Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Vindication of God

Texts:    Colossians 2:1-15; Matthew 28:1-10

      SEVERAL YEARS AGO, A BOOK of essays was published called God in the Dock.  It's by C. S. Lewis, and the title comes from criminal trials in Great Britain, where the defendant stands the whole time in an elevated open box, exposed to the stares and censures of everyone in the courtroom.  Lewis's argument is that we modern people no longer see ourselves on trial before God the Judge; rather, we put God on trial and act as judge over Him.

    You know how it is.  We put God in the dock for public disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornados; for private suffering like disease, poverty, and murder.  This is the wrong way around, since it's our sin that disrupted creation and causes us to do evil to one another every day.  If God wanted to, He'd have every right to wipe every one of us out all at once, for the wages of sin is death, and all of us are sinners.

    But there was a time when God was really in the dock.  It was a dark Friday afternoon outside the city of Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago.  On that day a Man hung on a cross, being shamefully tortured to death for the crime of claiming to be God.  At the foot of that cross, and in hiding in the city, were women and men who knew that Man had never done an unjust or wicked or sinful thing in His life.  Yet this Man was suffering the most degrading, agonizing, disgusting form of execution practiced by a civilized society, a death designed to show to everyone what a low, despicable being the crucified criminal was.  Was that Man really guilty of what His enemies charged?  Were all His friends and disciples wrong in calling Him the Righteous One?  Or was the holy God actually turning His back on a truly innocent Man? After a few hours the Man was dead and buried-- and the wages of sin is death.    Could this Man ever be vindicated?   Could God?

    We know that that Man dying on the cross outside of Jerusalem that day was Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  For the rest of that Friday, all the Sabbath, and into the eve and morning of the first day of the week, His disciples hid and mourned and simply could not understand.  God was in the dock, and it seemed as if the verdict would come in "Guilty."

    But as the Gospel according to Matthew tells us, early on the first day of the week, just as the sun was beginning to rise, Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to Jesus' tomb.  Matthew doesn't tell us whether the women knew that the tomb not only was closed with the customary stone, but also was sealed and guarded.  He only tells us they intended to "look at it," and very likely, to mourn.

    In any event, it didn't matter.  For as the two Marys approached the tomb where Jesus lay, a violent earthquake shook the ground and angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled back the stone, and sat on it.  His appearance so frightened the guards they fainted away  like dead men.  And Jesus' tomb?  It was -- empty.

    Empty before the stone was rolled away.  Empty before the earthquake sent the ground reeling.  Empty before the angel descended and sat and greeted the women as they approached.  "Do not be afraid," he said to them, "for I know you that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

    "He is risen, just as He said."  And then, as the women hurried away to tell the Eleven the incredible news, Jesus Himself met them.  As it says in verses 9 and 10, "‘Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"

    Jesus the Crucified One was risen!  He was alive!  He was risen, just as He said, risen indeed!

    Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ means many things to us, in this world and the next.  But one of the most important and magnificent things it declares is the vindication of God.  God was in the dock in the crucifixion of His Son.  But now, Jesus Christ is risen from the grave, and God the Son, God the Father, and we who believe in Him have been fully justified against any imputation of sin or censure: Divine vindication has come.

    First of all, the Man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has been vindicated.  Did anyone think He was dying for His own sins on that cross?  No! The resurrection proves He was the Sinless One, dying for the sins of the world.  The resurrection of Christ proved that He, Himself, was totally righteous and innocent.  The grave could not hold Him, death had no power over Him.

    The resurrection vindicates Jesus' claims to be one with God, to be God Himself.  Only God has life in Himself; only God has power over death.  In John chapter 10, Jesus tells His opponents,

    The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

Jesus had declared that He would rise, that He could rise, for He is the only-begotten Son of God the Father.  In Him all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Col. 2:9).  He is the head over every power and authority, including death.  And by His resurrection, His divine claims are proven true.

