Hosanna in the highest! Save now, we pray! The excited Jerusalem crowd knew the One whom they greeted. They knew He was the Messiah. Just yesterday they witnessed Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ dearly beloved friend who was four days into the sleep of death. With that miracle, combined with all the others He had done, combined with the preaching they had heard, they saw all they needed to see. They cut down palm branches, they cast their garments before the Lord of heaven and earth, their promised King, their promised Savior, the only one who could answer their earnest prayer, “Hosanna!” They greeted Him as He entered His city, greeted the One whom the prophets had foretold since the Fall into sin.
Perhaps some grasped what would come in the next few days, as the Passover was about to be celebrated and fulfilled in Christ. Chances are, they didn’t, since the disciples, who had followed Jesus daily for three years, didn’t understand it themselves. Even though they didn’t understand it, Jesus knew they would in time. He knew that as He walked alongside the Passover Lamb, they would see that He was the true Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, just as John the Baptist had proclaimed three years prior.
So, He rides on in lowly pomp to die. He rides on to begin His triumph over death and sin—your death and your sin. He endures a strange punishment. The sinless, who is fully God, allows Himself to be abandoned by His friends, allows Himself to be beaten and whipped, allows Himself to be the victim of a deeply corrupt legal system, allows His flesh to be ripped open by thorns and nails, allows Himself, the one who breathed life into Adam in Eden, to breathe His last. Imagine the anxiety, the fear, the uneasiness. But also imagine the resolve! Imagine, ponder, that He rode in to joyous psalms and songs all around him, while internally He watched in His mind what was about to happen. With joy all around Him His eyes viewed hell, complete God-forsakenness, which He would endure—for you! He did not flinch, He did not waver, He did not retreat. He mounted the donkey and its colt, He rode in, in perfect love for His Father and for you.
And that is what the Church commemorates this week. We do not live out these coming days in somber mourning, as if we are preparing to go to Jesus’ funeral. Yes, there is sorrow over sin. Yes, tears may flow as we realize what horrific things our sin caused for God Himself who endured the worst punishments of heaven and earth. But none of our celebrations take place without a full awareness of what is coming. We know that the next Lord’s Day, the next Sunday morning we come into this church we will come in to celebrate Easter. We recount the Triumphal Entry, the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, the trials, the beatings, the mockery, the crucifixion, and the burial in thanksgiving because they give us the greatest comfort. The Father has accepted the Son’s sacrificial offering of Himself in our stead and by raising Him up has proven that He will raise us up, too.
All this is done to fulfill that which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” Daughter of Zion, your King comes to you this day. Today He does not ride a donkey, but comes in His Word, in His Body and Blood, to deliver to you all that He has accomplished for you. He who was stripped of His clothing has clothed you with His righteousness. He answers your prayers of “Save now, we pray,” with Himself. And just as Jesus raised Lazarus, He will raise you. He will bear you to heaven where the palms you hold today will be eternal palms, a sign of His victory which He has bestowed upon you. So let us faithfully join with the angels and the company of heaven and those children of Israel, singing to the Conqueror of death: “Hosanna in the highest!”
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.