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I. The Lamb on a Donkey
A Lamb riding on a donkey. Now there’s something you don’t see very often. But this is Palm Sunday and this is what Palm Sunday is all about.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Passover and on Passover, Israel must choose its Lamb for the sacrifice. It must be young, male, and without blemish. Lots of lambs may be ‘young,’ and ‘male,’ but only One is “without blemish,” “holy,” “pure,” “perfect,” “without sin.” And that One Lamb is riding on the donkey.
So what about all of those other lambs that were sacrificed on Jewish altars throughout the Old Testament? What was all that about? Every single one of those lambs, sacrificed for sin, was only a meaningful sacrifices insofar as they pointed through faith to THIS LAMB, riding on a donkey into Jerusalem.
The first time a lamb is mentioned in the Old Testament is in Genesis 4 where we’re told that Abel “was a keeper of sheep.” And God was pleased with Abel’s offering, because when Abel offered a lamb to God for his sin, he did so in anticipation of that Lamb that would take away the sin of his mother and father, Adam and Eve. Why else would the Lord be pleased with Abel’s sacrifice? It’s not lambs and sheep and goats and bulls that God is pleased with, but faith in that One Lamb that is riding on the donkey.
You don’t hear the word lamb or sheep mentioned again after Abel until you get to Abraham. Abraham raised sheep and would, no doubt, offer many of them to God as sacrifices of atonement for his sin and for his family just as Job had done for his. One day, God told Abraham to sacrifice HIS SON, HIS ONLY SON, WHOM HE LOVES. As father Abraham led his Isaac to the place of sacrifice, it is the son who carries the wood that he will be sacrificed on. And the son goes in perfect obedience to his father. There is no sign of resistance. And yet doesn’t seem to comprehend what is about to take place. He asks, “Father, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?”
And Abraham responds with prophetic words of faith so deep that we can only marvel at them, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.” Abraham’s prophesy was immediately fulfilled by a ram with its horns caught in a thicket, but only much later was it fully realized on Palm Sunday by the Lamb that is riding on the donkey.
This is the Lamb that the prophet Isaiah saw, riding over the horizon of history, “who bears OUR griefs and carries OUR sorrows… who is wounded for OUR transgressions, who is crushed for OUR iniquities.
Listen to this. “Who bear our GRIEFS and carries our SORROWS.” What is it that causes us GRIEF and SORROW? What drains your spirit and breaks your heart and weighs so heavy on you that it drains every ounce of energy for living from you?
Isn’t it the sin of others that is inflicted UPON US? Isn’t it the rejection of a friend, the betrayal of someone we trusted, the breaking up of a relationship, ‘you have stolen my dreams.’ Isn’t it just having to watch because there’s nothing you can do to relieve his pain, or take away her suffering, or prevent their death? Aren’t these the arrows that pierce our soul and the poison that fills us with GRIEF AND SORROW?
The Lamb riding on the donkey BEARS that, all of that. He CARRIES that upon Himself. There isn’t a drop, spec or atom of it that He does not BEAR and CARRY upon Himself.
Listen to this. “Who is wounded for our TRANSGRESSIONS and crushed for our INIQUITIES.” Here is where things shift from the ‘passive’ to the ‘active.’ This is not about stuff that is inflicted on us, but stuff we inflict on others. The self-absorption of being so wrapped up in ourselves and our own little world, that make us blind and deaf to our neighbor in need; our neighbor who is Jesus, who was hungry and we gave no food, who was thirsty and we gave no drink, who was a stranger and we gave no welcome, who was naked and we gave no clothes, who was sick and in prison but we were too busy with our life to visit and say, ‘take heart, Jesus BEARS YOUR GRIEF and CARRIES YOUR SORROWS. He was WOUNDED FOR YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS AND CRUSHED FOR YOUR INIQUIES.
The Lamb is WOUNDED with every wound that every single one of our transgressions, either by commission or omission, has inflicted. For every time we have CRUSHED someone’s spirit, either by the things we have said, like “I hate you,” or the things we should have said but failed to say, like “I forgive you,” He is CRUSHED.
