Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
The Passover is quickly approaching and Jerusalem is beginning to swell with people, making it even more crowded than normal. People are visiting the marketplace, buying the items necessary for the Passover meal and for their sacrifices at the temple. Everyone is in Jerusalem, that is, everyone except for Jesus and the disciples.
For three years, everything has been leading up to this. Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem, and there was nothing that anyone could do to set His face towards anything else. Jesus and His disciples make their way into Jerusalem, and the people have heard all about it. They have heard how this man named Jesus, a miracle worker, a prophet, a teacher, the son of a carpenter, maybe even the long-awaited Messiah, has set His eyes on Jerusalem and the people flood the streets in anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. With palm branch in hand, they cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
Do the crowds even know what they just said? They cried out “Hosanna!,” literally, “help” or “save, I pray.” Do they need help? Do they need saved? Do they even know what it is that just came from their mouths? This is their plea for divine help or deliverance. This is found frequently in Psalm 113-118, the psalms for morning prayer. Is this a crying out to God or do they know something more about Jesus than what meets the eye?
When Jesus decides to act, things happen. In this case, it is the beginning of the end. John records for us, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” Prophecy has been fulfilled. The King is coming, or rather, the King is here and He’s been here for the last 33 years or so; it was just that the people didn’t recognize Him as the King He was or that they didn’t want to recognize Him as King. Whether or not you believe is irrelevant – the King is here and He’s got some work He needs to do.
As the days go by, things begin to escalate. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel for today, it is recorded, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.””
Things are beginning to fall into place for the chief priests and the elders. Jesus will be brought to justice for His heresy. Once He’s out of the picture, there won’t be anyone to contest their authority and everything will go back the way it was before Jesus showed up on the scene three years earlier. At least, that’s how the chief priests and the elders see things working out.
Everything that happens from this point on is according to plan, Jesus’ plan, that is. The religious leaders are merely spectators at this point, for it is Jesus who is calling all the shots. In fact, it’s been Jesus who has been calling all the shots from the very beginning.
As Jesus enters into the events of Holy Week, there is no shortness of busyness. He is anointed by the woman at the house of Simon the leper. Judas makes plans to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the equivalent of the price of a slave. He celebrates the Passover with the disciples, institutes His Holy Supper and is betrayed by Judas, one of His own disciples. Peter claims to never fall away from Jesus, as does all the disciples, despite Jesus’ words: “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” All of that happens within a span of a few days, and we’re not even to Friday yet!
When Friday rolls around, Jesus stands trial at the hands of Pontius Pilate, He is charged and found guilty. He is beaten and scourged and hung on the cross, only to be mocked and cursed by the people whom He came to save. And then, as the day progresses, Jesus dies and is buried.
That is what Jesus is all about. That’s what the cross is all about. In service to you, the Savior suffers far more than physical torment and death. He suffers His Father’s judgment for your sins and for the sins of the world. He suffers hell there for you. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down His life for His friends,” He once told His disciples, and there is no greater love or service than His cross in your place. Do not miss, by the way, that the Father is serving you at the cross, too: for rather than judge you for your sin, He gives His Son in your place, for you.
That is your Savior—the Son of God who makes Himself of no reputation and becomes obedient to death on the cross for you. By His death, you have life. By His grace, you are now set free to serve others—you are set free from sin to serve as God created you to.
Through the life of Christ and His Passion, we have received life – life that came at an expense – the death of Christ. The King of the Jews, who “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross,” died so that all of creation would be reborn in Him, purged from death and made “good” in the eyes of God. This was the way that creation was meant to be and what took place at our Lord’s Passion was necessary for creation to be restored. Today is not a time to focus on the brutality of Christ’s death or death itself, but to focus on what that death brought about – the dying of death and a restored creation. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.