Well, the time has finally come. We have reached Easter week. There’s a lot going on in the next seven days around here.
To be sure, much of it is exciting. Tonight’s service will definitely be a special one as some of our college students prepare to lead us in worship.
The Easter Egg Hunt, coming up next Saturday afternoon, is always a highlight of the year, in my opinion. Already we have been praying specifically for that event.
All those kids always make us smile. And who doesn’t look forward to our Easter Sunday celebration during the morning service?
Beyond that, we also have our very moving services. These would include our Maundy Thursday service, where we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Another would be our Good Friday service, where we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. Both of these services are ones that draw you into a greater story.
And that’s not even mentioning our prayer vigil, which quite honestly is perhaps the most significant thing we might do all week long.
But as dramatic and emotive as all of these events can be, we cannot lose sight of the big picture. We don’t do these things just because we’ve done them before.
We don’t do them just because people like them and it makes folks happy. We do them because every one of them points to something greater and nobler.
Whether it’s fellowship around the Lord’s Table or around the church grounds littered with eggs…
Whether it’s silently praying for our community and for the gospel to spread, or clapping and singing God’s praises…
Whether it’s mourning the death of Jesus on Friday or celebrating His resurrection…
This week will be all about one thing—salvation. We need to remember that. At Christmas we celebrate the coming of our Savior.
At Easter, we celebrate the way our Savior brought about our salvation. And even Palm Sunday, this very day, highlights the importance of God’s salvation.
There is a famous phrase associated with Palm Sunday. You may know it well—“Hosanna”. “Hosanna in the highest!” the crowds proclaimed as Jesus arrived.
The word “hosanna” is a Hebrew expression meaning “save”. The cries of the people are for salvation. Motives are questionable, as always.
Perhaps the folks wanted a different sort of salvation—thought they needed salvation from something that was far less dangerous than the real threat.
But the bottom line remains. As Jesus grew in popularity and fame, more and more people hoped and prayed He might be the Savior.
Palm Sunday was the culmination of that. Salvation arrived in Jerusalem, in the very city that was synonymous with God’s chosen people, Israel.
But, as is so often the case with spiritual things—and, for our purposes, with accounts from the Bible—there’s more going on than meets the eye.
What Jesus is doing is actually a fulfillment of prophecy. Today, we are going to look at one of the OT scriptures that alludes to this triumphant entry.
It can be found in the 118th psalm. I invite you to turn there with me, as we will be looking a different portions from this entire chapter.
Coming together in a cataclysmic clash are God’s preordained plan, God’s obedient servant, God’s very presence, the people’s ignorance, and heaven and hell.
We will learn today that it’s not enough to know that we need salvation—though that is a wonderful place to start, something many never realize.
We must also know to whom we should turn to find that salvation. But enough chit chat. Let’s see what God’s word has to say.
I’ll begin with the first seven verses of Psalm 118. (Read Psalm 118:1-7.)
Palm Sunday is all about an event we call the Triumphal Entry. That’s when Jesus comes into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.
The people cheered and waved palm branches. They celebrated who they thought was the king who would liberate them from Roman oppression.
As Quincy mentioned, it seemed a bit odd that he might be riding on a donkey, but still. Well, notice what the psalmist said at the end of verse seven.
“I look in triumph on my enemies.” This is a psalm of triumph. There is military imagery at play here. The author praises God and thanks Him.
The author states that he was hard pressed. He mentions that he has no need of fearing human enemies, for God is with him.
Clearly, there have been some difficult days on the battlefront for this psalmist.
We see this rather clearly in our next section of scripture. (Read Psalm 118:8-14.)
The battle language continues. Often, the people of Israel trusted in the armies of the neighboring nations when faced with difficulty on the warfront.
Instead, they should have been trusting the Lord. The psalmist states that it is better to take refuge in the Lord.
Notice how he describes his circumstances. He was surrounded. The enemy swarmed around him like bees.
He was pushed back to the brink and nearly fell. The imagery here is of being cornered or trapped. Therefore, the Lord truly was a refuge for him.
We perhaps need a deeper understanding of this term “refuge”. In the dictionary, we will find words such as “shelter”, “protection”, and “escape” to describe it.
Sometimes, this word has a lesser meaning. “Fishing on the lake is my refuge from the world,” some might say. And that’s a good use of the word.