    The resurrection vindicates Jesus' word as the word of God: "He is risen, just as he said."  Any human can preach comfort and holiness and beautiful ethics and morality.  But only someone who was God and who spoke the very words of God could promise that He would come back to life after being crucified, and actually do it.

    The vindication of Christ our God assures us that He and His word are to be trusted.  His sinless life and death has the power to save us from death and hell.  His word is to be received as the very word of God, for He was and is God, come to us in human flesh, risen from the grave, and ascended in that same flesh into heaven. When He says He will give eternal life to whomever believes in Him, we can take Him at His word.  Jesus was no criminal blasphemer, suffering on a Roman cross for His own sins:  He was and is the glorious Son of God, and as He hung there dying (as it says in Colossians 2:15), He was [disarming] the powers and authorities, [making] a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

    The resurrection of our Lord Jesus vindicates God the Father as holy and righteous. The dying thief whom Luke records admits that he and his fellow-thief were suffering the just punishment for their crimes, but this Man Jesus had done nothing wrong.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus, who didn't believe Jesus was already risen, asserted that He had been a godly and true prophet; in fact, they'd thought He was the Messiah sent to redeem Israel.  How could a good and righteous God allow a Man who had kept His Law perfectly to suffer death and decay like any other sinner?

    But, as Peter preached on the first Pentecost, God did not abandon Jesus to the grave, nor did He allow His Holy One to see destruction.  In raising His Son from the dead, God the Father proves that He is righteous and is on the side of the righteous.  God is vindicated against any charge that He is indifferent to evil or blind to what evil men and evil forces do.  No, even on the cross God was defeating evil, and the resurrection of Christ points forward to the Last Days when all righteousness will be vindicated and death, sin, and the devil will be crushed under the feet of our triune God forever.

    The vindication of God the Father in the resurrection of Christ assures us that the prayers of His saints are heard.  We can trust that at the right time He will rescue us from all our troubles.  And in the meantime, we can know that our sufferings have meaning and purpose.  God is our heavenly Father who loves us, and though, as Peter tells us in his first epistle, "for a little while [we] may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials[, t]hese have come so that [our] faith-- of greater worth than gold, though refined by the fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

    The resurrection of Christ is not only the vindication of God, it is also vindication from God, vindication for us sinners whom He has called to belong to Him.  God is too holy to look upon sin; we sinners cannot endure in His presence.  Our sins have earned us the punishment of eternal death.  On the other hand, He has chosen us before the creation of the world (as it says in Ephesians 1) to be adopted as His sons in Jesus Christ.  How can God the Righteous adopt unworthy sinners without violating His holy justice?  How can He maintain His holiness and still fulfill His plan to admit us into His love?
    In Romans 3, Paul writes that God presented Jesus

    . . . as a sacrifice of propitiation, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice . . . at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The resurrection of Christ proves that His death was an atoning sacrifice for our sakes.  It demonstrates that His blood totally paid the penalty for our sins, and in Him we can stand fully accepted before the throne of God, as His beloved daughters and sons.  Christ is risen, and we are vindicated before our holy God.

    In our Colossians reading, Paul reminds us that formerly, we were dead in our sins.  We were "uncircumcised in our sinful nature,"  which is to say that we were outside of the saving covenant between God and His faithful people.  But now, God has made us alive with Christ, the One who was dead and is risen again.  Now we "have been given fullness" in Him and share the divine fullness which is His.  We have "been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through [our] faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead."  Colossians 2:14 assures us that in his death, Jesus "canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."

    When Jesus was crucified, our sins and guilt were crucified with Him.  And with them died the punishment we deserved for them under God's righteous Law.  In Christ we are fully vindicated.  All charges against us have been wiped away!  As it is written in Romans 8, who can bring any charge against God's elect?  God Himself justifies and vindicates us!  Who can condemn?  Jesus Christ, who died and was raised to life, sits at the right hand of God interceding for us!  In the resurrection of Christ we can be assured that all our sins are forgiven.  And not only that, but through our risen Saviour we also enjoy all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, knowledge of the deep, deep love of God and wisdom of how He used the shame of the cross to bring us, even us, to the joys of life eternal.

