Lord, Save Us!
Sermon 1738 Mark 11.9 March 28, 2021
That little Donnie Pieper is getting confirmed? Lord, save us!
Sometimes Palm Sunday Confirmations can be a mixed blessing. We fearfully face the future as the reins are handed over to a new generation. “Lord save us” people in my neck of the woods politely said when they were left scratching their heads at the prospect of someone like little Donnie Pieper becoming a communicant member. Maybe where you grew up they said, “Saints alive!” or “God bless ‘em.” You should have heard what they said when I was ordained!
I cast no aspersions upon our Confirmation Class this year. They are a fine group of young men and women. I have tremendously enjoyed teaching them. Almost no absences. Vigorous and intelligent discussion. There was even some bonding. But for this year’s Palm Sunday sermon, the theme is
Lord, Save Us!
1. We can’t save ourselves.
2. Lord, only you can save us.
3. We are certain.
You know the story of Palm Sunday. Jerusalem was filling up for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the weeklong festival ushering in the Passover. On Palm Sunday Jesus made his entrance. He had sent two disciples to get a donkey colt which no one had ever ridden. They brought its mother along to calm down the young colt. The donkeys were so scrawny, the disciples put their cloaks on both animals, uncertain which one Jesus would ride. He picked the colt, his feet almost dragging on the ground as he rode down the path into the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem and then up the path to the gates of the city. Suddenly the crowd behind him started shouting. The residents of Jerusalem, eagerly awaiting Jesus’ arrival, streamed out to meet him. They were shouting, too. Two opposing floods of people met where Jesus was. “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!” In the mouths of some, those pious religious slogans were loaded political statements. Instead of a heavenly kingdom of spirit and truth, some were lusting for an earthly kingdom of blood and steel, a revolt against Rome. I would wade into that discussion as unwillingly as I would be dragged into a discussion regarding the Great Society and Make America Great Again. I am a Gospel preacher, not a news pundit. But I do want to look at one of their words. “Hosanna!”
Hosanna means “Lord, save us!” Well, it doesn’t mean that exactly. If you put it into some online translator it might come out with something like “save our bacon.” That’s the trouble with translations. You have to know what the word means to adequately translate it, just like you must kind of know how a word was spelled before you can look it up in a dictionary. Hosanna means “save us!” but it is always (in the Bible, at least) directed towards God. Hence, “Lord, save us!”
Lord, save us! We can’t save ourselves.
That’s the meaning of all those “Lord, save us!” comments from good Christian folk. They are powerless to stop or even slow down the events which were just announced to them. Little Donnie Pieper was going to get confirmed with or without their objections.
What is the dilemma we are facing that we need a “Hosanna!” on our lips? Oh, for about six weeks I brought a mirror into the Catechism class. After every commandment, I held it up to each one of my students. “What do you see?” Some actually couldn’t resist the temptation to tidy up a bit, smooth some hair down, straighten a collar. But after two weeks, it became apparent what they were seeing. A sinner. The law is a mirror. It shows us our sin. Being a Christian means that we look in a mirror and see that we are sinners. We have broken God’s commandments by what we’ve said, thought and done. One of the passages we memorized was, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord (Colossians 3.20).” In everything. Well, that means I can kiss heaven good-bye. There isn’t a day I kept that commandment.
It was sort of sad, really. Everybody else in the world had something else besides the mirror of the Law in their hand. Everyone else was holding a magnifying glass and was looking at the flaws in other people. That never got old. It was fun! It really built up your ego! But, Lord, save us, our children were taught to look in a mirror. Talk about tearing a person down. How humiliating.
Yes, it is a humbling experience to know we have sinned and there is no earthly hope for us. It is a humbling experience to have nowhere to turn, at least to no one on earth. But through the law we give up on ourselves. If I can’t get to heaven by being good, there must be another way. What is it?
“Hosanna!” Lord, save us! Lord, only you can us.
When you give up on yourself, there is only God. But there is God. That’s the Gospel. We spent another ten weeks on the Apostles’ Creed, looking at how our Triune God blesses us. But even when looking at the Law, the Ten Commandments (Lord save us!), the students were shown something else besides that mirror. They saw a laminated picture of Jesus. All the things we didn’t do, Jesus did. We mouthed off to our parents. Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph, even when Mary put the blame on Jesus when they were the ones who forgot him in the Temple for three days! We belted our little brother or sister when they ticked us off. Jesus didn’t even talk tough when they were beating him up in the High Priest’s courtroom. We held grudges. Even when they were driving the nails through Jesus’ hands, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was tempted. He was tempted in every way, just as we are. He was truly a human being. But he never sinned. Not once. He is our righteousness. When God looks at us, he sees the holy life of Jesus. It is ours by faith.
