Sermon :: April 9, 2017 – Palm Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
32As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’ ” 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

—–

Have you ever stood back from something in your life and thought, “Whoa. How did that happen? How did I get here?” It’s pretty common. I’ve talked with several people throughout my life that are actively working through this question: “how did I get here?” Sometimes, it’s after something wonderful – a wedding or the birth of a child – and the question takes on beautiful sound, recounting all the things that led to this beautiful, precious moment. Other times, this question comes only on the brink of something incredibly difficult, either personally or nationally – a divorce or breakup, an addiction, a bout of depression, a terror attack, an act of war – and the question is one of longing and of despair. Today, we have the latter. Today, we came in waving palm branches and singing praise to God. Today, we hear the death sentence for the man that we call Savior. And we’re left to ponder this question: how did we get here?

To answer this question, we need to look at what happened in the middle. We begin with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This entrance would have caused quite a stir, but people rode into Jerusalem by the thousands, each and every day. Plus, it was a festival, so even more people flocked to the capital of this occupied nation. The reason it was noticed is because it was a sign of protest. In essence, this parade was the antithesis, the opposite, of the Roman military machine that had invaded and occupied Israel in their quest for world domination. Jesus came in from the east, Caesar from the west. Jesus rode on a donkey or a colt, Caesar rode in a massive stallion. Jesus had an entourage of wandering peasants, Caesar with a full battalion of highly trained soldiers. Jesus was greeted with standing and waving, Caesar with forced kneeling. The very word “Hosanna” means “God, save us.” Jesus came into a city begging for redemption and salvation.

But instead of Jesus overturning the government, Jesus overturned the tables of the temple moneychangers. Instead of preaching the end of the military rule, he preached on obedience to God. In place of the political salvation people were crying out for, Jesus was more interested in their spiritual renewal. Just as Jesus has been doing all through Lent, Jesus defied expectations, defied the status quo, and people began to have their doubts. So, with pressure from so many places, the people around Jesus began to crack and crumble.

Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver from the temple priests, who did not like what they were hearing from Jesus. The Roman and Jewish authorities conspired to put him to death as a traitor and rebel. Peter denied Jesus three times, fearing that the fate of Jesus would also be his. And what began as shouts of “Hosanna” became shouts of “Let him be crucified.” Perhaps some of the same people that waved palm branches shook their fists. Maybe they were jaded by Jesus, so they joined in willingly, joyfully even. Maybe they, like Peter, were afraid to resist the mob. But the deed was done and now we’re left to ask the question: “How did we get here?”

But before we begin to scold them, before we think less of them we do not know, and before we ridicule them for their unfaithfulness, let us pause. It seems that fear and confusion and power have a way of influencing us and changing us, too. How many times have we stood in church, proclaimed the Jesus is Lord, sung praise to God, begged for salvation and healing, and then left the church to continue on as though nothing has happened. It’s so easy for us to follow their example, moving from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”, from “Jesus is Lord” to “Money is Lord” or “Safety is Lord” or fear or time or convenience. We do this all the time and I wish that I could say that I was any better, but I’m not. We are broken, and so we have to ask, “How did we get here?”

Despite all that points us to the contrary today, though, the gospel still remains. The good news is still there to be spoken and received. Jesus went to the cross rather than betray the Word of God, the word of life for all people. Jesus went to the cross and took on the wrath of sin and called out those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Before we move onto next week, before we move ahead to the end of the story, let’s sit with that a bit. We witness today, and indeed this Holy Week, the suffering servant, the Messiah who washes feet, the words, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” And we witness that love in action. We see a man on the cross, the ultimate act of love and forgiveness. Jesus died for the very people who put him there and Jesus died for you.

When we get to a point and we ask, “How did we get here?”, let’s remember this moment. Let’s remember how the pressures of sin can influence us, but let’s also remember the Jesus didn’t die in vain. Jesus died to redeem.

As I like to do, I wrote a song to help me process this movement, this transition from “Hosanna” to “Crucify”. I’ll share it with you now and I hope that the grace of God is felt in it. If even the people who went from “hosanna” to “crucify” are forgiven, then surely there is grace enough for all humanity.

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