Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 26-27
10 April 2022
Soli Deo Gloria!
Today marks the start of Holy Week. The Procession with Palms began it and then we moved into the reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew. Holy Week is focused on the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You also know something about a substitutionary death. You are accustomed to saying, “and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.” You know that he died in your place. He died because of your sins, not for your sins. Jesus died because you are a sinner. The sinless one died in place of the sinful one. It would be better to say, “Jesus died because of who I am, a sinner.”
Matthew is careful to provide adequate detail of the suffering and death of Jesus so that his readers will know that all of this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophets about his death. The Son of God was dishonored by being arrested. His accusers spit in his face, struck him, and slapped him while they mocked him. This came at the hands of his own people, the Jews. Then Pilate, a Gentile, had him scourged, which means that he was whipped with a cat of nine tails at least 39 times. He was further humiliated and mocked as the Roman soldiers dressed him as a king and knelt before him in order to make fun of him. They, too, struck him on the head. All of this before they crucified him on orders of Pilate who caved into the demands of the Jewish religious leaders. Even on the cross the crowds continued to mock Jesus, taunting him to come down from the cross, the soldiers joining in.
Jesus gave his back to the whips and his face to the blows, insults, mockery, and taunts. He did it willingly. He, as the Lamb of God, could have turned into the Lion of God, but did not. Why did he suffer all this disgrace? He would, by suffering all these things in our place, die in our place. The church father Origen said: “Truly he did not ‘die for us’ [Rom. 5.8] that we might not die but that we might not die for ourselves” [Ancient Christian Commentary. Ib. Matthew 14-28, p. 268].
What we witness, then, in Holy Week is the death that we deserved to die. We are witnessing the horrible death that sinners deserve. All of the things that happened to Jesus—the beatings, the mockery, the stripes, the humiliation—all these we deserved. When we view the scene it truly is aweful, full of awe. When Jesus suffers we are witnessing the suffering we deserved. When Jesus is scourged we are witnessing our own scourging. When Jesus is crucified we are seeing our own crucifixion.
Jesus dies the death of sinners. Jesus dies your death. He suffers your punishment. It is not his own because he deserves none. He suffers, he dies, so that you do not die for yourself. Do you understand what that means? Do you understand that you would indeed die for yourself if Jesus did not die for you, in your place? The prophet Ezekiel says a number of times:
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20, ESV)
There is no escaping death for sin unless a righteous one takes the place of the guilty.
Dying for yourself is a way of saying that you would die in your sins. There is no price that you could offer for yourself other than everything that you are and have, your very life. Money and wealth do not enter in at all. It is life for life.
And so, Holy Week is the most solemn week in the Christian liturgical year. We contemplate the death of Christ, not as a tragedy, but as the Gospel, the good news. The day on which Jesus died is forever known in English as Good Friday, but the mood is somber. Is it somber because Jesus dies? No, it is somber because you should reflect that you should be there suffering and dying. It is what you deserve. It is what you have earned by your sin, and it matters not how many sins you have, it matters only that you are in the state of sin by virtue of your birth as a child of Adam and Eve.
Holy Week should bring you to repentance as you see how seriously God takes your sin. Too many people think that God simply dismisses it as though it does not matter, but that is horribly wrong. If God the Father sends his only-begotten Son, this Son he has twice from heaven called “my beloved Son,” to become incarnate; if God the Father has sent this Son to die innocently for the ungodly, then surely you must realize that God can never minimize your sin as though it did not really matter.
Some say that a loving God would never do such things to people. They object when tragedies strike and horrible things happen and say that a loving God would never permit such evils to happen. This minimizes sin, saying that it really does not matter after all. Is God the cause of evil? No, he is not the cause, but he is the remedy. And the remedy is that at the crux of things [and that word crux is the Latin word for cross] is where God deals with sin. There on the cross, in the person of his only-begotten Son, God’s justice is done. And his justice is done once, for all time, never more to be repeated. Jesus dies, shorn of all dignity and power, helpless and despised by all those for whom he dies. It is an utterly amazing scene.
He does it so that it shall never happen to you, that is, that all of God’s wrath and anger over your sin does not fall on you. When Jesus came into this world as a true man, he came to take your place by his whole life. Especially he came to take your place in his death. He suffers as you deserved to suffer, as one who has been completely abandoned by the Father in heaven.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
And Jesus cried out once more “with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” [Matthew 27.50].
And it was done, the redemption of the world. Forever. Your death happened there because you were baptized into the death of Christ [Romans 6.3]. His death was your death. You died there and all your sins were buried with Christ. You receive instead his righteousness and life. And because you have received his life for your death, your life should be one of continual repentance and thanksgiving.
Dear friends, Holy Week is a time to contemplate what your Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished in your place. It is a time to understand that he has accomplished everything for you. It is a time to reflect that Christ’s death is “Your Death.”
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.