But in our passage today we see a much stronger use. The Lord is a refuge from certain death and destruction. There was no way out, but for the Lord.
His predicament reeks of desperation and hopelessness. That’s what builds up to verse 14. The Lord is my strength and defense.
He has become my salvation. I like the language there. Jesus offers salvation, but until you take refuge in Him He does not become your salvation.
Flash forward to that triumphal entry. The celebration of the entry of a potential king certainly has a military feel to it, as well.
But there’s a marked difference between the people in the crowds and the psalmist from our passage. I just don’t think they sensed their need for refuge.
They longed for deliverance from Rome, for political freedom, and really for the power to live life on their own terms.
But it’s not the same urgency as we read in the psalm. They aren’t on the brink of physical death and destruction—at least, not yet.
Instead, they need refuge from something else. Sin threatens—and has always threatened—to destroy them eternally.
Their lives have become a lifeless and meaningless witness to God. They don’t seek refuge. They don’t even know they need it.
Instead, they seek comfort and pleasure. Remember that these folks are the ones who wanted to make Jesus king when they saw His miracles.
He fixed problems such as disease and hunger, so they saw their ticket to a better life. But then He started talking about commitment and sacrifice.
That was it. They were out of there. Many of these folks in this crowd were much like Pharaoh in the time of Moses.
He didn’t desire to follow God or surrender to Him or even acknowledge Him. Pharaoh just wanted relief from the plagues. He wanted better circumstances.
Jesus rides into town, and the people cheer wildly. But they are cheering because they hope He will bring about better circumstances.
They don’t know that this man on the donkey is their only refuge from sin and death. They don’t even know that they need such refuge.
And we are often guilty of the same thing. We spend more time asking for better circumstances than we do for deliverance from sin.
We look to Jesus and cry, “Fix that. Change this. Make it all better.” Instead we must realize that our sin surrounds us, like a swarm of bees, and pushes us to the brink.
We must fully trust Him, which means we don’t only trust Him when we get what we want. We stay with Him, even when things look bleakest.
We stay with Him, even when it seems like He is losing the battle. These folks cheered Jesus now, but they wouldn’t be cheering come Friday.
Many of them would be mocking Jesus, insulting Him, and shaking their heads. “I though He was the one,” they might say. “But look at Him now, hung on a cross.”
We do not take refuge in Jesus, in spite of the cross. We take refuge in Him because of the cross. We take refuge in the crucified Christ.
These folks in the crowd are sorely in need of a refuge only Jesus can supply. Until they realize that, Jesus will not become their salvation.
Our psalmist continues his song of praise to God in v. 15. (Read Psalm 118:15-21.)
Once again, we see a celebration, meaning we once again see a connection to the triumphal entry. And notice that this celebration is all about God and His works.
You know, some folks just can’t celebrate anybody but themselves. But this portion of the psalm denotes total surrender to God. All glory goes to Him.
Believe it or not, it takes a big person to give the glory to someone else. When someone tells a story about something that happened to them, I can sense it.
My natural reaction is to follow their story with my own story about me. Perhaps my story will even one-up theirs. And we can wind up doing the same with God.
All of life is merely God’s story. We want to leave our mark on the world, but really the only lasting mark is the one God leaves through us.
We even do this with the Bible. We try to make it into a book that tells about our lives and how we should live them. No, it’s a book about God.
The psalmist said it best. The Lord has done it. He has done all the marvelous things. We’ve got to get that through our thick heads.
The people celebrated the arrival of a potential savior on that Palm Sunday. But they wanted a savior on their terms, not God’s.
God knows what kind of salvation we need, and He knows the best way to provide it.
We need only cast aside our stubbornness. Incidentally, that has been the problem for God’s people since the very beginning.
We read about it in Exodus. At one point, God told Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land by himself. He would not be going with them.
The reason? “They are a stiff-necked people, and I’m afraid my anger might be aroused and I will destroy them along the way.”
Think back to last week. What did Jesus say over Jerusalem, the city of God’s people? “How I long to gather you by My side, like a mother hen!”
“But you are not willing!” They didn’t want to be gathered to His side. They wanted Him to give them everything they wanted, then go on His merry way.
They don’t want to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. They merely want to sit under His table and demand He drop more scraps.
I wonder what Jesus thought as He rode through that crowd on that Sunday. I wonder what He thinks as He looks upon our crowd today.
