|SECOND READING||Philippians 2:5–11|
Christ did not act to attain status and glory but was obedient to God even to the point of death. Following Christ’s example, we do not seek personal status or glory but care for others as God cared for us in Christ’s death.
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So, we have seen the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ. We have waved palm branches and heard shouts of “hosanna”. We have celebrated with the masses that our Messiah and King has entered our midst. But what is really going on here? Where is this headed?
Jesus chose some very interesting moves here. If he was trying to keep a low profile, he failed miserably. In fact, he did the exact opposite. At the time, what he chose to do could very well be seen as an act of war. If that seems a bit harsh, let me explain a few points of Roman culture that we don’t get from our readings on Palm Sunday. First of all, he rides in from the west (where the fabled Messiah, the Deliverer of Israel would come). Roman Caesars, however, entered from the east. He enters riding on a colt of a donkey while Roman dignitaries entered on large white steeds with a full military parade. Romans entered with trumpets while Jesus entered with shouts of “hosanna.” People watching Jesus enter waved their hands in the air, while spectators of the entrance of a Roman ruler would have been forced to their knees and bow. His entry into Jerusalem is challenging, literally, almost everything about the Roman Empire. He enters meekly, without a parade, and without heralds alerting people of his coming. Yet, he comes boldly. It’s almost as if we are seeing Jesus facing off against the oppressive Roman military — one man against thousands.
When people fought against the Roman military, the Roman’s didn’t play nice. They never offered a draw or a retreat. There was always a clear cut winner and that winner would be Rome. They were a well-oiled machine and they did not take kindly to rebellion. That was the reason the Roman Empire would eventually destroy the temple and scatter the Israelites about 20 years after Jesus entered the city on a donkey. And so we can see that this entry into the city and this event is not only as an act of celebration but that it’s also an act of rebellion and deliverance. People thought Jesus was coming to free the Israelites from Roman occupation and oppression.
So what would it mean, then, when Jesus faced trial and was found innocent by the Romans? What would it mean when religious leaders incited riots in order to have Jesus killed? What kind of King would be given a purple robe and crown as a mockery, be beating, whipped, and publicly humiliated? What would it mean when Jesus was carrying a cross through the streets of Jerusalem and publicly killed? It would mean that, once again, the Israelites were disappointed. It would mean that, once again, the remained under someone else’s control.
Perhaps the most ironic thing we can see in these events as they unfold is that many of these people, waving palm branches to welcome in a political Messiah, are certainly some of the same people who will eventually shout “Crucify him.” Jesus didn’t turn out to be who they wanted him to be. They wanted him to chase out the Romans, instead he chased out money changers in the temple. Instead of political freedom, he spoke of spiritual freedom. Instead of raising a sword and an army, he brought with him a ragtag bunch of fishermen and tax collectors. This isn’t what the people wanted.
The thing is, Jesus didn’t fit their description of what a Messiah would look like. He didn’t do what they wanted him to do. He didn’t follow the rules. Instead, he came to offer them what they needed. He came to free people from oppression of sin, not physical forces. Jesus came to die so that people may find life. And he came to save not just the nation of Israel, a select group of people, but all the world. He died to give all people life, even the ones shouting “crucify him” at the top of their lungs, even the guards who spat upon him and mocked him, and even you and me.
You see, Jesus came to take on the sin of all humankind forever. All humankind. Forever. That means you and me yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That means that junior high bully and that nice old couple you remember as a kid. That means the person at work or school who just drives you crazy and that means the people shouting “crucify him.” The weight of a seemingly endless supply of sin was placed on his shoulders. It drove Jesus to the cross and he died under all the judgment that you and I deserve.
I hope we know that’s not where the story ends, but let’s not rush out of this dark place too quickly. Too often we try to rush through things that we find unpleasant or painful. It’s like ripping a band aid off quickly because we’d rather just get it over with. But let’s wait for a bit and understand what happens here because without death, there can be no resurrection. Without Good Friday, there can be no Easter. Yes, it can be painful to see our Savior on the cross, but it is that pain and suffering that we truly see God’s love. What we are about to read together is often called Christ’s Passion. Passion comes from the Latin word “passio”, which means suffering. Christ’s passion for us is found in this suffering for us. To neglect this too much would be to ignore the greatest way God has ever shown humanity love. And now, as we hear and participate in that story, let’s see ourselves in this story. This isn’t just a historical narrative, it’s a larger picture about a debt that’s been paid. Amen.