Sunday, April 5, 2020
From the Donkey to the Cross
Today is the 6th Sunday of Lent. It is also called ‘Palm Sunday,’ the day we celebrate the Lord’s kingly entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Matthew describes the tumultuous scene this way:
“Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Mathew 21:8-9)
Jesus knew His hour had come. He knew He was headed toward a gruesome death. He knew this was the time planned by the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this was the time to bring salvation’s plan to its culmination. Jesus knew all this as He rode into the city.
Palm Sunday and its subsequent Good Friday did not happen in a vacuum. The sin-drenched history of mankind poured out on the Altars of Self since the Garden of Eden – all those sins, including those right up to this present moment, they all brought Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Those sins would lead Him from the donkey to the cross a few days later, on what we call Good Friday.
Good Friday. That’s the day chiseled into history, the day on which God demonstrated His immeasurable goodness toward treasonous and evil men and women. The collected sins of all humanity focused the righteous and utterly holy God’s attention on this moment – on this week – culminating on Resurrection Sunday.
Here is what St. Peter told his audience on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-24): “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross . . . But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”
The events of this holy week on which we are about to embark were always central to God’s plan to redeem us from the ownership of death and death’s many offspring, some of whom are named Suffering, and Pain, and Loss, and Heartache. St. Paul assures us in Romans 6 that the wages of sin is death. But – the free gift of God is eternal LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
The path to Good Friday’s cross and Sunday’s empty tomb was always our most merciful Creator’s plan to fix what Adam and Eve shattered in the Garden. In the time before God created time, the omniscient Trinity foresaw Adam and Eve eat that forbidden fruit. He knew Cain would kill Abel. He saw the flood that destroyed everything that breathed, except for Noah and those with him on the ark. He saw the Tower of Babel, and He foreknew Abraham – through whom would come the promised Redeemer.
In eternity past, God saw the births of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David – and the entire genealogical line passing through generations and generations until the Baby lay in that manger who grew to be the Man flogged at a whipping post and then nailed to a cross.
All of it – from long before Genesis chapter one – all of it was God’s plan to redeem you and me who trust Christ as their Savior; As Paul wrote in Romans 4:25 – “[Jesus was] delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”
It might surprise some to know what the apostles said of the cross on which Jesus died. For example, St. Peter, speaking to the Jewish religious leaders said this: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.” (Acts 5:30-33). In Acts 10, again Peter says: “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.’ (verses 39-40.
Why reference to the ‘tree’? Paul gives us some clarity in his letter to the Galatians (3:13) “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree . . . .” Here the apostle quotes from Deuteronomy 21: “ . . . for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”
I hope you caught that. Those who were hung on a tree were cursed by God.
From eternity past, the Holy Trinity planned for Jesus to not only die for the sins of humanity, but that He would be accursed for the sins of humanity. No wonder the crucified Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken Me?” For the first time in uncountable and unknowable ages, the Father turned His back on His beloved Son. Why? Because while on that cross Jesus “became sin for us – He became sin on OUR behalf – so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Oh, think of that! Almighty Jesus, sinless Jesus, holy Jesus, pure and sanctified Jesus was cursed and punished by the Father for OUR sins.
Here is how the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah described it. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: ‘But we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; [the] punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6 HCSB)
Good Friday’s cross and Resurrection Sunday demonstrate to the ages God’s justice – AND His mercy. His justice because sin must be dealt a death blow; and it demonstrates His mercy toward the sinner, for just as the scapegoat bore Israel’s iniquities into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:22), so also Jesus the Messiah bore our iniquities on His body as He hung on that accursed tree (Isaiah 53).
That’s why the New Testament writers tell us over and over – we must be born again. We must bring our sins to Calvary’s cross – to Calvary’s Tree – where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain.
Now, let’s pause here just a moment and go back to that scene where Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds on both sides of the dirt road are shouting praises and accolades to Him.
Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I wonder how many of those in this crowd crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David” were ALSO in the crowd a few days later, stirred up by the religious leaders, to cry out ‘Crucify Him. Crucify Him.”
And therein lies a danger for all of us. God help us to daily examine our own relationship with Jesus. Daily. It is too easy to grow cold – and even antagonistic toward what we once embraced.
Certainly, a coldness to the gospel message doesn’t happen overnight. It always occurs slowly over months, even into years. We stop attending weekly Mass or worship services. Our Bible stays closed more often than it is open. Our prayers devolve into a quick word or two and then we move on with our day.
It was for good reason the great apostle Paul confessed in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
In his second letter to the same people he challenged them: Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
This is a good place to pause and ask you a vital question: What have you done with Jesus?
The apostle John wrote in the first verses of the Revelation:
Jesus released us from the power of sin and the wages of sin. He did it by His blood. Listen: SOMEONE had to die for my sin. God’s justice demands it. Someone had to die to pay the penalty of YOUR sins. God’s justice demands it.
But God’s MERCY offers us an opportunity to escape that Justice – by receiving by faith the sacrificial atonement Jesus provides us – Jesus, who died in our place. That’s why the apostle John wrote: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
Propitiation. A fancy word to describe what Jesus did by substituting Himself to bear the wrath of God for our sins. That’s what Palm Sunday and Good Friday are all about. And God proved His plan for our redemption is a faithful plan, a superabundantly efficacious plan when He raised Jesus from the dead.
Please never forget this: God’s justice requires someone has to die for your sin: You or Jesus.
I want to close my message with some of the lyrics of an old hymn written by William Newell. It’s called, At Calvary:
Please hear me. What have you done with Jesus? What are you doing with Jesus?