He’s bound to see similar stubbornness, similar misunderstanding, and similar lack of faith. Thankfully, He looks upon us through eyes of mercy, not condemnation.
We would do well to praise God for verse 18. “The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death,” the psalmist writes.
We deserve the severe discipline. We deserve even worse. We deserve the death.
We deserve to have our house left to us, desolate, as we mentioned last week. But God is slow to anger with us. He is rich in mercy and compassion.
We must see this. We must acknowledge this. We must see ourselves for who we truly are—sinners in need of salvation.
We must adore God because He has been so patient with us. And then we must cry out to Him from the depths of our despair.
We must cry out for Him to be a refuge from our sin—from ourselves. Then we shall echo the words of verse 21. We will thank Him because He answered us.
And He will answer. He will turn no one away who seeks Him for refuge. Truly, He will become our salvation.
And so we wrap up our passage with verse 22. (Read Psalm 118:22-29.) Jesus comes to the forefront in verse 22.
This man on the donkey, whom they celebrate today, will be rejected by this same crowd later in the week. But He will become the cornerstone.
The foundation of faith—the foundation of life, abundant and eternal—will be built around Him. He will also become a stumbling block.
This same man they celebrate as savior today will one day become their downfall, unless they realize what sort of savior He is and repent of their sin.
In verse 23, the psalmist says, “This is the Lord’s doing.” This is and was God’s plan, all along. This is the day that the Lord has made, the passage says.
God ordained the time when Christ would come and the day when He would die on that cross. Paul wrote that Jesus arrived when the fullness of time came about.
God planned the salvation, and He will accomplish it. We cannot save ourselves. We can only surrender to Him.
And then comes the “Hosanna!” Lord, save us! This must be the cry of your heart and mine. And we don’t cry it out only once in our lives.
We cry it out every day—every morning and evening. I believe that those who have called upon Jesus are saved, and they are being saved.
Salvation is an everyday sort of concept. And we are not called to be mildly pleased with this salvation offered by God. We are called to celebrate it.
Verse 26 offers yet another quote from that triumphal entry passage: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus truly is the blessed Son of God, and He is the ultimate blessing of salvation to those who call on Him.
The psalm ends with a celebration. At least the crowds at the triumphal entry got something right. We are called to celebrate regularly this salvation.
That should be the primary reason we gather every Sunday morning—to celebrate God’s salvation, delivered to us by Jesus.
Unfortunately, we lose sight of it from time to time. We gather for a variety of reasons, but too often it’s not for the purposes of celebrating.
Perhaps we don’t celebrate because we just don’t realize some things. Perhaps we don’t realize our need to take refuge in the Lord.
Perhaps we don’t realize how desperately we need this salvation. Perhaps we don’t realize that we have anything that we need to be saved from.
Perhaps we don’t celebrate because we don’t really see anything worth celebrating.
You see, part of the reason we celebrate new babies is the pain and difficulty it takes to bring them about.
We celebrate promotions at work because of the cost and sacrifice involved. We celebrate weight loss or muscle gain because it took discipline and determination.
We struggle celebrating salvation through Jesus’ work on the cross, maybe, because we don’t see what it cost us. Sure, we see what it cost Jesus.
But it seems like more of a free ride to us. Well, it does cost us—whether or not we see that, it doesn’t matter. It costs us.
Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ.” He also wrote, “I die daily.” And finally, “It is no long I who live, but Christ in me.”
The call, the command, the demand of salvation is to sacrifice our lives for His sake, since He gave His life for ours. That’s why this week is so important.
We all know that Easter is a big deal. We all know it’s a celebration, where everyone looks a little bit nicer and the songs are a little peppier.
But getting to Easter cost Jesus a great deal. We must enter into His experience and realize that it costs us as well.
I want to personally encourage and challenge you to be a part of the experience here at Friendship. We will gather both Thursday and Friday evenings this week.
And we will experience the story of what salvation cost. We will enter into the mystery of the Last Supper as we take Lord’s Supper on Thursday night.
And we will be moved and stirred on Friday night as we remember the physical and spiritual toll that the cross took on Jesus.
I’ll promise you. The Easter celebration will mean all that much more when you commit to being a part of Thursday and Friday.
I hope you’ll be here for all of it. And I hope you’re ready to remember and celebrate the Savior and His salvation this morning.
We’ll do it with an old familiar song. As we prepare to sing, you pray with me. (Pray.)