April 17, 2011

Gospel of the Procession: John 12:12-19

Passion Reading: Matthew 26-27

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Quite naturally we cluck our tongues at Simon Peter, condemning him as a coward for saying to the servant girl, “I do not know the Man!” We know better. He does know the Man! And if you are anything like me, that is, if you too are a sinner, you say to yourself, “I would not have done that. Put me in that situation, and I would certainly say I know Jesus. I would identify with Him.”

But we are in that situation, every day. And not just when we have an opportunity to talk about Jesus with someone who is not His disciple. When someone angers us, and we respond poorly, we are in effect saying, “I do not know the Man!” For if we knew Jesus, we would listen to His Word, we would turn the other cheek, loving our neighbors, praying for our enemies. But we do not.

When you are not content with what you have, you say with Peter, “I do not know the Man!” When you look with longing at the body of one not your spouse, you say with Peter, “I do not know the Man! I am not His disciple.” When you condemn your neighbor, and regard yourself as better, you say with Peter, “I do not know the Man!” When you are more interested in updating your Facebook status than confessing your sins, you say with Peter, “I do not know the Man!” When you place more trust in the medicine that the doctor gives you than in the medicine of immorality that is our Lord’s Supper, you say with Peter, “I do not know the Man!”

And then when you pay more thought to the next round of elections than you do give to making “your calling and election sure” (2 Pt. 1.10), you put yourself in the crowd shouting, “We have no king but Caesar!”

And when you believe that it is a strong military that makes us secure, you say, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!”

For every mighty army eventually suffers defeat.

Every great ruler dies.

Every mighty empire that the world has ever known ends in ruin and decay.

Every ounce of pride and hubris that makes you puffed up; every act of disobedience and rebellion in your children; every nasty slur and ungrateful thought; every murderous wish and adulterous fantasy; every dream of a better family, more satisfying career, greater reputation, and abundant prosperity for your own benefit—each one of these things has its origin in the rebellion of our first parents which culminated in the pronouncement by our Creator that the earth would bring forth thorns.

So when the Messiah came, born of an obscure virgin from a remote province of the Roman Empire—when that Messiah came and exposed man’s religious efforts at self-justification as futile, when He refused to seek political office or military dominance as the solution to the Earth’s problems, when He demanded that man set aside his lust, pride, anger, greed, and covetousness and repent—then there is only one thing to do with such a Man. And so the representatives of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now twisted and corrupt, seize this man in the darkness of night, and hand Him over to the representatives of idolatry and arrogance, the Romans, and they take this Jesus and twist the thorns that the cursed earth had brought forth, twist them into a crown of mockery. They think it a joke, that His coronation is a charade and a farce.

But everything those thorns represented—the fall of man, turning away from God, embracing the devil’s lies—all of that comes crashing down upon the head of Jesus. And with each prick of the thorns, our Lord has jammed into Him every one of your sins. Every deception, every cunning word, every mockery that has crossed your lips, every leering gaze, every lascivious impulse, every angry honk of your horn, every shaking fist and middle finger you’ve offered to the world and back to God for all the benefits He has bestowed on you, every work of another you’ve claimed as your own—every action by which you have made yourself king or queen, even in your dreams, cuts into the God-Man’s sacred head. And as the blood of countless sins of billions of people streams down His bruised and battered face, our Lord says simply, “Forgive them.”

This is why He arranged it. For He did arrange it. The donkey does not appear by accident, but Jesus has made all things ready. He has planned this entrance into Jerusalem, lowly and humble. The very opposite of a show of earthly power. The day before Palm Sunday, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, calling him from the tomb after his body had already begun to decay. It reeked with stench and was foul, just as our whole human race has become. But this is why our Lord Jesus came; this is why God became man: He comes into our world of filth and decay, He comes to the foul stench of our sinful race not to condemn but to forgive, not to destroy but to redeem.

So calling Lazarus forth from the tomb, He then proceeds to be crowned with the thorns that our sins have brought, nail those sins in His own body to the tree, carry those transgressions with Him to the tomb, where He sleeps and keeps the Sabbath perfectly. And after journeying through this great and Holy Week, we will gather again on Resurrection Sunday to rejoice in the one thing that gives our sad and pathetic lives meaning, the one thing that will last beyond our corrupt and dying world: the resurrection of Jesus.

In Him your evil deeds are pardoned. Because of Him your dark conscience is absolved. Through Him your body too, though it decay and stink, will be brought out of the grave and made new and glorious, no longer subject to any decay. For you and all believers in Christ will joy in the life of God’s glorious kingdom, which shall have no end. And that one truth outshining everything else is what fills what remains of this short life with meaning for you. All there is now is to forgive, and live in love and gratitude, knowing that even the horrible things in your life God is working for good.

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Rev. Christopher S. Esget

Pastor, Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church

Alexandria, Virginia