    And so, as Paul urges us in Colossians, let no one deceive us by fine-sounding arguments.  Let no one take us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  God is out of the dock, and in Christ, He has cleared us from all charges as well. 

    So don't allow yourself to be put in the dock again.  The basic principles of this world say that the dead do not rise.  Too bad for the basic principles of this world.  God has come from beyond this world and raised up His Son Jesus Christ and raised us up with Him, as well.  Unbelieving human tradition tries to tell us that Jesus didn't exist, or if He did, He didn't rise and it shouldn't matter to our faith if He didn't.  But Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death, and all our hope in heaven and on earth depend on this truth.  Human tradition says it's up to us to vindicate ourselves in the eyes of God and the world.  We have to do good deeds and keep all the rules.  But Jesus Christ is risen, and we who were dead and helpless in our sins have been raised with Him.  He and He alone has brought us into His everlasting covenant by a circumcision not done by human hands but by Christ Himself in our baptism.

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the vindication of God.  The women who met Him outside the tomb that morning fell down at His feet and worshipped Him. They did right, for He was their Lord and their God.  And by His blood and rising, He is ours.  Do not be afraid.  Heed the voice of the angel; obey the word of your Lord Himself.  Go quickly and spread the good news: Your full vindication has come, for Christ who died is risen, He is risen indeed!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A New Kind of Love

John 13:34-35; 15:9-17

THE NIGHT THAT JESUS WAS betrayed to death for our sins, when the supper had been eaten and Judas the betrayer was gone, Jesus began to teach His disciples one last time.  As He counseled them He says, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

    This command of Jesus was not just for the eleven disciples in the upper room.  It is also for us who claim the name of Jesus today, for us who gather around this holy Table.  But there is something about this command to love that should cause us to stop and question.  First of all, how can our Lord say that a command to love is "new"?  And secondly, what kind of love does it command?

    "A new command I give you: Love one another."  But what is new about the command to love?  As far back as the days of Moses in the desert, God's people were commanded to love one another.  In Leviticus 19, verse 18, it says, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself."  Again in verse 34, we read, "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born.  Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt."   Jesus Himself said that after the command to love God with all our being, the greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that these two commands sum up all the Old Testament Law and Prophets!  How can Jesus now say that the command to love is new?

    But there is something new about Jesus' new mandate. The old command to love said, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Jesus' new command says, "Love one another, as I have loved you."  Obedience to the old command depends totally on our imperfect and fruitless efforts to keep God's law.  Obedience to the new command hangs wholly on the fruitful love of God given us through Christ Jesus our Lord. 

    Verse 9 says, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." And as He has loved us, so we are to love one another.   In his commentary on John, John Calvin warns us against getting into speculations about the mystic love between the Father and the Son in the fellowship of the Godhead.  That wouldn't have been helpful to the disciples and it isn't helpful to us.  Jesus calls us to participate in the fruitful, joyful love of God.  For that we need another human being, a true Man, to show us what the love of God is like and teach us how to love like God.  And so Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was born of woman and took flesh, and became a real human being.  During the three years of His earthly ministry the disciples witnessed how the Father loved the Son and how the Son loved them.  It was a love they could see and hear and handle.  It was a love they could refer to and say, "Yes, this is how we are to love one another!"

    But what kind of love is this that Jesus commands in John?  What kind of love did He display in all the gospels?  There's a peculiar factor in this love, which we mustn't ignore.  Look at verse 10:  Jesus says, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." 

    Let's read that again: "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love."

    I admit:that as Reformed Christian and as a human being still struggling with sin, when I simply read that statement, I'm troubled by it.  And I suggest that we all have to wrestle with this text, or we're likely to misunderstand the kind of love Jesus is commanding us to love.

