Mt 26-27 / Palm/Passion Sunday A / 17 April 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8
We call it “holy week” and rightly so. It is the most holy of weeks, that week between our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna and culminating in His death and burial. What a week! Everything that Jesus is for us, everything that Jesus is for the world, His mission, is all packed into this one week and is summarized in this one verse from Philippians, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Though equal to God His Father, He stepped down from His throne and took up our humanity. The Word become Flesh. And bearing our human flesh as only He could, being the second Adam to do what the first Adam had not, He humbled Himself in obedience to His own Law. The Lawgiver came under the Law. The Judge came under His own sentence. In order to justify the sinner, God had to do justice to our sin. That’s what Jesus came to do. That’s what this most holy of all weeks is about: God in the flesh does justice to our sin.
The week begins on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jesus procures a donkey and His disciples hail Him with palm branches. They make a royal highway for Him with their coats and shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They very likely believed that the revolution would begin, and Jesus would lead them. Passover was the season for revolution and rioting. Jesus makes a big entry into the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey, HIs followers shouting verses of Psalm 118. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The mood shifts abruptly from palms to passion, from triumph to crucifixion. This is no ordinary King. His kingdom is not of this world. His donkey is borrowed. His royal robes are worn only in mockery. His head is crowned with thorns. His throne in this world is a cross. His Sabbath He spends in the tomb. He goes to holy war, but He dies for His people and kingdom. Never has the world seen such a King as this one.
He is anointed for His burial by a woman who pours a a lavish amount of perfume, so much that even the disciples complain for the waste. The money could have been given to the poor. But she has unwittingly done a “beautiful thing,” preparing His body for burial. He became poor so that by His poverty, we might become rich in heavenly treasures.
He is betrayed by one of His own. Judas Iscariot sells his Lord for a prophetic thirty silver pieces, the price of a slave. He betrays His master with a kiss. Realizing what he has set in motion, he tries to give the money back after Jesus is arrested, but the chief priests won’t have it. Judas hangs himself in despair, a testimony to unbelief and rejection of the grace that was his. He should have gone back to Jesus. The thirty pieces of blood money go to buy the Field of Blood, a place to bury the stranger. Jesus came as a stranger to His own world, to shed His innocent blood to atone for the world’s sin. No one seems to want this blood – not Judas, not the chief priests and elders, not Pilate, who washes His hands of Jesus’ blood. Only the people cry out, “Let His blood be upon us and on our children.” They say it in derision but they speak the truth. If His blood is not on us, we are not forgiven, cleansed.
This is why we are baptized and why we bring our children to baptism, that His innocent blood shed on the cross may be upon us and upon our children. This is why we go to the Supper and why He comes to us, that His blood of the covenant might be ours for the forgiveness, our life, our salvation.
Peter denies Him three times just as Jesus had predicted. Peter, who had been so bold to confess Jesus. Peter who hours before had said, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” He denies knowing Jesus to a humble servant girl. We have too, when asked, “Are you one of His disciples.” We’ve denied knowing Him too. But Jesus does not deny knowing us. He takes up our weakness and makes it His own. He prays for another way than to drink the cup of death. He prays, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” He prays it against the devil, against the world, against our own sinful flesh that would not have God’s good and gracious will to be done.
Jesus is tried before the courts of Religion and Politics and is found guilty by both. Before the court of Religion, the Sanhedrin, Jesus is accused of blasphemy. He made Himself to be the Son of God. He prophesied against the temple. Jesus even helps them along and seals His fate by identifying with Daniel’s Son of Man coming on the clouds. The religious leaders spit on Him, strike Him, mock Him as Religion still does today. To be God in the flesh is blasphemy to the ears of Religion. To be justified for Jesus’ sake is heresy to the Religion of the Law. “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.”
He is the Messiah no one wanted or asked for. When given the choice, the popular vote goes to Barabbas the terrorist. He’s proven himself. He’s willing to kill for the cause. What has Jesus done for us lately? The crowd is pro-Barabbas and anti-Jesus. Jesus is not the kind of Christ, Messiah, they were looking for. Barabbas is what they want. Barabbas kills, Jesus goes willingly to His death. The murderer goes free; the Prince of Peace goes to His death.
The guilty walks away and the Innocent One stands convicted. There on Pilate’s stage, we see a picture of our own salvation. We are guilty under the Law, convicted, sentenced to eternal damnation. Jesus takes our place. He is guiltless and takes on our guilt. He is sinless and becomes Sin for us. He humbles Himself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Jesus is beaten, mocked, ridiculed, scorned by the soldiers. The put a royal robe on Him and make mock homage to Him. The press a crown of thorns into His head. They spit on Him and beat Him. And Jesus absorbs it all. Every act on inhumanity inflicted on man by man, every act of prejudice, hatred, oppression, violence – this Man takes without so much as a word of protest. He has come to redeem this broken world with His own blood, to make peace out of our violence, to take our rejection and make it the world’s reconciliation. God was in Christ, this Jesus, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.
He goes to His cross. He refuses to be drugged, but drinks the cup of woe, grief and death with a clear head. He is crucified between two criminals, likely terrorists in their own right. Perhaps they were cohorts of Barabbas and he was to be the third. But now Jesus is between them instead. His death comes with all the attendant signs of the Last Day: darkness between noon and three, an earthquake, the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom, even the tombs of the saints of old are shaken open and they rise with Jesus in a preview of the Last Day.
The centurion in charge of the crucifixion that day said it best. “Truly this was the Son of God.” And that He is. Obedient unto death to save us from Sin and Death. Obedient in every way – actively keeping the Law to the least stroke of a pen, passively dying under the Law and receiving its judgments.
The women stood watching at a distance. The disciples have long fled. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.” A secret disciple steps up. A rich man. Joseph of Arimathea. He has a new tomb to give Jesus, the suffering Servant who made His grave with the rich. The tomb is sealed and guarded to ensure that no one tampers with the body. The week has ended. The Sabbath had come.
On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that he had done in creation.
On the seventh day Jesus, the Son of God, finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. It was a holy day, the end of a holy week. The Holy Week. The week that Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, died in perfect obedience to save you from Sin and Death so that baptized into Him and believing Him, you would have eternal life.
In the name of Jesus,