God's Gift of Forgiveness
Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest
A sermon based on Psalm 24
Sunday, March 24, 2013 – Palm Sunday C
"Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed." This familiar prayer, attributed to Martin Luther, is often rattled off in haste without much thought at all as we can't wait to dig into the food that's sitting on the table. But if we really stop to think about this prayer, what an amazing prayer it really is. While we call it the "common table prayer," we really ask for some pretty uncommon things. We poor sinners ask Jesus himself to come and be present with us. We who so often rebel against God ask for his blessings upon us.
This morning as we take a look at the Psalm of the Day for this Palm Sunday, we once again will pray that prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest." And as we do, we will ask two questions: First we'll ask, "How can we sinners dare to ask Jesus to come to us with a blessing?!" And then we will ask, "How can we best receive him when in his grace he does come to us?" Listen now to Psalm 24, a Psalm of David…
1 The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory.
I. How Can We Dare Ask?!
Now we don't know the exact situation that prompted David's writing of this Psalm, but the Septuagint (the Latin translation of the Bible) suggests that it was written on the occasion of the Ark of the Covenant (where God himself dwelled) being brought into Jerusalem for the very first time. After King David conquered that city and made it his own, he brought the Ark and God's presence there.
And if you want, this afternoon go home and read 2 Samuel 6. Read about how they sang their praises and how King David danced before the Lord with all of his might at that exciting event when God himself was entering Jerusalem.
And of course, it's fitting then that we apply this same Psalm to Palm Sunday. Because just as God came into Jerusalem in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, so too on Palm Sunday God himself, now in the flesh, God incarnate, was entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at because the temple in Jerusalem was the only place that one could make the sacrifice for that festival. But perhaps it was some of those same people who shouted, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes, Son of David," on Sunday who would later, on Friday, shout, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
Which leads one to ask, "How could they possibly ask for Jesus blessing on them? How could they possibly pray, 'Come, Lord Jesus, and be our guest'?" They were such fair-weather fans.
For that matter we have to ask how could anyone pray that Jesus be their guest? King David began his Psalm reminding us of the immense greatness of God—the King of the Universe who created all things by his powerful Word, to whom everything on earth belongs, who needs nothing from anyone, to whom all people belong and owe him their very lives.
And so, if God is the one who created this whole world, if he is the one by whose rule the world is sustained, we have to answer to him. We have to answer to what he demands of us. How then can anyone possibly dare to approach him? How can anyone demand to meet him? How can anyone stand in his holy place? Who can dare approach him?
Well, David tells us: only the one who is perfect. Only he who has clean hands—whose hands have not been stained by the blood of the misdeeds they've done to others, hands who have not been covered in the filth of wickedness. Only those who have pure hearts—whose hearts have not been tainted with thoughts of harming others or using them, whose thoughts have not been tainted with the idea of serving only number one; "Gotta take care of myself!" Who can approach God and ask him to come with a blessing? David says, "Only those who do not lift up their souls to an idol." The word translated here for us "idol," literally means a worthless thing; a nothing. Anyone who lifts up his soul or puts his or her trust in something that's worthless—in anything other than God—dare not approach him seeking a blessing.
Martin Luther wrote in his explanation of the first commandment: "Man's entire heart and all of his confidence are to be placed in God alone and no one else. Put your confidence in anything other than him: your money, your hard work, your intelligence, someone else's strength, someone else's help who will bail you out, and you worship a nothing. If you break any one of the Ten Commandments, even in your thoughts, you are worshipping yourself because you're putting your desires above God's, really making yourself into the idol that you worship.
Finally David adds, "He who does not swear by what is false." To sum it up, one must be absolutely perfect in every action that they do with their hands, with every thought that they feel in their hearts, and in every word that is ever uttered from the lips of their mouth. One must be absolutely perfect if they dare to approach God and seek his blessing.
What a problem that must have presented for King David whose hands were certainly not clean having murdered many men in order to kill one man, whose heart was certainly not pure, whose lust led him to commit adultery that caused him to have to commit those murders to try to cover it up, who lifted up his soul to the idol of himself in pride and in vanity. How could David dare approach the hill of the Lord to seek his blessing?!
What a huge problem this presents for us, dear friends, who continue to sin against God, who continue to look first to serve our own needs before serving anyone else, who look first to please ourselves before we try to please our God. Our hands are dirty, our hearts impure. We worship our idols. We worship ourselves. How can we dare to approach the Holy God and seek his blessing?! How can we dare to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus, and be my guest. Let your gifts to me be blessed."?!
It's kind of like going to a fine eating establishment where jacket and tie are required, except going in a pair of shorts and nothing else, covered in filth from head to toe with your hair matted, covered in dung, completely disgusting. Do you think that the restaurant would let you enter in and dine there? Not likely! They would quickly escort you out if you tried to enter in and they would forbid you from ever returning again. And there's nothing you could do about it. It's their restaurant; their rules.