But Jesus went even further than living the perfect life for us. He died on the cross to take away our sins. Sin demanded punishment. God said so. And he even said what that punishment should be. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” The Law said we should die forever in hell for our sins. But Jesus took that punishment upon himself. He died for us. “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us.” The Catechism class memorized a different passage, though. “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1.29).”
If I want to get to heaven—and I do—look no farther than the one portrayed in that picture. Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, my Lord. He is the only one who can save us.
But isn’t that what so many of those stories in the Bible teach us? It is almost as if God were getting us conditioned to look to him, no matter what the problem. Jesus sends his disciples into the boat after he feeds the 5000. In the wee hours of the night, the boat going nowhere because the winds were against them, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. They think they are seeing a ghost and are going to die. “Do not be afraid, it is I.” Only Jesus could save them. Or how about the time his friend, Lazarus, dies? Jesus arrives four days after the funeral. He goes to the tomb and tells them to open it. Even Martha, the sister of Lazarus, objects. Lazarus is beyond help. “Didn’t I tell you if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Jesus then says, “Lazarus, come out.” And the dead man, come to life, walks out of the tomb. Only Jesus could save Lazarus. I won’t even mention God’s power to save the Children of Israel from the Egyptians or David from Goliath. When all seems lost, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid. Just believe. You see, Confirmation class is more than memorizing Luther’s “What does this mean?”
“Lord, save us!” We are certain.
You will notice, if you look in the bulletin, there’s an exclamation mark after “Lord, save us!” Hosanna! always has an exclamation mark. It is a shout a cheer, a battle cry, if you will. One of our confirmands is in cheer. There are no question marks in cheer. “We’re number one?” That wouldn’t work at all. You have to be certain. You have to be sure. Didn’t somebody say somewhere that something was “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”? Oh, yeah. Faith! “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11.1).” Faith is being certain of all God’s promises to us. Faith is Hosanna! Faith is “Lord, save us!” Faith is that exclamation point!
Many can sing about blessed assurance and standing on the promises, but we Lutherans can be certain. The way to heaven is “believe,” not “believe and be good.” It all depends upon God. Jesus paid the entire debt of our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, no sin was left unpunished. We are certain we are going to heaven. We weren’t good enough. Jesus was good enough for us.
Many can sing amazing grace, the moment I first believed, but we Lutherans can be certain. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2.8-9).” This faith we have, this faith is not because of us. We did not create this faith. We did not choose this faith. We did not ask for this faith. As Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you,” so Martin Luther, in teaching us about the work of the Holy Spirit, reminded us “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” Well, how in the world does anybody become a Christian if you can’t make a decision for Jesus, if you cannot choose Jesus, if you, dead in your transgressions and sins, can’t ask Jesus into your heart? “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” But there’s nothing for me to do! God does it all for me!
That’s Gospel. That’s why we are certain. With no hand in it, we can’t spoil it.
The world keeps whispering in our ear, “Nothing comes from nothing. If you want God to be good to you, you have to be good to him.” The devil tries to flatter us by telling us we are not so far gone that we are beggars before God’s throne of grace—we have something to offer. Our sinful human nature wants to assert itself and say, “I can do it myself.” Listening to those three will only insert uncertainty and doubt into our hearts. Was I sincere enough? Did I do enough? Did I try hard enough?
You ask our Confirmation class those questions and they will laugh in your face. No, I didn’t try hard enough, I didn’t do enough and I wasn’t sincere enough, but so what? That doesn’t matter. Jesus is enough. Amen and amen! I am certain.
Lord, Save Us!
1. We can’t save ourselves.
2. Lord, only you can save us.
3. We are certain.
So, today we are celebrating the confirmations of Thomas and Xander, Alexander and Emma, Giuliana and Jason. The Church is being built up. God will be praised through their lives as they rejoice in the cup of his salvation offered to them through the Lord’s Supper and live a life of thanks in response to all the goodness the Lord showers upon them. And we are letting them loose on the world. But we already know how that is going to work out. Jesus promised that, too. The gates of hell will not stand up against them or against us, as we carry the confession of Jesus in our hearts, on our lips and through our lives. Lord save the world!