The Sunday of the Passion

“See, We Are Going Up To Jerusalem”

Matthew 20:17-19; Matthew 27:11-66

             In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Are we there yet?  The perpetual question of every child in the backseat of carriages, station wagons, minivans, and SUVs since time immemorial: are we there yet?  And just as those children know that the destination at the end of their journey is grandma and grandpa’s or the campground or Disneyland, we, too, know that the destination at the end of Lent is Easter.  We’ve already had six weeks of this Lent stuff: somber music, no Alleluias, ashes and sackcloth, repentance and sin.  And maybe that’s just too long, leaving us claustrophobic and exhausted by the time Holy Saturday rolls around.  We long for a reprieve from all this purple and black and solemnity.  Are we there yet?

Not yet; and we should not travel too hurriedly, as if we already know all about sin and death and cross, and all we really need now is the good news and the accompanying good feelings.  It is true that what we need, as a human race, is some good news, but we do not need clichés, platitudes, sugar-coating, and triviality.  In order to know how good–indeed, how wondrous and incomprehensible–this good news is, we must first know how bad–indeed, how evil and shocking–is the darkness in our own hearts.  We have some miles to travel before we arrive, but we are on our way.  “[A]s 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'” (Matthew 20:17-19, ESV).

James and John and the other disciples had been dreaming of how much glory they would receive because they were Jesus’ close friends.  And James and John, without knowing what they were asking, wanted to sit on Jesus’ left and His right when He came into His Kingdom.  They wanted the comfort and glory of being close to the King.  In this world, though, it’s the other way around: the closer you stand to Jesus, the more likely you are to suffer.  Jesus said to them in Matthew 10:22, “All men will hate you because of me….”  And not too long after they enter Jerusalem, Jesus will say to them, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV).  We, twenty centuries later, are no more fond of suffering than the disciples.  What little suffering we have we try to get rid of as soon as possible.  Do you, like James and John, wish to drink of the cup of Christ’s glory?  Do you desire to be at His side as He comes into His Kingdom?  Do you really know what you are asking?  Soon enough.  See, we are going up to Jerusalem.

The people of Jerusalem were not unlike the disciples in their thoughts of what it would mean for Jesus to enter the city.  Witness their jubilant cries as they bow before the One riding on a donkey: “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9, ESV)!  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10, ESV)!  Can you imagine the excitement?  One thousand years since King David.  Ninety-some years of being subject to Roman rule.  Finally!  The Messiah has entered His city to take it back for the people of God.  Hosha nah!  Deliver us, O Lord!  Do you, too, believe that all your problems should be at an end, now that you have seen the Lord’s Messiah?  Do you praise Him because you believe He will give you temporal security and comfort?  Do you realize how quickly your shouts of praise can turn to ugly thoughts and words by which you once again call for crucifixion?  Will you leave here this morning, with words of worship fresh on your lips, only to spit words of distaste at your spouse or children?  Will you curse at those who will not get out of your way on the road?  Berate your boss behind his back, but flash a friendly smile when he comes near?  When will Christ come into His kingdom and subdue all the enemies of our sinful flesh?  We should all avert our eyes from so holy a man.  But, see, we are going up to Jerusalem, to watch and pray and die with the God who is love incarnate.

Such love is not without cost.  The love of God for man came at the cost of those who fell upon the stone the builders rejected (Matthew 21:42).  It came at the cost of thirty pieces of blood money and the blackened soul of the one who took it.  It came at the cost of betrayal and denial and bitter tears.  But none of these paid the highest price.  The highest price was paid by the only one who knew enough to truly count the cost.  He did not give up sugar or caffeine or meat or alcohol for Lent; He gave up His very lifeblood.  So, you see, we are going up to Jerusalem where the Lord will be condemned to death as we cower by fires and in upper rooms, afraid that someone might associate us with Him, lest we be taken for fanatics.  See, we are going up to Jerusalem to watch the Son of God be tried before a pagan governor.  See, we are going up to Jerusalem as so many Barabbases, criminals freed while the Innocent One is mocked and whipped and killed.  See, we are going up to Jerusalem, where the everlasting Son will be nailed on a piece of wood between two thieves, one on His right and one on His left as He comes into His kingdom.  There He will be damned by His Father as the greatest sinner who ever lived; He will become sin for us.  For, if we remain the worst of sinners, it will be the end of us.  See–no, behold: we are going up to Jerusalem, to the garden to pray, and to the governor’s court to watch, and to the hill to be washed and forgiven.  Do not mourn for Jesus; He is not the victim of historical circumstances or horrible coincidence.  He knows why He goes up to Jerusalem.  Rather, mourn for yourselves and for your children; mourn for the sin that takes us all captive and makes His cross necessary.  Mourn for those who scorn His suffering and deny that it is for them.  But know that it is all for you: the suffering, the death, the insults, the rending of the curtain to expose the Most Holy Place.  All for you, so that death will one day release your holy body from its grave.

[Nick, Mason, Austin, Trent, and Alex, you will renew your baptismal vow today, as many have before you: that you will suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the Faith that has been handed down to you.]  Neither you nor any other Christian will have a comfortable and pain-free life if you follow Jesus in the way of the cross.  But you have this sure promise: pain and death have been defeated.  The sufferings of this present world are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in you.  You will have your rest and your body will be raised.  Children of God, young and old, the cleansing blood of Jesus is on your heads, and by His wounds your sins are forgiven.  Good Lord, deliver us.  Enter the cities of our minds and make us holy.  Cleanse the temples of our hearts from selfishness, greed, dissension, and gossip; make us houses of prayer.  See, we are going up to Jerusalem, to the One who makes all things new.  Are we there yet?  We are not.  We have not yet reached the end of struggling with the devil, the world, and our flesh.  We have not yet reached the end of our journey to the promised inheritance.  We still wander in the wilderness, as children longing to be free of everything that entangles and hinders and confines.  But the destination remains a reality.  Until we arrive, we live always with one foot in Lent and one foot in Easter, until Easter swallows Lent as surely as, against all present experience, life will swallow death forever.  “O sweet and blessed country,/The home of God’s elect!/O sweet and blessed country/That faithful hearts expect!/In mercy, Jesus, bring us/to that eternal rest/With You and God the Father/And Spirit, ever blest” (LSB 672, st. 4).  See, we are going up to Jerusalem!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/12/08
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