Palm Sunday April 16, 2000
“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In the LORD all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.’”
In the name of the triune God, whose will for us is always good for us, dear fellow redeemed in Christ.
Every morning at the start of school, the entire classroom would stand up and recite those words that every American student was taught at one time: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In the Pledge of Allegiance, we show our patriotism. We show our loyalty as American citizens. It’s not a conflict as far as God is concerned. You can be a patriot and a Christian at the same time. The only time conflict would arise would be those rare times when the country would ask of you something that God forbids, or the country would forbid of you something that God commands.
First and foremost, we “pledge allegiance” to our God. His kingdom must take precedence above all others. As we learn from the words of Isaiah today, God will get your loyalty for three important reasons.
When you look at the Old Testament history, you see this astounding pattern of idolatry with the Jews, a group of people who should have known better. Here they had the real thing handed to them—right there in the Temple which God built for Himself, right there in the Bible which God wrote, right there in their personal history, God coming to them exclusively, claiming them as His people, and setting them up as a nation with demonstrations of supernatural power. But they kept running after these imitation “gods,” the pagan idols of their heathen neighbors. They let go of the real thing and wasted their time on something so phony and worthless. Finally when Jesus came on the scene, the pattern was apparently broken. The idol temples and the pagan religions were a thing of the past. All public worship for the Jews was centered on Jehovah, the one true God.
Idolatry in the heart, however—well, that goes on no matter where you live, no matter who you are. We too have our own brand of idols. The catechism tells us to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” But we turn the order around. We fear, love, and trust in things, and people, and ourselves above God. We make something or someone more important than God. God deserves all of our love, all of our honor, all of our loyalty. But we steal it away from Him. Can we honestly claim that we have loved God more than anything or anyone else? You know the reality of the situation. In our own way we have turned money, occupation, success, favorite hobby, habit, or loved one into an idol of the heart. We have misplaced our loyalty, giving to the creature what rightly belongs to the Creator.
God knows what to do to fix the problem. He wins back our loyalty by asserting Himself, by demonstrating that He is God. He works from the inside out. He gets us to repent of the idolatry and focus on Him, the only God there is. He gets your loyalty back by convincing you that He is faithful to His promises.
Have you ever heard of God taking an oath? It happens in our text: “I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.” God swears (He takes an oath) to get the attention of all people focused on Him. To understand this better, we put this Old Testament passage next to a New Testament verse, a parallel Scripture that we heard in the New Testament reading, Philippians 2: “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)
God wants the loyalty of everyone. Ultimately, it’s going to happen on Judgment Day. When Jesus comes back, everyone will have to admit that He is Lord. There will be no denying what is plainly visible up in the sky. The believers will do it gladly. The unbelievers will acknowledge Jesus with much fear and trembling. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the individual. God deeply desires that we all receive His grace and have the loyalty of faith right now. Loyalty that is based on His faithfulness to us and His faithfulness to Himself.
God has sworn by Himself. That’s something you and I can not do. We can’t base the oath on ourselves. If we ever take an oath—which, by the way, is something that should happen rarely and only under the right circumstances—we have to swear by the greater authority of God. But God is at the top. When He takes an oath, He has to call upon Himself as the witness of what He intends to do. Listen to the book of Hebrews on this matter of God taking an oath: “When God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself… For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath.”
God wanted Abraham and all his descendants to know for certain that a Savior would come. So God made a promise and swore it with an oath. God kept the promise in front of the people by building up the prophecies of the Old Testament. God made the matter official and binding. He put it in writing and signed His signature with a “notarized” seal, His own vow and oath, which put His entire reputation on the line.
To keep that reputation intact, God would have to come through. He would have to do what He said He would do. He would have to insure His own success. God would have to take this matter of salvation out of human hands, where the potential to fail is great, and place it squarely in the hands of His Son, the one He chose, the only one qualified.
When God is faithful to His Word, it compels you all the more to give Him the loyalty of your heart. Especially when you consider that His faithfulness is aimed directly at your welfare. God gets your loyalty, because He delivers your salvation.
Today is Palm Sunday. In one of the Scripture readings, you heard once again the Lord’s triumphant march into the city of Jerusalem. The people welcomed Him as their King, but many failed to understand what this King was going to do. You know what they say: hindsight is 20-20. We can look back and examine this event with all of the facts on the table. Based on the Old and New Testaments, plus the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we know that Jesus came to win the final battle. He came to pay the biggest price. He came to deliver what everybody needs.
Jesus came to bring you righteousness. More than anything else, you need His perfect record to cover up your sins and make you acceptable to God the Father. So Jesus steps in to supply what is missing. He fulfills your obligation to live a perfect life. He fulfills your obligation to pay the debt of your sin. That’s why Jesus kept every commandment. That is why He gave Himself over to His enemies. Jesus volunteered to experienced death and hell; He took the punishment in our place.
And as a result we have the approval of God right now. We get to hear the Judge say we’re not guilty. We get the Lord’s invitation to inherit life after death, life with God that never ends.
Let’s go back to our previous discussion—God taking an oath. It is more than the promise of a Savior. “I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.’” God swears that He will gain back our loyalty. He swears to turn us into people who trust Him. So the work of Jesus on the cross has to be followed up by the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. God will gain your loyalty after He has given you the faith to believe in Christ.
There’s a tradition in the Lutheran Church that you don’t see much anymore. They used to have Confirmation on Palm Sunday. The tradition fits when you consider what the children did at the first Palm Sunday. They followed Jesus into the Temple and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They were confessing their faith in Him, even as confirmands today confess their faith in Christ. Though we may choose to have Confirmation a different time of year, we do not abandon the practice of confessing faith throughout the year. It is our “pledge of allegiance” to God. It is a fulfillment of our text, “Every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.’”
Think back to your confirmation vow. It fits the category of an oath. It becomes the “oath” of our faith. We invoke the name of God and sincerely vow that Christ is our only hope of eternal life. We sincerely vow that everything God says is the truth that we’re going to believe. We pledge our loyalty to Him because of His great loyalty to us. And we promise, with His help, to remain faithful to Him, no matter what. This vow of confirmation has an echo, especially here in church. Every time you say the Creed, whether Apostolic or Nicene, you pledge your loyalty to the Triune God. It’s the verbal response of your faith, even as Paul says in Romans, “With the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:10)
When God connects with the Christian, it’s a win-win situation for both sides. He wins your loyalty, your love, and your respect. He becomes the object of your worship, your devotion, and your gratitude. And you win all the blessings of His grace. You win forgiveness of sins and life after death. You win Jesus as your greatest Friend and Companion. God will get the loyalty of faith from you, and you will get even greater loyalty from Him—the only God there is, the only God who is faithful to His promises, the only God who delivers salvation to people who could never earn or obtain this gift for themselves. May this loyal, faithful God keep us ever loyal and faithful to Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.