consideration of the events that would follow. Further, the text teaches that the triumphalism of the triumphal entry is a very strange triumphalism indeed. It is a triumph that culminates in suffering and the cross. The triumph and reign of this King is in no way an earthly triumph. It has nothing to do with driving out the Romans. Instead, this king takes on and defeats a much more deadly enemy, Satan, death, and sin. Jesus knew that enemy could only be defeated at the cross. It is at that most unlikely of places, the cross, that we find our victory.
It may be tempting to steer away from this text, which is so difficult in both size and content. We might like instead to focus on the story of Palm Sunday itself. There is nothing wrong with that, but be sure that if you do, you also bring in the themes of suffering and the cross. The victory of King Jesus is not simply a victory that is delayed until after the cross; it is a victory that is secured at the cross. And so any look at King Jesus must include the cross as the focal point.
While the world may see the cross as taking away from the glory of King Jesus, the cross is the glory of King Jesus. In 27:34 we read, “they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” It was not that it tasted bad, but Jesus wanted nothing that would dull his senses to the awful reality of the cross, and neither should we avoid it, even on this day that often focuses on glory instead of the cross. In 27:37, we read, “And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’” Indeed, there, on the cross we see King Jesus securing the victory. Here is where we find our glory.
This is the challenge of Palm Sunday, to find glory in the cross and not earthly triumphalism. The cross is gory; the cross is painful; the cross reeks of defeat. However, in the economy of God the cross is the place of victory. Even in victory, Jesus shows us the real horror of our sin.
Just as Jesus secured the victory at the cross, so also must the Christian live at the foot of the cross. We do not stand taunting Satan and his forces, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah. We won.” Instead we humbly take our place at the foot of the cross and admit with Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is our humble cry even as we shout “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday.