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What Luther Says

Palm Sunday, Palms Someday

First, I have to share with you my wonderful experience this morning at an LCMS Church here in Tampa, FL.

In short, I know it was only one visit, but I truly left feeling as though that was the very first Lutheran Worship Service I have attended since becoming a Confessional Lutheran within the past year, and I am so thankful to God for that today.

So, today is Palm Sunday, or the day when we Christians celebrate the account given to us in the Gospels about Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem toward fulfilling God's plan for humanity, which takes place about a week before his Resurrection.

John 12:12-20 (ESV) 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!" 16 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. 17 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. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him."

For starters, I'd like us to take a quick journey through the Scriptures from Exodus 12 to John 12. In the end, we'll also take a quick look at Revelation 7 and Psalm 118.

Riding on a donkey, Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Sunday of Passion Week. Leaders of the Jewish nation reacted as we often do when we are no longer in control: frustrated and fearful.

But Christ comes in a humble and gently manner, eager to listen to our prayers for salvation. "Hosanna!" is literally "help" or "save, I pray" and is a clear plea for divine help or deliverance found frequently in Psalm 113 to Psalm 118 (the Hallel), psalms for morning prayer. It became a general acclamation ("Hosanna! Please save us, O blessed Lord. Amen.").

Why is Palm Sunday signifi cant (in a nutshell, and without oversimplifying the sheer magnitude of what was taking place thousands of years ago that would have rami fications for all of mankind and for the rest of time)?

Have a quick look and a listen...

VIDEO: Palm Sunday: Why Is It Signifi cant?

Like His birth, Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem was unlike anything the people expected for the One who would become their glorious Savior, and yet, they should've known better.

That's because the Word of God was proclaimed through the prophets of old, and it told of what would happen (Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9). Christ's actions fulfilled what the prophets said.

Palm Sunday is all about celebrating God coming to us. When Jesus Christ would appear in His glory, it is in His meekness, not in His majesty, and in mercy, to work His plan of salvation for us.

Incredible that meekness and outward poverty were fully seen in Jerusalem's King for a second time upon the world's stage. Like the Pastor said this morning at the church I attended, it truly is a "Riches-To-Rags" kind of story, isn't it? It demonstrates Jesus' humility once again. Jesus wanted to do God's will without recognition.

As the Gospels tell us, the celebrating people there at that time set down their cloaks in front of Him, and they also put down small branches of trees, or palm branches. Little did they know that He would soon put His life down for them, and for all of us.

We're told that the people also sang part of Psalm 118 (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; John 12:13)...

Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV) 25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.

Palm trees grew plentifully near Jerusalem and had become a Jewish national symbol, appearing on Judean coins. I also find it interesting that the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in Jewish tradition, and is treated in other parts of the Bible as such (Leviticus 23:40).

In fact, we also see it mentioned and used in the same way, but in some key prophetic verses that give us a glimpse of our future too believe it or not.

My dear friends, we would be wise to prayerfully consider this day what the Scriptures tell us about palm branches, but more so about another (and future) use of palm branches (particularly in the Book of Revelation) that includes us...

Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV) 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

John's vision in Revelation 7:1-10 depicts God placing a protective seal on His people and thus marking them as those who will be delivered from the great final conflagration.

Yes, given the signs that daily surround us, God could release the devastating winds of His divine and righteous judgment at any moment. Yet, God holds back now because He is "patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

The palm branches mentioned in Revelation 7:9 are a symbol of victory. Again, they were displayed when victorious kings were welcomed and most famously when Christ entered Jerusalem.
Here's where we come full circle though: The "Hosanna!" cried on Palm Sunday means "Now save us!" but in this vision recorded in Revelation 7:9-10, salvation is acclaimed as an accomplished fact!

John gives us a glimpse of the glory that is Christ's. How incredible to be a part of that blessedness! Drawn onward and upward by the magnificence of this hope in Christ, God's people join in the heavenly chorus even now.

By Your grace, Lord, keep me among the faithful, so that I may forever sing Your praises in the glory of heaven. Amen.

Just stop and think about John's reaction here for a moment though.

Much like those in Jerusalem who witnessed Jesus riding into their city on a donkey, and later being crucifi ed and killed on the cross, he was shocked and surprised as indicated by the words "I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages," and that gives us an idea of the contrast between the two visions too.

So, instead of the comparatively few who were sealed (the 144,000) in the preceding vision, an innumerable group were seen in this next vision, and that's why surprise was John's natural human response. It's also worth noting that John didn't even attempt to number the people he saw there either.

We read here in Revelation that this multitude before the Throne of God in Heaven (you and me!) will also have "palm branches in their hands" someday just as those in Jerusalem did when Christ rode in on the back of a donkey (John 12:13), and that it will serve as an emblem of Christ's faithfulness and love for us, and that He saves just like He promises to.

A few final comments to try and wrap things up for us today.

After Christ was crucified and raised from the dead, the disciples were able to understand how he had fulfilled prophecies (Exodus 12). Christ's actions fulfilled what the prophets said (John 12).

Passover marked a new era for the people of Israel (Exodus 12) and foreshadowed the new, spiritual Israel in Christ (John 12). He is the perfect Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 7:27).

O Lord, I am in need of a Shepherd to seek and to save me, for I am a straying sheep. You are the Good Shepherd, who seeks and saves the lost. Save me, O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

In closing, I would like to point out how it is said that the the more weight that is hung upon the palm tree, the higher it rises, and the straighter it grows. Think about that in connection with what we know about Palm Sunday and where we're headed this upcoming Holy Week when it comes to Christ's ultimate sacrifice!

Earlier, we mentioned Psalm 118. Now, I'm only mentioning this as a casual observation (so I hope you will grant me the license to share this), but I think it's de finitely worth noting that even when man attempted to put his own "spin" on the Scriptures (when chapters and verse numbers were first added to the text where they would remain until the present day), God, in His infi nite wisdom, still had the last laugh.

What do I mean by that exactly? Well, what chapter is right in the middle of the Holy Bible? There's some dispute, but the commonly held belief is that it's Psalm 118!

The report I saw also said that Psalm 118 is preceded by 594 chapters, and it's followed by 594 chapters. If you add the number of "preceding chapters" to the number of "following chapters" you get 1188, or Psalm 118...and Psalm 118:8 (or the total number after adding the "preceding chapters" to the "following chapters")...get this...is the center verse!

If true (and sorry, but I don't have the time to sit down and try to verify this on my own right now), how absolutely amazing would that be, especially in the context of today's Bible study?

What does that "center verse" say? Not surprisingly, it says the following...

Psalm 118:8 (ESV) It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.

I know this is rather "speculative" and "subjective" perhaps (particularly for a Lutheran), but this just seemed like a good place to quickly make a few comments about it.

Oh yeah, and if Psalm 118 is indeed the chapter "in the middle" of the entire Bible, then how cool is it that the "shortest chapter" is Psalm 117, and the "longest chapter" is Psalm 119?

Finally, how beautiful is it then that Psalm 118 is said to be the "central chapter" in all of God's Word, and that portions of it were recited and sung by the very people who welcomed Jesus Christ into Jerusalem when He was on His way to fulfilling God's plan for humanity, which is now celebrated annually as Palm Sunday?

Whether Psalm 118 is the center of the Bible or not is immaterial. Either way, it doesn't change the overall message and truth of today's entry on Palm Sunday. I pray that it wasn't lost on you or that I didn't discredit any of it by making mention of this bizarre coincidence.

As we've said several times before, the palm branch is well known to be a token of victory, and so it serves as an appropriate emblem of victory and triumph for us believers in Jesus Christ over our common enemies such as sin, death, the flesh, the world, and Satan, or EVERYTHING we struggle with in this life.

Thankfully, the Lord made it possible that we would repent for our sins and believe that we are forgiven, redeemed, and saved by the sacrifi ce, shed blood, death, and resurrection of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, may this Palm Sunday remind us that we should be rejoicing because we will also praise Jesus with palm branches someday.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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