“Jesus Knows What He’s Doing.” Palm Sunday 2013.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 21:1-9 (chs. 26-27)
March 24, 2013
“Jesus knows what He’s doing.”
Jesus knows what He’s doing. The crowd gets it right, and the little children get it right. Not that they realize it. If they knew what Jesus knows they would not be waving palm branches and cheering. They’d be wailing and tearing their clothes, throwing dust on their heads.
But they get it right. By accident, it’s true. But they are right to treat Jesus’ coming as the coming of the long-awaited promise, the arrival of final, unalterable victory.
When Jesus comes, it is time for rejoicing, even if Jesus comes dragging a cross, His face marred beyond human semblance. Even if He comes with condemned criminals and crazy people for companions, with cripples, former prostitutes, deformed and paralyzed people for His companions.
Whenever Jesus comes it’s time to sing Hosanna and wave the palm branches like the battle’s over, even if all your problems aren’t solved yet and you don’t see how they’re going to be. He knows what He’s doing.
The disciples should know this by now, anyway. A little while before in Bethany Jesus was crying with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb; then He said “Take away the stone.” Martha said, “But Lord, by now he will stink. He’s been dead four days!” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus knows what He’s doing. Otherwise He would not have opened the grave or told Lazarus to come out. Because if Lazarus had not come out it would have been seen that Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead, but not those who had been dead long enough to rot.
But Lazarus came out with the burial cloths still on him.
Jesus knew what He was doing then, and He knew what He was doing when He postponed coming to Bethany until after Lazarus had died.
And now He reminds us once more that He knew what He was doing when He came to Jerusalem. He tells two of his disciples: “Go over there and get the donkey and her colt that you find tied up, and if anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them that the Lord needs them.” Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing as He goes into the city where He will be surrounded by enemies plotting in the shadows to do Him harm.
It is not as a naïve, idealistic child that He goes into the city as a king with no weapons or army except the Word of God.
He is embracing the cross which the Father has given Him. It’s not that He doesn’t see it. With all wisdom and knowledge and all power He goes to meet it.
But everybody around Him can’t believe Jesus knows what He’s doing. The chief priests and the elders, the Jewish ruling council—the Sanhedrin—knows that Jesus as Messiah simply won’t work in the real world. He will get their holy place torn down by the Romans. If Jesus keeps getting followers, He will destroy everything.
And the crowds cheer Jesus today, but soon they realize Jesus isn’t what they thought. He hasn’t come to tell them how good they are and how bad the Gentiles are and make sure that everyone has a full stomach and an easy, comfortable life.
And the disciples don’t really think that Jesus knows what He’s doing either, when they realize that He was serious about getting killed in Jerusalem. They were looking for the payoff for the past few years of hardship.
The Jewish council is right. Jesus as Messiah will never work in the world as it is. Jesus is not coming to get the whole world to stop worshipping at temples of idols and come to the Jewish temple. He’s not coming to replace the Roman empire and the Roman Law with a Jewish empire and the book of Deuteronomy.
Just as today, when Jesus comes, He does not come to give you a comfortable life or a prosperous church in the suburbs or to make Americans into good moral people again. He may give those things. But that’s not why He comes—to make adjustments where we’ve made errors and then put His stamp of approval on everything.
He has come to build His Church which, unlike the temple, and America, and a comfortable life, will stand against the gates of hell and will stand when heaven and earth pass away.
Jesus’ Church must be built with more permanent materials than the stones of the temple, or full bank accounts, or crowds of admiring people. So He has come to lay its foundation. He has come to be torn down and laid in the earth, because that is how His church that lasts forever is built.
Jesus knows what He’s doing. He chooses the cross which is the will of His Father.
He chooses to be the servant and slave of all.
He rides into Jerusalem with a parade, on a donkey, not because He intends to be a king the way the people think of a king, but in order to fulfill the Scriptures, so that people would see Him saying, “Yes, I am who you think I am; I am the promised Messiah.” But He is not agreeing with them that they are the good people and He has finally come to reward their goodness.
He is the only good one. And He has not come to be rewarded. He has come as the slave of the evil. The King is the greatest servant. He serves and makes the greatest sacrifice for others and receives no recognition or thanks.
The other people in the story all fall short because they do not want to suffer or let go of what they have. The Jewish council doesn’t want to lose what they have. The crowds want full stomachs and a comfortable life. The disciples want their reward for leaving everything and following Jesus.
