Palm/Passion Sunday, 2016, Bunker Hill
Phil. 2:5, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…
This week, in the drama of our salvation, Jesus stands at center stage. Sunday, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem hailed with Hosannas. Jesus teaches in the temple. Thursday, Jesus institutes Holy Communion at the Passover meal. Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane. Friday, Jesus on trial. Jesus stumbles under his cross. Jesus crucified. Jesus dies. Jesus buried in a borrowed tomb. Sunday, Jesus, no longer there, but risen.
However, we also see minor characters out on the edges of the stage that move in and out of the story. These curious characters are purposely placed to point us to the crucified Christ.
I draw your attention to the Betrayers: Judas and Peter. An odd couple. Both disciples of Jesus. Both were at Jesus last supper. Both betrayed him within hours of that meal. When the test of their faithfulness was most severe and the cost of their discipleship was highest, both Judas and Peter failed.
Look at Judas over there in the colonnade of the temple, meeting with agents of the high priest, while his Master teaches openly in the temple courts. He’s about to strike a business deal. “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” To Judas, his Savior was worth thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. To the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive oil he was worth everything. Jesus said of her, “She has done a beautiful thing to me. She has prepared me for burial.” To Jesus, you are worth everything. He gave his all for your sake. He paid the price not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood. What is Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, worth to you?
Listen to Peter, at the Last Supper, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” See Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, declaiming with curses and oaths, “I do not know the Man.” Listen, to the slap delivered to the face of our blindfolded Savior, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Listen, to the rooster crowing. See Peter weeping.
Judas and Peter, both betrayers of Christ. Both deniers of Christ. Both deeply regretful. Judas spoke for both of them when he said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But from there their paths diverged. Judas went and hanged himself. Peter’s sorrow led him to accept Jesus forgiveness. When we succumb to betraying the Lord for far less than thirty pieces of silver do we take the path of despair or the path of repentance leading to God’s forgiveness?
Look over here, we have the Condemners, Caiaphas the high priest, and Pilate, the Roman governor, behold power and corruption, weakness and dereliction of duty. See Caiaphas, the spiritual leader of God’s people, leading the show trial. Hear the irony in his demand of Jesus, born of the Holy Spirit and of Mary to save His people from their sins, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” He wants God to swear on a stack of bibles that he is God. And when Jesus answered that he would see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven, Caiaphas tore his robes. When God declared that He was God, Caiaphas, called it, “Blasphemy.” His coconspirators agreed, “He deserves death.”
But Caiaphas must turn to the Roman governor for the death penalty. Cast your attention on Pilate. What is Pilate to do? The man brought to him is guilty of nothing. However, a riot is about to break out. The keeper of the peace of Jerusalem has a way out. Offer them the choice of the notorious criminal Barabbas or Jesus, who is called Christ. But the crowd chooses the wrong man. Jerusalem, city of peace, prefers a disturber of the peace over the God’s Prince of Peace. “What shall I do with the Jesus?” pleads Pilate. “Let him be crucified.” To save the peace he released the criminal and sent the innocent One to a criminal’s death. He washed his hands of the man’s blood, while the people chanted, “His blood be on us and our children.”
Jesus, blood was indeed on the people, their children and on Pilate, as well as on us and our children. With Jesus’ blood upon us, we the guilty, are washed clean. His blood is shed, even for those who called for his crucifixion.
Now look at Barabbas the Murderer, walking away a free man, while the Man who could free him from the prison of his sins is held prisoner, and delivered for crucifixion. See Simon, a tourist from North Africa, standing along the way as Jesus carries his cross to the place of the Skull. When Jesus stumbles, the soldiers conscript Simon. “Hey you, pick up the cross.” We don’t know how the passion of our Lord affected Simon or Barabbas. Whether as an innocent bystander or a jailed criminal, the path of God’s Son may cross ours at the most unexpected moments. How will we react when freed from our prisons? How will we react when we are drafted to carry a cross?
The psalmist writes, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” How true, how true. His disciples had eaten his bread and then betrayed, denied and fled from Jesus. In their place two other condemned men, robbers become his close companions.
At the end of his life, Jesus dies alongside two convicted brigands. At the end of his life, Jesus faces a virtually unanimous public shaming, a veritable consensus of his guilt. We however know how the story ends. We know that Good Friday becomes Easter Sunday, that death does not have the final word but that life reigns through the resurrection. On Palm Sunday, all indications are that Jesus is guilty, that Jesus deserves the shame of the cross. Easter is the great proclamation of Jesus’ innocence and of God’s mission fulfilled, finding us not guilty.
Does anyone among all the actors on the Holy Week stage have the mind of Christ among themselves? Jesus is not wholly bereft of friends in the moment of darkness. A number of women looked on from a distance. They had followed him from Galilee. Even now they ministered to him with their presence in the midst of the violence. Other witnesses emerge upon whom the light of recognition has shined in this dark hour. Roman soldiers, ones who would have played a role in his crucifixion, see that Jesus is no mere criminal. Filled with awe they confess, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
As Good Friday concludes two more enter the scene. Joseph of Arimathea gives Jesus body a temporary home, in his unused tomb. “He rolled a great stone over the entrance…and went away.” As if this wasn’t enough, Pilate dispatched soldiers to guard the place. They sealed the tomb and stood guard. It all sounds so final.
The stage is set for the dawn of the first day of the week and the events that caused an earthquake that changed the world. A New Week. Making us new creations. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. Marvel. Be amazed. Its too good to be true, but it is. Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus. Follow him.