When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he was fulfilling Scripture, as we just heard from Zechariah chapter 9. Scripture is God’s word. I think we have a greater sense of being impressed with the fulfillment of prophecies when what the prophets foretold about future events comes to pass without people even realizing that they’re doing what God said they would do. It seems to make God all the more in charge – like he’s a few steps ahead of the game. For instance, as we discussed in Bible class last Sunday, when the chief priests, and the scribes and elders, mocked Jesus while he was dying on the cross, they said:
“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” (Matthew 27)
This was a direct fulfillment of Psalm 22, which the Holy Spirit inspired King David to write from Jesus’ perspective as a prophecy of what was to come:
All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn:
they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him:
let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him. (Psalm 22)
The fact that these wicked men who handed Jesus over to innocently die and who mocked him in his pain – the fact that they, with obviously no thought to what Holy Scripture said would happen to Christ – that they so unwittingly fulfilled what God said would come to pass – this fact makes the prophecy seem all the more remarkable. Doesn’t it? I think it kind of does. God is clearly in charge.
But was it really any less remarkable for our Lord Jesus to see these troubles arise, to see all things taking place as Moses and the prophets and the Psalms said they would, and yet so willingly and with such trust in God’s holy word to pray out loud, to the mocking of those who heard – “He cries out to Elijah” – to nonetheless pray out loud the very Psalm they were fulfilling, all while knowing that it was being fulfilled, and why it was being fulfilled, and to pray these words as an honest and sincere prayer that was written for him to pray for this very hour to fulfill it:
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? ?
Or is God really less in charge for Jesus to know exactly what he was doing according to Scripture? No. But as we are herein compelled to consider our Lord’s humility, we are prompted to marvel all the more at how in charge of things God truly is.
But one might say, “Ah, but Jesus just remembered what was written, saw the similarities, and in 20/20 hindsight reflected on Psalm 22 to pray it,” as though Jesus too was unwittingly caught up in the fulfillment of prophecy. — To this we counter with our Gospel lesson for this morning. Jesus had made preparation to fulfill Scripture. At no time was he unaware of what prophecy he was fulfilling or that others were fulfilling against him. He trusted in God. He knew and trusted God’s word. He came to fulfill – not somehow unwittingly or like a paper boat floating down a stream – but to fulfill with knowledge and purpose all that had been written about him – what he would do, whose eyes he would open, whose children he would raise from the dead, what demons he would cast out, and yes, what he would suffer as he set his face toward Jerusalem as the Lamb that goes forth to die. Jesus knew.
“And if anyone says anything to you,” Jesus said, “you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” Jesus knew. Now, whether he knew that the owner of the donkeys would let his disciples take them because he had made previous arrangements with the guy, or because he made use of his knowledge of all things as true God – in either case it’s beside the point. The point is that Jesus knew he was fulfilling Scripture and was fulfilling Scripture on purpose. He was intent to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, lowly and humble, and to receive the praises of Israel as Zechariah foretold. Jesus knew why he had come from heaven. And he knew why he was going back. He knew why he was being rejected and he knew what he was accomplishing and gaining for us in willingly submitting to it. He knew.
Although by now the ones who put forth the blasphemous theories have long since faded into extremely liberal apostasy, and so don’t bother us so much anymore, since the ones who ran in our circles have shown their true colors, about 40 or 50 years ago, there was a popular liberal notion that Jesus slowly, over time, came to some psychological realization of who he was as the Son of God. This God-consciousness theory was prominent in the popular musicals and movies of the time. But as I said, it is blasphemous. It represents a faulty and unbiblical notion of Jesus’ State of Humiliation, which is the time during his earthly life when he chose not to make full use of his divine power as the Son of God.
But Jesus’ humility did not consist of ignorance of who he was. His humility consisted of full knowledge of who he was, as he made plain in his preaching. But it consisted of trust, nonetheless, in what his Father had sent him to do and to suffer. The divine knowledge that he chose not to make full use of was not knowledge of where he came from or where he was going. He knew who he was and he knew what Scripture said he would do. No, his humility did not consist of ignorance, but of trust. He trusted God. This is the mind he had. He knew Scripture and he trusted in the promises that it contained. If he chose on a daily basis not to know what tomorrow’s weather would be, still he knew he would be rejected, suffer, and die. He also knew that he would rise again with life and immortality to give in the forgiveness of sins.
