Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11 15:1-47,
Matthew 26: 14-27:66 (The Passion Gospel
Observe the Cross of Jesus
We begin this morning the most sacred week of the Christian year. Upon hearing of the accounts of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the solemn reading of the Passion of our Lord, one is swept away by the sheer drama. It is also a time of the holiest week in the Jewish year. Historians estimate that there were over 100, 000 pilgrims present in Jerusalem besides its own residents. Looking at the events of this week one is convinced that it is “the week that changed the world.” Two separate groups entered Jerusalem on this day. One was the procession of Jesus from the east side of Jerusalem. Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives followed by a ragtag procession of cheering, adoring crowds made up of the lame, the blind, the children, and the peasants from Galilee and Bethany#. Jesus’ message was of the Kingdom of God and he healed, blessed and gave hope to the common people of Judea and Samaria. Those who were close to him saw him as “Messiah,” “Son of God” and “Savior”. For the oppressed people of Judea this lit a flame of hope in their hearts as they called to him: Messiah has come! He was their Moses and they believed he would deliver them from the bondage of Rome. They welcomed him into their holy city with great shouts of:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest heaven (Matthew 21:10).
The other procession was for Pontus Pilate. The Roman governor entered from the west side of Jerusalem. This regal procession was visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, metal helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on the gold. They made commanding sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. It began with the greatest of the emperors, Augustus, who ruled Rome from 31 BCE to 14 CE. The other Roman emperors carried the titles “son of God,” “Lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.” Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.# He was there to reinforce the authority of Rome as trouble was expected at Passover Feast. Jesus usually avoided pomp and glory, and recoiled from such religious smells and bells. But he let the crowd hail him “the son of David” holding palm branches in their hands. “The son of David” was a loaded title at a loaded place. The crowd was excited because it was rumored that a revolution might begin. They waved palms, the national emblem of freedom seekers. Those branches had the same effect as if they were Jewish flags. It looked for the entire world as if the King had arrived in force to claim his rightful throne. This sent a ripple of great anxiety among the religious elites who collaborated with imperial Rome.
The Jewish Sanhedrin called an emergency session raising a loud debate. Above the commotion, the high priest Caiaphas said: “You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11: 49-50, 53). They issued the following arrest warrant of Jesus:
Wanted: YESHU HANNOZRI
He shall be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor let him come forward and plead on his behalf. Anyone who knows where he is, let him declare it to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. #
The Passion narrative from the gospel according to Matthew makes it clear the authorities got what they wanted – or so they thought. They couldn’t have anticipated the aftereffects of Jesus’ death. The crowd was disappointed because Rome wasn’t overthrown under Jesus’ leadership. No one seemed to “get it,” although the prophet Isaiah had made it plain long before:
”Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Isaiah 53: 4-5.
Jesus had mixed feelings during the clamorous parade. St. Luke reports that as he approached the city he began to weep. He knew how easily a mob could turn. Voices who shout “Hosanna!” one week later shall shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Let us ask ourselves – what would I have done or said if I had been in that crowd?
We began our service with the triumphant entry of our Lord in Jerusalem. Everybody loves a winner. People in Jerusalem wanted him to be Messiah to free Israel from the Slavery of Romans. But, Jesus had a higher agenda-----to fulfill his Father’s will to free humanity from the power of sin and death. This week as we enter into the passion of our Lord, I invite you stay awhile with Jesus as the divine drama for the salvation of humankind unfolds. Come journey with him on the road to the cross. Hear the challenging words of Max Lucado:
You have seen it, you have worn it. Maybe you have even prayed
to it. But do you know it?
Any serious study of the Christian claim is, at its essence, a study
of the cross. To accept or reject Christ without careful examination of
Calvary is like deciding on a car without looking at the engine.
So take a good look at the cross. Examine this hour in history. Look at the witnesses. Listen to the voices. Watch the faces.
MOST OF ALL, OBSERVE THE ONE
THEY CALL THE SAVIOR.
Because what he did is the one thing that matters most of all.