Messages from Pastor Raddatz

April 2, 2023, Mount Olive Lutheran Church Houston TX, PALM SUNDAY

Palms of Victory, John 7:28–39

Object Suggestion: Palm leaves or fronds

Sermon Summary: The King of the Jews, Jesus, invited people observing the Feast of Tabernacles to drink of Himself. When the people lived in tents with numerous leafy palms and boughs, they recalled how God provided water and sustenance for His people in the hot wilderness. However, on His last Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus invited all to come to Him, like a rock gushing living water and eternal refreshment. This feast is much different from the Feast of Passover, when people threw palm branches before Jesus on the road entering Jerusalem. However, one element pervades festivals—leafy palms and branches. Jesus always comes to His own to offer them victory and joy, even though many of His own do not receive Him and remain in nakedness and shame (see John 1:11).

Many people do not feel victorious. Instead, they are beaten down by sin. They feel naked in this world, humiliated. Like Adam and Eve, who realized that they were naked and ran to find green fig leaves in the Garden of Eden, all sinners recognize that they are undressed by sin! Jesus was naked while the Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing, like a criminal. Jesus allowed all sin to be pinned on His naked body once for all. Even though the world may consider you a fool, you are victorious in Christ without any shame, because you have an eternal home.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Amen.

This coming Sunday brings one of the sharpest, remarkable twists in the life of the Church. As Jesus Christ enters His Holy City of Jerusalem, He is enjoying and receiving praise by all the people before the Feast of Passover. They wave palm branches and sing, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” However, all these victorious chants were fickle because in only a few short days, such chants will cease when they shout, “Crucify Him!”


When you consider the whole Bible, palms held an even greater distinction at another ancient, annual Jewish festival—the Feast of Tabernacles (or tents). All Jewish men were required to celebrate it in person every year in Jerusalem to remember how God provided for Israel during the forty years in the wilderness. During this feast, they came with leafy boughs and palms, and they lived in tents. It’s similar to how some of us might go camping in a tent for a week in the summer. In this way, the people of God remembered how God provided for His people in the wilderness. He gave them manna, meat, and water.

Unlike Passover in the spring, the Feast of Tabernacles occurred in the fall, usually in late September or early October, close to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would take two goats. One would have all the sins of the people confessed over its head and be released as a scapegoat. The other goat was sacrificed, and the high priest took that blood when he entered the Most Holy Place in order to place it on the Mercy Seat. During the Feasts of Atonement and Tabernacle, the Israelites recollected their unfaithfulness and rebellion against God in the desert. Further, they knew that most of the first generation who exited Egypt never entered the Promised Land.

When Israel camped in Jerusalem every year, they not only remembered their past failures and sin but beyond that, they remembered all of God’s wonderful and generous provision. Their sandals never wore out, they ate manna and meat, and they had water every day. Moses said, “And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD. . . . You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year” (Leviticus 23:40–41).


Today, you are given a palm, not primarily to remember Palm Sunday, but mostly to joyously celebrate your victory in Christ today and every day! Yes, we know we are on the verge of Holy Week. We will witness our Lord instituting His Supper, battling Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer, and being betrayed by Judas. We will also witness Good Friday and Christ’s suffering and Passion. But remember why Jesus does it all: to give you an eternal victory. Therefore, you wave palms now, as St. John shares in His Revelation vision of heaven. There, all the saints will hold palm branches in their hands with white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb, crying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).

Even though you may feel naked and alone right now, remember you are as brightly clothed as the saints in heaven because you are baptized and covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Adam and Eve were ashamed and naked after they sinned, grabbing for leafy fig leaves. God eventually covered them with skins and forgave their sin. It is never comfortable to be naked at any time or in any weather. However, remember this! Jesus was stripped naked by Roman soldiers and beaten for you! They even placed a purple robe on Him and crowned Him with a crown of thorns. Shortly thereafter, He was shamefully hung naked on a cross so that you and I never face eternal nakedness and shame.


Remember today that you are not naked but victorious. That is why you were given a palm branch. Very soon, other leafy plants, especially Easter lilies, will be cast around this altar as well. Such greenery always symbolizes rest, beauty, peace, and tranquility for the people of God. Therefore, many of you still provide greenery and flowers for God’s house to joyfully celebrate people, family, God’s gift of life, or an anniversary. Palms and green symbolize life and strength, and baptismal white robes are your covering.

In the Song of Solomon, the palm tree is referred to as a symbol of strength, vigorous life, and abundance. In a hot Mediterranean climate, the shade of a palm offered relief from the direct heat of the sun. Palms were also carved on the walls of Solomon’s temple. Rest today and recline joyfully, baptized and clothed in white through Christ’s blood. That is why you hold palm branches in your hands! You are baptized into Jesus Christ and washed in His blood! Even though you and others face sickness, disease, or death, despite it all, the victory is yours in Jesus! Jesus wins your eternal victory!


Even if your life drastically turns upside down from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, remember who always holds the ultimate victory for you! Jesus Christ is why we hold palms, and in Jesus, you are baptized and given white robes washed by His blood. Never lose heart! You are always His child, protected under His heavenly wings. That is a promise. So celebrate the thrill of victory on this day, knowing that the agony of defeat never lasts. Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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