Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 50:4-9a
Second Lesson Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel Lesson Matthew 27:11-66
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Matthew 27:11-66]
It’s amazing how people viewing the same event can come up with such different conclusions. The crowds cheering Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem clearly saw him as their greatest hope; as the one who’d save them from hunger and sickness and persecution. They even shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” You know what hosanna means… it means ‘save us’.
But the Pharisees didn’t see it that way. They didn’t see Jesus saving anyone. They saw Jesus as a dangerous man who needed to be stopped; a renegade who’d lead the people to destruction … and carry the Pharisees and Sadducees down with them. They saw what the crowds saw, but they came to the opposite conclusion. And although, at first, they didn’t seem to know what to do about it; they eventually figured out how to rid themselves of this Jesus.
How did they turn these enthusiastic crowds against him? How did the Pharisees and Sadducees get the crowd that had been following Jesus ever since he raised Lazarus from the dead, shouting Hosanna to the Son of David, into a crowd shouting crucify him only one week later?
How? It was as simple as asking: “Who does he think he is?” They said: “We know him, he’s Joseph’s son, the carpenter from Galilee. When’s the last time anything good came out of Galilee? He’s a troublemaker that’s bent on starting a revolution! He’s a subversive that’ll set the Romans against us and destroy the kingdom! And worst of all, he hangs out with sinners and tax collectors! What prophet would do that?” They used the same tactics Satan used in the garden. They used doubt.
But, still others in the crowd argued: “God is with him! He’s a great healer, a great miracle worker, a great prophet. No one can do the things he does unless he comes from God! He’s a son of David, the son of David that we’ve been waiting for all these many years! He must be the Messiah!”
But the Pharisees countered, “How can you be sure?” The Pharisees called him a sinner. They pointed to the evidence. He sat with sinners, he was welcomed into their homes, and he even ate with sinners. He didn’t seem to concern himself with purity rituals; he allowed himself to be put in positions that guaranteed that he would be unclean, and then he didn’t follow the rules to restore his purity.
Obviously he was not from God. He didn’t fit the Pharisaical definition, in fact he looked radically opposed to the Pharisaical definition of a man of God; and he definitely wasn’t the Messiah.
The Romans didn’t much care what the Jews thought of Jesus; but they certainly would’ve agreed that he was no Messiah. The Romans called him a fool. Only a fool would stand there silently in front of the governor as a list of charges was read accusing you of everything from treason to blasphemy. An innocent man would’ve defended himself. An innocent man would’ve presented his side of the story, or at least produced an alibi, or witnesses.
No, this man was a fool. No way he could be from God. He didn’t fit the Roman definition, in fact he looked radically opposed to the Roman definition of a god; and he definitely wasn’t the Jewish Messiah.
But, his followers called him the Messiah. They pointed to his miracles. They pointed to his teachings, and his obvious, clear fulfillment of scripture. He spoke with such authority. He spoke like no one before him; and even though he never spoke against the government, it was so obvious that he was just the kind of leader that Israel needed to restore its rightful place in the world, no longer under the tyranny of foreign powers.
They pointed to his Messiah-like qualities; every one of them prophesied in scripture: removing sickness, and not just any sickness, but those really dreaded ones like leprosy, and demon possession; he removed hunger from the starving, he even called himself the bread of life and he said he had living water that would end thirst forever. Surely he was the Messiah!
Who did they think he was? He was someone who could fix all their problems, and that’s what they were looking for. They were looking for a miracle worker that could fix all the world’s ills; that was their idea of a Messiah, a universal healer, an all inclusive provider, and a dynamic world leader all rolled up into one great and powerful man.
All too often, that’s the way it is with us; that’s what we’re looking for too. They were looking for someone who worked miracles. When we finally get around to praying isn’t it all too often because we’ve reached the point where we have no way out; the point where it would take a miracle to get us out of our troubles?
They were looking for someone who could successfully lead them to freedom. Don’t we often pray that he would give us success, independence and freedom? They were looking for a secular Messiah, someone who could rescue them from the woes of the world … and so are we.
He just doesn’t fit into our preconceived notion of ‘Messiah’. He’s too humble. His whole life was one of humility, from birth to death. He didn’t even defend himself; not by preventing his own arrest, not by responding to false accusations, not by stopping his flogging and the humiliating mockery, not even by preventing his death by crucifixion. He didn’t act like the conquering hero we picture the Messiah to be.
We can’t see who he really is. It’s beyond our grasp. Because we live in this world of sin, we can’t fathom it; this vision of pure love, pure forgiveness. What we can see is only a tiny glimpse of reality. And even that tiny glimpse comes only as God chooses to reveal himself to us.
And this is what the glimpse shows us: we’re brought to the cross by the Holy Spirit as he helps us begin to grasp what it means that this man, Jesus, is true God, God’s only begotten Son; to begin to grasp what it means when we say that Jesus Christ is the world’s Messiah. Only at the cross, as we see the God-man, the sinless One, suffering and dying for our sins, suffering and dying in our place can we acknowledge who he truly is; and in his death even the world acknowledges him.
At his death, the earth quaked in shock, the sky was black with despair, and the earth gave up its dead. At his death, death was conquered forever. At his death, sin and the author of sin were defeated and all of God’s creation sighed in relief.
At the cross all doubt is crushed. No one can question, no one can ask, “Who does he think he is?” At the cross, this man, this Jesus of Nazareth was without a doubt, certainly and clearly the Son of God! At the cross we see clearly that God came down from heaven and walked the earth with us. This God-man carried our sins to the cross where he suffered and died for us, and this only Son of God rose again on Easter Day for us.
He made our salvation certain for us … and no one saw it coming. No one could picture what it really meant for him to be our Messiah, to be the Son of God. No one could fathom the fact that he didn’t come just to make the world physically right, but to bring us true peace with God …. and he did it!
Now, the Holy Spirit has revealed him to us through water and his holy word. Now, he reveals himself to us in the bread and wine of his Holy Supper. Now, nothing can hide him from us. We see. By faith, the gift that God gives us, we can see the glory of God shining forth from the cross; clearly … brightly … for the light of the world himself is there, with us.
How do you see it? Or better, who do you see? He’s our Savior, our Jesus, our Messiah. He’s our Emmanuel, God with us, now and forever! Amen.
In Christ’s service,