Pastor Sherry’s message for April 2, 2023
Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Matt 27:11-66
Ironically, over 2000 years ago, the Sadducees had a tradition in which they believed the Messiah would show up four days before Passover. As a result, they kept the gates of the Temple open each year on this date so that He could walk right in and assume His rightful place. In fact, Jesus—the True Messiah–did choose to re-enter Jerusalem exactly 4 days before Passover, and proceeded to pray and teach in the Temple. By this time, many Jews had encountered Him. Many others had heard of His miracles, His healings, and of how He cast out demons. They were so taken by Him that crowds waited with joyous anticipation and with baited breath to see what He would do next.
The fact that Jesus chose that exact day to come back into Jerusalem would have driven the Jews’ expectations for their nation to a feverish height. They were sure He would overthrow the Romans, free them from oppression, and reign victoriously as King David had in ages past. But the Romans, too, would have heard the rumors and thus were anticipating an insurrection. They had called in reinforcements in case of an armed revolt. So tensions were very high in the city that day.
Today, we celebrate that historic day, calling it Palm Sunday–because the crowds waved palm branches in celebration of His arrival—or Passion Sunday, in anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, a brief 4 days later. The minor prophet Zechariah had predicted what would happen some 500 years before this event took place (9:9) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This is exactly Who Jesus was—their righteous Savior. This is exactly what happened. This is exactly how the Jews rejoiced: As Jesus rode in, the people shouted Hosanna (actually, Yasha anna in the Hebrew), which means, Save us, Lord! They were quoting Psalm 118:25-29 O Lord, save us! O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD…. The LORD is God and He has made His light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His love endures forever.
On this day, they were excited and delighted! But 4 days later, they were demanding His death! By then, they had realized that Jesus had failed to meet their messianic expectations. As the “2 Bubbas and a Bible” explain it, “He was not 6 feet plus, with abs of steel. He rode into town on a baby donkey, not a warhorse. He went to pray at the Temple, not to protest at the palace. Jesus did not turn out to be their idea of a savior.” (Chilton & Fairless, Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.142).
But, as our Scriptures today highlight, He was our Heavenly Father’s Idea of a Messiah:
A. In Isaiah 50:4-9a, we read what is known as the 3rd Suffering Servant Song. Written some 750-700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicts, exactly, what Jesus would experience and how He would behave as He faced and endured the Cross. Its theme is that Jesus came to earth determined to save us. He came into the world to pay the penalty for and to redeem us from our sins. He was instructed or trained for this by the Holy Spirit, and by what He read and meditated upon in Scripture (vv.4-5), the Old Testament writings available at that time.
Verse 6 tells us that His trial by the Sanhedrin led to significant suffering at their hands: They beat Him. They mocked Him. They spit in His face. They even pulled out the hairs of His beard. This was all before He was presented to Pilate for round two by the Romans.
What sustained Him? What helped Him to bear up under such torture? First, He knew His purpose. There was for Him deep meaning to His suffering. And, second, He trusted in His heavenly Father to assist and to comfort Him (vv.7-9) Because the Sovereign LORD [the Father] helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame…He who vindicates Me is near…it is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me. His relationship and His intimacy with the Father are what propelled and compelled Him. This essentially kept Him emotionally and spiritually “bullet-proof” against the condemnation and the despicable treatment He received from the religious authorities and the forces of evil at work during His passion.
B. Philippians 2:5-11 is known as “the Philippian Hymn.” Bible scholars believe newly baptized Christians, in the early Church, memorized and recited this brief summary of exactly what Jesus did for us as a verbal profession of their faith. St. Paul included it in his letter because he wanted the church in Philippi (and us) to both understand and follow Jesus’ model of humility and obedience to the Father; as well as to realize the huge significance of what Jesus gave up—His heavenly/godly prerogatives— to become human like us. The One Who spoke creation into existence, the King of the Universe, was entrusted as a helpless infant to a poor, homeless, young couple. He lived His early life as a carpenter, eking out a living in an obscure, back-woods village. He Himself was sinless, but at the Cross He bore all our sins, past, present and future. The Great Shepherd humbled Himself and gave His life for us, His sheep.
As a result of His obedient self-sacrifice, God the Father has raised Him to the highest position of honor. At His name, every creature must bow. No person, animal, angel, or demonic entity has more power or greater authority.
C. Our psalm today (31:9-16) details Jesus’ thoughts on the way to and during His crucifixion. He abides in His Father’s love, praying to and calling out to Him in His mind: (V.9) Be merciful to Me, O LORD, for I am in distress; (V.10) My life is consumed by anguish and My years by groaning; My strength fails….(V.11) Because of My enemies, I am the utter contempt of My neighbors…(V.12) …I have become like broken pottery. He is experiencing despair, extreme pain, and grief, but He does not let it overwhelm Him, or turn Him against God the Father (V.14) But I trust in You, O LORD. I say, “You are My God.” Based on His faith, He goes on to reassure Himself, (v.15) My times are in Your hands.
If only we too could remember, when suffering, to pray to God and to trust in Him to sustain us during difficult, painful times.
D. Matthew’s version of Christ’s Passion is well worth meditating on this Holy Week. Traditionally, it begins in Chapter 26 at verse 14 and continues through the end of our Gospel reading today (Matthew 27:11-66). In today’s portion, we follow Jesus from His trial before Pilate, to His exchange for Barabbas, to His beating at the hands of Roman soldiers to His crucifixion, death, and burial. He had been betrayed and abandoned by all His friends–except John and a few female followers, including His mother. His Father registered His grief and judgment against the Jewish establishment with earthquakes, 3 hours of darkness ending with Jesus’ death; and splitting the Temple curtain from top to bottom. Then, anticipating Jesus’ glorious resurrection, the Father opened some tombs, and resurrected (v.52) …many holy people.
What a journey, in 4 days, from a celebratory welcome parade, to a funeral march, to an ignominious death between 2 criminals. Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins because He believed in Scripture, in His purpose, and because He trusted in His Father’s plan and in His Father’s love. By teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, dying a dreadful death in our place, He faithfully completed His 1st mission to earth. He has now returned to Heaven and is seated with the Father, awaiting with us the timing of His 2nd Coming. As we wait to greet Him, let us inspire ourselves with the words of the writer to the Hebrews (12:2-3) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him [our salvation] endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams