Palm Sunday: Philippians 4:4-9

Lent is now ending.  And so we start to lay our Lenten meditations aside, and walk with our Lord through the last week of His earthly life.  For this is the week of weeks.  And in this week, our Lord is especially calling you to fix your eyes on Him.

As we enter Holy Week, we recall that Jesus’ disciples were not so faithful in the last week of His life.  Some disciples argued with Jesus because He wanted to return to Jerusalem.  They didn’t understand what Jesus was doing.  Some even grumbled when St. Mary anointed Jesus with fragrant myrrh.  They couldn’t see that act as a preparation for our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem and His burial.

Even more, in our Savior’s hour of dire need, when Jesus asked for His disciples’ companionship and vigilance, what did they do?  They fell asleep!  So, this day, as you and I enter Holy Week, be wary of the spiritual stupor that can overcome us.  This is not a week for spiritual sleep but vigilance!

Yes, indeed, today is Palm Sunday.  But do you remember what took place before that first Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem?  Shortly before that, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus gave us a beautiful preview of what would happen to Him–that He, too, would rise from the dead!  And what a beautiful preview of what will happen to us–that, on the Last Day, we also will rise from the dead!

Jesus fills us with hope and shows us His mighty power and longing to conquer death.  Of His own freewill, the Lord is coming to conquer our real enemies, our enemies of sin, death, and Satan.  Finally, the Savior of the world has come!

With our Lord so near, how then can we contain our joy?  The people have gathered.  They are chanting aloud: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”  They are taking off their outer garments and placing them on the ground as a royal carpet.  They are waving palm branches and laying them on the ground, as well.

So strong was the Messianic joy that Jewish leaders became jealous and told Jesus to silence the multitudes.  To this our Savior responded, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40).  The presence of Christ brings such inexpressible joy that even the lifeless creation of God is prepared to resound with praise!

Our Epistle reading for today is from the fourth chapter of Philippians.  We could call that chapter the Bible’s chapter of peace and joy.  I read it now again.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gracious attitude be evident to all.  The Lord is near: Don’t be anxious about anything.  Instead, in everything, let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in union with Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable –if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–dwell on these things.  Do what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Palm-Sunday joy: It’s the joy that thrilled the hearts of people and even God’s inanimate creation!  For it’s much more than simply a joy we can have.  It’s a joy that can even undergird our life, even in our deepest, darkest moments.

How is this possible?  The Apostle Paul tells us: The Lord is near.  What thrilled the believers in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday was the presence of their King, Jesus Christ.  And this is our source of joy, as well.  That is why the Apostle says, “Rejoice in the Lord!”

This isn’t a rejoicing in your health.  It isn’t a rejoicing in your family, or in financial gain, in a new car, in friends, or anything apart from Christ.  No, it’s a rejoicing that Christ is ever so near.

Christ is near you.  He comes to you every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, through Word and Sacrament.  He’s the Christ, who for you, rides into His Church, every week as if it were Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem won for us our salvation.  Today, by His coming into His New Jerusalem, His Church, Jesus still brings us His cross-won salvation, here and now.

But Jesus is not just near you.  He is also in you.  The Holy Spirit has grafted you into His body.  Jesus is the vine; you are the branches (John 15:5).  You are in union with Christ.  That’s why you can rejoice this day.  Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus comes riding down, not from the Mount of Olives, but from heaven itself to live within you.  So, rejoice!

Why else can we rejoice on this Palm Sunday?  We can rejoice this day by refusing to give in and let our sinful nature, the world, or the devil take away this joy.  The Apostle Paul clearly tells us to reject what is the opposite of joy, such as anxiety, stress, and frustration.

When God the Holy Spirit works within us to reject what drives away our God-created joy, such joy becomes a truer reality in our lives.  As this happens, you recognize and delight in Jesus all the more, who continues to come to defeat death and hell.  The more “Jesused” you get, the stronger your union with Christ becomes.

The Apostle Paul tells us, “Don’t be anxious about anything.”  Yet, we often say, “He made me so angry!” or “That frustrates me!”  This is not true.  No person can “make” you so angry that you sin.  No circumstance can so “frustrate” you that you sin.  We sin from our anger and frustration because we are weak, and we allow our sinful nature to be our lord instead of the Christ within us.

The most that external events can do is to tempt you.  Whether you give in to the temptation or not, is up to you.  You can joyfully choose to receive your trials in faith and to pray, trusting in God, no matter how grim life becomes.  This is the joy amid, and even within, our Christian struggle.  This is why we are to be where the God the Holy Spirit is ever at work, continuing to bring you Jesus.

God the Holy Spirit helps us live in such unceasing joy.  He keeps our hearts and minds fixed on what is true and noble, on what is of God, and helps us to live in them.  This joy comes from–and is strengthened by–God!  This joy is not the shallowness of an emotional high, which may come along and momentarily make you feel better.  Something that may make you feel better is not the same as having your heart and mind fixed on what is true and noble, on what is of God.

When you fix your heart and mind on what is of God, and when you live in them, this becomes the epicenter of where the faith believed becomes the faith lived out.  This is the point where what you believe begins to affect what you think, say, and do.  Faith and works are so co-joined that one cannot separate them.  Of course, we know that faith always comes before works because good works are the fruit of faith.

This is the threefold truth, the Holy Trinity of God’s joy-creating and strengthening ways.  First, recognize the Lord is near.  Remember that He comes to you every week in Word and Sacrament.  Remember that through Word and Sacrament, Jesus continues to live within you, as the union you have with Christ becomes all the stronger.  Second, remember that, in faith, you can choose to accept your trials in joy and to pray, always trusting in God.  Third, be immersed in the things of God and live in them.

It wasn’t as if the Apostle Paul was asking the Philippians to do something that he wouldn’t do himself.  When Paul said, “Do what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me,” he spoke the truth.  For it was at Philippi where Paul lived out this truth so beautifully.

Acts 16 tells us the account of a slave woman who had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future.  Because of this, her owners made a large profit by her fortune-telling.  Paul commanded the spirit to leave the slave woman.   This enraged her owners.  They would make sure that Paul would pay.

The leaders of Philippi then had Paul, and his companion Silas, stripped bare and beaten.  They didn’t have a trial.  They were simply thrown into the inner prison–the dark, dank, high-security section–and slapped in stocks.  This was no U.S. jail with ping-pong and television.

Yet, even amid the darkness of prison, the Apostle Paul and Pastor Silas rejoiced in the Lord.  They were anxious for nothing and gave thanks in everything.  We even find them praying and singing hymns to God.  We find no wounds, injustice, or external circumstance could take away the Apostle Paul’s joy in the Lord.

Indeed, the Lord was near.  Indeed, Paul and Silas refused to give in and let their sinful natures, the world, or the devil steal away their God-given joy.  Indeed, Paul and Silas had fixed their hearts and minds on true and noble things–that which is of God–and lived in them.

May the joy of this Palm Sunday be yours as your mighty King, Jesus, comes now in His Sacrament to reign in your heart today and even forevermore.  Amen.