Palm Sunday March 29, 2015


Ride on, Ride on, in Majesty

John 12:12-15; Colossians 2:15; 1 Peter 1:10-12; Psalm 49:7-8; Hebrews 12:2

Scripture Readings

Incorporated in the service


161, 162, 160(4-5)

Dear fellow-redeemed:

Henry Milman, born in 1791 in London, was in the course of his life a successful playright, poet, theologian, minister, historian, and hymn writer. He was ordained in 1817, became a professor at Oxford in 1821, and in 1849 was appointed Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral until his death in 1868.

In the early 1820s, Bishop Reginald Heber—the author of the hymn “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”—had asked Milman to contribute some hymns for a song book he was planning. Milman contributed 13 poems. The book was published in July 1827 after Heber himself had died. And there, on page 58, it appeared for the first time in print—the hymn that has been called one of the finest ever written in the English language: Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty by “H. H. M.”—Henry H. Milman. To this day it is the best loved of all Palm Sunday hymns, and today we sing it again and consider the spiritual truths it contains.


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry.
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed. [TLH 162:1]


The first verse of the hymn sets the scene as described in John 12:12-15:

“The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: Hosanna! Blessed is He who come in the name of the King of Israel! Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: Fear not, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

This is a King who enters the city of Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover in the year 30 AD. Not only did the prophets say so, but Jesus Himself said the same. When He stood before Pilate and Pilate put it to him saying, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king(John 18:37).

So when the people greeted Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna,” those shouts were very appropriate. Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means “Save us!” and it became an expression used to salute royalty. “Oh king, save us, and grant us success!” Hosanna is a word that suggests hope, especially hope and expectation of deliverance from trouble. The crowds who called to Jesus in this way were looking to Him to help them, were even confident that He would. It is no surprise that they laid down their garments for Jesus’ animal to walk on and that they waved palm branches in the air as a sign of their celebration.

Jesus was a king who would carry out the very tasks that kings were expected to carry out. He would rule over His people, and He would defend those under His care.

On Palm Sunday we remember this event and greet Jesus with the same cries of Hosanna! We remember that Jesus is a king who has come to us as well, to rule in our hearts by His mercy and loving-kindness. He is guiding us along paths that will be best for us, giving us guidance and instruction for life that is always right and true. He is our king who defends us from our greatest enemies—the forces of evil in the heavenly realms—saving us from the death-trap of our sins, from God’s judgment, and from everlasting sorrow.

History has seen its share of poor rulers and bad kings, but this One who enters Jerusalem to our shouts of Hosanna is well-deserving of them. This King we can trust for all eternity. Trust Him to lead us. Trust Him to protect us.


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin. [TLH 162:2]


“In lowly pomp ride on to die.” That is a striking phrase, isn’t it? Jesus was riding to His death and He knew it, and we know it. We know where this donkey ride is leading. It is leading to pain, suffering, scorn, mockery, indignity, miscarriage of justice, betrayal, abandonment. It is leading to a death by crucifixion—a method of execution that would have today’s human rights organizations up in arms—but nobody defended Jesus when He was nailed to a cross. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He truly was “riding on to die.”

But the hymn verse also speaks of a triumph. “O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin…” We might wonder to ourselves, “What sort of a triumphs?” How can it be triumphant that Jesus is going to be betrayed and arrested, that His friends are going to leave Him, that He will be treated like a “worm and not a man” (cf. Psalm 22:6)? What victory is it that by the end of the week He will be dead in the grave?

But the cross and the events leading up to it do mark triumphant victories for Jesus. For it was on Calvary in His death that He won the battle for our souls. The problem went all the way back to Adam and Eve. What would God the Father do with those who sinned against Him? What would He do to all those human descendants who were born sinful and continued to sin against Him daily even as we do still today? Could He just overlook their evil and disobedience? No, or He would not be just. Could He say, “What they do isn’t really all that bad”? No, because God has absolute standards of right and wrong.

The answer was for someone else to become the sinner and to represent all sinners before God. This representative would actually take on the guilt of all people. He who knew no sin would “become sin” as Scripture says (2 Corinthians 19:5). Jesus would die and when He did, it would be a triumph. It would mean that the sins of everyone in the world had been dealt with and we could have everlasting life with God.