It's kind of like as a kid coming to mom's dinner table. You couldn't come if you had your hands dirty. If you did, you'd get sent back to the sink. "Wash 'em up!" You cannot come with dirty hands. Her kitchen; her rules.
In a similar way, it's God's heaven, therefore God's rules. On our own we cannot dare to enter. We cannot approach him because of the filth that covers us from head to toe. And on our own we can find no soap strong enough to rid us of the muck that clings to us.
So how can we dare to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest."? David gives us the answer. He says, "5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
Those who seek God and put their trust in him alone and in his plan of salvation receive blessing from him. They receive vindication. What does that word mean? It's a synonym for justification. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word, tsedek, which is translated vindication, the NIV translates countless other times as simply righteousness. We receive perfect righteousness from God as a gift, by Christ's blood, shed on the cross, the blood of our sins that stains our hands is washed clean. By his perfect purity in every thought, in every deed, we are made perfectly pure. By his perfect obedience and worship of God the Father, our idolatry is erased. We receive that vindication, that righteousness, declared to be perfect and holy without any sin or spot or blemish or stain, through Christ, the conquering King of Glory. So that by him, we can pray, "Come, Lord Jesus… and let your gifts to us be blessed."
So dear friends, get clean. Lift up your heads and seek the King of Glory who comes to you to make you clean. Open wide the gates of your hearts and receive him…
II. How Can We Receive Him?
How can we best receive the King of Glory when, in his grace, he does come to us? King David tells us that as well. He says, "7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory."
The gates of Jerusalem personified here had every reason to be excited. God himself present in the Ark of the Covenant was entering through its gates—the God who would was strong in battle and would deliver Israel from all its enemies was coming to dwell in Jerusalem. What an exciting time! They no longer needed to hang their heads in shame or in sorrow, but could lift their heads up in joy and in eager anticipation of the time that the ark would enter through them.
So too, on Palm Sunday, those same gates of Jerusalem could rejoice because Jesus—the Christ—the King of Glory—God himself in the flesh was entering through those gates again. And again he would come strong and mighty, mighty in battle.
Though the people of Jesus' day misunderstood what that meant. See, they read the prophecy of Zechariah that said he would come ushering in a time of peace; that he would rule over all the nations. They read this Psalm that said he would come mighty in battle. And they understood that to mean that he would come mighty in battle over their enemies, the Romans. That with a strong arm he would start a war and drive the Romans out and usher in a time of peace for the Jews that they would rule over all the nations. They misunderstood what the Messiah was really all about.
And yet, recognizing that he was coming in as a conquering King, they rejoiced. They lifted up their heads in eager anticipation of that day when he would come in and fight their battles for them. They rejoiced and sang their praises to him as they saw King Jesus come to them. What they failed to understand is that Jesus battle was as Paul put it in Ephesians 6, "not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
Christ entered Jerusalem that Palm Sunday to wage the final war against Satan, against sin, and the hell that our sins deserve, to fight against death itself. And that's exactly what he did. Fighting our foes, he conquered them all for us. And so now, by his mighty battle, the gates of heaven are flung wide open to welcome us in one day soon.
So how do we receive the King of Glory? Well, with an even greater joy than those who saw Jesus come in physically as he rode on that donkey into Jerusalem. We, who see him come spiritually to conquer all of our foes, receive him with an even greater joy, welcoming him with the same eager expectation—our eager expectation that one day soon he will end the battle once and for all when he takes us to glory forever.
When a visitor comes to your house and rings the door bell, how do you receive him or her? Well, first you check to see who it is. And once you see that it's not a salesman, but a long-expected friend, one you've longed to see, how do you respond? You undo the bolt, you unlock the door, you throw it open, and throw your arms out and say, "Come on in, friend! Welcome! Come in! Come in!" You throw your arms around that long, lost friend in a big embrace and you give them your undivided attention so you can hear what news they've brought and how they've been.
In the same way, dear friends, as the King of Glory comes to you and you recognize who it is that is coming to you in the Words that you read, in the sacraments that you receive, that it's Jesus himself come to offer you his grace and his forgiveness, unlock the door of your hearts, throw the gates wide open and say, "Come in, dear Jesus! Come in! Come in!" Receive him as those Israelites did that day, rejoicing and happy with eager expectation, confident of the salvation that he brings. Receive him, unlike the Israelites did that day, expecting not a physical Savior or a social king that will take away the problems of this life, but the King of Glory whose conquered your spiritual foes, whose cleansed your hands, and purified your hearts, and given you his righteousness. Welcome him eager to hear the news that he brings—the news of his grace and love for you.
Yes, dear friends, fling wide the portals of your heart. Make it a temple set apart from earthly use to heaven's employ, adorned with prayer, and love, and joy. So shall your sovereign enter in and new and nobler life begin. To God alone be praise, for Word and deed and grace. Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed." Amen.