Preached April 17, 2011
St. Matthew 27:1–54
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the fast moving, final week of His life. In our Gospel lesson this morning, we heard the whole Passion Story related according to St. Matthew. As the week progresses, we will hear it related by each of the other evangelists, each with a different insight, a different point of view.
This past Sunday, the focus was on the doctrine of the Cross as the sacrifice for our sin and the basis for our sanctification, the work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross for our salvation. Today we shift our attention more towards the Person of Christ, the Divine Sufferer, as we try to learn how to be more like Him. He is the ultimate example for us of godly life and the ideal of our sanctification.
In the physical events of the week ahead, the body of Christ is to suffer all manner of grievous injury. The torn body becomes for us the visible sign of the inner holy mind. We aspire particularly to the humility and patience seen in the mind of Christ. It is not ours by nature, but it can be ours by grace if we come to see its beauty as shown to us by the Holy Ghost.
The humility of Jesus Christ is of His most fundamental nature. Recall first that He existed with God the Father on the Throne of Heaven from before the beginning of Creation. He is of exactly the same substance as God the Father, without any difference of inequality. As the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel begins, John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That Word is Jesus Christ. And yet, this same all glorious Jesus Christ responded in the humility of a Son to the directions of the Father, and willingly came to live among men in the Incarnation. This is humility of such extreme proportions that we have great difficulty understanding it, and yet Jesus Christ accepted it in obedience to His Father and for us men at a time when He was still upon the Throne of Heaven. He did this, knowing full well all that it would entail for Himself. He did it without quibbling over being equal in glory to the Father. He responded in love, the love of the Father. He is truly the one described in Revelation 13:8b … the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
There had been various times when God had made Himself known to man before the coming of Jesus. We think of God speaking to Moses in the burning bush as one such event. These events are called by the technical term theophany, a manifestation of God. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ was much more than any theophany, however, because Jesus made God manifest in man, rather than simply manifest to man. Here was a real man, a human being, who was God in human form. This is far more than had ever happened previously.
One might expect that God, coming in human form, would come as Lord and Master, for truly He is just that, but Jesus Christ did not do that at all. He took a very low position in society, becoming essentially an itinerant teacher and healer with no possessions beyond the clothes on His back. He never concerned Himself with money, but went about serving people, preaching, and teaching the Gospel. He made it very clear to His followers that to follow Him would not lead to riches, to worldly success, power, fortune, or fame. Rather He talked constantly of the coming of the Kingdom of God and what would be required in order to enter into that Kingdom. Thus His humility is evident in that He was constantly pointing away from Himself and toward God the Father. It was not always seen in this way, because He also said that He was the Son of God, and that was considered blasphemy by the Jews.
Jesus Christ lived as a man, sharing all the common trials and difficulties of human life, including hunger, thirst, pain, fatigue, sorrow, grief, anger, and regret. He lived a life without sin, and went to His death as any man would. But it was an extraordinary death, shameful and cruel, of the sort reserved for troublemakers and slaves. He accepted this in complete humility, just as he had accepted everything else. Philippians 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Philippians 2:9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: It is in His great humility that Jesus is exalted as Savior of the world, and thus His Name comes to signify His humility and His passion forever, a cause for which Philippians 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; It is the glory of a King to be recognized as such even when not wearing His crown, and thus it is to the honor of God that Jesus Christ should be recognized as King in human hearts, even though there is no outward sign of his divine royalty. The true glory of God is in His love, not in His power.
We continue to consider the mind of Christ as we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson.
We consider first his patience with Judas which is recorded in the chapter previous to our Gospel lesson. There Jesus warns Judas rather grimly, Matthew 26:24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born, but there is no chastisement. He is gentle with Judas rather than upbraiding him. We know that the words of Jesus eventually had their effect on Judas who tried to return the blood money, and when that failed, he went and hanged himself. We need to be more responsive, to be sure that we hear the words of Christ, spoken to us, and respond to them before they lead us to similar acts of despair.
When He was brought before Pilate, various and sundry accusers charged Him and He simply refused to answer. Matthew 27:12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Their charges were all lies; there was really nothing to say other than to deny them and most of them were simply not worthy of any response at all. Although it is unlikely that any of us will face a situation exactly like our Lord faced before Pilate, we can take to heart his message of non–response. In this way, we apply the last of the beatitudes, Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. We simply don’t need to respond, just as our Lord Jesus did not respond.
When Pilate offered to release a prisoner, the crowd, encouraged by the Jewish authorities, demanded Barabbas, a highwayman and murderer. When Pilate asked what they wanted done with Jesus, the crowd cried out for His execution on the grounds that he was guilty of treason and blasphemy. All of this, Jesus bore in silent humility even though absolutely none of it was true. It was all necessary for the will of the Father to be carried out, and the Son was being humbly obedient to the Father. We are to be silent when others are preferred before us; when we are falsely accused we are not to make a fuss of denials and counter charges.
Recall that the soldiers spent quite some time mocking Jesus. They put Him through all manner of gross indignities, pretending to treat Him as a king. And yet, we often allow our sense of wounded pride to get the better of us and lead us into sin. How can we justify such pride when the Lord of Life, the Savior of Mankind, was mocked and treated so spitefully by those Roman soldiers and yet He took it all quietly, humbly, without so much as a word said back to them? We need to conquer our pride, to see ourselves with the mind of Jesus, rather than as our usual proud selves.
Think about the patience of Christ upon the Cross, Christ in pain. On the Cross, Christ felt that He was all alone, subject to the taunts of the two thieves, the jeers of the crowd, the harassment of the Jewish leaders, and finally deserted by God. How well do we do as pain–bearers? Are we not much more adept as bringers of pain and suffering through our anger, bitterness, hatred, and indifference?
The last loud cry from Jesus Christ was, It is finished, which was not a cry of suffering, but rather a cry of victory. He had endured to the end, and emerged victorious. There were three immediate signs of this victory.
∙ The veil of the Temple was rent, showing the conquest of sin by ending the separation between man and God.
∙ The tombs of the saints already dead were opened, showing the conquest of death.
∙ The heart of the Centurion at the foot of the Cross was converted. Matthew 27:54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
Let us look to the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He approached the Cross as a model for our own lives, recognizing that we will never achieve that level of perfection but striving for it as our goal. To be like Christ is the goal of every Christian, and humility is one of the most difficult aspects of that “being like Christ.”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.