When I lived and went to university in Edmonton, I helped to pay my way through by working security at the Hotel MacDonald. From 11p.m. till 7a.m. I was the guy who did whatever needed to be done at fanciest Hotel in town. I also got to meet many famous celebrities and politicians. As a big Star Trek fan, one of my favourites was the night I got to meet with Jonathan Frakes – Commander Riker. When people would ask me what the experience was like I told them it was wonderful … now someone from my favourite show had got to meet me and knew who I was.
I learned quickly that while I truly did feel that way (and I’m sure many others would too if they were being honest) that’s just not what you’re supposed to let on. In other words, its OK to be proud – just so long as you don’t let anyone know. Complete a big project and look for recognition of a job well done, but then say it was really nothing. Come up with a particularly keen solution to a troubling problem, but when people congratulate you (and you really do want them to) then say that anyone could have done it. If given the choice every single one of us would love to be humbly triumphant. We all like to receive honour and accolades, we all look for this kind of triumph, but we all try to mask it behind a screen of humility. Indeed, the more humble we can pretend to be the more it adds to the sweetness of the victory.
In Christ there is no pretending either way. What you see is what you get. So what do we see on this Palm Sunday? As Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time in his earthly ministry we see him as he truly is: Triumphantly Humble. While that may sound like an oxymoron, it is only saying what we have already heard in Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is followed by adoring crowds, hailed with the joyous waving of palm branches (like our modern day banners), people show reverence by placing their garments on the ground before him (a red carpet reception), there is singing and the fanfare of trumpets. He arrives as a triumphant King. Yet there are no armies, only a dozen followers: fishermen and tax collectors no less. The poor and the outcast are his attendants. He does not ride a mighty war-horse, but a lowly beast of burden. A donkey he had to borrow just for the occasion. And when he arrives he does not go into a palace to recline upon a luxurious throne, but goes into the temple to continue his work. These are the marks of someone truly Humble.
So which is it then? Is He the King or is He the servant? Both. Jesus enters Jerusalem as he truly is … Triumphantly Humble. In the Catechism we learn that Jesus completed his work for our salvation while in two distinct states: Humiliation and Exaltation. In other words, Jesus Christ, the God-man is our Saviour precisely because he is Humble and Triumphant.
Christ’s state of humiliation has nothing to do with being embarrassed, but being humble. Christ’s humiliation was that as a man He did not always, or fully, use His divine powers. “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (5-8)
We have a saviour who has met each one of us individually, under the law. Coming down from His rightful place of glory and honour, He did not give up His God-head, but put aside His own glory until He could do all that God’s Law requires of you. And having done all of that for you, He then willingly paid the debt of your sin. You have a saviour who knows you personally, for He has died in your place.
This is, of course, the content of the next all-important five days of our church year. The betrayal, the arrest, the torture and crucifixion. The death upon the cross and the burial in a tomb. But that is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot! For in seven short days He will come through this literal hell on earth and be raised to life again. He will appear to His beloved disciples, comfort and console them and be lifted up to His rightful place back in heaven. He will be exalted.
Christ’s state of Exaltation is made possible only first by His humility and service to the Father and us. It is because of His willingness to serve us by suffering and dying that He is now Triumphant over sin, death, and the devil. His glory and victory is in the Cross. Christ’s exaltation is that as man He now fully and always uses His divine powers. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (9-11)
The triumph and glory Christ now rightfully enjoys, He enjoys not for Himself, but again for you! HE ascended into heaven to prepare a place just for you. He reigns at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, to intercede for you and protect and govern His kingdom of grace – the Church – again, for you.
All things have been done for you in Christ. In Him you are triumphant in life and death. His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation belong to you in the Word and the Sacraments. In Holy Baptism you were given a place behind your Lord in the glorious parade into the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the Supper of Christ’s body and blood you are allowed to take part in the Last Supper and the Banquet Feast of Heaven all at the same time. In this heavenly food your faith is continually strengthened and nourished in the triumph of your Lord’s sacrifice. In the Gospel promise your future with Him is guaranteed to be gloriously bright. There is no more reason to seek out glory, it is already yours in Jesus.
And because in Christ we have truly and finally triumphed, we can only now truly be Humble. We can, as our text implores: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” (5). Again, this may seem like strange logic but consider: Everything that fell upon Christ in his humiliation and exaltation was for us, so that everything that falls to us in this life (whether seeming to be for good or for ill) can be for others. Everything that matters most in our lives has already been taken care of, paid for, set aside, and guaranteed in the blood of Christ. When we put our desire to triumph behind us we can begin to put others first. We can put others first because Jesus put us first. We can be triumphantly humble in him.
Therefore on this Palm Sunday, as our Saviour Jesus enters Jerusalem Triumphantly Humble, let us rejoice in the words of the Large Catechism: “in how much it cost Christ and what he paid and risked in order to win us and bring us under his dominion. That is to say, he became man, conceived and born without sin, of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, that he might become Lord over sin; moreover, he suffered, died, and was buried that he might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owed, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood. All this in order to become my Lord. For he did none of these things for himself, nor had he any need of them. Afterward he rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven and assumed dominion at the right hand of the Father. The devil and all powers, therefore, must be subject to him and lie beneath his feet until finally, at the last day, he will completely divide and separate us from the wicked world, the devil, death, sin, etc.  In Jesus the Triumphantly Humble you have triumphed over sin, death, the devil, and this wicked world. You have triumphed over each of these so that you might finally have the humble mind and life of Christ.
AMEN. Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord: The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Large Catechism: 2, 31). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.