Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “See Your King Comes to You!” based on Philippians 2 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
We humans are strange creatures. Other species avoid pain and struggle. We actually seek it out. Other species do difficult things because they have to. We do difficult things because we like to. We think it’s fun. Introducing the all new 2019 Ford Ranger–built for the strangest of all creatures. Yep, commercials with words like that played over images of extreme mountain biking, skydiving and icy rock climbing try to convince us that we actually seek out pain and struggle. That we do difficult things because we like to. And that makes the 2019 Ford Ranger the right vehicle for us pain lovers and struggle seekers, because we are the strangest of all creatures. Yeah, right. You know the truth and so do I.
We don’t do difficult things because it’s fun. We’re much more likely to beg out of pain than to seek it. We’re much more likely to procrastinate in doing difficult things than to embrace them. And that’s a real problem when the difficult things in question are things that God wants us to do. Because…he demands obedience. There’s a very real part of us that says “Ok. As long as it’s not too hard.” He deserves total commitment, even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable, painful. In response we say, “Yes. But maybe that difficult thing can wait till tomorrow.” What are we pain haters and struggle shunners to do?
Well, first—stop listening to silly commercials that try to convince us that we’re something we’re not. Second—look in faith to the Man on the donkey. See your king comes to you this Palm Sunday. The way Paul describes him in Philippians, chapter 2—Jesus is the strangest of all creatures, embracing pain that no one else could, that no one else would, so that we could be his own.
Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (we’ll come back to that!)….who being in the nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus didn’t grab onto his divine rights like a starving Great Dane grabbing a piece of steak left too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. You know, what that big hoss takes that tnederloin over to the corner and starts working on it, don’t even think about trying to pry it away from him. Jesus didn’t forcefully, violently snatch up his divinity and guard it possessively. He was willing to set it aside.
In fact, he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant.” He made himself nothing! We spend so much of our lives trying to convince ourselves and the people around us that we are something. Something successful at career or family or money or sports or academics, depending on our age. Something to be admired in people’s opinions and liked on social media. Something worthwhile to be respected and remembered and recognized when people see us. So “being something” becomes our pursuit, our goal in life, our idol.
Oh, Jesus, do we need you! Hosanna! Save us! See your king comes to you, the Strangest of all creatures comes and willingly makes himself nothing. And you know why he does? To truly make you something, something in God’s opinion, which carries far more significance and lasts far longer than any person’s opinion of you, including your own opinion of you.
You might say, “Wait a minute. He didn’t make himself nothing on Palm Sunday. He was the center of attention, acclaimed by many voices as king and deliverer.” Well, yes, that’s right….on Sunday. But the Sunday celebration was the beginning of the week, not the end. Sunday wasn’t the reason he came to Jerusalem. Sunday was only a checkpoint on the way to Friday where He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
People don’t embrace pain. We put it off. We wiggle out from under it. In Gethsemane, even Jesus himself, fully human, recoiled at the thought of death on a cross. Of course, we should mention that it was more than crucifixion that sat heavy on his heart. It was the anvil of humanity’s evil, yours and mine. So what kept him from running? Putting off, shrinking back and shirking out of his mission’s agonizing culmination? Why would he show up at all on Sunday, knowing that rough wood and soldiers’ spit were waiting for him on Friday? Why would he willingly ride into his destruction? The answer’s simple. You.
He became obedient to the point of death, because he knew that only perfect obedience could make you right with God. He died on a cross because he knew that blood spattered wood was your only hope for heaven. So he showed up on Palm Sunday, the Strangest of all creatures, moving forward with determination toward the struggle that was coming, knowing that his pursuit would lead to unimaginable pain. That is so strange, and foreign to us. And marvelous. That is indescribable love. That’s why we call him our king.
And it is right that we should do so. For that is what he is. Paul writes, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” Including mine and yours.
Jesus had his heart and mind unshakingly focused on us that Palm Sunday. Now we unshakingly focus our hearts and mind on him. That’s why Paul can write. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
If we’d talked about that first without a whole lot of context, you might’ve said, “Thanks a lot, Paul. The same attitude as that of Christ Jesus? Should I also have the same athletic ability as Giannis Antetokoumpo? Should I also have the same brain power as Albert Einstein?”
But while Paul is encouraging something that doesn’t come naturally to us—being like Christ—he’s not encouraging something that is impossible for us. There’s something more going on inside of God’s people than just what comes naturally. We have something that comes super-naturally. We have a new heart, created by the Holy Spirit at baptism and powered the means of grace.
Through Him, we are able to do something that doesn’t come naturally to us. We carry our crosses, painful though they may be. We are drawn toward the struggle rather than only seeking to avoid it. What is that Christian struggle and pain for you? Is it the pull of the world which promises ease and happiness if you fall in line with their way of thinking? Is it the nagging angst of a future full of questions, but no apparent answers? Is it a specific set of temptations that the devil has custom fabricated for you over the years? They loom in your memory, they poke at your conscience, they beg for your attention, and they don’t show any sign of getting tired. You know who else isn’t getting tired? The God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the God who gives you daily strength. He doesn’t get tired. The power of his Word. It doesn’t get tired. The promises of daily renewal and forgiveness and life in your baptism. Those things don’t get tired.
See your king still comes to you today. That is so very unusual and so very beautiful. For in this life, we go to see powerful people, they don’t come to us. We might buy a ticket and pay for parking and gather in one place with thousands of others to see them perform or speak, but we go to them. Powerful people don’t come to us. But this one does. Our God does. See your king comes to you. To save you, to serve you, to sustain you. Heavenly King, thank you. Now one more thing. Make us like you. Amen.