Sunday of the Passion
“When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’” These are the words with which the Gospel lesson for this morning begins. Now let me ask: Do you notice anything about them that is unusual?
This is actually the fourth time Jesus has predicted his passion in the Gospel of Matthew. The first time, immediately after Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God we hear: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The next time we learn, “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.”
Then, right before Jesus’ entrance on Palm Sunday we hear: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
It should be obvious by now, that what is missing is the prediction of the resurrection. What is more, Jesus specifically identifies that he will be crucified at the time of the Passover which was coming in just a few days. Right from the start, our text focuses all attention on Jesus’ upcoming death. He says it is just about to happen. And he doesn’t say anything about a resurrection that will follow.
Jesus has said his crucifixion is about to happen at the time of the Passover. In the very next verses we learn that ironically, this was not the plan of the men who wanted to kill him. The chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas.
They plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. However, they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
However, the Jewish religious leaders are not in charge. God the Father is in charge, and he has ordained that his Son will die on the cross on Good Friday – he will die during the feast. Jesus has come to Jerusalem to die at the Passover. We see this when the woman pours expensive ointment on Jesus’ head. Though she surely meant this action as a sign of love and devotion to Jesus, our Lord provides a deeper interpretation when he says, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
Our Lord has come to Jerusalem to die. And that is what this week – Holy Week – is about. It is about the Passion of Our Lord. It is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. At his Last Supper with the apostles Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. He took bread, and after blessing and breaking said, "Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus refers to the blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. He points forward to his death and identifies its purpose. It is for the forgiveness of sins. It is for the forgiveness of your sins. The events we hear about in the Gospel lesson – the Passion of Our Lord - happened because of you. They happened because you don’t love God above all other things. They happened because you don’t love your neighbor as yourself. In thought, in word, and in deed, you are turned in on yourself. You are sinners who have no right to life in fellowship with God.
Yet in God’s love, he did not leave things there. Instead, he sent his Son into the world in order to provide the answer to sin. When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant and had apparently been unfaithful before they were even married, the angel told him in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus came to save not just Israel, but all people from their sins. Although he was the holy Son of God, he came to receive the wrath of God – the judgment of God - against our sins. In our text we hear about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took Peter, James, and John along with him and began to be sorrowful and troubled. He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” The suffering of our Lord was already present as he approached the cross, for he knew what awaited him. We learn that going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup that Jesus was about to drink was the cup of God’s wrath again our sin. As true God and true man, he no more wanted to suffer it than you or I do. But as the faithful Son of God he was there to carry out the Father’s will. This had been the purpose of his ministry since the moment he was baptized, the Spirit descended upon him, and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He had stepped into the role of the Servant of the Lord – the One who was the suffering Servant. His mission was to be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. It was to be the One upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all.
In his Passion, the Lord Jesus submitted himself to the humiliation at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman soldier. He allowed himself to be scourged with a whip. He allowed himself not just to be executed, but to be crucified. He did not avoid the shame of the cross, but went there to save you.
We learn in our text that the Jewish religious leaders stood below and mocked him saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” But again, we encounter irony in their statement. He saves others – he saves us – by staying on the cross. He demonstrates that he is the One in whom we are to believe by dying on the cross.
The end could not be more dramatic. We learn that there was darkness during the last three hours that Jesus was on the cross. In the Old Testament this darkness is associated with God’s end time judgment. That is what Jesus received in our place. That is why he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus died on the cross to win forgiveness for us. As Jesus had said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In our text we hear about the burial of Jesus. It was a rushed affair, done before the sun set on Friday and the Sabbath started. Faithful Joseph of Arimathea saw that Jesus’ body was wrapped in a clean linen shroud and laid in his own new tomb. A great stone was placed in front of the tomb. Leaving nothing to chance, the Jewish leaders saw to it that the tomb was sealed and a guard was placed.
At the beginning of our text, Jesus makes no prediction of his resurrection. At the end of our text, his dead body is in a sealed and guarded tomb. So why did Jesus not predict his resurrection, as he had on the previous occasions? The answer is that there was nothing more to say to the disciples. They could not understand the resurrection before it happened. They could only understand what it meant by experiencing it. And so first, Jesus had to suffer and die in the crucifixion by which he fulfilled the angel’s words: “he will save his people from their sins.”
In a related way, the same thing is true for us. We cannot fully understand what the resurrection means without passing through the Passion of our Lord during Holy Week. We need to hear about the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and remember his shameful treatment as the altar is stripped. We need to gather on Good Friday to hear of his suffering and death on the cross for us.
Christ’s body lay buried in a tomb on Saturday. But then at sundown on Saturday, a new day arrived – the first day of the week. We gather at the Vigil of Easter to remember that through baptism, we have been buried with Christ. As Paul told the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We are forgiven because we have shared in Christ’s saving death. But because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know that we too will be raised up on the Last Day.
Jesus says at the beginning of our text, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Holy Week is about the suffering, death, and burial of Jesus Christ. There is nothing pretty about it. But it is that way because God was at work through the suffering and death of Jesus to give us forgiveness. Like the disciples, we must pass through these days with our Lord in order to understand Easter. Jesus will suffer, die, and be buried in a sealed and guarded tomb. But the sun will go down on Saturday, and a new day – a new week will begin. What happened on that day changed everything for the disciples. It has changed everything for us because now we have the living hope of salvation the resurrection that awaits us on the Last Day.
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