But Jesus the king, knowing what He’s doing, chooses the cross. Which means He chooses hatred and death; from men hatred and bodily pain. From God, wrath against other men. Jesus wills what His Father wills—that He serve evil, thankless men. The powerful manipulators in Jerusalem, sitting in the shadows, plotting to take His life—for their sins even now, Jesus will endure God’s wrath. For the crowds who turn on Jesus and scream “Crucify Him!” as soon as they realize He’s not going to give them a pat on the back and an eternally full refrigerator. Jesus serves them with His life and with all His soul.
And He serves the disciples, who do believe in Him, yet falter, who find it hard to believe that Jesus knows what He is doing when the sea is about to swamp the boat (while Jesus is asleep), or when He says “You give the crowd of five thousand people some food,” or when He is arrested and won’t fight back, accused as a blasphemer, and God allows Him to die as a cursed man on the cross.
Jesus willingly serves all of the above. And us. He goes into Jerusalem with His eyes open, which is what the devil and human beings can’t comprehend. We, according to the wisdom of the flesh, do not want to suffer, think we shouldn’t have to, and think that God is not in suffering.
We think that if God is with us, we should be able to see it by measurable results. If someone leaves, or gets mad, God can’t be in that.
If there are big sinners in the Church who keep sinning, we think that God can’t be in that church. Why?
If our lives are broken, if our lives are a struggle, if we are poor, we think that God must not be there.
Why? Did someone lie to you? When you were baptized and made your confirmation vows, did people tell you that your reward would be on earth? Even if they did, Jesus didn’t. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted….Blessed are you when people revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5)
Jesus’ true Church will always be persecuted and harassed by the devil and the world. There will always be opposition, not only from outside, but from within—from those who claim to be brothers in Christ. And there will also be the weakness of true brothers in Christ which will hurt us. Jesus was hurt by His people, who were supposed to be believers. They were, outwardly, the church at that time. He was plotted against by false believers. And He was betrayed by one of His disciples. And even the faithful ones could not be relied on. And it was not clear which disciples were true and which was the betrayer until it was too late.
But Jesus knew what He was doing then and He does now. He chose the cross, He accepted it from His Father. And when He took it for Himself, He also made the cross the possession of those who are His. That’s why our suffering is not in vain and we are not abandoned. He knew what He was doing when He went to Jerusalem, and He knows what He is doing when He leads us into suffering.
That is why it’s right to sing Hosanna this Sunday before the passion, and every Sunday, even when we don’t know how He will work things out, even when our problems are not solved.
He was going to the cross, but the cross was victory for Him and us together. His horrible wounds, the horrible abuse and shame that He endured, the spiritual suffering, the black darkness of God’s wrath against sin that was not His—are justification, righteousness, everlasting life for us.
And our wounds, which are not so great, yet nevertheless great enough for us—Jesus has chosen them for us, and He knows what He is doing. Emotional pain, physical pain from sickness or accident, even from the hands of persecutors, should it come to that—spiritual pain—doubt, consciousness of sin, fear. Hatred from those who hate the Word. Jesus knows what He is doing. He built the Church through His body being torn down. He breaks down our sinful flesh through the cross so that we daily arise holding to Him more firmly, and growing into the full splendor of His church, which is His temple and dwelling place forever.
Whenever Jesus comes, this is what He does. He turns our eyes to His cross so that when we are torn down we recognize Him with us there. As long as He comes to us in His Word and His body and blood Jesus will do this—tear down and build up His own, and He will not be stopped.
Even if there are fickle crowds, or leaders who do not want Him there—even if the sinful flesh of the disciples opposes Him—He will build His Church over our dead body.
No one and nothing can stop Him from doing it. They may oppose Him, but they cannot prevent His Word from saving His own, from among the priests and elders and Pharisees; even many of the fickle crowds repented at Pentecost. And so did the disciples who denied Him, slept, or ran.
It is right that we rejoice with the children today. Even if we don’t know the outcome of everything, we can be certain that Jesus knows what He is doing. That means the joy of heaven, of which Palm Sunday is a foretaste, can start now. In this life that is what we get—to rejoice while the cross is still present. In heaven they wave palm branches forever, but we also start now because the battle has already been fought and won.
Because He embraced the cross, we can embrace ours, knowing that by it He will fulfill in us what He promised in Baptism—that we were dead and resurrected with Christ.
He will surely bring this to completion, despite your sins, even if there is no visible victory for you personally or for us together. He won’t fail. He knew what He was doing then, and He knows what He’s doing now as He comes to us who are still tasting the cross. Rejoice!