“Your King Is Coming to You, Lowly” – Palmarum 2013

24. March 2013
Palmarum
Matthew 21:1-9; Zechariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11

“Ride on, ride on, in majesty. Ride on in lowly pomp to die.” The words of this hymn echo a unique confession of St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry. Only St. Matthew records the prophecy of Zechariah explicitly: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9) St. Luke combines Zechariah’s prophecy with the song of the angels creating Sanctus. St. Mark emphasizes the kingship of Jesus as the Son of David. St. John quotes Zechariah but leaves out one pertinent detail which St. Matthew includes.

Only Matthew tells us that Jesus enters “lowly” or “humble.” Only this Evangelist wants us to know Christ specifically as humble. The others focus our attention to our Lord’s kingship, the pageantry, the palms, and the conversation with the owner of the donkey. St. John remarks that the disciples were confused by the use of a donkey. St. Matthew uniquely explains its purpose and points us to Christ’s character of humility. “Ride on in lowly pomp to die.”

It’s almost as if the other Evangelists did not know how to understand Zechariah. They saw the animal but missed it’s significance with the other fanfare and pomp. Ceremony, ritual, and drama can either reinforce or distract from the truth. This is often true of traditions. The pomp and circumstance can overwhelm the purpose. Not with Palm Sunday. The manner of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was not indifferent but confesses the truth. St. Matthew stops to consider the choice of a donkey and what it means for us.

Had Christ ridden in on a horse, all those of the crowd and the onlookers in Jerusalem would believe He came as a king into war. It would be tantamount to arming the disciples with clubs and swords. The palm branches already had Jerusalem confused. 180 years previous, such celebration came when Simon regained Jerusalem through military campaign.  And they sing a Psalm (118:26) clearly asking God to grant them success in what they think is a pending revolt. “O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus is intentional in his pageantry. He asks His disciples to go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. Yet, the disciples did not understand. St. John records: His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. For now, the disciples, Jerusalem, and all those who came for the feast thought Him an earthly king. They came to see His signs and His triumph. But the donkey they did not understand until later.

Why the particularity of the donkey? Jesus’ kingdom is not of Jerusalem or this world. Thus, He enters not on a bold stallion but a humble ass. He comes not as the conquering king of war but as the king of peace. He does not enter armed with steel but with the Word of the Father. He comes not to take life but to give up His own life as a ransom for His murderers.

Never did Moses or the Prophets ascribe the character of humility to God. The poor, the meek, the lowly were poor sinners like you and me. But Matthew helps us see that Christ comes as our dear brother, taking on our flesh along with its weaknesses. He makes himself a servant that we would be made princes. He exalts the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. He gives his life that we would live in Him.

“Ride on in lowly pomp to die.” Child-like faith sees what is true in the midst of things we often cannot understand. Such faith is not afraid to have reason and expectation challenged. Unlike all Jerusalem who expected a triumphant Messiah, a destroyer of Rome, and a conquerer of the nations, the infants and nursing babies know Jesus and thus know God rightly. They know their God in the Christ incarnate, riding a donkey, dying for their sins.

Earlier Jesus declared: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” (Matthew 11:25) The only people who understood Jesus rightly were the children. They continued the Psalm long after the parade was over. They kept singing “Hosanna” while Jesus overturned the moneychanger’s tables and kicked out the pigeon sellers. The chief priests and scribes were indignant. The kids got it. The Jews said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.

These babies believed Jesus. They trusted His Word. They weren’t distracted by expectations or creaturely hopes but saw in it the truth. Jesus said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30) Thus the children followed Jesus into the temple, singing their annoying hosannas, along with the blind and the lame. They followed to receive their servant King, the humble king born to die.

Jesus’ humility began at His incarnation. He humbled himself to be born of a virgin. He was baptized not because of sin but to take away sin. His humility broke all social castes. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” His kingdom was not limited to the “chosen” or the “righteous” or to “Israel.” He humbly comes for the sick, the outcast, the foreigner, the sinner, and the children.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus still comes in humility. He humbly does the Father’s bidding for you. He washes you clean of sin with plain water combined with the Word. He declares you righteous through lowly preachers. He feeds you with eternal life in His body and blood riding on ordinary bread and wine. Thus, the donkey was the most fitting beast of burden to carry our Lord into Jerusalem. It confesses was Zechariah foretold, Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly… It confesses the truth that Jesus is the king of peace, the suffering Servant, and our brother. “Ride on, ride on, in majesty. Ride on in lowly pomp to die.”

