Sermon for Palm Sunday
March 25, 2018
Jesus Is Our King
Psalm 118 is the last portion of what is known as the Hallel. It is an interesting choice for a Psalm during this season of Lent and especially as we begin Holy Week where we are focused upon that fast and the starkness of our liturgy. While we refrain from the use of Alleluias, we incorporate a Psalm that rests under such a title. Hallel is where we get our word Alleluia. Psalms 113-118 are those liturgical Psalms sung during the feasts of Israel as the people made their way to the temple. They would have been memorized through use as our liturgies are memorized. Psalm 118 was written upon the return of Israel from their Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple. In this second half of the Psalm, we recognize the words of the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. They are equating the arrival of Jesus with the deliverance of Israel from captivity five centuries earlier. They know this Psalm is Messianic but they do not recognize the oppressors that they truly need deliverance from nor do they understand the true nature of that deliverance in Jesus Christ.
How wonderful it must have been to behold the reconstructed temple after so long being oppressed. Just through its gates lay the place of God’s dwelling where only the righteous could enter, those that received God’s circumcision and brought their atoning sacrifice for sin. It was for only those chosen by God by His means and acceptable on His terms. The humble and trusting. Those that looked to God as the Deliverer, the One who saves.
Jesus teaches in one of His parables that He is the gate (John 10) and that none enters except through Him. These crowds shouting Hosanna would be first in line on this Sunday to agree with Jesus and to follow where He leads. But in a few days that Gate would look too ominous and threatening for them to follow. By the end of the week, even His own closest follows would not want to enter through that Gate. They would look to His beaten and bloody body hung upon the cross and they would see a Gate that was too fearsome to open, one through which they no longer wished to enter.
I read an article in yesterday’s paper by a Hindu spiritualist in which she tried to describe all religious paths as legitimate ways to God. She used the Christian language of mercy and grace and salvation but she had a very different understanding of what those words mean. She likely would accept the charismatic leadership of a resurrectionist kind of Jesus along with the crowds because he would fit the profile of what she wants. But the suffering servant Jesus who dies for the sins of the people that they might know reconciliation with God is an entry into His presence doesn’t fit with human notions. Instead, it that requires the Holy Spirit’s tutelage. It is the Lord’s doing from the laying of the first stone to the last, from the incarnation through the final judgment, it is marvelous in our eyes. It is not what this spiritualist would have chosen, nor the crowds of Jerusalem, nor you or me. All of us would and have readily rejected the cornerstone and so we have, but God laid that stone despite our objections, even because of our objections. He would not listen to our pleas for having a better design, better materials, or better workmanship. Instead of trying to teach us to be better selectors of material, better builders with better quality control, He selects, builds, and stamps the final inspection as approved. Jesus is our Gate, our Righteousness, our Salvation. It is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes.
The sense of verse 27 is difficult for us in English as it speaks of binding the festal sacrifice with cords up to the horn of the altar. It is not talking about binding the sacrifice on the altar but more so about the abundance of the sacrifices that they are bound all the way up to the horn of the altar. In other words, these sacrifices of thanksgiving were to be so numerous that they would fill the court. The altar would be crowded by the animals brought. It is a time of rejoicing in what God has done. It is the context in which this Psalm was written and the context to which it prophecies. As it was sung by the congregation as they climbed the hill to the temple each feast day, so it is fitting for us, even in this season of subdued praise, to rejoice this Holy Week as we make our way daily with our Lord on His way up the hill of Gologtha to be established as the cornerstone and the Gate through which we pass in righteousness into the presence of our God.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good;
For His steadfast love endures forever! Amen