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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord (Mark 11.1-11, Psalm 118)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday); Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 118 

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::

Singing Together: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (chorus and arr. Austell)
Singing Together: Hosanna - Praise is Rising (Baloche)
The Word in Music: Hosanna to the King (Courtney)
Hymn of Sending: Great are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordon, Leonard)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, in which we remember the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, including the Last Supper on Thursday night, his crucifixion on Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. I am also continuing in our series asking, “What it means to be blessed?” because right there in the middle of the Palm Sunday story, right after “HOSANNA!” is this statement: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” (vv. 9-10)

So, though we have left the Beatitudes in Luke, it would appear there is something here to learn about blessing and being blessed.

Prep Work (vv. 1-7)

The text begins with what I’ll call “prep work.” Just before entering the city of Jerusalem, Jesus sends two disciples into the nearby town to get a colt on which to ride into Jerusalem. That mission was as fascinating and confusing as the rest of the day: Jesus seemed to know right where it would be, people questioned them when they were taking it, but seemed fine once they said “The Lord needs it,” and it was a very specific animal – a young colt (can mean young horse or donkey) which had never been ridden. In the Hebrew scriptures, a young unblemished/unused animal was used for a sacred purpose, and that seems to be the purpose here.

When the disciples got it back to Jesus, they seemed to know what to do: they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. It turns out that this was one of the well-known things the Messiah would do. It came from the prophet Zechariah, who wrote:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

The stage was set! If Jesus was going to claim to be the Messiah – if he WAS the Messiah – this is how it would be announced; this was a public sign to go with all the teaching and miracles that said, “The Messiah is here.”

The Messiah We Want (vv. 8-10)

So here’s the thing: Jesus was the promised Messiah, but not the expected Messiah.  And that’s no reflection on Jesus or the promises of God; it’s a reflection on how people’s expectations can change. We often see what we are looking for, and we look for what we want to see!

We’ve talked about this more than a few times before. The Hebrew scriptures – our Old Testament – is packed full of teaching, promises, prophecies, and anticipation of the Messiah, or God’s “anointed one.” The Messiah was God keeping His covenant promises to not abandon His people and to bring them BLESSING. Specifically, the Messiah was God keeping His promise to King David that the kingdom and the kingly line would last. But that’s where the promise and the expectations started to diverge, even as our concept of ‘blessing’ sometimes diverges from God’s definition of blessing.

The kingdom was not ultimately David’s kingdom; it was an earthly manifestation of God’s Kingdom – God’s covenant blessing on His people. And while David was the earthly king, GOD was the Great King. And so as the earthly kings and kingdom struggled and failed and fell, it is not surprising that Israel would latch on to the scriptures full of God’s promise of a lasting King and Kingdom and a “Return of the King” as a specific anointed one God would send. And in a hard world full of empires, kings and emperors, and occupying armies like that of Rome, the expectations became increasingly political, powerful, and nationalistic.

It is clear that the people of Jesus’ day understood Jesus to have a claim to be the Messiah. And you read accounts of people wanting to make him king. Even among the disciples there was at least one ‘Zealot’ – that was the member of a political party committed to overthrow Rome by revolution. It may well be that “Simon the Zealot” joined up with the twelve disciples with the explicit hope that Jesus would rally the people for a Zealot revolution.

And what is so fascinating and confusing about Palm Sunday is that the crowd AND the disciples AND the Pharisees recognized that Jesus was making a Messianic entrance into Jerusalem. But none of them seemed to really understand what Jesus was really doing. According to the other Gospel writers, the crowd was shouting the words from Psalm 118:25-26 – “O Lord, do save (Hosanna!), we beseech You; do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (i.e., the Messiah).” Though all of writers makes clear that the crowd was shouting the words of Psalm 118, Mark’s account makes it clear that they are looking for a King, for the Messiah-King: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (v. 10) They saw what they wanted to see.

The Pharisees also seemed to have the same understanding of Messiah – and that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah – but they desperately did NOT want a confrontation with Rome. Certainly that’s what they used with the Jewish High Council and then with the Roman Governor and King Herod to get Jesus arrested and executed. “He’s claiming to be the ‘King of the Jews’ – and Rome won’t stand for that!”

Even the disciples didn’t seem to understand. They struggled so with his death, even when he told them outright what was going to happen. In fact, even AFTER the crucifixion and resurrection and just before the day of Pentecost, they still asked: “Okay Lord, is NOW the time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

So if Jesus wasn’t there to restore the earthly kingdom to Israel and lead a revolt against Rome and Caesar, what did it mean for him to be the Messiah?

Had the crowd shouted and sung only a verse further in Psalm 118, they might have understood a bit more of what was coming: “The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” (v. 27) Jesus didn’t come to be an earthly king, but to be the Light of the World and the perfect Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

In fact, I think our whole tension around blessing is summed up in the two phrases shouted that day: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” (Mark 11:9-10)

What Does it Mean to be Blessed?

I realize that anyone can claim to come in the name of the Lord, but if we recognize that Jesus truly and legitimately came in the name and with the authority of the Lord, we recognize that he was blessed precisely because he was perfectly aligned with God’s will. That’s where blessing is rooted, not in our will or wishes.

In contrast, we see the well-intentioned and earnest definition of blessing offered by the crowd: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” But that was their definition and expectation and did not line up, at least not as they understood king and kingdom, with what God was actually doing.

That’s the key! When we talk about being blessed and when we ask, “What does it mean to be blessed?” we need to be rooted in God’s will and purpose, not our own wants and desires. God invites us to let those be known, but understanding blessing is understanding saying to God, “Thy will be done” – even when it’s different from our will. Most essentially, blessing is participating in God’s will and purpose, whatever that is. The events of Palm Sunday bring that distinction to the fore. What if the one who comes in the name of the Lord looks different than I expect? What if the way God saves or helps or heals or ‘blesses’ looks different than my expectation or prayer? Then it’s still BLESSED, because blessing is not rooted in me, my need, or my expectation; it is rooted in God’s will and purpose and action. To the extent that you and I can align with that, participate in it, and live with it, we will be blessed. That’s a change from the way blessing is often described or understood, but it is consistently the way Jesus and the writers of scripture use the word. (It is also not an invitation to passively say “whatever will be will be… #blessed”; rather, to seek to obey and seek God’s revealed Word and Will.)

There is so much right about Palm Sunday: Jesus is in view; most recognize his claim to be unique and special; people are even shouting “Save us!” But what salvation? What savior? Many then wanted freedom from Rome – political and economic salvation or rescue. But Jesus said he had greater news – the advent of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Some wanted physical healing – hearing that Jesus could do that sort of thing. But Jesus said he had a greater gift – forgiveness of sin.

What about you? “Hosanna – save us!” is the right thing to say. What blessing do you want? In our tense political context, it is easy to resonate with wanting political and economic rescue. It’s also easy to resonate with wanting prayers answered – for healing, health, security, happiness, and more. But Jesus has greater news; Jesus has greater power.

Who is your Lord and Savior? Is it the right politician being in office? Or the right new Supreme Court Justice? Is it somehow getting enough money to pay the bills? Is it the right relationship or job or accolade? All those things are important. Probably none of us would admit or use “Lord and Savior” language for any of those things. But our behavior sometimes gives us away. We are waving palm branches and throwing our coats down and we miss the time of visitation.

It’s a part of every service where we welcome new members into the church, every time there is baptism or confirmation: Who is my Lord and Savior? Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior… Who is he? What has he said? What has he done? And where is he leading you and me next? Amen.

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