And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8)
Palms and Passion Sunday. It’s like Holy Week compressed into one service and more. It’s all summarized in this one Palm Sunday word: Hosanna! It means “save us, Lord.” It’s what you shouted to the King as he rode through the city. Hosanna! Save us! It was a shout of confidence in the King, and when that confidence is in King Jesus, it’s not misplaced. Jesus came to save. His name embodies salvation. He rode into Jerusalem that day to save.
He came in humility, to humble Himself in obedient death, to be the Suffering Servant who came not to be served by others but to serve others in laying down His life as a ransom, to purchase and win humanity from its enslavement to sin and death, to pay the ultimate price in obedience to God’s Law by taking the wages of our sin upon Himself.
The palm strewn road is the road of our Lord’s humbling for our salvation. He came as the Suffering Servant, not to be served but to serve and to lay His life down as a ransom, to buy back humanity from its enslavement to sin and death. This is the road of our Lord’s Passion – His passion to save you, who for the joy set before Him, the joy of saving you personally, the joy of raising you up from the death of your sins, the joy of bestowing life on the world and reconciling all things to the Father, endured the cross and scorned its shame.
The road begins at the city gate of Jerusalem. A borrowed donkey in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Scattered coats and branches pave the highway ahead of Him. Shouts of Hosanna! greet Him. Messianic expectation is thick in the air. Those shouts of Hosanna! may have meant something other than “save us from sin and death.” They may have been a call to arms, to revolt against Rome.
Hosanna! may very well have been a call to holy war. And there is truth in that. Jesus came to fight a holy war. Not against flesh and blood, but to win flesh and blood. Not against a group of people, but to rescue humanity from itself and the deep corruption of its sin that drives us all to our death, to the grave, to hell. His holy war was against the spiritual forces of darkness that rule this world. And so He enters His holy city as a conquering King to be conquered, a King riding majestically to His death.
His road leads through the city streets of Jerusalem, paved with the blood of the prophets. It was not fitting for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem, Jesus once quipped. That’s why He came to Jerusalem, knowing that His disciples’ Hosannas would be turned into shouts of “Crucify Him!” on the lips of the religious leaders of Jerusalem.
The road goes up to the temple, the place of sacrifice and atonement and prayer. It was the place where God planted His foot and met with His people. A place of grace and mercy, undeserved kindness toward the sinner. Religion had turned it into a place of transaction, bargaining with God, bribing Him. Jesus reclaims the temple as His own, His Father’s place of prayer and forgiveness. And yet, not one stone would be left on another, He predicts, and declares that in three days, He would raise up the destroyed temple of His body.
The road winds from the temple to a borrowed upper room and the Passover table. His betrayer, Judas, is identified, in fulfillment of the psalm that said one who breaks bread with Him would betray Him. He takes the bread of the Passover, the hard, unleavened bread of affliction, and gives it to His disciples as His own sacrificial Body given into death. “Do this for my remembrance,” He says. He takes the cup after the meal, and gives it as His own blood poured out as the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah, a covenant of forgiveness. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The road goes from the upper room to the garden, the scenic mount of olives, a place of prayer. There Jesus agonizes in His own dark night, wresting in prayer with the Father, searching for another way yet obedient to His Father’s will. As His own disciples sleep, Jesus prays “Thy will be done” on behalf of all of humanity. And in His death on a cross, the Father’s will is done, the eternal plan is accomplished, your salvation is won. This is the Father’s will, that all would be saved and come to the Truth who is Jesus, His Son. This is the Father’s will, that you would be rescued by the death of the Son and live trusting that even though you die you live in Him.
His “thy will be done” prayer ends with His arrest by an armed mob. He is betrayed with a disciples’ kiss, a reminder that Christ is often betrayed even by those who call themselves “disciples,” just as he is denied by Peter, His most fiercely loyal disciple. No man is immune, neither you nor me.
Jesus’ road leads to the council, the Sanhedrin. He is tried by Religion and found guilty of blasphemy for telling the truth. He is the Christ and the Son of God, and yet these become Religion’s indictment against Him. And it would be blasphemy of the highest order, were it not true. There have been many religious leaders who have promised to show the way, but only One who claims to be the Way. There have been many religious teachers who purported to teach the truth, but only One who claimed to be the Truth. There have been many religious prophets who have promised life but only One who claimed to the Life. There have been many who came claiming to represent God and speak for Him but only One who dared claim to be the Son of God.
The road leads to Pontius Pilate and the Roman government. Civil authority, God’s “left hand.” It takes a detour to King Herod, the self-proclaimed “king of the Jews.” The counterfeit king meets the true King, and there is only mockery and scorn. A curious friendship is forged that day – Herod and Pilate. Bitter political enemies become friends over Jesus. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Jesus is tried before the civil authority; the charge is treason, setting himself up to be a king. It is punishable by crucifixion as both a warning and an example to anyone who would provoke an uprising against Caesar. Pilate is reluctant. He knows the principles of Roman justice, yet these principles are forsaken in view of the mob that clamors for Jesus’ crucifixion. How often it happens that expediency trumps political principle and good government gives way to mob rule! A terrorist named Barabbas (“son of the father”) is set free. The counterfeit “son of the father” walks away a free man; the true Son of the Father goes to His death. That is the exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness. We go free; Jesus goes to our death.
The road winds through the streets of Jerusalem. A Passover pilgrim, Simon of Cyrene, is forced to carry Jesus’ cross as the women wail and mourn. Yet Jesus, ever compassionate mourns for them, knowing the fate of Jerusalem. “If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” We know what they will do. History has recorded it.
The road leads to the place of the Skull, Golgotha. Three crosses. On his left and his right are thieves, terrorists, insurrectionists. They represent the world for whom Jesus died. They are you and me in our sin and unbelief. He prays for those who inflict His wounds. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” He prays for us this way too. The people on the road mock Him. No more Hosannas! now. No longer “save us” now “save yourself, if you are the Christ.” And He is, but to save Himself would not be the way of the Christ.
He pardons a dying thief. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He speaks those words to you in your death too. The sun darkens. The earth shakes. The temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. He shouts His last humble words. They are words of faith. He trusts His Father to HIs death. “Father into your hands, I commit my spirit.” His life is in His Father’s hands, as your life is in the Father’s hands. This is how you may die too, thanks to Jesus.
The road leads to a new rock tomb, a rich man’s tomb, the family tomb of Joseph from Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin no less. He had not consented to Jesus’ condemnation. God has His believers scattered everywhere. Joseph does the courageous thing and requests the body from Pilate, otherwise it would have been disposed of in a common grave. Jesus is buried. “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.”
And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Hosanna! In the name of Jesus, Amen.