And how does the Lamb respond to all of this? “HE OPENED NOT HIS MOUTH, like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so HE OPENED NOT HIS MOUTH.” (Is.53). After all, what would He say? “Father, save me from this hour?” No, “but for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27).
“A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of sinners bearing.
And laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, to slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer, He bears the stripes the wounds, the lies,
the mockery, and yet replies, ‘All this I gladly suffer.” (LSB #486 st.1)
“What wondrous love is this, Oh my soul?”
“Uncomplaining forth.” We should think about that the next time we are about to complain that life isn’t fair.
He’s like Isaac, who obeys his father Abraham without complaint and lies down on the wood without resistance. And yet, GREATER THAN ISAAC because He knows, He knew from all eternity before the world was created, before He left the right hand of God the Father, that He is the Lamb to be sacrificed for the sin of the whole world.
He goes ‘uncomplaining forth’ to the cross because He knows that the offering that He carries in His own body atones for your sin, and heals your wounds, and bears your griefs, and comforts your sorrow, and makes you “without blemish,” “holy,” “pure,” “perfect,” “without sin” before the Father.
He goes “uncomplaining forth” because He loves you.
II. God on a donkey.
St. Paul says that this Lamb that is riding on the donkey is the one, true God. ‘He does not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” So, if you think that the picture of a Lamb riding on a donkey is a bit absurd, how about the picture of God riding on a donkey? But this is Palm Sunday and this is what Palm Sunday is all about.
God, who is everything, “made Himself nothing.” We should think about that the next time all that we can think about is how you can make something of ourselves.
Literally it’s “He emptied Himself.” He emptied Himself while His disciples were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest. He emptied Himself while we were still full of ourselves.
It’s not that He stopped being God. If there’s one thing that God cannot do is stop being God. It’s just that He didn’t use the power of His divinity to save Himself when He perfectly well could have.
He could have turned those stones into bread. He could have jumped safely from the Pinnacle. He could have foiled Judas’ plans for betrayal. He could have named those who struck Him. He could have called a legion of angels to fight for Him. He could have saved Himself and come down from the cross. But He didn’t. He emptied Himself.
He who is in the form of God, the omnipotent and omniscient and omni-present God, took the form of a human servant. Literally it’s ‘a slave.’ One who takes orders and does what He is told and ‘opens not His mouth in protest.’
And all because God is FAITHFUL, and GOOD and MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS and LOVE. These are the divine attributes that He did not EMPTY HIMSELF OF.
He emptied Himself of the power that was rightfully His to fill you with the faithfulness and goodness and mercy and grace and love that is rightfully His. Sometimes we get that mixed up don’t we. We think that Jesus gives us attributes of power and knowledge. But He doesn’t. No matter what the T.V. evangelists may tell you.
He gives us only those attributes of His that can only be used by humbling ourselves and emptying ourselves. “Have this mind among yourselves that is in Christ Jesus.”
Standing before the cross of Christ, we see Him who did not humble Himself or empty Himself for His own benefit. There was no profit in the cross for Him. He who by nature is SINLESS became sin to set us free from sin. He who IS LIFE, DIED, so that we may not die but live. He who is ‘ALL IN ALL’ made Himself nothing because… YOU ARE EVERYTHING TO HIM.
“Yes, Father, yes, most willingly I’ll bear what You command me.
My will conforms to Your decree, I’ll do what You have asked me.
O wondrous Love, what have You done! The Father offers up His son,
Desiring our salvation. O Love how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave Who built the earth’s foundation.” (LSB #438:3)
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul.”
III. The Lamb of God on the Bread and Wine
Today, this Lamb, this God, this Lamb of God, rides to you, on a small wafer of unleavened bread and on a tiny sip of wine. Hard to picture, I know. But this is why He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. To BEAR the GRIEFS and CARRY the SORROWS that we have carried with us here this morning; to FORGIVE the TRANSGRESSIONS and PARDON the INIQUITY of our sin that we confess before Him this morning.
And so, how appropriate is it that we should join our voices to those who welcomed Him on that first Palm Sunday, “Blessed is He, who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”