Parade to Heaven
John 12:12-19 (Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11)
Palm Sunday – Series A
John 12:12-19 (ESV)
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.
13 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!”
14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.
18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
In a blatant example of what we are not supposed to do under the Safer at Home orders currently in place, the people of Jerusalem come together for an impromptu parade. While the number of floats in this parade was limited to one man riding a borrowed donkey, the number of people watching was far more than 10. That’s why the Pharisees were so worried about this parade. To their eyes it looked as if everyone was following Jesus, and all their work was about to collapse. “So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”” With that many people viewing the parade I will guarantee that they were not keeping six feet apart like we are supposed to do today when we venture out for essential needs.
Parades are held to celebrate and remember important people, places, and things, or they are held to announce victory and an end to war. Whether it’s our own annual Pure Water Days and Bridge to Wonderland parades, Thanksgiving Day parades, New Year’s parades, Fourth of July Parades, parades are a time of celebration and festivity. The parade of Palm Sunday was no exception. It was the day on which the true King of Israel, the One nobody knew or suspected was the rightful king, entered the Holy City of Jerusalem to take up His throne in order to give to the whole world that which is needed the most, forgiveness of our sins.
But the people didn’t know that yet. They were still proceeding on the assumption that the Messiah promised by God through the prophets was going to come and crush their enemies, starting with the Roman occupation forces, and make Israel the greatest nation ever. They didn’t understand that this Messiah would win the victory over sin, death, and the devil by dying and risings. They didn’t understand that the path to victory went through the betrayal, abuse, suffering, and death of the King. They had no idea that the King’s throne wasn’t in the palace, but in the garbage dump, where the trash was burned and the threats to society were hung on a cross. So, when the One who had been fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, including giving sight to the blind and raising Lazarus from the dead just a couple of days earlier, was seen heading toward Jerusalem, the people naturally assumed that the victory was at hand. “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!””
What a sight! Throngs of people! Palm branches, the national symbol of victory, waving in triumph! Shouts of Hosanna ringing out clearly. Help! Save I Pray! They were calling to Jesus even as they were acknowledging Jesus as the King of Israel and declaring God’s blessing on the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Glorious. An event worthy of remembering and celebrating. That’s why God has it recorded in all four of the Gospels. And when something is recorded in four different locations in the Bible, you know it is something to pay attention to.
Perhaps that is why it is sung each week in the Sanctus as part of the communion liturgy: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
With these words we are joining the large crowd that had gathered around Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in crying to God for help. In fact, as the preface says we are actually joining with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as we laud and magnify Christ’s glorious name. Such is the power of God’s Word that it brings us together with all who follow Him, past present, and future, even though we are physically isolated for a time.
The Word Hosanna literally means ‘save, I Pray’. That is what Jesus is doing as He enters Jerusalem on the very day that the Passover Lambs were set aside to be sacrificed. By entering Jerusalem that day, The Lamb of God was setting Himself aside to be the One and only sacrifice that actually paid for sins, His own death and resurrection.
The way in which Jesus entered into Jerusalem was also carefully chosen so at to fulfill another prophecy that God had given so that we could know without a doubt who His promised Messiah is. “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
Martin Luther had a brilliant observation about this to help us keep things in perspective. Pastor Luther says, “He is a peculiar King: you do not seek him, he seeks you; you do not find him, he finds you; for the preachers come from him not from you; their preaching comes from him not from you; your faith comes from him not from you; and all that your faith works in you comes from him not from you.”
The usual order of things is that we must go to the king and prove the worthiness of our request, showing that we will be faithful and loyal subjects before we can receive any of the gifts that the king would give. But that is not and never has been how God works. He has always been the one to seek us, offering us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation for Jesus sake. He does so long before we even see that we need His help. He does so even though by our own actions, words, and thoughts we tell God to get out of our lives constantly.
This is why we need God and His Spirit every day of our lives. By our fallen nature we reject and want nothing to do with the King of Salvation. But, through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens us with the knowledge of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus, giving us faith to trust and believe in Him and His forgiveness that makes us alive and worthy of entering into His presences for eternity.
Even the disciples of Jesus needed the Holy Spirit. As the text continues “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” And how did they remember? The same way we learn and remember, by the working of the Holy Spirit in us, using God’s own Word and sacraments, the means of grace. Daily pointing us to the love of God in Christ Jesus. Daily causing contrition and repentance as we cry out Hosanna! Save, I pray, with complete and certain confidence that God will, indeed already has, saved you from your sins and given you a place in heaven. A place that will never be taken away. A place that will never end. A place that was announced to the world with an impromptu parade. A parade to heaven via the cross of Christ Jesus. Amen.