With extra travels, I get behind on things like posting sermons. But here is my Palm Sunday sermon. It is a reminder that we can never trust in our own strength, but rather in the Lord’s promise, proclaimed in His Holy Church. It also includes a brief run-down of how Satan convinces us we should give up on the faith, and ourselves. Don’t fall for his lies! Believe the promise given in the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s available in both text and audio.
There’s a lot going on today. Every Sunday of the Church year we hear of the words and deeds of Jesus. But this is the only Sunday when we hear of the crucifixion itself from Holy Scripture. It is preached each Sunday. But only on this Sunday is it read. And yet, today is also Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Tomorrow the Gospel reading is of the anointing of Jesus feet with the sweet perfume. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are the passion accounts according to Mark, Luke, and John. The institution of the Sacrament of our Lord’s most holy body and blood is Thursday. The death of Jesus is preached Friday. We have too much to consider today in our Gospel. But with all that will be covered later in the week, there isn’t much reserved just for today. Even the triumphal entry is repeated in Advent – so we’ve already considered it this year. With so much being presented at once, we can’t consider everything fully. So let us focus on a few words near the beginning of the long reading of our Lord’s death. And let us reflect on how we should consider ourselves as we enter this most holy of weeks.
Hear again the word of the Lord from Matthew the 26th chapter.
 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Jesus knows the disciples are weak. He knows this is the time when Satan is given reign over events and over the people – yes, even over his disciples. There will be no greater moment of triumph for Satan than the night when our Lord Jesus Christ is betrayed. Peter – the one whom Jesus himself called the rock on whose confession the church is founded – will deny him three times. The disciples will all flee. Jesus will be abandoned by them. The disciples don’t intend to do those things to Jesus. Their spirits are very willing to stay with him even to death. And yet, in a few verses in the garden, they will not even watch with him one little hour. And in the courtyard of the high priest, one of two disciples not to have run away already – Peter will deny Jesus. The history is recorded for us. We know that Peter will be restored – forgiven his sin – and will become a great apostle. He will preach with power, and many will be converted through his preaching. We also know that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Peter will fulfill his pledge and witness to Jesus resurrection with his own blood – as will all of the disciples except John. We call them martyrs – the word means witness. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And the martyr witness of the apostles is to the glorious resurrection of Jesus and the life he gives, as they are put to death for the sake of the name.
But all that is the future. This day we consider the words of Peter and the disciples on the night of deep darkness evil. We consider how quickly they will abandon their pledges of faithfulness.
And we should take it as a warning. Before Lent we were reminded that our own efforts earn us nothing. We enter into the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving not to earn something before God, but to exercise ourselves in righteousness. And the Gospel readings from those weeks reminded us that we are saved not by our own works, but by the gift of God given through Jesus work and received as we hear and believe the Word. We are entirely dependent on the word and promise of God for our salvation. It is not our efforts or our merits or our decision, or the spirit of our own human goodness that saves us. Our hearts and souls are cold and dead on our own, and God must enliven us hearts. He must create in us new and clean hearts and put his right Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart where and when it pleases him when the Word is preached. It is the everlasting word and promise of God that saves us.
We are tempted to make our own promises, to make our own vows, to promise that we will be faithful even to the point of death. But we see in the Gospel reading what value those have. When Satan is given sway, when it is his hour of darkness, if he is allowed to fully tempt, even the disciples fall. The disciples thought they could stand on their own. This we can not do. We must stand by the power of the Spirit given through the Word of preaching.
We must be made alive by God and given his spirit if we are to stand. If you try to stand on your own merits, you will stand like the apostles as they ran away. You will remain firm like Peter when he denied. This is why the Christian confesses the faith – but does so in humility, never thinking more of his own efforts than he ought. Because it is easy to fall. It is easy to be bold in times of leisure, in times where confession of faith costs nothing and wins accolades and we celebrate with cake. But we must be careful not to make promises that are founded on our own human endeavors, instead of on God’s word and his Spirit. Our works, worked by our own powers apart from the Word and promise of God, will come crashing down. They will not stand.
Many a Christian has entered Lent with high ambition about how faithful they will be, how disciplined their Lenten fast will remain. And then even for 40 days they can not maintain it. Many in the church take vows of faithfulness unto death, and then abandon God and his word within a few years. They are called back-door losses in the church. Those who just quietly slip away and stop coming. If we think we are strong, Satan will attack – and he will find the weak spot. Pride in your children’s accomplishments, anger at the lack of love you see in others in the church, weariness with the ongoing struggle to hear and learn God’s word in a world when there are so many other commitments. If you have a weakness Satan will find it and attack. You are not better than Peter or the other disciples. And Satan has not gotten devout and righteous with the passing years. He still seeks to corrupt all that God would do. He still plots and plans to devour the faith of the Christian and leave him without support from his fellow Christians, and from the power of the Word and Spirit of God. And then he will take the shame of weakness, point out the unfaithfulness in it, and turn it into outright despair and eventually unbelief. It worked on Judas. He was sorry for his sin. But he could not see absolution for it. Despair overcame him. And he was lost.
Peter went out and wept bitterly. He was just as overcome by evil. And yet, by the grace and mercy of God, he heard and believed the word of absolution spoken to him after the resurrection. Oh, it was a bitter three days. Regret and self-hatred would have welled up in him and been nearly overwhelming. But God did not abandon him, and when the word of absolution was spoken he believed that word.
You see that’s the difference between our efforts and the work of our savior Jesus. Our promise is worth nothing. “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Hogwash. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” Well intentioned – but the road to hell is paved with such good intentions. We must not rely on our promises or our intentions. Instead consider this word and promise:
“Take, eat; this is my body.” “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
That isn’t a human promise made with good intentions but weakness of flesh. That is a Divine Promise. It can not be broken. Jesus will give his body into death for you. He will pour out his blood in making a new covenant of forgiveness for the sins of many. Life and salvation are given through these words. Do not doubt. But believe. And so receive the promised gift which Jesus gives through his death – the salvation of your soul. The Word of the Lord endures forever. Thanks be to God.