As we enter into Holy Week, we hear a profound message from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. He tells us that Jesus, who is the visible image of the invisible God “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” What does this mean? The translation is a little difficult. Another way to translate that phrase is that Jesus did not consider His equality with God a thing to be forcibly hung onto, a thing to be touted. Instead, Jesus lived as if He was not God in the flesh. He became a bondservant, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to death on the cross. He, who knew no sin, became sin, bearing the sin of the whole world.
This is what Palm Sunday sets into motion. Jesus enters into Jerusalem to show that He is the offering for sin. He rides on the donkey with shouts of Hosanna, “save us now!” ringing around Him. Though the people may not fully understand, they still know in some way that they are welcoming the one Zechariah promised, David’s son and David’s Lord. The disciples certainly don’t understand, but in time all eyes will be opened.
How did they know who they were welcoming? St. Luke and St. John record that the people were rejoicing and praising God for the great works they had seen. At least some of them were witnesses of the resurrection of Lazarus. The Feeding of the 5,000 happened just before the Passover, so many of them were on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. And those who saw Jesus in Jericho saw Him heal blind Bartimaeus. They knew that, at the very least, He was a prophet, a man of God because, as Nicodemus said, no one can do these works unless God is with Him.
Only, God was not just with Jesus, Jesus is God in the flesh! He did not flaunt it in His life. Quite the opposite—anyone who might know was told to keep it to themselves! Jesus lived in what we call the State of Humiliation, that time from His conception to His death when, even though He was equal with God, He did not always or fully use His divine attributes. That’s because He didn’t come to earth to be a celebrity, to have everyone hail Him as God. As we will hear Jesus say to Pilate on Friday, His kingdom is not of this world. If Jesus came and fully revealed His divinity at every turn, He might have been prevented from going to the cross. Jesus willingly placed Himself into this State of Humiliation so He could die.
That’s why the time we’re in is called Passiontide, why we speak of the last day and events of Jesus life as His passion. This isn’t physical affection, as our culture is accustomed to associating with the word passion. Rather, passion refers to an intense, driving conviction. Jesus’ intense, driving conviction is the salvation of the world. What motivated His every move, His every breath for the 33 years of His earthly life was dying on the cross to save you and all the world from sin, death, and the devil. Even though Palm Sunday was a one-time event, in a way Jesus went through His entire life with Hosanna, “save us now, we pray,” echoing in His ears. He knew what the end goal was. He went willingly, laying down His life for the sake of servants who owe a debt they could never pay.
That’s why we have taken the cry of Hosanna into our liturgy. We sing our Hosannas as we confess that Jesus Himself is present in the Lord’s Supper. We confess that Jesus is present on the altar, under the form of bread and wine, to save us from our sin. Just as the crowds shouted out “save us now” and Jesus’ reply was to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice on the cross, we cry out “save us now” and Jesus answers us with His true Body and Blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. He dispenses on the altar the fruit of that sacrifice.
As we follow Our Lord through this week, we will see more clearly what St. Paul meant when He said that Jesus did not ferociously cling to His equality with God. Rather, He clung to His equality with you, by virtue of His humanity, His being in your flesh. He clung to that, so He could go to the cross, to be the perfect sacrifice, the atoning Blood that drowned the sin of the world. He lived a perfect life as the spotless Lamb so He could restore you to the heavenly Father. And we know the end of the story. That’s why we face this week, not as mourners, but as rejoicers. We know what next Sunday holds. Though we follow Jesus from the Upper Room, to Gethsemane, to Golgotha, and to the tomb, we know that next Sunday we will celebrate that the tomb is found void of Jesus, but filled with angels proclaiming His resurrection. We mourn what price our sin cost Jesus, but we live in thanks for what He has done. Now He is highly exalted, and we will follow where He has gone because of our Baptism into His death and resurrection. Our Brother has restored us to the heavenly Father. Until we see that with our own eyes in eternity, we can confidently sing our Hosannas, knowing that God has indeed come to save us now and forever.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.