We consider today what true humility looks like. It doesn’t look like feigned (that is, pretended) ignorance or unsurety, as though not really knowing anything for sure or pressing anything too insistently were the mark of humility and gentleness. Absolutely not. True humility is only possible when we do know the truth, when we know what is false and are able to oppose it, when we know what is true and are willing to die on that hill – to know who we are! to know what God says we are! – and yet to entrust ourselves not to the opinion of the world in this regard, but to what God actually says about you. True humility is to defend the truth and to accept the course that God has laid out for you not out of concern for yourself, but out of concern for others, and out of concern for the glory and honor of God, even when it means that you may be misunderstood or hated. This is humility. It is God who exalts the lowly. He does not hate you. It is God who sets an end and purpose to every cross his children bear. He loves you.
Consider Jesus, his beloved Son. St. Paul tells us to think like him – to have his mind – to have his attitude and perspective on things. He was in the form of God. This means that, although he hid his glory, he did not hide the fact that he was true God. He knew it. He did miracles and spoke with authority. He used his power as the Son of God always and only and exclusively to help others. He was in the form of God. Who could deny it? But as far as vindicating himself or showing his enemies what’s what, he entirely entrusted that to his Father. This is humility. And he could do it, because his Father promised to vindicate him. He trusted God’s word. That is humility.
He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. What does this mean? It means he knew he was equal with the Father. It was not reaching to far for him to know it. It was not presumption for him to know it. He knew it. But being one with the Father meant that he was unified in heart and mind and purpose and plan. He agreed with what the Father sent him to do. He didn’t make himself a reputation. What does this mean? It means that he didn’t do his works and preach his doctrine for his own sake, but for ours – for the sake of gaining what the Father sent him to gain – what they both desired to own and possess, namely: the lost sheep of the house of Israel who had no shepherd — poor sinners who found no power in themselves or even the sufficient will or wherefore to escape from the bondage of lust and greed and resentment in their hearts – who suffered in their bodies and even more profoundly in their souls the death they couldn’t defeat – who didn’t even sufficiently know how dangerous and evil their sin was, but who needed to learn and to be brought to repentance and to see in Jesus’ face the love of their Father in heaven who hides his face from their sin and shines his face in mercy upon them. That’s what it means. This is what the Father and the Son desired.
Jesus made himself of no reputation because the reputation or fame that we needed him to have was the fame of one who welcomed all to himself, who ate with sinners, and laid hands on the sick and weak and unpopular and despised of the world and who took into himself their sin and guilt and grief and sorrow and death. This was the fame or reputation that was prepared for him to have and he knew it. And he was pleased with it. He was pleased as Man with man to dwell because he was determined in obedience to his Father to be our Immanuel. As God of God and Light of Light, he came to humble himself under the law that condemned us. He came to bear the curse against all Adam’s children. He came to rescue those who were so viciously and hopelessly turned inward by turning himself so entirely outward. He lived for others with the same meekness and thoughtfulness with which he died for others. And this humility which he epitomized and perfected was found no less also, therefore, in his courageous and confident assertion and defense of God’s holy word, which he knew. He knew. His humility depended on him knowing. And so does ours.
It is God who made a reputation for Jesus. It is his Father who gave him fame by requiring his obedience even unto death – even the death of the cross. It is by knowing the unsurpassed glory of our Lord’s unsurpassed lowliness that we find refuge in the mercy of God. We find our reward not where we defend ourselves – not where we make sure we’re not denied what we deserve – not where we avoid the censure of those who mock God’s word, but where we entrust ourselves to him who judges righteously. It is by knowing that God is reconciled to us and seeks and judges our cause that we are enabled to follow the example of his Son in true humility and meekness, not as defeated weaklings, but as beloved of God who have nothing to prove, but more than enough to confess and praise God for. Even on the cross, when his Father’s face was turned from him and Jesus cried those haunting words of Psalm 22 – why have you forsaken me? – yet he found cause and strength even then to praise God and to entrust himself to the promises that he made.
Last week, we heard Jesus make this very point. In the midst of a fierce argument with those who later scoffed at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus said these words:
“I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. … If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me. … I know Him and keep His word.”
