19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up[b] to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
I want you to take a moment and visualize your favorite store. As you do that, let me tell you about mine. For me, since I have a strong passion for cooking, you would probably guess that my favorite store would be the ones with cooking gadgets in them. However, as much as I love those type of stores, my favorite store of all is the grocery store. The grocery store can be a very dangerous adventure for me as I can easily spend an hour or so wandering up and down every single aisle. Mind you, I go with a list and I get everything on the list and then maybe just a few extra items.
Okay, you got it, you have your favorite store in mind? When you walk up to the doors of your store, you know what to expect as you have been there many, many times … but yet at the same time, for some, there is this overwhelming feeling of joy, excitement, and anticipation. You approach the doors and they automatically open wide for you to walk through the middle of them like a king or queen. As they open and you step through you get hit with a cool breeze blowing at you. You smell that unique smell associated with your store and you bask in the artificial light at the greatness of all which stands before you. Ahhhhh!!!!
Okay, maybe that is a little overdramatic, but if this is how you are walking into your favorite store … imagine what you will be like when the gates of heaven are opened to you and you walk through. There will be no words to describe the utter awesomeness of that moment. All your cares and concerns which you have right now will be gone. All the questions you have for God won’t even matter or cross your mind because you will be so happy that you’re in heaven. When you walk into heaven, you will bask not in the artificial store light but in the very real heartwarming light shining from Jesus and you will be totally awestruck and amazed at the indescribable glory of heaven.
Upon entering heaven, you may even quote the first verse of Psalm 118, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps 118:1). But not only will you be praising God, but according to this psalm, according to Psalm 118, so will all of the Israelite people, the whole house of Aaron and as well as all who fear the LORD. All together with angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven, you will laud and magnify the most glorious name of God.
However, this praising of God does not come without some struggles or setbacks. The writer of this psalm says in verse 5, “In my anguish I cried to the LORD.” You and I, we do this don’t we? In the midst of our various times of anguish, in the midst of our moments of distress … we cry out to God, we pray to God asking him, “Lord, set me free! Lord, please give me some sort of relief from this anguish I am currently finding myself in!” And in some form God does give us the relief we need. Sometimes that relief is instant, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it is in a form which we are totally not expecting or even ready for. But no matter what, God tells us that He listens to our prayers and that He answers them.
These struggles and setbacks, these trials and temptations which we have, as much as we know that God is there helping us and is taking care of them, we still question His course of action, we still wonder about what the future holds for us. And yet even though these thoughts come into our minds … is there really anything to fear? The writer of this psalm says no. Even though he is experiencing the hardships of life like we do, he is not afraid. He is not afraid because whatever it is that he has or is going through, he knows with all his heart that the LORD is with him, that the LORD is his helper. He knows that the LORD has done mighty things and that he will not die eternally, but he will instead walk through the open gate of heaven someday.
But then something happens. Something happens and all of this confidence which has been shown in God is gone. “Open for me the gates of righteousness” (Ps 118:19). Wait, what? I thought he went through these gates already? Throughout the whole beginning half of this psalm he has been thanking God for letting him in, for opening the door, for opening the gate to a life for him and now all of a sudden he is on the outside? What gives?
Maybe he got a little too confident in himself. Maybe he trusted a little too much in his own abilities, kind of like Maurice from the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” You see, Maurice wanted to show off his latest invention which he was sure would win first place at the fair. As he is making his way to the fair, he has a decision to make … which path to take. The path that looks well used or the dark and creepy path. He decided to take the dark and creepy path thinking that it would be a short cut. However, as he traveled down that road, he realized that he had made a mistake, but by the time he realized this mistake … it was too late. Maurice’s scared horse bucked him off and ran away, leaving Maurice all alone and surrounded by wolves. Clamoring to the gates of the Beast’s castle, he begins to shake them with the hopes that they open. He cries out for the gates to be open.
The writer of our psalm, you, and I … we act like Maurice sometimes. We get a little too confident in ourselves, in our abilities to know something or do something. When we find ourselves in anguish, in distress, when we find ourselves outside of the gates of righteousness and our enemy is fast approaching … we like crazy ole Maurice, cry out to God, “Help! Is someone there? Open the gates! Please someone, please let me in!”
And this morning as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we have just that someone who comes and opens wide the gates of righteousness for us. But he doesn’t come in a kingly manner. He doesn’t come riding into Jerusalem on a strong and elegant white horse. No, instead he sits on a humble beast of burden. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on donkey.
Riding into Jerusalem for Jesus is probably not much different than you or me walking into our favorite store. It is a place he has been numerous times. He knows what to expect. But this time is different. This time there is a lot of pomp and circumstance as people lay their cloaks on the road and wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). This time is different because Jesus is there for a different reason. He isn’t there to pick up his favorite item which he can only get in Jerusalem, He is not there to peruse the streets to see if there is something new. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a humble donkey under the celebratory cover of waving palm branches to open for you, me, and all people the gates of righteousness.
The gates of righteousness though are not opened simply by Jesus riding into town on a donkey on this Palm Sunday. Yes, Jesus is king of kings and lord of lords, but Jesus didn’t ride in to fulfill the expectations of the palm waving crowd. Jesus didn’t ride into to town to throw out the corrupt and crooked leadership who are imposing all sorts of rules and regulations on the people. No, Jesus rides into Jerusalem for another reason. The gates of righteousness, the gates of heaven which we cling to begging God to open for us are opened, they are opened to all believers by the events which transpire later on in the week.
The opening of the gates isn’t as easy as you or me walking up and tripping the motion sensor and having the doors of our favorite store open up. The only way these gates of righteousness, these gates of heaven are opened is through the gruesome and torturous suffering and death of our Savior Jesus Christ. The excited crowd who welcome Jesus today with cries of Hosanna and are waving palm branches will by the end of the week be yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) to Pontius Pilate. The celebratory feel of this day, of Palm Sunday turns dark and dreary for Jesus quickly.
As the disciples and the women who followed Jesus watch him die, their hope of walking through the gates and being able to praise God die with him. As things go from bad to worse in our lives, as we approach the doors of our favorite store to see the lights out, the door locked, and an “out of business” sign hanging on the door … our hope and joy very easily diminish and disappear. In the depths of our despair, in the depths of our anguish, desperately wanting the gates to be opened to us we cry out “O LORD, save us” (Psalm 118:25).
And the LORD hears us crying out from the depth of soul, He hears our cries for mercy and does just that! He opens the gates of righteousness, he opens wide the gate to heaven from inside of the tomb in which Jesus is laid. Jesus has made his light shine upon us and so with boughs in hand, we join in the festal procession of this day and on the last day as we process, as we walk through the open gate of heaven, basking in the eternal light of Jesus. On that day we will walk all the way up to the horns of the altar. We walk up there proclaiming with the psalmist, “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:28-29). Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.