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Trinity 17 2010 – Luke 14:1-11 – Unity in Humility

Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
26. September 2010
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Proverbs 25:6-14; Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 14:1-11

Fellow beloved of God,

You have heard it said: pride comes before the fall. According to God’s Holy Word, this saying is true. Our selfish pride can lead to no good thing and always leads to our downfall. It destroys relationships. It destroys churches. It destroys true religion. Only by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit can we turn from this wicked vice of pride to the Godly virtue of humility. Pride comes before the fall. Let us instead follow after Christ in humility and all virtue and so remain in a right relationship before God and man.

In today’s Gospel text, we hear what might be considered two stories. The first is of Jesus’ visit to the house of the ruler of the Pharisees. The second is the parable of the wedding feast. These Pharisees in the Gospel texts are notoriously arrogant and prideful people. According to Jesus, “they chose the places of honor” (Luke 14:7). Their very lack of action, to care for the man with dropsy, betrays this their character. The man with dropsy, their brother, is in need of physical healing. The ruler, the owner of the house, has invited him to bait Jesus, to tempt Jesus to heal on the Sabbath, to break the Sabbath code. Jesus smells out the trap. He instead turns the trap back on the trapper and asks the question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into the well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5-6). No amount of pride would get in the way of taking care of your own son so why do you ignore your friend in need?

These Pharisees boast of their piety. They boast of their ability to live as strict and upright Jews. The take great pride in their ability to keep the Law and all the statutes of their people. They are so confident in their knowledge and practice of the Sabbath that the ruler tries to humiliate Jesus by leading him to sin, breaking the Sabbath code. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. It is fitting for all believers to keep the Sabbath by hearing of God’s Word and serving our neighbors with Spirit-led good works. The Sabbath was given to us for rest and to serve others. The other six days of the week, we toil and labor for ourselves and our family.

While the Pharisees boasted in their ability to keep the Sabbath, their pride was their downfall. The failed to give to the man with dropsy the same ethical treatment they would give their own son or ox. The sit in high seats of honor, boasting of their lawfulness. Yet, the neglect their neighbor in need, the man with dropsy. As promised by Solomon in Proverbs, Jesus, the God-made-man humiliates them. They think they hold places of honor, as rulers of the people and perfect examples of piety. But they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them. There is but one who deserves the seat of honor and that is God, creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. Only God can be seated on the heavenly throne. Those who seat themselves in the place of honor will be humiliated.

Yet, even God himself does not boast with prideful arrogance. He serves the people in humility and meekness. Consider Christ Jesus: He is already humble, taking the lowest seat, serving his neighbor and not boasting of His extraordinary righteousness. Jesus is humble and does as only a humble man can do. He lived a perfect life of humility, serving the poor, the hungry, the ill, the outcast, the loser, and even the dead. He gladly gave of his sleep, his energy, and his leisure to help those in need. Nowhere more obvious is this than in his suffering and death for the sin of the whole world. He drank deeply to the dregs from the cup of wrath in our place, seated at the lowest possible seat on earth. After His resurrection and ascension, He was given the highest seat, the right hand of God. This is not because of His pride or arrogance but because of His perfect submission to the will of the Father, even unto death.

The Lord teaches us that the Pharisees have it backwards. The Sabbath is not a seat of honor for us to boast. The Sabbath is a day of humility, allowing God to crucify in us once again our evil flesh. We take the lowest seat, declaring our utter lack of worthiness to join in His wedding feast, His heavenly banquet. We are not worthy to hear His Word nor receive His heavenly gifts. We enter into His presence with holy and righteous fear of his wrath and judgment.

Only then does God raise us up to new life. He removes our filthy rags and clothes us with His Son’s righteousness. We are taken from our low and humble estate as sinners and exalted as fellow heirs with Christ of eternal life. Our God and Father raises us up from our depths of woe to seat us at the seat of honor with the Holy Trinity.

This exaltation is not our action. We do not receive it because of our pride or humility. We receive it only by God’s good grace. Dearly beloved, beware of having pride like the Pharisee. We must not take pride in our perfect church attendance, our pious life of prayer, our joyous songs of praise, or our preacher’s dynamic and entertaining sermons. We must not take pride in the size the congregation, the gifts and talents we bring forth, or the amount of time, energy, and money we pour into to this enterprise. Grace is not a place for self-righteous pride.

Everything we say and do as Christians ought to be done with a spirit of humility, a spirit that says: Lord, we are not worthy to boast in our church, our sanctuary, our singing, or our programs and activities. If we are to boast in anything, we boast in the gracious love of God which has given us all we have. The very fact that Grace and this sanctuary still exists these forty eight years since its founding cannot be attributed to our work. It was not your hands that built this place. It was not your time that kept the Spirit of God present here, working forgiveness of sins, life and salvation here. It was not your treasures that kept this church financially afloat.

