PALM SUNDAY/SUNDAY of the PASSION
28 March 2021
“Divine, Dramatic Irony”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Holy Week is the center of what can be called “The Christian Mystery.” It is not that Christians are mystics, that is, like people who sit on magnetic vortices seeking enlightenment as many do outside of Sedona, Arizona. We don’t climb high mountain peaks seeking wisdom from some swami ensconced in front of a cave. This mystery centers in Christ and his atoning work. The Greek word is μυστήριον, from which we get our English word mystery.
A mystery is not a riddle. A mystery is something too profound for human ingenuity. A mystery is something hidden. Paul wrote that man cannot get to know God by his own reason. [1 Cor. 2.14] Mystery transcends normal understanding. For example, our Lord often taught using parables. On the surface parables seem simple enough for a child to grasp, but it is clear from the Gospels that not even the disciples themselves could grasp the hiddenness of the parables. They could apprehend the simple story, but they could not grasp the profound truth the parables carried. Something much deeper, something hidden, was presented in plain view. It is a way of explaining the unfathomable.
The Gospel is often called a mystery by the Apostle Paul [Colossians 1.26-27; 2.7; Romans 16.25; Eph. 1.9; 3.4; 6.19; 3.3ff. 9ff; 5.32]. That he does nearly a dozen times. God’s plan of salvation is the mystery. What God was doing in the world, even in the Old Testament, was hidden from human understanding, yet it remained God’s work.
Today we have arrived at the beginning of the week that is full of unfathomable events. Our Lord’s triumphal procession was not what the people who celebrated it imagined it to be. They believed Jesus came to be the conquering hero over the Romans. They did not grasp the depths of the Mystery that he came to conquer the world’s real prince, the devil, by dying on a cross. While their words were completely correct, they invested them with a different meaning. Jesus had indeed come to save! He came to save the world from sin. That fact virtually no human being saw. The Mystery was too deep.
“Divine, Dramatic Irony” could be used to describe the Passion account. A literary definition of “Dramatic Irony” goes as follows: “Irony that is inherent in speeches or a situation of a drama and is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play.” [Dictionary.com].
There are persons in the Passion narrative who speak the truth but are completely unaware of its deeper, ultimate meaning. For example, the Evangelist John records the plot to kill Jesus after he raised Lazarus from the dead. Worried that religious leaders might lose their place of status and that the Romans would come and take away their nation, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said:
“You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. [Jn 11:49–53]
The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Jesus while hanging on the cross:
“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” [Mt 27:42].
Indeed it was true! There was no other way for the world to be redeemed than by Christ’s death to which he submitted according to the will of the Father. The religious leaders spoke the truth without realizing it.
The words of Isaiah [53.12] about his death with criminals is recorded in the Gospels:
And he was numbered with the transgressors;
And he bare the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. [KJV]
Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath over sin down to the last bitter dregs. The Father must go forward with this singular sacrifice. There was no other way. The religious leaders, the Romans, the mob, all conspire against the Lord and his Anointed, but they fail. At the service of Tenebrae on Good Friday we will hear the prophetic words of the Psalmist:
1 aWhy do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder,
And cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
The Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath,
And vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king
Upon my holy hill of Zion. (The Holy Bible: King James Version. Ps 2:1–6).
There on Golgotha is God’s King! God was carrying out the redemption of the world through these evil people. Satan was undone by his own allies.
Already at Christmas we were singing of the Mystery:
He is a servant, I a lord:
How great a mystery! [LSB 389.5]
The Incarnation, that God became man, is beyond human comprehension. The Transfiguration, too, offers a glimpse into the Mystery which cannot be fully comprehended:
And faithful hearts are raised on high
By this great vision’s mystery . . . [LSB 413.4]
Today we hear the particulars of the glory of Christ’s suffering and death. Here is the core of the mystery: that God the Father offered up his only-begotten Son to pay for the sins of the world. It is a time for solemnity, a time to contemplate quietly the price our redemption cost. It was the cross in all it hideous beauty.
O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear:
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of Glory now. [LSB 455.5]
It is Divine, Dramatic Irony because we know what it all means in spite of the circumstances. We know the outcome! None of the earthly actors could see it.
Like the parables Jesus told, these truths of the Kingdom are still hidden from unbelieving eyes and ears. At best, the world sees a tragic end to a good man, a prophet, but it cannot grasp the mystery of God’s plan of redemption, the depths of God’s love. This holy Mystery was once hidden, but God the Holy Spirit has revealed it in Christ, not merely in his words but especially in his active and passive obedience to the Father’s will. Mysteries must be uncovered.
Man cannot find his way back to God. Man must be converted. This Mystery is hidden until the Holy Spirit converts us all. No one can understand this plan of God, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians about his . . .
stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. [Col 1:24–26].
All of the hideousness of evil is displayed in the Passion narrative. The injustice of phony trials before both Church and State, the mercilessness of the mob in choosing a murderer instead of the Prince of Life, the nearly indescribable brutality of crucifixion, the mocking of the religious leaders as Jesus hung on the cross, the mocking of the two thieves crucified with him, the abandonment by Jesus’ own disciples who had pledged their lives to defend him. But the most horrific event came when the Father in heaven turned his back on his only begotten Son in his greatest need. Such was the hideousness of human sin that caused these events to play out. The cry of dereliction by Jesus in his dying moments speaks of no glory to the world.
No human being can plumb the depths of this divine Mystery. Yet, we who have been given faith by God the Holy Spirit see through these horrific events to the beauty of it all. There is Divine, Dramatic Irony because we know what it means. We see the salvation of the world accomplished! We see Satan defeated! We see an end to our alienation from God! We see an open heaven and the glory of everlasting life with our crucified and resurrected Lord! Only by faith can one grasp the Mystery of God’s eternal love for us.
Some talk of “fixing” the world, of making this a more just society, of righting every wrong, supposed and otherwise, but it is hideous foolishness because no ordinary human being can fix what is wrong with this world. Only Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, did that. There are no earthly utopias and no human being or government will ever be able to create one. All will fail miserably and those who believe them will be left in even greater despair.
But you know this Mystery! You see it with the eyes of faith. You see what God has revealed by means of these events. Only God could do this! Only Christ could make full atonement for our sin. Only he could make the full, final payment for our sin. Only he could restore us to the Father again. It is an incredible account of God’s love for this fallen world! It is “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” [Phil. 4.7]. It is a divine Mystery to be celebrated because God chose what the world despised and cast off, and made it an object of beauty. That’s Divine, Dramatic Irony!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.