Hail, King Jesus!
St. Matthew 27:11-54 (3/29/15)
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Palms and Passion. They hardly seem to go together. Palms are for victory and triumph. Passion means suffering and death. Shouts of Hosanna! and cries of Crucify! They don’t fit. Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week, a week of contradictions and paradoxes that end with a death and a burial.
Even though Jesus predicted it at least three times and told His disciples plainly that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise, they didn’t believe it. Things were going too well. Jesus was popular and powerful. The moment was right. The kingdom God on earth was within reach. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem atop that donkey and the people cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” they were familiar messianic lines from Psalm 118. This is how you greeted the king as he rode into the city: with tree branches and palms and coats laid out on the road. Hail King Jesus! Now let’s get this show on the road and bring the kingdom of God to the earth.
Palms are a sign of victory and triumph. In the book of Revelation, the worshippers of heaven wave palm branches and declare the victory of Christ. I’m sure those people waving their palms and shouting Hosanna to Jesus were expected big things: a revolution, the kingdom of God on the earth, Israel back on the map again, the Son of David on His rightful throne reigning supreme.
But it didn’t work out that way. There is conspiracy and bribery and betrayal. Jesus is arrested and tried before the religious and civil courts in a mockery of the vaunted Roman system of justice. He’s a blasphemer, they cried. He calls Himself the King of Jews they charged. He’s the Son of God in the flesh. He’s the Messiah of Israel, the fulfillment of Moses and prophets. The verdict from both Religion and the State is the same: guilty – guilty of blasphemy, for He called Himself the Son of God, and guilty of treason, for He made Himself a king. This is how the world welcomes its Savior…not with Hosannas and palm branches but with shouts of Crucify Him!
Through it all, Jesus is silent, like a lamb before the slaughter. He speaks no word in self-defense. His silence appears weak, but it is the silence of strength. He knows where He is going. He knows what He is doing. This is His Passion to do, and in dying He obtains the victory for us all.
There is also a swap, an exchange of prisoners: Barabbas for Jesus. Barabbas’ name means “son of the father.” Perhaps it was a name he took on when he became a revolutionary. Don’t think of Barabbas as some common criminal or as the Mel Gibson movie depicted him, as a drooling, raving maniacal killer. Barabbas was a key figure in a recent insurrection. He was a terrorist, a jihadist, one who would use force, kill if necessary, to purge the land of the Roman infidels.
So which will it be: Barabbas, the son of the father, or Jesus, the Son of THE Father? The world picks Barabbas. The world picks Barabbas every time, because the world thinks the way Barabbas thinks: kill or be killed; live by the sword or die by the sword.
The uncomfortable truth is that Barabbas is us. You are Barabbas, an insurrectionist against God’s kingdom, a rebel against the rule of God, a sinner. What happens on Pilate’s stage is an enactment of what happens on Jesus’ cross: the murderer goes free, the Innocent One goes to His death. The sinner is pardoned, the Sinless One condemned. Christ was made Sin for us. He is your sin, and you in Him are His righteousness.
Christ is robed in purple, crowned with thorns, mocked, spit upon, and beaten. This is how the world welcomes the King of kings. It’s the only time in the Gospel where Jesus is hailed as a king; it’s the only time he wears the purple of royalty, the only time when He is crowned. His throne is a cross. The charge against Him proclaims the truth: The King of the Jews. He is mocked by those crucified with Him, by the religious bystanders and passersby. This is religion and politics, the twin beasts of power, at their worst, turning against the Christ, the King, the Lord, the Savior.
There is darkness from Noon to three. In the darkness, Jesus prays Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” It is the psalm of the forsaken sufferer. He asks the “why” question we all ask in our suffering, and in response He hears the awful silence of His Father. Where is He in His time of need? Ironically, the One who so clearly and thunderously declared Jesus to be His beloved Son in His Baptism is now silent.
They give Him wine-vinegar to drink; it is a courtesy to the dying man. Jesus spoke of His death as a cup from which He must drink. And now He drinks of the sour wine of our Sin and the Law’s wrath. The people thought He was calling for Elijah, who was supposed to come before the great day of the Lord. Maybe they held out hope for a last minute rescue, Elijah swooping down from heaven in a fiery chariot to rescue this Jesus from the cross. But there is no Elijah, there is no voice from heaven, there is no Spirit descending, there are no legions of angels to tend to Him… Only Jesus bearing the Sin of the world.
He dies with a loud cry. To read it in the Gospels, it reads like an exorcism, what Jesus did with all the demons. This is the final exorcism of the world. It’s as though everything that Jesus had done, indeed, everything that had gone wrong with the world was now drawn into Jesus and with a loud cry He puts it all to death in His death.
The curtain of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest is torn violently in two from top to bottom, just as the heavens were torn violently open when Jesus’ was baptized. The time of the temple was done. The purpose of the temple was fulfilled. The new and final temple is this crucified Body, the new and final sacrifice, His Body and Blood.
A centurion, one of the soldiers, sees and believes. “Truly this man was the son of God.” All through the Gospels this is a secret; no one is supposed to say it out loud. “Tell no one,” Jesus insisted. But now, here, in the darkness, in death, there on the cross, the secret is out, the mystery revealed: This is the Son of God. If you want to know what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God then look at Him on the cross. This is where He is most Son of God, most Lord, most King, most Savior.
This is the last the world gets to see of Jesus. He would appear for forty days to over 500 disciples and all the apostles, and then He disappeared. The world would not have the privilege of seeing Him. The world will see Him again enthroned in splendor and majesty, but for now, the view “from below” of King Jesus is crucified. That’s the image He would set before your eyes.
He is buried in haste. The time was short. The day is almost over. The Sabbath was about to begin, the high Sabbath of the Passover. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Council who had convicted Jesus, as disciple in secret, steps forward to receive the body which otherwise would have been thrown into the dump. One wonders: what did Joseph do as the Council convicted Jesus of blasphemy? Did he vote “no”? Did he abstain? Was he silent? There comes a time when we must “take courage” and stand up before the world and lay claim to the body of Jesus. That time is now.
The Creed summarizes it so succinctly: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.” All of this was to save you, to rescue you from the power of Sin, Death, and the Law’s condemnation. You were the joy set before Him. You were the object of His passion to save. All this He did that you may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Never was there such a King. Never was there such love. Never was there such a Passion. Hail King Jesus! Hosanna in the highest!
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.