    The Reformed Christian problem first.  I want to ask Jesus, "Lord, are You saying that You'll love us only if we obey all Your commands?  Lord, I remember those commands, and You made the Law of Moses even stricter!  But didn't your servant Paul write that by keeping the Law no one could be saved, and that if we try to earn Your love by keeping the commandments, we're still under the wrath of Your Father?  Lord, how can You say, ‘If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love'?"

   And from the Gospel, the Lord makes reply.  Look at the larger context for this verse.  Jesus had just taught the disciples that He is the Vine and they are the branches.  They-- and that means we as well-- must remain in Him if they are to bear fruit and know the joy of receiving whatever they ask from the Father.  Did the disciples or we get into the Vine by our own work or our own volition?  Absolutely not! 

    In the same way, it is Jesus Christ alone who brings us into His love. As He reminds us in verse 16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-- fruit that will last."  Jesus already loves us!  As we can read in Ephesians Chapter 1, we were chosen by God in Him before the creation of the world!  In love God predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ! 

    No, the keyword in John 15:10 is "remain."  Again, that might look like it's all up to us to keep Jesus loving us and not lose our salvation.  But see again what our Lord says in verse 16.  He has appointed us to bear fruit, fruit that will last.  Do you think God the Son can appoint anything that isn't going to happen?  Perish the thought!

    It is right for us to want to avoid any hint of salvation by human works.  But when Jesus says, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love," He means something more wonderful and joyful than anything our worries might suggest.

    But the sinful world also has a problem with linking love and obedience.  Sinful man too often loves "Because."  I love you because you're pretty.  I love you because you do nice things for me.  I love you because you're rich and take me to fancy places.  I love you because you listen when I go on and on about my troubles.  But let you the beloved grow old and ugly, or stop doing the nice things, or become poor, or get tired of listening to the same sob story, then I, a sinful human being, will stop loving you.  We see this in the prodigious divorce rate in Western society.  This kind of sinner might say, "See, even Jesus says I don't have to love you if you don't please me!"  This interpretation is a crime against Jesus' words.

    So, thinking people, including unbelievers, say, no, true love is unconditional.  It doesn't matter how cruelly the beloved behaves or how filthy and repulsive he or she is to the lover, the true lover must keep on loving and expect nothing, nothing in return.  And really (I once heard a sermon that preached this idea), if the beloved does return the love, even the littlest bit, the lover is no longer showing true, unconditional love.

    But here we have Jesus saying, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love."

    "Wow, Lord," we say, "that sounds awfully conditional to us!   Not only do You seem to be saying that our remaining in Your love is conditioned on us obeying Your commands, but also that You have to obey God the Father's commands in order to remain in His love!"

    But remember what we learned.  It is God through His Son who elects us into His love and appoints that we shall remain and bear fruit.  Again, God does not love us if we do this or that, He loves us in His Son.  And the Father does not love the incarnate Son if, He loves Him because Christ is His Son.  But because Christ is His Son and God is His Father, Jesus joyfully obeys His Father's commands and the Father takes joy and pleasure in the Son's obedience.  Whoever said that love expects nothing in return?  Not our Triune God!  Whoever said that love that's reciprocated is not love at all?  Not the holy Scriptures that testify to Him!

    No, the love with which Jesus Christ has loved us, the new kind of love He charges us to bear towards one another, is a love where joy is obedience and obedience is joy.  It is a mutual love where we strive to outdo one another in taking care of one another, in listening to one another, and in anticipating one another's needs.  It is the love shown by Jesus our Master when He knelt down and washed the feet of His disciples at the table that night, even though that was the job of the lowest of slaves.  It is the love He showed when He willingly laid down His life for us on the cursed cross, despising the shame of it (as Hebrews says) for the joy set before Him, the joy of becoming the Author and Perfecter of our faith. 

