April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Sermon

God the King of Glory
Psalm 24, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27:1-54
Palm Sunday
April 1, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today we enter the last week of Lent. In times past, the prayers and fastings of Lent were even more devoutly observed during this week, and the people of God spent the evenings together in Church. Thus, the Prayer Book gives Collects and readings for each day of this week, just as it does for Sundays. I can imagine whole families and communities coming together in worship, prayers, and fastings, as they gathered around the Scriptures to read of the great work of Redemption accomplished by Christ Saviour. Though we can't spend every evening in Church this week, we can still gather around the Bible in our homes, and, with prayer and fasting, read again the story of our Saviour's love. I encourage you to do this. With all that is in me, I encourage you to do this.

Sometimes called, "Holy Week," the last week of Lent is also called "The Great Week," because of the great things our Lord accomplished for us, and "Passion Week," because it leads up to Good Friday and the passion, or, suffering of Christ. It begins today with Palm Sunday, which recalls the Lord's "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem. The people expected Him to form and army and drive the Romans out of Israel. Thus they gave Him a war hero's welcome, casting the branches of palm trees on the road as a sign of honour. The Collect expresses the love of God in sending His only Son to die for us. Philippians 2:5-11 reminds us of the unimaginable condescension of Christ in becoming a human and going to the cross. Matthew 27 shows Him enduring these things for our salvation. Psalm 24 is that great Messianic Psalm that looks forward to the day when the Lord Himself comes to Jerusalem and ascends the hill of Zion to take His place in the Temple. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates... and the King of glory shall come in."

Psalm 24 pictures Israel processing up the hill of Mt. Zion to worship God in the Tabernacle, and, later, the Temple. As they ascend the hill they ask themselves, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall rise up in His holy place?" The Psalm also pictures God coming to the Temple to receive their worship, and it reminds them to open the gates, that is, to be receptive to His coming. The Psalm is easily seen to contain three parts. First is the declaration of the greatness of God as shown in creation. Second is the announcement of who is worthy to enter the holy place and stand in the presence of God. Third is the description of God entering the holy place to receive the worship of His people and to bless them with His presence and grace. It is this third emphasis that is the cause for reading this Psalm today. It pictures God Himself coming to the city of Jerusalem. At His arrival, the gates are opened wide for Him to enter and ascend Mt Zion to be enthroned in the holy place and in the hearts of His people.

It is easy to see the relevance of the Psalm to the Triumphal Entry of Christ. Christ fulfills the Psalm, for it is in Christ that our God literally entered Jerusalem and the Temple. And it is by enthroning Christ that we enthrone God in our hearts as King and God of us.

All of this has been the introduction to the sermon, and I have three points I want to emphasise from the Psalm. First, Christ is the King of Glory. Second, Christ makes us clean so we can ascend the hill of the Lord and rise up in His holy place. Third, open the gates of your heart and let the King of Glory in.

Christ is the King of Glory. This Psalm could not be more appropriate to the life and ministry of Christ. It is as though David wrote it with Palm Sunday in mind. And, of course, it was in God's mind when He inspired David to write it. Christ is our Creator. "The world was made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made" wrote the Apostle John in the first chapter of his beloved Gospel. Therefore, all that the 24th Psalm says of the glory of God, it says of Christ. The earth is Christ's and all that therein is, the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein. Christ hath founded it upon the seas, and stablished it upon the floods. Paul calls Christ the "lord of glory" in 1 Corinthians 2:8. James uses the same title for Christ in James 2:1. And we remember, of course, more words from the Gospel of John, which, after telling us that the Word was with God and the word was God, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, says, "and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). So when we see Christ riding into Jerusalem we are seeing nothing less than the presence of God entering into His city and ascending to His Temple. He is the King of Glory.

Christ makes us clean that we may ascend into the hill of the Lord, and rise up in His holy place. It is obvious that the hill of the Lord and the holy place of Psalm 24:3 mean much more than simply a spot on the face of planet earth. The Temple and Mount Zion, and the Tabernacle before them, have always represented something much greater and much more glorious. They have always symbolised the very presence of God Himself. And the Psalm addresses the great and pervading need of all mankind when it asks, who can ascend into the presence of God, and who shall rise up in His presence? And what is the answer? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart. But who can claim to be that person? Who can claim to be good enough to dwell in the presence of the Almighty and All Holy God? Our hearts confirm what the Bible tells us clearly, "all have sinned," "the wages of sin is death," and, "it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment." But the same Word of God that teaches these things also says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." How can this be? The Bible tells us the blood of Christ "cleanseth us from all sin." By going to the cross and bearing the wrath of God in His own flesh, Christ paid the price of our sin, and accounts us as righteous in the eyes of God. That is His gift to all who believe in Him in Biblical faith, and that is the way sinners receive clean hands and a pure heart and are enabled to ascend the hill of the Lord and rise up in His holy place.

Finally, open the gates of your heart, and the King of Glory will come in. In the Psalm, God stands outside of the city of Jerusalem and the massive gates of the city are closed. The gates had to be opened to "let" God in. There is great significance in this. It signifies that we have to open the gates of our hearts if the King of Glory is going to come into them. And this opening to God is a way of life, not a one time thing. We have to open our gates, and keep them open if we want the fellowship and union with God we need above all else in this world. Lift up your heads o ye gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.

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