Monday, April 2, 2012

Sermon for 01 April 2012, Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion B

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 15:1-39
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, 01 April 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
          “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked. Jesus responded, “You have said so.” That English translation doesn’t do the Greek justice here. Let’s retranslate: “You are King of the Jews?” Take away the question mark and Jesus’ response, “You have said so” makes perfect sense.
Our Lord didn’t meet the expectations of the people of His day. He was legitimately the King of the Jews. After all, isn’t that the One the Wise Men of Matthew 2 came seeking? Another Gentile, Pontius Pilate, declared Him innocent, but the will of the people overrode the “not guilty” verdict. He was given over to be crucified.
The soldiers didn’t think much of the King of the Jews. After having flogged him, they held a mock coronation. The real one was yet to come. A purple robe was put on Him. Purple, or violet, one of the hardest colors to produce in the ancient world, was a sign of royalty. Undoubtedly, the cloth stuck to His bloody back, and the fresh scabs were pulled off when the robe was removed, producing fresh bleeding. A crown with thorns the size of our modern nails was pressed into His head. These thorns have little to do with a North American rose bush. Then, the mocking words. This was all a joke to these Romans.
The end was near for this Jesus of Nazareth. You can tell because Simon was pressed into service to help Our Lord carry the cross. And the soldiers are mentioned again in passing. A dead man doesn’t need clothes. They cast lots to divide His possessions.
Even passerby get into the act. He is not what they expected. “So, You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” The mocking continued with the chief priests and teachers of the law. They spoke these words only among themselves, but Jesus still heard them: “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
And to add insult to injury, those crucified with Him heaped on more insults. One, we know, repented and was remembered by his Lord that very day in paradise.
He had hung on the cross for three hours by this time, since His crucifixion at nine in the morning. It was now the sixth hour by the Roman clock, noon. Darkness came over the whole land..
Jesus continues to disappoint the expectations of His own people and others looking on. They are listening, but appear to be clueless. His quotation of Psalm 22, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, is apparently unintelligible to them. They clearly hear the words in the Aramaic language, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” and they mistake His calling upon “Eloi,” that is, “My God” as a reference to Elijah. Elijah does not come, because the one like Elijah has already come—John the Baptizer.
After drinking wine vinegar from a sponge on a stick and a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. And the massive curtain of the temple was torn in two. But this is probably not the most surprising part in this portion of Mark 15.
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Think about it. The leaders of His own people had been out to get Him as an excuse to be rid of Him and His supposedly troublesome teaching—troublesome because He caught the Sadducees doubting God’s Word, and the Pharisees being hypocrites! Jesus didn’t fit with their preconceptions of what Messiah would be like.
Up to this point, everybody misses the point of Jesus, but one person gets it: the Roman centurion! He understands. He confesses Jesus as the Son of God, even the Son of God dead upon a cross. Joseph of Arimathea recovers the body. The women note where His tomb is so that they may prepare it later with spices.

We dare not judge those who expected a different Jesus too harshly, for by the standard we judge, shall we be judged. Be honest, at least with yourself. We all have expectations of God, ideas of what He is like, what He can or should be able to do for us. Scripture should shape our individual theology-study of God, but often, the influence of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh pushes such Biblical consideration aside in place of something that we think will better fit our needs. And there we are, worse off than even those who handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Sometimes our own thoughts and doubts nearly overwhelm us. “Why didn’t God heal my grandmother? I certainly prayed hard enough!” “Where was God on September 11th?” “Why does God allow wars to happen?” “If He is so loving, why does He send those who don’t believe in Jesus to hell?” Such thoughts are common. And instead of doing the difficult, time-consuming study of the Scriptures to find answers to these questions and more, we find it easier to create a new idol, a false god in our own images. But we forget, that this tailored, trimmed-down, cut-and-paste “customized” god is really no god at all. It is only an idol, a creation of our own minds and hands and has no power to save. It doesn’t exist, except in our own dead minds and living excuses.

And we again are confronted by Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Before the soldiers at the Praetorium, the idea of a coronation was a joke. At the cross, it becomes real. The Good Friday cross was not a surprise to Our Lord, no matter what the faithless liberal textual critics say. As with the bronze snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. He did pray, Lord, save me from this hour, but by couching it in the petition, Thy will be done, He again shows us that He knew that it was for this hour, this cross, that He had come in the first place. And there He hangs, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, enthroned upon His cross.
Since it was not a surprise to Him, but rather something He expected, it doesn’t matter what the Jews’ expectations are. It matters not what our own expectations were. The blood shed on that cross atoned for the sins of the whole world. The blood of Jesus washes away all of your sin. All means all!
If He would have come down from the cross at the request of passerby and the chief priests and teachers of the law, He would not have saved anyone—not even Himself. He died so that we might die to sin, so that the Old Adam and all our sins and sinful desires and faithless thoughts would die. Easter is coming. Then we will remember that we have been raised to new life with Him. For now, let us now continue to ponder on His Holy Passion, for the forgiveness of our sins. And by faith, we see what the Centurion never expected. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.