The Cross and Passion of Our Lord are the Hour of His Glory
Our Lord enters Jerusalem triumphantly, by joyful shout and palm branches. But that triumph is soon eclipsed by His suffering and death, where His true Triumph is found. “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Historic Introit). The deliverance He brings comes through His riding in, through His Incarnation and death on your behalf (Epistle). It is yours this day to hear the account of His Passion, His willing suffering and death, His active and passive obedience, by which He earns for you salvation (Gospel). That salvation is won by His drinking of the cup (Communion), that He bring you the Cup of Salvation, that you enter heaven triumphantly (Processional Gospel). May His victory be your consolation this day as you see through His Passion to His entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Today is often called “Palm Sunday.” But today also sets the stage for Holy Week. It’s not a week of mourning, but there are notes of joy and victory throughout, a realization that Christ’s sacred Passion was the path to Easter glory. This is why we read the account of our Lord’s Passion in its entirety today. We will not understand this week unless we keep these events in mind. That is true even today as we hear of His death, but receive him alive in the Supper.
Jesus is Our Redemption
In the temple Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). For Jesus came to taste death for us—to drink the cup of suffering to the dregs in order that we might be released from its power. Clinging to His life-giving words, we are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment. Christ is our High Priest, who entered the Most Holy Place and with His own blood obtained everlasting redemption for His people (Heb. 9:11–15). He is the One who was before Abraham was, and yet is his descendant. He is the promised Son who carries the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice, who is bound and laid upon the altar of the cross. He is the ram who is offered in our place, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin, and who wears the crown of thorns upon His head (Gen. 22:1–14). Though Jesus is dishonored by the sons of the devil, He is vindicated by the Father through the cross.
Your Ransom and Your Rescue
In stanzas 7-8 of our hymn, Luther has Jesus preaching to us. He pledges Himself to you as “your rock and castle.” You are the one for whom He strives and wrestles.” He promises that where He is, you will remain and that the old evil foe will not divide you from Him. He shed His blood to make it so. He suffers scorn and reject, bearing the wrath of God in your place. He suffers it all for your benefit, for your good. And to you He says be steadfast and believing for His victory snatches life out of death, His innocence bears your sin “and your are blest forever.”
Jesus goes to the Father, that is He goes to the cross, that you may be His forever. By His atoning death He has purchased and won you to be His own. You are not left as orphans but heirs of God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. You are His and He is Yours. His blood says so.
The Lord Feeds His People
Where do you go when you are weighed down? To the Lord’s house! That is where you are made glad (Introit & Gradual). That is where the Lord is found to be your refreshment and nourishment (First Lesson). That is where the children of promise are nurtured and cared for by their mother (Second Lesson). And that is where the bread of Life is given to you (Gospel). Here in the Lord’s House is where your prayer is heard and answered—where the Lord Himself gives you the comfort of His Grace to mercifully relieve you (Collect).
Historically, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has been called Laetare. “Laetare” is Latin for, “rejoice,” and is the first word in the Historic Introit. This Sunday has been viewed as a sort of respite from the sorrowful season of Lent. This Sunday also marks the halfway point to Good Friday, and is the first time Jerusalem is mentioned in the Divine Service during Lent. We can see the end of Jesus’ time on earth approaching as we near Jerusalem.
Jesus: God's Son and Your Servant
From the beginning, God’s Son is your servant. Jesus was born under the law to redeem those under the law says the Apostle (see Galatians 4:4-5). The previous stanzas of our hymn have confessed our human plight: fast bound in Satan’s chains, brooded over by death, tormented by sin with life itself becoming a living hell. Good works are no help. The freedom of the will is worst than powerless for it fights against God’s judgment. If we are to be saved, it will not come from ourselves. It will take a Savior who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom (see Mark 10:45). The old Adam is ever the activist, always devising some scheme for serving God. Jesus puts an end to it all as He comes to give what we could never achieve. Righteousness is received not achieved. Behold God’s and your Servant; He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus Overcomes the Strong Man
Eyes that are fixed on the Lord are confident that He will have mercy and pull ensnared feet out of the trap (Psalm 25:15,16, Historic Introit). So we look to the Lord, pleading with Him to look on us and “stretch forth the right hand of His majesty to be our defense against all our enemies” (Collect). And in fixing our eyes on Jesus , we also then follow God as dear children, walking in the same love Christ has for us (Epistle). For our confidence is that the Stronger One (Christ) prevails for us against the strong man (Satan), takes away his armor, and saves us from death and hell (Gospel).
The Third Sunday in Lent is also known as Oculi, which, in Latin, means “the eyes,” specifically as in the eyes of faith that we have been given by God for seeing the things that are hidden from the world—the things of God that pertain to our life and salvation, and the things concerning the devil and all his evil ways.
From the Father's Heart
Jesus moves ever closer to the cross. He had entered the holy city on Palm Sunday; now he speaks of His impending glorification. Glory will come to Jesus not in the way that princes are elevated to their thrones but by a cross which will lift up the Son of Man as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus speaks of His crucifixion as the purpose for which He came to this hour.
This hour was in the mind of the Father from all eternity. So Luther’s hymn shows us the Father who beholds the misery and wretchedness of our sin “before the world’s foundation” and so there in mercy plans for my salvation.
God “did not choose the easy part but gave His dearest treasure.” That treasure was and is His own Son, begotten of the Father from all eternity and born of the virgin Mary.” When God turned to you a Father’s heart, He gave you Jesus. He gave you His Son to be His Brother. When our hearts condemn us, we indeed have One who is greater than our hearts. We have God’s own heart. We have His Son crucified and raised.
Holding God to His Word
Jacob wrestled with God; he would not let Him go until he received a blessing from Him (Gen. 32:22–32). So it was with the Canaanite woman. Though Jesus seemed to ignore and reject her, she continued to call upon His name and look to Him for help (Mt. 15:21–28). Even when the Lord called her a little dog, she held on to Him in faith and would not let Him wriggle out of His words: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This Gentile woman shows herself to be a true Israelite, who struggles with God and man in Christ and prevails. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt. 15:27–28). This is the sanctifying will of God (1 Thess. 4:1–7)—to test your faith in order that it may be refined and strengthened. For tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope in Christ does not disappoint (Rom. 5:1–5).
"Possessed by Sin and Bound by Death"
Do you think that you are free? After all you live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Our age champions personal liberty, interpreted to mean, you can do or become anything you please-perhaps with proviso that you don’t hurt anybody or interfere with their freedom. Autonomy (literally, a law to oneself) has become one of the watchwords of our public vocabulary, especially in the area of ethics. So sexual permissiveness, abortion and euthanasia are claimed as options in the increasingly unbounded arena of personal freedoms.
Are you free? Not really. Werner Elert, a Lutheran theologian of the last century spoken of autonomy as an unfulfilled illusion.
But you are free, for the Son of God Himself has freed you from the curse of the law, the darkness of death, and condemnation of Satan. You are free-you need no longer live in enslavement to self. An old hymn has us sing “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” And that is the wonder of our freedom in Christ. Freedom is not to be found in living as though God did not exist so that we can be who and what we will to be. Freedom is found only in Christ. Shortly before his death, Luther scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper found in his vest pocket after he died. The note read, in part: “We are beggars. It is true.” The tired, worn-out old man knew the truth that before God we can stand only as beggars, but beggars set free to live by faith in the gracious promises of a merciful God. Freedom is found only in Jesus’ words. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”