“You can’t make this up. In one abnormal afternoon, Jesus paid my taxes. And...he did it by telling me to go fishing and the first fish I caught would have my tax payment inside its mouth. And then crazy thing happened...I went fishing and the first fish I caught had my tax payment inside its mouth!”
You can’t make this up. And Peter didn’t. You really should hear the story that doesn’t get preached much in pulpits. Two off-duty tax collectors from the temple were on a trip to Galilee and visiting Peter’s hometown of Capernaum. Jesus and his disciples didn’t have a good reputation with these guys. Jesus was getting more attention from the Galileans than the temple was. It seemed disrespectful for a teacher to draw such attention away from God’s house - and bad for temple profits.
So, they stuck it to Peter with a question - “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” or you could insert the insult and rephrase it to: “Doesn’t your teacher, whom you think is so great, actually pay us?” Peter answered simply and honestly: “Yes, he does.”
That’s the real crux of the story, and where Peter goes into silent mode: I pay the temple tax like any other regular Jewish male over 20. But what about Jesus? Does Jesus pay taxes? Temple taxes? But isn’t that something? Jesus isn’t your average Jew. Normally collectors have authority over the payers. Jesus is a payer? The Lord of the universe pays the temple tax. You can almost see Peter walking silently now staring at nothing just thinking about it.
But a certain Someone was reading his mind and spoke him out of it, “Peter, normally kings charge taxes to anyone except their own children - right? So, the children are exempt. The temple is my Father’s house and I am the cherished Son. I am greater than the temple. But for now, let’s not cause offense and just pay the tax...using the coin you’ll find in the mouth of the first fish you’re about to catch.”
“Peter, go fish with your line and with the first fish you catch, you’ll find a four-drachma coin in its mouth. Take it out and pay my tax and yours.” Can you tell me what it was like to hold that fishing pole in your hands? Would you fall to your knees as made the first catch and saw the coin? Have you ever seen a four-drachma coin in a fish’s mouth? And you stand staring at the coin in your hand, and it’s like you’re reborn.
That’s Jesus. The Jesus-effect. It’s what happens when the King comes to you.
Oh, but it’s just a four-drachma coin, not a four-carat diamond, the devil says. It’s just paying taxes, what about all my other bills?
“Isn’t it amazing that Jesus sent us to find this colt, tied just as he said, waiting just as he said, the people say “what are you doing” just as he said, and we answered just as he said!? And he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, just as he said. Amazing!”
“No,” says the devil. “Not amazing - it’s just a colt, people! Where’s the swag of a stag? If you’re going to reveal things hidden, how about a treasure hunt or cure for cancer?! Where’s the pursuit of my happiness? There’s nothing to see here but a little donkey and a gonna-let-you-down Jesus.” And you read the Palm Sunday account and yawn at the very hour of the coming of Jesus. How different, how totally different from shouting “Hosanna to the King who comes.”
It’s a new church year. A new year is a good time to focus on what we should spend our time doing...or whom we should spend it with. The devil says try something new. He wants you to be so hurt inside, so confused, so envious of someone else’s Facebook life you’ll never have, so disappointed when you grow up with a thousand promises and dreams of what life has to offer, but only a hard reality of something less keeps greeting you in the morning that God’s love isn’t enough to fill the hole. And the best part of the devil’s strategy? You die before you realize the life you’d have in this King.
But you know what the church year says? Whether you were rich or not, popular or not, considered yourself good-looking or not, healthy or not, smart or not,...what if you woke up and Jesus put that fishing pole in your hands and said ‘go get that coin from the first fish’? Today the church year greets you anew with the one story, the one Savior, with life that doesn’t end with death, with life that doesn’t end at all.
Isn’t that the great mystery of reading Palm Sunday at the start of Advent? Is Holy Week not the very goal of his life - had he not come to serve, to glorify his Father by dying for the world? It speaks volumes of the goal, the purpose, the beating heart of the church year - let us start here - with Holy Week in our Advent hymns and Palm Sunday as the first Gospel to bring to you to see the King of grace who comes for you. Let there be no year, no life, no death, no Judgment Day without this King.
