“It is all so wrong. This is not how the story should go. Betrayal, denial three times and now: public torture. Crucified along the main road into Jerusalem, he was a teacher, a rabbi now naked and dying between two criminals. It’s not fair. It’s not right. This is not justice. It is humiliation, dehumanization. It is to literally strip every shred of dignity, of grace, of life, of God from this man from Galilee.”
A Palm Sunday sermon by Pastor Bob
April 1, 2012
Text: Matthew 27:11-54; Philippians 2:11
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
[Bring t.v. remote]
–This is an important electronic component in my house.
–It is the t.v. remote.
–And let me show you my favorite button on the remote.
–It is the fast-forward button that advances my prerecorded shows by 30 seconds a push.
–I especially like to do this when I am watching Bear Grylls and his survival show, Man Vs. Wild.
–I mean, I’m up in some exotic location with Bear Grylls, and we’re about to cook that snake we caught in the afternoon that almost bit the cameraman, and suddenly, our exciting adventure is interrupted by a commercial for men’s deodorant.
–Now, I’m all for deodorant, but not while cooking snake.
–So I quickly grab the remote, with almost cat-like reflexes, and push the button that races me ahead of even the longest car insurance commercial.
–Until, once again, I am back with Bear.
–And he and I are now settling down for a comfortable sleep on some suspended bamboo poles and banana leaves covering us in case it rains.
–And you know it will rain.–This morning we celebrate not just Palm Sunday, but Passion Sunday.
–It is the ultimate fast-forward.
–One minute you are caught in the fanfare of Jesus entering Jerusalem amidst shouts of Hosanna in the highest.
–And the next moment, you are catapulted to the scene where Jesus is before Pilate and the people now surround Jesus with shouts of “Crucify, Crucify him!”
–Then the cross, and it is done.
–Now, when I was a young pastor (and I suppose that some of you might still consider me a young pastor), I used to think that Palm/Passion Sunday was made for those people who were too lazy to go to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.
–So that if they missed these services, at least they didn’t go directly from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and miss the whole point of Jesus being crucified.
–So this morning, I would like to go into that space between palms and crosses, between shouts of glory and shouts of derision.
–If we miss this place, then we have fast-forwarded too far.
–If we miss this place, then we miss the power of this gospel that claims us, crucifies us, and raises us anew.
–Our gospel story actually starts with what happened last week in the Gospel of John: Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
–And now, the wheels really begin to turn, because the religious leaders become not only determined to kill Jesus, but Lazarus as well.
–You know Lazarus, this dangerous senior citizen, this threat to his species.
–How dare he live again. He had his chance; he should have stayed dead, because now everyone is turning to this Jesus of Nazareth.
–If Jesus can raise the dead, what is left for God to do?
–It is blaspheme, unnatural, fearful beyond imagination.
–And so our religious leaders start to hatch a plan.
–They must find and catch this one who is so persuasive to the common people.
–The one who teaches them, feeds them, and dares to heal them.
–If he attracts too many people, he will become too powerful.
–And things are bad enough as it was with Roman rule becoming steadily more oppressive, more demanding.
–What would Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect say if he saw the people being led by this imposter Messiah?
–They could not afford such a catastrophe.
–It was blaspheme; it was insurrection.
–Yes . . . insurrection
–But before the religious leaders can fully plan, the most unexpected event happened.
–Instead of pursing Jesus into the farthest reaches of Galilee, and away from the center of it all, Jerusalem
—Jesus came to them.
–It was a sight out of the Old Testament.
–Jesus riding through the city gates riding on a donkey like some King.
–It was the last straw.
–King, King indeed. He behaved more like a prophet than a king.
–A prophet of old as he drove out the moneychangers on the Temple grounds.
–Was this Elijah? Was this John the Baptist in new clothes?
–But this was no prophet.
–And they could not afford to have another Jewish King.
–Herod the Great was such a disaster. And now his sons, were no better.
–These Herodians were ruthless, and, if truth be told, barely Jewish.
–No, they did not need another King in Israel.
–So, here was the irony of it all.
–Here was a man who spoke not only the truth, but spoke with authority.
–Here was the real Messiah, yet the Jewish people were not ready.
–Here was the Son of God, yet the world would only reject him and ultimately kill him.
–How could that tragedy be? Do you ever wish you could fix it? Do you ever wish you could hit the “fast-forward” button and skip to the end?
–To the smell of lilies that test our allergies, and not the smell of death that stops us in our tracks.
–Yet this is where the gospel must go.
–It seems inevitable. Something is terribly wrong. Here, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the heir of King David’s legacy, the fulfiller of all of scripture, is thrown down, beaten, stripped of his clothes.
–What in the world is wrong with these people? How can they do such things? Is it cultural? Are they mad? Or, are they caught up in something that possesses them that is not of God?
–I’d like to think that somehow, we would be immune to such intoxication.
–That somehow, if we were in that crowd, that throng that surrounded Jesus that day that we would act differently.
–That when we were presented with the choice of saving the life of Barrabas or the life of Jesus, our choice would be so clear.
–That we would have the courage to stand up against our friends, our family, against all of Israel, all of the world, and say, “He was innocent.”
–What is it about us, when we lose ourselves in a crowd, when we follow like sheep, when we not only turn away from the values we have been taught, but from love, even life?
–Are we any different than those people gathered two thousand years from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate the festival of Passover?
–Remembering when the Angel of Death swept past blood stained doors of trembling Jewish families.
–And now they were caught up in a new Passover, and the Angel of Death would claim not the first born Egyptians, but one man…the lamb of God.
–It is all so wrong. This is not how the story should go. Betrayal, denial three times and now: public torture.
–Crucified along the main road into Jerusalem, he was a teacher, a rabbi now naked and dying between two criminals.
–It’s not fair. It’s not right. This is not justice. It is humiliation, dehumanization. It is to literally strip every shred of dignity, of grace, of life, of God from this man from Galilee.
–King? King of the Jews? What a mockery that sign was to the one nailed just below it.
–Yet in its insidiousness, it spoke the truth.
–In its blatant lie came forth a Kingdom of God that could not be held back.
–Friends, as you move into this Holy Week, you are literally stepping on sacred ground.
–I invite you to share a meal together on Maundy Thursday.
–To gaze into the eyes of Christ on a cross on Good Friday.
–And, if you dare, venture into the most sacred moment of the Church, come Saturday evening, with darkness and light.
–Come and see. All is ready.
–Grab your remote control, and just hit “play.”
Every Sunday morning you will find published here notes for the sermon my friend Pastor Bob will that morning be giving at the church he serves in San Diego.