Palm Sunday — The Unsatisfactory Messiah

Preached April 1, 2012

Exodus 15:27–16:7a
St. Matthew 21:1–9
Philipppians 2:5–11
St. Matthew 27:1–54

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

By this point, you have no doubt noticed that this is an extraordinarily service. We began with the blessing of the palms, with its own Old Testament lesson and Gospel lesson, several collects, the Sanctus, the palm blessing itself, the distribution of the palms and the procession with the palms. That was the first part, and then we began the Mass. To this point in the Mass, things have been pretty much like they always are, except for the exceptionally long Gospel reading that we have done in parts. You may well be asking yourself, “So, what’s next?”

All of this is to point to the double focus of the day. On the one hand, it is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the first focus. On the other hand, our second Gospel lesson for the day, from St. Matthew 27, begins the Crucifixion narrative, the second focus.

The ancient tradition of the Church has been to set the account of our Lord’s Passion before men throughout this week ahead. It begins with The Passion according to St. Matthew on Palm Sunday as we have just heard. This is followed by the account of St. Mark on Tuesday, St. Luke on Wednesday, and St. John on Good Friday. Thus we have this morning embarked on the same path that has been the practice of the Church through the ages; we will continue that path through the week.

Think for a few minutes about the events of that Palm Sunday morning in Jerusalem. Jesus comes, riding on an ass. Unlike what we might think, this was regal transportation, not demeaning at all. For the moment, the crowds are enthusiastic, they sing His praises, and spread palm branches on the road in front of Him. But it is enthusiasm without any real degree of commitment whatsoever. They are more caught up in the feverish emotion of the moment than they are with Jesus, the true Messiah.

Who can support the idea that this Jesus of Nazareth fellow is really the Messiah? He certainly did not fit the general expectations for the Messiah. Some were looking for a new King David, a military leader that would throw off the Roman rulers and restore the prestige of the nation of Israel. He most certainly is not a military leader at all. Most were looking for a new Moses, who would lead them on a new exodus to a new, heavenly Promised Land. They also were expecting someone who would speak with the authority of God, and surely such a person would be expected to work closely with the established Jewish religion. This Jesus fellow certainly seemed to speak with authority all right, but He does not support the established Jewish religion very well at all. He was constantly haranguing the Pharisees about first one thing and then another, and it was clear that He did not agree with their idea of Judaism at all. And yet, were the Pharisees not the epitome of the Jewish faith, the keepers of the Law of Moses? Finally, Jesus just did not look like the Messiah. He did not look like a king. He looked like a peasant. He did not wear fancy clothes, He did not have money and servants, He did not act the part, as they understood that a king or great leader should act. How could anyone believe in a king that does not present himself as a king?

Jesus had not presented Himself as a satisfactory Messiah, a believable King. As we have seen through the weeks leading up to this point, Jesus had gone to great lengths to show Himself for just who He really was, the true Son of God. He stated His true identity to the Jews over and over again, but they simply did not hear and understand.

It is not surprising at all, that the same people who would greet “King Jesus” on Palm Sunday morning, would be ready to turn on Him soon thereafter. This of course brings us to the Passion story, related earlier in our Gospel lesson. This is the theme for the whole week ahead: how Jesus did not turn out to be either a warrior king that would drive out the Romans nor the new Moses that they could recognize leading them on a new exodus, but rather is in fact a king of love, reigning from the Cross, crowned with suffering and death. Our Lord was glorified through His humility and obedience unto death. He did not come to be ministered to by others, but rather that He might minister to them, and to give His life as a ransom for them.

The immense humility of Christ in all of this is further illuminated for us in the Epistle lesson, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The Apostle is describing the position of Christ in the Godhead, when he says, Philippians 2:6  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: He is saying first that Christ is absolutely the same as God the Father, true God from eternity. The second phrase, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, means that, in claiming to be God Himself, He takes nothing away from God the Father. He is well aware that They have both existed since before time, Both uncreated beings. But even with this knowledge, Philippians 2:7-8  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

This is the sort of humility that St. Paul is inviting each of us to take on. It is evident that none of us begin with the sort of elevated status from which Christ Jesus began, so it is truly  certain we will never achieve His degree of humility. Nevertheless, the example is clear.

The rest of this short Epistle lesson speaks of the reward bestowed upon the Son by the Father as a result of the obedience of the Son. That obedience was the result of the humility of the Son, the willingness to carry out the will of the Father, rather than His own will. Thus we read Philippians 2:9-11 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:  10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is the response of God the Father to the “unsatisfactory Messiah,” the king who just could not quite be believed by the people. It was because He was faithful to the will of the Father, rather than responding to the will of the crowd, something that was entirely within His power to do, but because He was faithful to the will of the Father that we have the verses that I read just a moment ago. Think about what that says about how we should live our lives, about who we should listen to, who we should respond to, and where our ultimate allegiance belongs. Do you want your reward in this life, or in the next?

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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