So with each of those last steps that the Lord took toward the cross in that final week, He was actually leading death captive and conquering sin: when He confessed openly that He was the Son of God; when He prayed for those who persecuted Him; when He told the criminal hanging nearby that he would be with Him in paradise; and when He did not come down from the cross, but stayed until His job was finished.

He was triumphing at every turn, and those last hours were full of victories. The Bible passage that comes to mind in connection with this hymn verse is Colossians 2:15:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle over them, triumphing over them by the cross(NIV).


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching Sacrifice. [TLH 162:3]


The third verse of the hymn highlights for us what an amazing thing it is that Jesus is walking this road to the cross. Milman wrote about how even the angels look in wonder at what is going on. It’s very likely that he had in mind the words of 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NIV):

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things”.

The idea that the punishment we deserved for our sin against God is taken on by a substitute is stunning to say the least. Nowhere in any other religion do we find this idea that someone else has taken the sinner’s place. Outside of Christianity, every other religion teaches that you and I must either suffer for our guilt or do good works to make up for it. But that is not what Scripture teaches, because that is not how God actually handled it. The concept of God’s Son becoming human and suffering Hell in our place is so unique that the prophets themselves searched their own writings to see what God was really saying about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. Think of Isaiah after he finished writing that famous 53rd chapter which concludes: “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors(Isaiah 53:12). Picture Isaiah looking at those words and thinking, “Does God really mean this? Is this really how it works? Yes! Amazing!”

And even the angels “long to look into these things” the Apostle Peter wrote. They surely do look down with “wond’ring eyes to see th’ approaching sacrifice.”

Now, we’ve gathered on Palm Sunday before and we’ve celebrated Holy Week many times. Maybe there is a certain danger that it becomes too familiar to us, that we say, “I’ve heard all that.” Maybe Jesus’ journey to the cross and His death don’t seem as full of wonder to us as when we heard those accounts for the first time.

On this festival day, let’s each take some extra time to stop and think just how amazing this is what Jesus has done. Be as impressed as the angels are, and appreciate with your whole heart what is happening as you greet Him with your Hosannas.


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on His sapphire throne
Expects His own anointed Son. [TLH 162:4]


Could there have been any other way to redeem mankind from sin and death? Any other way to make a proper payment to God to satisfy justice? Jesus wondered that for a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

It was not possible. The Father expected a sacrifice that was valuable enough to cover all human guilt. No mere man could be worth that much. Only the life of Jesus, who was both divine and human, could make an offering great enough. Listen to Psalm 49:7-8:

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay(NIV).

No man is worth enough to give Himself for another person’s sins. Only the giving of Jesus’ life could cover us all. So it is true what the hymn says: “The Father on His sapphire throne expects His own anointed Son.”

Yet to this day there are those who think that they can contribute something to this payment for sin. Some think that by special penance or suffering they can help in their cleansing. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day thought that by adding extra rules and regulations to God’s Law they could help pay off their debt of guilt. It does not work. Our guilt is too great. The Father expects Jesus and Jesus only as the price for our redemption. “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death” (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed).


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain.
Then take, O Christ, Thy power and reign. [TLH 162:5]


When facing something very difficult, it helps to look beyond it. Scripture tells us that Jesus did this. That last entry into Jerusalem could not have been easy for Him, knowing that He was but following a path to a horrific death and would endure the torments of Hell, His own Heavenly Father forsaking Him. But Jesus looked ahead to the glory that would follow. Think of Hebrews 12:2:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (NIV).

Christ looked beyond the cross to the empty tomb, His ascension, the retaking of His rightful position of rule. He looked ahead to the days when He would stand the triumphant victor and be the loving Head over all things for the good of His Church.

Looking ahead to the day when all this would be past, He was able to bow His head to His Father’s will. He was able to see the joy that was coming.

May we too, when days are difficult and times are hard, look, as Jesus did, past the suffering and indignity and look to the joy that is set before us. May we endure, as Christ did, knowing the glories of Heaven that are to come. The last verse of Milman’s hymn looks ahead to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus: “Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O Christ, Thy power and reign.” Amen.

—Pastor David P. Schaller

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