    God takes pleasure in receiving this obedient love.  At Jesus' baptism, God's voice from heaven said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."  At His transfiguration, Christ's disciples heard the Voice from the cloud say, "This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!"  True divine love is never reciprocated?  The love of God has no expectations?  What Christian can believe that?  The love of God is all about eager expectation!  In our verses from John, Jesus commands us to joyful obedience and He calls us His friends.  Beloved, there is no contradiction here.  What are friends for but to know one another's hearts?  And our Friend Jesus shares with us everything He has learned from His Father, and in prayer we may share everything with Him.  What are friends for, but to be willing to do any good thing for one another in love, as Christ has shown the full extent of His love for us in His death?  A servant obeys because he has to.  A friend fulfills his friend's commands because he wants to, and he receives his friend's joy and pleasure in return.

    This kind of willing, obedient love is the same love we in the church are now to show one another:  Loving each other mutually, eagerly, joyfully-- drawing always on the love of Christ continually being poured into our hearts by His Holy Spirit.

    The old command, "Love your neighbor as yourself," only served to show us how badly we failed at keeping God's law.  We not only didn't love our neighbor as ourselves, we couldn't love ourselves according to the image of God in us.  But Jesus' new command says, "Love each other as I have loved you."  By the blood of His cross He has already brought us into His love, just as He is always and eternally in the love of the Father.  The love of Christ is already here for us and in us, in all its fulness.  Now let us discover the secret of enjoying and blissfully living in His love: Let us love one another, as He has loved us.  The more we obey His new command, the more we will know the pleasure of God.  The more we know the pleasure of God, the more we will discover of His love and the more we will want to obey.

    Brothers and sisters, let us love one another.  Not some idealized imagining of what the ideal friend would be like, but one another, just as we are, in all our faults and annoyances and failings.  Let us love one another not only in thought and sympathy, but in service and action.  People, love your preachers, and we preachers, let us love the people.  Officers, love the laity, and laity, love your officers.  Love the member who has to do everything or she complains, and love the member who never seems to pitch in at all.  Love, yes, love even those in the church who are cranky and obstructive and never seem to love you back, because it was while we were still God's enemies that He commended His love towards us and sent Christ to die for our sins.  Loving church member, maybe God will use your obedience to soften the heart of that other person and bring him or her into the joy of our Saviour's love!

    "No greater love has any one than this, that He lay down his life for his friends."  This is love of God in Christ shown to us in this holy Supper.  Here we know the solemn joy of divine blood shed for us and divine flesh broken for us.  Here we experience the fullness of love, the love of Christ that dwells within us, the love of Christ that daily teaches us how to love one another, as He has loved us.

    May His joy be in us, and may our joy in Him and each other be complete.  Let us strive to outdo each other in eager, obedient, mutual love.  This is our Lord's new command: Love one another.

    In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who Is This?

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Zechariah 3:1-2, 6-9; 2 Samuel 7:11b-16; Matthew 21:1-16

    ALL WEEK PILGRIMS HAD been surging into Jerusalem.  The Passover was near, and hour by hour more and more people approached the gates to the city.

    But today, five days before the Feast, something was happening on the road from the Mount of Olives that was out of the ordinary even for this holiday time.  Down from the Mount rolled a stream of pilgrims shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"   "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  And "Hosanna in the highest!"

    All this clamour seemed to be addressed to a Man riding in the midst of the crowd, seated on a young donkey with its mother close by.  The exultant pilgrims were cutting branches off the palm trees and spreading them  and their own cloaks on the road in front of Him.  Closer and closer to the city the loud and excited procession approached, until the Man and His supporters swept in through the city gate and into the Temple courts.  Still they cried out, "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  And the Man rode on, tall and regal on the cloak-draped beast, the very image of a King taking possession of what was His own.

    On Jerusalem and her citizens the impression was nothing short of seismic.  From one end of the city to the other the news spread, and their hearts were shaken to the depths.  "Who is this who has come?" they asked.  "Who is this?"

