Our text is Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And also John 12:12-15:
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!” (ESV)
On Palm Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ enters Jerusalem as King, but not in a chariot or on a war horse, but rather, on the back of a borrowed donkey. It is a day of festive celebration as the crowds wave palms and shout their jubilant “Hosannas,” acclaiming Jesus the Blessed One, the King who comes in the name of the Lord. But the excitement and energy of Palm Sunday is a prelude to Jesus’ Passion. Before this week is over, the One who is confessed as King will be mocked, crowned with thorns, and crucified under a sign which reads “King of the Jews.” This man who rides the donkey is God; yet, in humility, He takes on the form of a servant and He comes to suffer and die.
Palm Sunday’s parade will culminate on Calvary. Jesus enters Jerusalem in the midst of joyful psalms of praise. But when He leaves on Good Friday morning, His ears will be filled, not with sounds of praise, but with cries for His crucifixion.
When Jesus had fed the five thousand in the wilderness, there were those who wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. In truth, Jesus is King, but His kingship is not of this world and He will not conform Himself to this world’s definition of kingship. Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness with bread and fish, but that did not make Him a “bread king” who would simply keep people’s stomachs full. Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem, but that did not make Him a king who would liberate Jerusalem from Roman rule. He is a king of an altogether different type. He is the King promised by the Prophet Zechariah: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
King Jesus comes to meet the greatest of all human needs. He comes to reconcile us to God the Father; He comes to die in our place in order to win for us the complete forgiveness of all our sins. And living in peace with God, having received His full pardon through Jesus, we have every reason to rejoice and no reason to fear. Did you notice in today’s readings that whereas Zechariah says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!, John apparent misquotes Zechariah, for he says Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt! But John knows what he is talking about. You see, the presence of joy in the Lord always goes together with the absence of fear. Rejoicing over the King who comes to save us means that we no longer need fear our spiritual enemies, for they are defeated by the Lord! We no longer need to fear our spiritual enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—, for in Holy Baptism, Jesus has made us His own and no one can snatch us out of His hand. Do you see then, how, the coming of King Jesus gives true joy and removes our fears?
Without this King, we would have every reason to be afraid of life and death. For without the sacrifice of King Jesus on the cross, life would be vanity and a chasing after wind, and death would be the door to everlasting condemnation in hell. Our King comes to rescue us from the futility of our lives turned inward upon ourselves and from the condemnation that sin brings.
As we live in the forgiveness of our Saviour Jesus, as we live in our baptism, our calling is to live lives of joy in God’s promises and to not be afraid of our spiritual enemies. Fear is out of place among those who confess King Jesus as God-in-the-flesh come to save us! Fear is out of place because nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is given us in Jesus Christ our Lord. By dying on the cross in our place, our King Jesus has defeated death, and by His rising from the grave, He gives us a life that death cannot touch.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel! Notice that this proclamation of Jesus’ victory is made just days before He goes to the cross. He still must face the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the false accusations, the sham trial, the mockery, the beatings, and death on the cross. But in the face of all that is to come in Passion Week, Palm Sunday anticipates our Saviour’ victory. Even as Jesus humbles Himself and goes to die as our Saviour, Palm Sunday gives us a preview of the outcome of His saving work. Jesus became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Jesus humbled Himself to die in our place on the cross, but now He is exalted forevermore as the King to whom everyone must bow.
Even now, as baptized children of God, we bow before Jesus, confessing the enormity of our sin and also the great abundance of His salvation. And so, Palm Sunday is for the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is honoured and praised as the King who comes to save sinners. Palm branches and chants of “hosanna” acclaim Him as the Saviour, the Redeemer, of us undeserving sinners. And so Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the triumph of our Lord. Palm Sunday anticipates the heavenly kingdom which our Lord Jesus opens to all believers by His blood. In Revelation, John describes the fulfillment of Palm Sunday as he gives us a glimpse of the celestial liturgy: I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues standing before the Lamb clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That is the victory of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The saints in heaven praise the Lamb of our salvation. And on this Palm Sunday we join them in their heavenly anthem, for the Lord whom they adore is the same Lord Jesus Christ whom we adore, the Lord who comes to us in His body and blood to give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He who rode into Jerusalem by lowly donkey that blessed Sunday before His death comes also to us under the lowly forms of bread and wine to distribute His body and blood, by which we receive the gift of forgiveness. And so every time King Jesus rides among us through His Holy Supper, we greet Him with the same greeting which reached His ears on that first Palm Sunday: Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
The word “Hosanna” means “Lord, save us now!” And that is what our Lord Jesus does for us. He “hosannas” us, He saves us through His Holy Word and Sacraments. He abides in our hearts and He rules as our Lord and King, so that we may live in His joy and no longer fear the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And by His Holy Spirit, He enables us to remain steadfast in our loyalty to Him. He keeps us from presumptuous sins, lest we crucify Him anew with unholy living. And above all the temptations we encounter, He keeps us faithful unto death, so that He may fulfill His promise to us and give us the crown of life. Yes, He preserves us in the faith until the end of our days, that we may behold Him in glory forever. Blessed indeed is He who comes to forgive us, to save us, and to give us eternal life! Amen.