Look at this story and see how it’s not much to meet the eyes, but it’s everything for the eyes of faith! Jesus is drawing attention to himself.
- He may just be getting a donkey, but he does it in a way that is miraculous and leaves you looking at him in wonder and mystery. Yes, only the eyes of faith are filled!
- Here’s another example: No one’s going to write home about seeing a man on a donkey. But God’s Word had written through the prophet Zechariah of his promised King who would ride to Jerusalem, on a donkey and told all his people to “Rejoice!...See your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9). God said the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, would conduct ministry as light in Galilee, but everyone knew the King to come in the name of the Lord would enter to Zion, to Jerusalem.
That’s why the crowds are freaking out over him. For once, Jesus isn’t shushing the people’s idea that he is the Christ, but saying it out loud in broad daylight with perhaps thousands around him, right through the very gates of Jerusalem. Jesus and these enthusiastic crowds speak in unison. Like two puzzle pieces finally matched together, Jesus shows himself greater than meets the eye by sending for the donkey and riding it in. And the people match it with their praise. They crown his head with all the most significant and richest promises of the Old Testament -
- Hosanna to the Son of David - you are the kingly heir promised to give us an eternal kingdom.
- We welcome you as one who comes to bring us all the promised blessing tied to the name Lord in our Scriptures. You come in that name.
- Hosanna in the highest heaven - we know that heaven too rejoices at this sight of the King who rides to rescue us!
You and I know what happened next. The lowly donkey was returned. And Jesus - well, he went to the temple, not the palace, to the place of spiritual matters, not earthly treasures or territories. It wasn’t just Jerusalem that was his mission and gravitational pull. It’s was the cross they would make him carry, and the death he alone could die - and wanted to - for you. Such an entrance, such a statement of being the promised King - was Jesus making a statement on record that he wouldn’t take back; he was pressing a button he wouldn’t un-press. He claimed to be King at the very hour his enemies hated him the most, the very hour when he knew the Father’s will was the lamb be led to the slaughter, to bear our curse and win the victory over the devil and rule over death and hell forever. “For this I came,” he says.
You can’t make this up. It’s the very kind of King you want to remember. In fact, it’s the King come and crucified that you want to know and leave all the rest. That’s what I hear as the people put the Scriptures on their lips to praise him. They knew their need, their need to be rescued - sure, they didn’t have all the details straight, but see the cry and shout to him, the greater the celebration, the greater the help they sought! Look how they longed for him and speak something memorized, remembered and not forgotten. Maybe they didn’t have a church year like ours, but they kept these words of God on their hearts. How did they know about Son of David? It’s 2 Samuel 7 - they knew it may be better than we do. They’re grabbing Psalm 118 again and again, never letting it go and finally returning the promise to Jesus, its rightful owner.
In the same way, Palm Sunday Jesus - Holy Week Jesus is exactly the King you have and get to remember. It’s easy for you to ruminate on last week’s guilt or even last year’s or some demon you’ve had for many years. It’s easy to be stung by the nit-picky way you judged your friend, the harsh way you dealt with a child, the proud way you made your spouse pay. It’s easy to live selfishly, greedily, boastfully. It’s easy to yawn and to die in false peace.
Let the church year come and put the fishing pole in your hands, and send you on the road for a donkey on Palm Sunday. Let the church year make it easy to remember your King, to keep awake, to tackle guilt and put sin to death.
It’s Advent. The King is coming again. And for this King ordinary preparations won’t do. We need something more. We need him to have hope. We will look nowhere else, will settle for no other church year than one that proclaims him, his birth, his words, his ministry, his work, his death to save, his resurrection, his kingdom gifts, his coming again. So, we will not start the church year looking to do something new. We’re looking for him. And whenever he comes - if we see him in Word or Sacrament or with our own eyes in his coming glory, we’ll shout, “Hosanna to the King who comes!” Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on December 3, 2017