Riding up that Hill / John 12:12–19 & Psalm 24:1-6 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday April 2nd 2023 / Holy Week, Palm Sunday in the Season of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday April 2nd 2023: Holy Week, Palm Sunday in the Season of Lent / John 12:12–19 & Psalm 24:1-6, “Riding up that Hill”
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!” 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!”
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. 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. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends, whenever the Gospel reading starts with the words “The next day” it prompts the question ‘the next day after what?’ On Saturday, the Old Testament day of rest Jesus and His disciples where in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem at the house of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead and at their house there was a dinner. The Gospel of John tells us that, “Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with [Jesus at the] table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But [Saint John tells us that] Judas Iscariot, one of [Jesus’] disciples ([the very Judas] who was about to betray [Jesus]), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [Judas] said this [Saint John tells us] not because [Judas] cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”
As an aside, Judas valued that pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with as worth roughly a year’s wages, and you might find it interesting to remember as we begin Holy Week that Judas by the end of that week ended up betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver which would roughly add up to about four months wages, which apparently was also in the ball park for the price to purchase a slave. Here we see the growing disparity of what a man’s life is worth and to whom. Mary would pour a year’s wages on Jesus’ feet and wipe those feet with her hair out of thanksgiving and Judas would sell those same feet and the rest of Jesus into “slavery” and death for a quarter of that price.
Saint John continues to tell us that, “when the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there [in Bethany at Mary and Martha’s House], they came, not only on account of [Jesus] but also to see Lazarus, whom [Jesus] had raised from the dead. So the chief priests [in Jerusalem] made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of [Lazarus] many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”
This was all going on on the Saturday before the day we now call Palm Sunday, the day we remember today, the day that kicks off Holy Week each year. We have a variety of people surrounding Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem: the Men, Women and Children who 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!”; Judas full of covetous greed and a willingness to betray Jesus; the Pharisees and Sadducees with the chief priests who had begun in earnest to plot not just Lazarus’ death but Jesus’ death also. All of these surrounded Him.
As we celebrate the Holy Supper today we will have opportunity to sing “My Song is Love Unknown,” where we confess that Jesus out of love for us and out of compassion for our sad estate rode into Jerusalem putting His life on the line for our salvation and in the third verse we’ll sing, “Sometimes they strew His way and his sweet praises sing, resounding all the day hosannas to their King. Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.” Our righteous Jesus, the King of Glory, rides into Jerusalem through the ancient doors of that city bringing with Him, in His very body and blood, the seed of their salvation: a salvation some yearn for and others do not want to have. He arrives humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey, to fulfill what was written of Him in the book of Zechariah to face death and in so doing because of the blood of His covenant with them to set their prisoners free from the waterless pit of their sins; to reveal to them what was long hoped for, the promised death of death, and to restore to them a double portion of God’s abundant grace. But will they have it?
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem on the back of that donkey everyone must reconcile to themselves who this Jesus is to them. Is He the one who comes with salvation in His hand, the one we respect and worship as our Saviour, or is He an enemy who must as all cost be stopped, one who we are hell bent to cast out and dismiss? Is He “very God of very God begotten not made,” is He God and Man who came to us from heaven in the flesh “for our salvation” or is He a fraud and pretender, a big talker who others lied about after His death? Did Jesus do those miracles recorded in Scripture like raising Lazarus from the dead and making the man born blind to see; is the Bible true, did Jesus die a real flesh and blood death and rise again from the dead in a real flesh and blood resurrection on the third day? While everyone must reconcile these questions: Christians don’t enter Holy Week unsure of how things will play out as they mark these events: as they remember the gift of Jesus’ Holy Supper on Maundy Thursday, or as they commemorate His death on the Friday called ‘Good,’ or as they rest in His rest in the tomb as they hear the promises of God fulfilled in this same Jesus proclaimed to them on Holy Saturday, or as they celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Christian doesn’t walk step by step with Christ through all of this like a person reading a mystery novel for the first time unsure of how it will end. We know who is plotting Jesus’ death, we know who orchestrates His death, and we know how it will turn out. We know who would wipe His feet with their hair and who would nail those feet to the wood of the cross.
As all of this was kicking into motion, as the events of that first Palm Sunday were unfolding, Jesus knew what lay before Him even if everyone else only thought they knew what was to happen. Everyone around Jesus had their ideas: the ones who were plotting His death expected Him to stay dead, the ones crying out Hosanna expected to be saved but maybe didn’t understand that He was coming to save them from more than their present circumstances as people under the thumb of the rule of the Roman empire – that He actually came to save them from themselves, from sin and the devil, from death and ultimately from this fallen world – ; Jesus’ disciples had witnessed Him escape death on multiple occasions so they might have expected that Jesus would talk His way out of danger or simply slip through the fingers of His enemies as He’d done before; perhaps Judas thought the same, he might not have been able to sell that pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard for a year’s wages but he might have been able to turn a tidy profit from selling Jesus out to the local officials, ‘I mean if Jesus was just going to get away why not make a couple buck on the situation?’ Ranging from the good to the bad to the ugly everyone had a justification for why they were doing what they were doing when it came to Jesus: worldly peace with Rome, hope, jealousy, trust, greed, faith, outrage you name it they had it, but the motivating justification Jesus had was His love for His heavenly Father and His love for you and for all people, even for His enemies, and as Saint Paul teaches “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
In our introit this morning Pastor Albrecht said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” and we responded saying, “We bless You from the house of the LORD.” The one who comes in the name of the LORD is Jesus, and He is the “King of glory” that the rest of the introit from Psalm 24 confesses. Now that bit from Psalm 24 picks up half way through the Psalm and if you look at the first part you see even more of just who this Jesus is. So turn with me in the front of your hymnal to Psalm 24 and let’s read together in unison verses one to six keeping in mind that the Psalmist, King David, is speaking of the coming Christ.