    From the Man's crowd of supporters the reply came, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

    Who is this?  Who is this Jesus?  People are still asking the question today.  Every year about this time unbelievers with little scholarship and less reverence claim to answer that question with their latest ideas.  They say, "He was an ordinary man buried in his family tomb."  Or, "He was a co-conspirator with Judas trying to gain political control."  Or, "Jesus was the husband of Mary Magdalene."  You've heard all the sensationalist theories, and I hope you know they're only good for making the authors money off of people fool enough to believe their lies. 

    But the question is still remains: Who is this?  Who is the One who rode into Jerusalem that Sunday afternoon so many centuries ago? 

    We don't need to come up with new theories: the Scripture itself answers question.  Not just with a few facts about a Rabbi who once walked the hills of Galilee and Judea; no, the Word of God shows us the living Jesus and reveals who He is for us today and will be forever.

    Who is this, riding into Jerusalem?  The Galilean crowds say to the people of the city, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." 

    Could they have meant that Jesus was the prophet from Nazareth, so no one would confuse Him with some other prophets of God that were around?

    No.  Absolutely not.  Everyone knew that John the Baptist was the first prophet God had sent the Jews since the death of the prophet Malachi over four hundred years before.  From then until John, no person had spoken in the name of the Lord, at least not with God's approval.  But for the previous three years Jesus of Nazareth had been proving by His words and miracles that He had every right to speak in the name of the Lord.  He was the only prophet worthy of the name in Israel. Jesus, moreover, had shown Himself to be greater than any prophet who had come before.  His words were more authoritative than those of Moses.  His miracles were more wonderful and divine than those of Elijah and Elisha.  He was not simply a prophet, He was the Prophet.

    As we read from the Book of Deuteronomy, fourteen centuries before Jesus walked this earth the Lord God put His words into the mouth of His servant Moses.  Moses said, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him."

    What does it mean to say "a prophet like Moses"?  Hear what the Lord Himself said about Moses, as it is written in Numbers 12, verses 6-8a:

    When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
          I reveal myself to him in visions,
         I speak to him in dreams.
    But this is not true of my servant Moses;
          he is faithful in all my house.
    With him I speak face to face,
         clearly and not in riddles;
           he sees the form of the LORD.

The promised "prophet like Moses" would speak with the Lord face to face.  He would hear and know the word of the Lord directly, and not through dreams and visions.  He would be "faithful in all God's house," and would declare the message of God fearlessly, without worrying what people might say or do to him.  The great Prophet to come would be one of the children of Israel. And the Lord commanded that the people must listen to him.

    Jesus was and is the Prophet like Moses whom the Jews had been awaiting for so long.  The cheering Galileans who marched beside Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem that day knew He was.  And by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our ears are opened to receive Him as the Prophet, too.

    The Apostle John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  The Greek for "the Word was with God" can be translated "the Word was before the face of," or "face to face with God."  From all eternity, Christ the Lord beheld the form and face of the Father directly, without needing any go-between.  As a Man on this earth that relationship and direct communication between Himself and the Father continued unbroken until the agony of the Cross.  John reports that Jesus said, "My teaching is not my own.  It comes from him who sent me.  If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out if my teaching comes from God or not."  Jesus received the word of God directly and He proclaimed it faithfully.  Just as with Moses, and even more than Moses, Jesus' word was and is the will of God for His chosen people.  The Lord said through Moses in the desert,

    I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

Who is this,  riding into Jerusalem?  It is Jesus Christ, God's final and greatest Prophet. And to Jesus all mankind must listen, and Him all mankind must obey.

    Who is this, who enters the Temple area in such righteous zeal?  This Jesus acts as if He had the right to drive out those buying and selling there.  Wasn't it the priests of Israel, and especially the high priest, whose duty it was to make sure that the temple of God remained a house of prayer for all nations?  For the Temple was where the people met with God.  It was the place where the sacrifices were offered to make atonement for sin.  As Solomon prayed at the first Temple's dedication, "May your eyes, [O Lord], be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your name there. . . . Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive."  The high priest was charged with keeping himself and the Temple holy and pure.  And only he might carry the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, to turn away God's wrath so the people might live. 

