Sermon on Psalm 24 for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Today’s sermon is based on Psalm 24, and if you want to follow along, you may turn to page 73 in the hymnal (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal).
- About a thousand years before Jesus was born, King David wrote Psalm 24. “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” First of all, why is King David talking to “gates” and “doors”? Ancient cities had gates—they also had large gated courtyards around the gates so that the main gate was protected. When a conquering warrior would come to his home city, the people would gather in that gated courtyard to welcome him. That’s something David would have experienced, and that’s what he’s writing about here.
- But David isn’t writing about himself. He says, “Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.” God himself comes to his own people, either returning from a battle or going to battle. “Lift up your heads” means “Welcome him.” “Cheer him on.” “Cheer up, because God, your Savior, is coming to you.” That’s why this psalm is used during Advent and on Palm Sunday.
- Something about the psalms, and about prophecy in general, is that sometimes people didn’t understand the prophecies until they were fulfilled. Peter writes that the prophets proclaimed their prophecies, and then they studied them to try to under understand who the Messiah would be and when he would appear (1 Peter 1:10-11). On Palm Sunday, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 24. He came as the King of glory to do battle for his people, to forgive them and save them.
- This psalm teaches us something about Jesus. It tells us who he is: his nature, his origin, and his purpose. The psalm ends with questions and answers. I’m guessing King David wrote this to be used like a responsive reading. “Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.” LORD in all capital letters is translator’s shorthand for the name of God. It isn’t just another name for “master,” as in “My lord, the king.” This is the name that is sometimes rendered as Yahweh or Jehovah. It is the name of God that is close in meaning to “I am who I am.” Professor John Jeske once told me that the form of the name may have the meaning, “the one who is,” or “the one who causes things to be.” King David is telling us that the conquering king who is coming to his people is God himself. The eternal God. In the beginning of the psalm, he stresses that, too. “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it… he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” This is the creator of all who comes to you. He comes as a conqueror, but what he comes to conquer is already his. This is Jesus. In his gospel, the disciple John begins by going to the beginning. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him everything was made, and without him not one thing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). Now the creator comes to his creation. God comes to his own people. This is who comes, riding on the donkey, not just a good teacher. Not a revolutionary to fight against the Romans (that’s what many were hoping for). No. God, coming to his people.
- What is this battle that he is going to? It’s the battle for humanity. Some of our Easter hymns describe it as the “strange and dreadful strife” (CW 150:3, 161:2). The season of Lent began with Jesus being tempted by the devil near the beginning of his ministry—but there were other temptations. The stupidity of his disciples and the challenges of his enemies were among the many temptations Jesus endured and conquered. He did battle with the devil by driving out demons. He showed himself as conqueror over death by raising the daughter of Jairus, the man of Nain, and his friend Lazarus. He did battle with sin by forgiving and restoring repentant sinners. On Palm Sunday, Jesus comes to Jerusalem to bring the “strange and dreadful strife,” the “combat stupendous” to an end with his victory. It’s dreadful because it involved his great suffering and death with much mockery, pain, and torture. It’s strange because when it looks like he’s losing, he’s winning. Along with the mockery, there were also great temptations to mock back. He remained silent. When he was struck, there were great temptations to strike back. He didn’t. He took it. (1 Peter 2:23). He kept fighting this way because he was bearing the sin of the world. That’s what the true meaning of our Christian art is when it shows the suffering Savior. It’s not, “Look at this poor guy and pity him.” It is “Look at your Savior.” “See what he did for you.”
- King David writes about this mission of Jesus, the King of glory. In the first part of the psalm, he asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD, who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” I suppose this could be talking generally about “God’s faithful people” but think about what the words are saying. “Clean hands” means innocence of action. “Pure heart” means innocence of thought. So who may ascend the hill of the LORD, and who may stand in his presence? Really no one. “Clean hands.” Have your actions all been innocent? Were your actions cruel when they should have been kind? Selfless when they should have been serving? Clicking things that should not be clicked, going places and taking in things that pollute heart and mind rather than cleanse them? “Pure heart.” How do you think about others? With thoughts of anger? Revenge? Are your thoughts fixed in a pattern where you always think good of yourself and think evil of others? Do you think of how you can serve other people, or do you think about how to use them? None of us has clean hands. None of us has a pure heart—not even King David, the writer of the psalm. In another of his psalms, Psalm 51, David writes about his own great failure, and again and again says “Wash me. Cleanse me. Purify me. Blot out my sins. Create in me a clean heart.”
- And all that is precisely what Jesus came to do. For him, the “strange and aweful strife” was not just his own battle. He was enduring temptation and defeating temptation for us. Maybe you remember that verse that we sometimes read or recite around Christmas: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus endured temptation as our substitute, to succeed where we have failed, so he could then share that victory with us. That’s why St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57, See also Romans 6:17, Romans 7:25). The victory is all his, and he shares it with us. That’s what Palm Sunday is all about. “Receiving vindication (or righteousness) from God our Savior,” receiving it as his gift.
- So we also sing “Hosanna,” “Save us, Lord,” because on Palm Sunday, he was riding into Jerusalem, riding to do battle for us—to cleanse and heal and forgive us—all that we should be his own and live under him in his kingdom. Louder shouts and even happier songs are coming. But first, the end of the “strange and dreadful strife,” the suffering and death of Christ for us. “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Amen.
Psalm 24 (EHV)
1 The earth is the Lord’s
and everything that fills it,
the world and all who live in it,
2 because he founded it on the seas,
and he established it on the rivers.
3 Who may go up to the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
whose soul is not set on what is false,
who does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God who saves him.
6 Such are the people of Jacob who look for the Lord,
who seek your face.
7 Lift up your heads, you gates.
Lift yourselves up, you ancient doors,
and the King of Glory will come in.
8 Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates.
Lift up, you ancient doors,
and the King of Glory will come in.
10 Who is he, this King of Glory?
The Lord of Armies—he is the King of Glory.