Jesus kept his Father’s word. The result of Jesus keeping his Father’s word is that he sees death. That’s why he rode into Jerusalem. The King of Israel whom the daughter of Zion praises becomes her king by dying for her. He keeps his Father’s words by dying for her. And yet he concludes from these words, which we just heard from last week’s Gospel lesson, by saying: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” The humility of Jesus is what saves us from our sins, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promises of God declare. To all who believe. To all who believe that it is God who honors us for the sake of his dear Son who humbly kept his word.
Faith is born in this humility. And humility is born in knowledge —knowledge, first, of what God says about you and knows about you. He searches your heart. So you, search your heart.
If you could show others how wrong they were to hate you or treat you poorly, you would. Who do others think they are not to show you the respect you deserve? They need to be shown, right? Is that what they need? They need to know how much life experience you have, how hard you work, how much you understand, how much research you’ve done, how you’ve worked this or that out and know better than they realize how needful it is that you do what you’re saying needs to be done and that they do what you say they need to do, or to regard you as an expert or right or more conscientious, more self-sacrificing, more courteous or whatever. Other people need to know things about you that they don’t seem to know well enough. Other people need to know who you are lest they treat you with less dignity than you deserve, right?
Wrong. This is our natural perspective and attitude and mind. And we’re wrong. We’re wrong to seek our own. We’re wrong. You need God to know what you are. And you need to know where he will find your dignity, your worthiness. You need to know where he finds your righteousness, where he prepares it for you, and for whose sake he sees you as pure and spotless. He seeks and judges the cause, not of those who seek their own, but of those who commend themselves to God’s grace. As he sought Jesus’ honor, so he seeks yours. Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was set before him – he knew! And so we also know in part, albeit dimly, what God prepares for those who love him. And so we also commend ourselves to one another. We serve each other and defend each other and we do so by holding fast to the same pure word of God that Jesus held onto when the world rejected him. And so we have the same mind as one another by having the same mind as Christ himself.
Jesus’ humility is not found in him just going with the flow waiting for things to sort themselves out. His humility is found in seeing and knowing and feeling the injustices that made his life so lonely and hard, and yet willingly facing them in order to do and accomplish good for the very people who were so blindly hurting and hating him. Jesus knew. He knew what the law reveals in your heart. He knew what guilt he was making his own. He knew.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem to die. He does not seek his own glory. It is his Father who seeks his glory. And yet the crowds glorify him. But he seeks his Father’s glory. The Father’s glory is revealed in him when he is raised from the dead. He is given a name that is above all other names. It is a name that we praise and a name that we bear as Christians. We seek the glory of God by finding in Jesus our salvation from sin – by seeing in his humility the life we need and by entrusting our own honor and happiness to God who raised him. He will surely raise us as well. When we humbly bear with one another, cover each other’s faults, and seek each other’s good above our own, we are not doing so blindly – that is not true humility. We are confessing what we have seen in Jesus and confessing that our Father is able to bring much good from it. He will seek our good. In Christ he has.
As it is with the humility of life with each other, so it is in our praise of God. It is based on the assurance we have in God’s word. Our praise is with knowledge.
We don’t cast ourselves onto God as a risk, but with confidence and surety that God’s word will be fulfilled.
Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praises of Israel. How many were yet so ignorant of what he was about to do? But we are not ignorant of what he has done. We praise him with understanding. We know that he comes even now, as we sing, in the name of the Lord. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. He comes to save us, to honor us,
As Jesus, in his great meekness, did not shame the weakness and ignorance of those who sang his praise, but came instead to ascend the throne of the cross to be their King, so Jesus is pleased to accept our praises too. He perfects them by teaching us to know that all that he has promised will come to pass as written. Psalm 22 reads:
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
And so Jesus remains our Immanuel. He inhabits our praises. He is enthroned on our praises. He joins us as we praise him for coming to us through bread and wine with his Body and Blood to save us.
The praises of Israel consist in this, that we praise him who kept his Father’s word. Our praise is rejoicing and shouting for joy that our King comes to us with such a mind as this, to seek our good at all times and to the furthest extent – and to continue so doing until we stand with him in glory, exulted, purified, and in his holy image forever. Amen.