It was God’s good gifts to you that preserved this place. It was His granting of faith in Holy Baptism that brought faithful Christians into the family of believers. It was His forgiving Word of Holy Absolution that comforted your humiliated and tormented soul. It was his refreshing gift of the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood that forgave your sins and sustained you in the true faith.

We do not boast of these good gifts. We do not take pride in our worthiness to receive them. No, the opposite is true. We receive them in humility, confessing we are not worthy to be baptized. We are not worthy of God’s gracious gift of forgiveness. We are utterly unworthy to receive His very body and blood in our mouths. We can only come into His presence to receive His gifts on our knees, taking the seat of lowest esteem.

Yet, we come trusting that our Lord is merciful and gracious. He has promised to forgive us, to accept us back into his wedding feast, you take our hand and lift us up from our lowest seat to be seated with Him. He has promised to seat us in His heavenly mansion, to clothe us with the wedding garment of Christ, and to feast there with the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world. We can take great joy in this terrific gift, not boasting but proclaiming the goodness of God to the world.

I have to admit a personal weakness. I love the the hymns of our Lutheran tradition. I love the liturgy as it has been received from our church forefathers. I love the wise design of the lectionary. I love the Confessions of the Lutheran church, her teaching and doctrine. I love the way Lutherans conduct the Lord’s Supper, with motions and postures that reflect the reality of our Lord’s body and blood present under bread and wine. But I have a weakness. My love of these things often turns into pride. My sinful heart will place its trust in the these external things for salvation. I am tempted to take pride in our Lutheran hymns and place my trust in them. I am tempted to boast that I conduct the service in a way that is more Christian than that of our neighbors. I am tempted to take pride in the joyous singing, our thoughtful architecture, the quality of the preaching or life of service that you lead as Christ’s children.

Beloved of God, these things are good, right, and salutary. We ought to sings hymns that only confess the faith as it is given in the Holy Scriptures. We ought to follow a pattern of worship that is in keeping with the patterns handed down by the Apostles and the church through the ages. We ought to respect the wisdom of the lectionary. We ought to uphold the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran church.

But we ought not do this in pride but rather in humility. These things we have humbly received because they are in harmony with God’s Word. I admit that I often have presented these things as absolute necessities or sources of great pride. For this I ask your forgiveness. I am sorry if I have taken a seat of honor, lording these things over you. I humbly ask that the conduct of our Divine Service, our preaching, our singing, and our praying be in harmony with God’s Word and its truthful exposition in our Lutheran Confessions. These are great and wonderful gifts but not a source of pride. In all of them, we say “to God alone be glory.”

From Christ in today’s Gospel, we can understand the pattern of the Christian Sabbath. The Christian Sabbath is not about legal code and righteous pride. It is a day of humble submission to the Word of God read, taught, and preached. It is a day of renewal of our rebirth in the Spirit through Holy Baptism. It is a day of kneeling before the judgment seat in complete submission. It is a day of being lifted up by the hand by our forgiving Lord. It is a day for receiving His body and blood for our forgiveness. It is a day of service to neighbor, to friend, to spouse, to children, and to the world.

This is the calling that we have all received. We bear with each other in love, as one body and in one Spirit. We join to proclaim the great deeds of the one Lord who redeemed us, and the one faith which unites us. We have received this calling of humility, patience, gentleness, and love in order to serve the Lord. This Sabbath as our Lord served the man with dropsy. He healed the man and sent him away. So too, this Sabbath, our Lord has healed us and sends us away with all His gifts. Let this Sabbath remind you to never be prideful of yourself but your only boast is what your Lord has done for you in your humble estate. Amen.

Let us pray: “Eternal, merciful God, You are a God of peace and of love and unity, and not a God of divisions and schisms with which, in Your righteous judgment, You now afflict this world because it has departed from You, who alone can re-establish unity, and has followed after its own wisdom. You have permitted it to be divided and scattered, especially in those things which pertain to You divine truth and the salvation of human souls, that it may come to shame in its assumed wisdom and turn again to You, the eternal friend of unity. We poor sinners, to whom You have mercifully granted to realize these things, ask and invoke You, by Your Holy Spirit, to gather again all that is now scattered, to unite and make whole all that is now divided. Grant also that we may return into unity with You, to seek Your eternal truth and turn away from all schisms, so that all may be of the one heart and mind, will, knowledge, thought, and understanding which is patterned after Jesus Christ our Lord, and may with one heart and voice praise and glorify You, heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the same Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Löhe, Seed Grains of Prayer, p. 116-7)