Palm Sunday – Sunday of the Passion
April 1st, 2012
Palm Sunday and The Sunday of the Passion, a busy day for us. Let's consider our Lord's suffering according to Mark's Gospel, and take a verse by verse approach this morning. Follow along as we consider his “passion moments”:
1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.
They waste no time – first thing in the morning. Let's get this over with. Jesus is bound like a thug, though he willingly gives himself over to their wicked design. This day will bring many more bitter moments that Jesus could have avoided, but he suffers for you and me.
The puppet king of Caeser tries the King of the Jews and the King of Kings. The irony is thick. Everything that Pilate is not, Jesus is. But even for this weak man, Jesus would soon die.
3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Like a lamb before the slaughter, he is silent. Nothing he could have said would have mattered. Their course was set. But so was his. This was his plan. He used their wicked words, their false charges, like God so often uses evil for good. Pilate is amazed. But more amazing things are to come.
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
The Great Exchange. The criminal is freed. The innocent is punished, and slain. It doesn't take a theological rocket scientist to see in Barabbas every sinner and lawbreaker, including yourself. But Jesus takes our place. In the great injustice of it all, God's perfect justice is done. A murderer they save the prince of life they slay.
The leaders and the people alike are against him. There is no ally on this day for Jesus. The crowds that once shouted Hosanna are now an angry mob calling for his blood. The leaders of the Jews and Romans alike find enough common ground to destroy him. Jesus is truly alone, as alone as anyone will ever be. Even the Father is turning his back on him.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.
The irony is bitter. He really is a king. He really deserves a crown and scepter and throne. But the mockery just shows the ugliness of sin. And we are no better. Even our “harmless”, and “little” sins make a mockery of God, of Christ. As if his commands are a joke. As if his righteousness isn't serious.
But Jesus is suffering and dying even for these tormentors. Those who spit in his face. What sins could you commit that are too great to be forgiven? What dark evil in your closet of skeletons is not paid for here in these dark hours?
20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
It had to be crucifixion. The most bitter. The most painful. The most public and shameful. But what more fitting altar of sacrifice for the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world? There suspended between heaven and earth he would bridge the gap of sin between God and man. There held up for all to see, he would draw all men to himself. There, at the crossroads of all history the God-Man is the center of everything. We preach Christ crucified for sinners, and this is the point of it all.
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
An “innocent bystander”, but who's really innocent? Simon carries a cross for Jesus, who bears the cross for him and for all. Simon is compelled by the Romans, but Christ is compelled by holy love for you. Simon, like all Christians, carries a cross, but only Christ bears the punishment of it to pay for sin.
A fitting place for death to meet its death by the death of the Lord of Life.
This last small kindness offered to the condemned was a mild anesthetic. But Jesus would endure the full measure of suffering, nothing to take the edge off. No cutting corners when it comes to your salvation.
24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.
Fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament down to the last detail. Jesus is stripped not only of life, but also of clothing. He has nothing left but the sins of the world. No honor or dignity. Truly a man of sorrows.
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
He is “numbered with the transgressors”, and crucified with common criminals. They deserve it. He does not. But he who had no sin has become sin. He's now the biggest criminal of all. And all your crimes against God and man are on him. Here they will die. At the cross.
29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
The satanic voice of mockery reaches a crescendo. But he will raise the temple in a few days. And he will save others, and after dying, he will rise. He could come down from the cross in an instant. But even if he did, they wouldn't believe. Even if someone should come back from the dead, they wouldn't believe. Unbelieving sinners always reject and mock and shake their fist at God. Only through the gift of faith can we see the truth behind this ugly picture of suffering and shame.
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”
No, he's not calling Elijah, he's declaring the ultimate suffering. Not physical pain or emotional despair. This is far worse. In an unfathomable mystery of unimaginable bitterness, God the Father himself forsakes his own Son. You are dead to me. You are cut off. This is hell. This is what we deserve. This Jesus endures, so we never have to.
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
The King James puts it poetically, “he gave up the ghost”. He willingly died. Only he could give up his life. Now that all was accomplished, his suffering complete, he paid the wages of sin. And that loud cry we know from the other Gospels was the single word, “tetelestai”, or in English, “it is finished.” Well done, good and faithful servant of all.
38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The Old Covenant is now fulfilled in Christ. Access to God is no longer found in the Holy of Holies, but in Christ's holy, precious blood. We meet God at font and altar, in water and bread and wine. And even the Roman Centurion confesses, the first of many other Gentiles who would, this man was and is the Son of God.
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The women, who on Sunday Morning would be the first witnesses to resurrection. They serve him, even in death, who served them, especially by his death.
42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Even in burial, he fulfills the prophecy, buried in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. Jesus had no need of his own tomb, since the death he died was in our place anyway. So he is buried in our place. So he will rise to give us a place in his resurrection.
This Holy Week, ponder the passion moments. Reflect on your sin, and Christ's bitter suffering for you. Repent. And know how deep his love runs, deeper than death. And look forward to the glory of resurrection – his and yours. It's coming soon. In Jesus' name, Amen.