Summary: In our eagerness to embrace the risen Christ on Easter we need to remember that we can’t sneak around Calvary to get to the resurrection.
Additional texts: Isaiah (52:13-53:12); Psalm 22:1-21; Philippians (2:5-11)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
Today is really a combination of Palm Sunday and the Passion. This is a fairly recent change. We combine Palm Sunday with the Story of the Passion in these modern times because we know that most people will not come to church on Good Friday. Many Christians come to church services on Palm Sunday to get their Palm fronds and crosses and then return the next Sunday for Easter. So they would hear on Palm Sunday about the exalted greeting Jesus received, and then hear about the resurrection the following week on Easter Sunday without hearing the story of the crucifixion.
What happens between those two events is very significant, so the Passion narrative has been added to Palm Sunday, creating two perspectives: The gathering and procession outside the walls of our building symbolizing the people greeting the arriving Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the reading of the prophetic announcements of his death called for in the Passion narrative by the very same people who praised him outside the walls.
A Methodist minister I served with in prison ministry used to tell us that in our eagerness to embrace the risen Christ on Easter we need to remember that we can’t sneak around Calvary to get to the resurrection.
The crucifixion was the ultimate reason for Jesus’ ministry on earth. He did not come down from heaven to start a new religion, or to create a different branch of Judaism. He came down from heaven for the ultimate purpose of saving us all from sin — every one of us who will accept his sacrifice for us.
Everything Jesus did during his life on earth was a fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation for us through his prophets over more than 15 centuries.
The Old Testament is full of promises from God about the future arrival of the Messiah. Those promises are described in prophecies by dozens of prophets.
Jesus lived the scriptures. Almost all of the recorded sayings of Jesus in the Gospels originated in the Old Testament. Even his dying utterance on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” is from the fifth verse of Psalm 31, written by King David about a thousand years before Jesus was crucified. It reads: Into your hands I commend my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.
But Jesus didn’t just recite prophecy, he also prophesied himself, proving his anointing by God as a prophet. A few verses before the start of today’s Gospel Jesus tells Peter that despite his protests to the contrary, Peter would deny him when the going got tough. A few hours later Peter did exactly what Jesus had foretold.
Christ, by the way, means “anointed one.” There were only three offices or positions in biblical times that required anointing. Prophet, Priest, and King. Only one person in the entire Bible filled all three roles: Jesus. The Gospels show Jesus as priest in his ministry, and the Apostle Paul refers to him as our great high priest. And even Pontius Pilate recognized him as King of the Jews, and Christians recognize him as the King of Kings.
Our readings today provide some of the evidence that those of us with legal minds demand to see before we can believe. I’m not going to go through all of the more than 300 messianic prophesies mentioned in the Old Testament, but I will highlight a handful of the more recognizable ones.
The “Suffering Servant” passage from Isaiah was written abut 750 years before the crucifixion and King David’s Psalm 22 was written about a thousand years before it.
When those biblical passages were written, the usual method of execution was by the sword or by stoning. Crucifixion was imported to the region by the Romans after they conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C. The Old Testament describes quite accurately how the Messiah would be killed, by a method that would be created centuries later and would last for only about 130 years. One of the prophecies also required that the Messiah be present at the temple — the temple that was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. and hasn’t been rebuilt since.
Isaiah 53 is perhaps the greatest prophetic passage, and shows Jesus’ dual nature, his impoverished lifestyle, and humble origin. He was forsaken by humanity yet bore our punishment.
He made himself a guilt offering for our sins, and was “pierced for ourr transgressions.” This is the Christ God promised, albeit not the one Israel expected at the time.