Summary: Get Pumped for Your Salvation!
Last Sunday in his children’s devotion, Mr. Donovan talked about movie previews. He pointed out how previews package up the highlights of an upcoming movie to get you excited about seeing that film. But once you’ve seen a preview a few times, the novelty wears off doesn’t it? When you get a movie from the library or borrow a DVD from a friend, I bet you just fast-forward through all the previews. Well I’m going to share with you today a preview that may have been playing for as long as three thousand years! Part of Psalm 118 is a preview of the Palm Sunday events. But why look at this preview when we’ve already seen the real thing? Just moments ago Chris read the script for that movie—recounting how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds waved palm branches. But if that’s the only thing you remember about Palm Sunday, that event may be interesting, but you won’t see what it has to do with you. That’s where Psalm 118 can help. This ancient Palm Sunday preview will get you pumped again for your salvation which Jesus came to secure.
Our text begins like this: “Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD” (Psalm 118:19). Ancient cities like Jerusalem were usually built like forts. Huge walls encircled the city, and the only way in were through gates. But just as airport security today won’t let anyone without an airline ticket pass their gates, so gatekeepers in ancient times would let only those who belonged in the city or who had legitimate business there pass through. The psalmist plays with that theme and perhaps has us picturing the gates of heaven—gates through which only the righteous may enter. So how can the psalmist demand that this gate be opened to him? Even if the author was the famous King David, a man after God’s own heart, David committed sins of adultery and murder which made him unrighteous.
Well it’s a good thing you haven’t committed those sins right? So you should have no problem waltzing into heaven through the gates of the righteous. Just like you have no problem walking through the metal detectors at airport security because you’re smart enough not to wear your big cowboy belt buckle when you go through. But do you remember how right after 9/11 they jacked up the sensitivity of those detectors? They were so sensitive that tiny wires in undergarments and even metal screws underneath the skin holding bones together would set off the alarm. It was quite annoying. Well, the sin-detector that we have to pass through before we can enter heaven is even more sensitive. It’s not enough to shed obvious sins like murder and adultery. God says we need to also get rid of sins that seethe under the surface. These are sins that no one other than God may see—sins of bitterness, of silent grumbling, of pride, and sins of unholy desire. Yes, how was it the author of Psalm 118 thought that he could enter through the gates of the righteous?
There’s only been one righteous person: Jesus. And so as he rode up to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey that Palm Sunday, he could have called out for the gates of that holy city, and the gates of the temple, and the gates of heaven itself be opened to him. But Jesus didn’t even make it through the gates of Jerusalem unscathed. In that holy city he was beaten and then taken outside to be crucified as if he was some kind of criminal. But this wasn’t a tragic mistake. This had been God’s plan. Just as squeezing a tube of whitening gel will produce the thing your teeth needs to get rid of the yellow stains, squeezing blood from Jesus was the one thing we sinners needed to whiten our sin-blackened record! The psalmist spoke about this amazing turn of events when he wrote: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22).
Jesus quoted these words when the religious leaders of his day made it clear that they wanted to kill him. Here Jesus was the cornerstone—the stone that would set a secure foundation for Israel’s salvation, and yet the builders, the religious leaders who should have known better, cast him aside. But God himself picked Jesus up, and through his death and resurrection set him into place so that if Jesus is not the foundation of your life, then your life is built on nothing more than the quicksand of human hopes and dreams.
The psalmist spoke about the results of the salvation Jesus would win when he wrote: “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” (Psalmist 118:20, 21). The psalmist spoke about gates (plural) in the previous verse, but now in this verse he speaks about one gate through which the righteous may enter. That makes us think of how Jesus once said: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). It’s only through Jesus that sinners like us can pass through into heaven, like a filthy car going through the car wash and coming out clean on the other end. It’s no wonder the psalmist goes on to write these words of thanksgiving: “...the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord… With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar... 29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:23-27, 29).