    But as we read in the book of the prophet Zechariah, the high priests of Israel were sinful men themselves.  Joshua was high priest in Jerusalem after the people returned from exile in Babylon, and humanly-speaking, he was a pretty good man.  But even he is covered with such sin, his robes are so dirty before the Lord, that Satan in strict justice has every right to accuse him.  But the Lord rebukes Satan, and says that Joshua is a burning stick snatched from the fire.  The Lord then addresses Joshua and says,

     "Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.  . . . and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day."

This Joshua and his fellow priests are men symbolic of things to come, in the day when God would send the righteous Branch of Jesse spoken of by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, through whom God would remove His people's sin in a single day.   Joshua and the other priests were emblems of the great and perfect High Priest to come.  The robes of this High Priest would be pure and His sacrifice for sin would be perfectly acceptable to God.  The name Joshua itself means "Jehovah saves," and it's the Hebrew version of the Greek name "Jesus."  The writer of the book of Hebrews says that Jesus is our High Priest forever.  Jesus is the One who is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."  He is the One who sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.  He is the One who serves in the sanctuary of heaven, in the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.  He is the One who has the right to cleanse the Temple, the right to encourage the praises of the children shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David!"-- even though the impure and faithless chief priests of His day wanted Him to keep them quiet. 

    Who is this, striding into the Temple and overturning the tables of the moneychangers?  It is Jesus, our great High Priest, who took the blood of His own body into the Holy of Holies of heaven, and made full atonement for all our sins.

    And who is this, whom the crowds on the road and the children in the Temple hail as the Son of David?

    As we read in our selection from 2 Samuel, God promised King David that

    I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.

In the ordinary course of this world, God fulfilled this promise first of all in David's son Solomon.  He was born of David, his kingdom was established, and he built the house for God's name.  And God kept on keeping this promise in David's grandson and great-grandson and great-great-grandsons.  When it was necessary, God punished them "with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men," but David's line was never destroyed.  Even in the days of the Exile, the Davidic line continued, and ever since, the Jews had looked forward to the coming of the ultimate King of Israel, "great David's greater Son."  For in him God would keep His promise to David, in which He said, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." 

    And now, on this first Palm Sunday afternoon, men, women, and little children are crying out to Jesus, "Hosanna to the Son of David"  "Hosanna!" they cry.  "Save us!"  And Jesus accepts their praise.  Before His conception, the angel told His mother Mary that her Son would sit forever on the throne of His father David.  All through His ministry,  Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God and in His commands and parables He made it clear that He Himself was the ruler of that kingdom.  Jesus before Pilate declared that He was a king, and not just a king of any single nation in this world; He was king of a kingdom that transcends this world, a kingdom that will endure before God forever.

    Who is this, riding into Jerusalem like a king ready to take His throne?  It is Jesus, the Son of David, the One to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Who is this Jesus?  He is our King, enthroned on the Cross where He won the victory over Satan, sin, and death.  Under His gracious rulership we bow in humble joy and receive health, bounty, nurture, and peace that nothing on earth can give.  He is our High Priest, and the Cross was the bloody altar where He offered Himself up as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.  In His broken body and shed blood alone we find redemption and are cleansed to stand in the presence of God.   He is our Prophet, the Prophet, and from the Cross His blood speaks the divine word of judgment against sin and the gracious word of hope for ransomed sinners.   From His mouth and His alone we receive the true meaning of the Scriptures and are called to eternal life.

    Jesus is your Prophet, Priest, and King, and He is mine.  So come to His Supper, all you who are baptised into His name.  At His Table He comes to you humbly, no longer on a donkey, but in these elements of bread and wine; on these He has promised to set His seal. Lift up your hearts to heaven and receive Him by faith, with thanksgiving. 

    Hosanna to you, Christ Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Blessed are You who come in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Amen.