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for He has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up His soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of His salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek Him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Dear ones the hill of the LORD is mount Zion on which the city of Jerusalem sits and where Mount Calvary, Golgotha the place of the Skull is to be found; as Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who was with God, and is God, who was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was not any thing made that was made rode into Jerusalem on the back of that donkey He ascended the hill of the LORD just as king David prophesied in Psalm 24. And Jesus who, that year would be the once and for all sacrificial Passover Lamb of God given as a gift without payment, is the one who stands alone in the holy place when He clears the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals from the Temple. Jesus is the one Psalm 24 speaks of who alone has hands clean of sin, who alone truly has “a pure heart,” and Jesus’ the one who “does not lift up His soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” And while He, on the one hand, will receive confrontation and curses and pain and suffering and public humiliation and even death from the leaders of the people in Jerusalem and from the crowds they’d stirred up against Him from His heavenly Father, on the other hand, Jesus would receive blessings and righteousness: Thursday the Lord sends the blessing of an angel to minister to Him in the garden of Gethsemane while Jesus prays in spiritual anguish over what is about to unfold; Friday the Lord sends Jesus the blessing of Simon of Cyrene to help carry the cross of His crucifixion when Jesus is too beaten down and weary to do it Himself; in the darkness of Good Friday the Lord gathers to the foot of the cross the blessing of Jesus’ mother the Virgin Mary and John His disciple and the faithful thief on the cross crucified next to Him and some of the others like Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of His disciples James and John who witness His death from afar so that in the midst of those who reviled Him and cast curses and ridicule against Him He would not be completely alone but would have with Him some of those who loved Him. These are all blessings Jesus received from the LORD.
Returning to Palm Sunday: Wrapped up in the fanfare of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, unobserved by the Pharisees with their worries, is the Jesus who ascends the hill of the LORD knowing that the peak of that hill will be Him lifted up upon the cross, that His feet that are lifted from the road as He sits on the back of the donkey will be lifted up off the ground nailed to the wood of the cross of His crucifixion. Saint John in our Gospel says that Jesus’ “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 this is what we do each year, by marking and observing Holy week, we take the time of remember, to hear again “these things” Jesus love for us, the fountainhead of our forgiveness, the death of death accomplished by the one who says of Himself, “I and the Way the Truth and the Life,” He is the only way to the Father, to the creator, to the LORD.
As you are called to remember these things, you may not look at Jesus with greed and betrayal in your heart like Judas did, you may not look at Jesus with contempt and fear as the Pharisees and the Sadducees did, but each of us do have sins in need of forgiveness. By the grace of God, examine yourself, and consider what you need forgiveness for, what you need rescue from, what you need to be saved from as you join your Hosanna — your cry of “save me now” — to the Hosannas of the crowd that first Palm Sunday, trusting that Jesus has done it, and does it for you every day of your life; and therefore put away thoughts that you can save yourself, Lazarus couldn’t raise himself from the dead, you will not be able to do this either: Have your trust in the one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully, have your trust in Jesus, the one who comes to you “humble and mounted on a donkey,” with His hard fought gift of righteous and salvation for you in your need. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 12:1–8
 John 12:8–11
 My Song is Love Unknown, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #430 verse 3
 Zechariah 9: 9, 11–12
 Second Article of the Nicene Creed
 John 11:1-44
 John 9
 Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; John 10:30-39
 1 Corinthians 13:13
 Psalm 118:26
 Saint Paul writes in his greetings at the beginning of his letter to the Galatians, “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.” (Galatians 1:1) also in his letter to the Colossians, while teaching about baptism Paul likewise teaches how we “were also raised with [Jesus] through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12–13) And not just Saint Paul, Saint Peter also speak like this when he teaches in 1 Peter that it was, “God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God,” (1 Peter 1:21) so king David’s words in Psalm 24, “He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of His salvation” do find their fulfilment in the resurrection of our Lord.
 John 1:1–3
 1 Corinthians 5:7
 Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-16
 Matthew 27:32
 John 19:25-27; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 23:40-43
 John 12:20-33
 John 14:6
 Zechariah 9:9
Photo Credits: Main photo flipped, rotated and cropped detail of "L'Entrée du Christ à Jérusalem" painting by Rubens from wikimedia commons; detail tinted purple of Jan Luyken's "A Sinful Woman Anoints Christ's Feet" engraving from wikimedia commons; detail of coins from pexels; detail of palm branches from pexels; detail tinted blue of "The Entry into Jerusalem; Christ riding on a donkey towards an arched city gate; an elderly man spreads out his cloak on the road, after Dürer, print," Marcantonio Raimondi, after Albrecht Dürer from wikimedia commons; detail of donkey from pexels; detail of Jesus' feet at crucifixion by Eustache Le Sueur from rawpixel; detail of Raphael's The Mond Crucifixion (ca. 1502-1503) from rawpixel; detail of Sankt Petersburg at Auferstehungskirche from wikimedia commons; detail tinted yellow of "the Entry into Jerusalem by Marcantonio Raimondi, after Albrecht Dürer from wikimedia commons.