Palm Sunday April 9, 2017
140:1-5, 162, 160, 140:6
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore 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.
Prayer for Palm Sunday: O Almighty and everlasting God the Father, who sent Your Son to take our nature upon Him and to suffer death on the cross that all mankind should follow the example of His great humility, mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ in His patience and also be made partakers in His resurrection; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Here in America we hear a lot of talk about equality. We hear slogans like “equal pay for equal work.” We hear about “equal opportunity employers” when we are looking for a job. If we want to borrow money to buy a house, banks must, by law, advertise themselves as “equal housing lenders.” Our court system is supposed to give everyone “equal treatment under the law.” And our country’s Declaration of Independence boldly declares that “all men are created equal”—suggesting that all citizens here are entitled to an equal chance to pursue their life’s goals and dreams. But when does the concept of equality go too far? It goes too far when people demand equality with God.
When the serpent prodded Eve to eat from the forbidden tree he said to her, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5) This appealed to her. She thought to herself, “I would like to be equal with God. I would like to know good and evil like He does. I would like to be able to make decisions like God makes and have authority over things like God has.” And so she ate from the tree she had been warned not to eat from—because she wanted to be equal with God.
There are many ways in which people try to make themselves equals with God:
They want God to reveal to them everything that He knows and understands. They think they should be “let in on” everything that God is thinking, never mind that they would not grasp it anyway.
Or people act like God should always do things according to what they think, and they get angry when He chooses to do things differently. They want to be equals with God by having a say in deciding just how He should behave.
People also want to be equals with God by deciding for God what things should be considered good and what are evil.
The truth is, those who want to be equal with God do not really want to be equal to Him—they want to be above Him. They want to have their way over His. Our own sinful natures living within us want to have their way over God’s way. But it is no good to play the “I am equal with God” game and act like we are on the same “level” that He is.
When we demand equality with God, we end up not listening to His word and we wind up getting in the way of His plans—plans which would be of great benefit to us.
Do you remember Naaman? He was white with leprosy and had even called on God’s prophet for help. But when Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River, He thought He had a better idea than God did. Naaman thought it would be better if he went and washed in some cleaner waters. Trying to make Himself equal with God almost cost Naaman his healing.
Or what about Simon Peter, that impetuous disciple of our Lord? When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane to be taken away to the cross, Peter pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s servant. Peter’s idea was that this should never happen to Christ. It’s a good thing Peter did not get his way, isn’t it? What if Peter, thinking he had a better idea than God, had kept Jesus from going to His death?
And what about us? You children, when you do not do what your parents tell you to do, when you talk back or give them “attitude,” do you realize that God has placed them there to take care of you? Do you realize that when you disobey them you are actually making yourselves equal with God?—You are telling God that you have better ideas about how you should live your life than He does.
When we demand equality with God, when we insist to Him that our will must be done, that He must do things the way we see fit, we can ruin so much of the good and gracious blessings He wants to give to us.
The opposite of demanding equality with God is humility before God. People who are humble before God do not try to claim equality with Him. They do not act like their knowledge and ways are as good as His. They do not try to take over activities that belong to Him. The humble let God have His say and do not seek to overrule Him. They look to Him and declare, “Whatever you want, that is what I want.” That is true humility before God.
On Palm Sunday, especially, we gaze in wonder and amazement at the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ! For we are told in our text that He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6)
What a day that was, that Sunday before the Lord’s death. Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem on Palm Sunday signaled His final approach to the cross!
As Jesus came near the city, He sent two of His disciples ahead of Him into town, telling them to find a donkey tied up there along with a colt. They were to bring the animals to Jesus and He would ride the colt into the city.
The Bible tells us that this was no accident. Matthew writes, “this took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’” (Matthew 21:4-5)
What does riding that colt show us about Jesus? It shows us that He had truly humbled Himself before His Heavenly Father. The prophet Zechariah had declared that God the Father wanted His Son Jesus to enter Jerusalem in just this way. He was to ride that colt. If Jesus had done anything else—if He had walked, if He had been carried—it would have been an act of defiance on the part of Christ. He rode the colt because that was what His Father wanted Him to do. He rode the colt as an act of pure and perfect humility before God.
Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Even though He was true God, of the same substance as His Father—yet the person of Jesus did not try to go against the person of the Father. Jesus did not try to do things His own way.
The Lord’s riding of the colt on Palm Sunday highlights for us His willingness to do things His Father’s way. And Jesus continued to humble Himself before His Father’s will in the days immediately following Palm Sunday too.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He knew He was coming there to die. This ride on the colt was a ride to the death. Christ knew what was going to happen to Him. He was not ignorant of the prophecy of Isaiah which had said: “It was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” (Isaiah 53:10) He knew what the 22nd Psalm said. He knew King David meant Him when he wrote: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:6) He knew His upcoming suffering would be cruel and difficult. He knew that the manner of His death, the cross, would be the most terrible way to die, a method of execution so horrible that the Romans would not even subject their own citizens to it.
Yet this was His Father’s will for Him. And Jesus humbled Himself. “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” EVEN death on a cross. Even the worst torture that could be imagined—if it was what His Father wanted, Jesus would not claim to know better. He would not rise up against His Father’s will.
Jesus came to Jerusalem as a servant. Now a servant does not exercise His own will, but rather works at the will and command of another. Here Jesus was humbling Himself before His Father, doing exactly what He had been asked to do.
Jesus had been told to go and die for the sins of the people, sins that cried out for justice. Think of all the times since Adam and Eve that men, women, and children had failed to humble themselves before God. Think of how many times people had gone against God’s will rather than going along with it. Think of how many sins man’s lack of humility had led to over the centuries. Think of how in your own life you have not always humbled yourselves before God, but have tried to be like Him and done what your sinful natures wanted to do rather than what He wanted.
All have sinned and failed to be perfectly humble before God. All these sins cry out for justice. Justice requires that these sins must be punished.
And Jesus was told to die for them. He was told to accept the punishment. He was told, “Go and be the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the guilt of the whole world.”
Jesus did just as He was told. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In the greatest act of humility of all time, Jesus accepted His Father’s will, suffered the torments of hell itself, the full wrath of God against all our sin, and gave up His life for ours, rising again the third day to declare the job complete.
This is why we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Here we see Jesus humbly marching toward His death and willingly approaching the cross. In response, we say with the Apostle Paul: “every knee should bow [to Jesus], in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Maybe you wish you had been there to throw your own cloaks in the road, or to put your own hand on the colt and help guide it along the path.
But you can still praise Him with your whole life by letting your attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus. You can still BE HUMBLE AS YOUR SAVIOR WAS HUMBLE. Listen to your God and do His will. Imitate Jesus’ humility. That, surely, is a fitting way to praise Him.
Let us wave our palm branches and shout with those crowds who welcomed Him saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” All praise to Jesus, the Humble One who did His Father’s bidding! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.