Sermon, Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, 2015, Gospel, Matthew 27:11-54
The movie, “The Passion of the Christ” came out eleven years ago. It was an intense depiction of the events of Holy Week from the garden of Gethsemane to Easter morning, focusing on the patient suffering and death of Jesus at the hands of sinful men. It was graphically violent, so violent that it got an R rating. The director Mel Gibson spared no detail of the beating, whipping, nailing and piercing of Jesus. The screen was filled with blood. It was, and is, difficult to watch. But millions did see it. It was a box office success, but it called up a critical firestorm, and not just because of its violence. The complaint that got the most print was that it was anti-semitic, based partly on the depiction of the Jews who demanded Jesus’ death. In the middle ages, and in the twentieth century people have used the emotions stirred up by watching the innocent Son of God killed on the cross in Passion Plays to fuel attacks on Jews. In particular, they have used the phrase “His blood be on us and on our children!” to justify the persecution and killing of the Jews living among them. But is this what this phrase means? Or all that it means? Is this just about putting the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews? Or is there something else?
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the previous Sunday to shouts of acclaim. As it says in our Gospel reading from John, people were coming to see the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead. For three years they had heard and seen things about Jesus, His many miracles, His teaching with authority. Many thought He was the promised Messiah, the Son of David, come to usher in a new age, a resurrection of the dead nation of Israel, spiritually, and in political power and military might. The promised King would establish Israel again as the chief of nations, expelling the Roman occupiers and bringing wealth and prosperity and peace back to the afflicted descendants of Abraham and Jacob. It seemed to many that Jesus might be that Messiah. He was of the house of David, of the house of Judah, as foretold. He did wonders. He fed thousands. He healed the sick, drove out demons, raised the dead. Now He was coming to Jerusalem for Passover, when Jerusalem would be packed. He even entered on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Oh, what could happen next? What miracle would He do? What great sign? They waited, and waited, but as the days went on, it started to look like there was not going to be any fireworks. Sure, He kicked the money changers out of the Temple courts and made the Pharisees and Sadducees look like fools, but He also said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” What was that?
Then came His arrest. “Would the real Messiah let himself be taken prisoner?” they might have thought. Wouldn’t the Messiah, the blood descendant of mighty King David have fought back? Would he not have destroyed those come to take him? Would he let himself be paraded in front of the crowd by the Roman governor Pilate, without saying a word, like a guilty criminal? Maybe this man was an impostor after all, as the High Priests were saying. He calls Himself the Son of God? The God who destroyed the army of Pharaoh, who drove out the nations from the promised land, who gave David and Solomon the tribute of the world, would He let His Son be humiliated like this?
“No, he’s not our Messiah. He deserves to die.” they must have thought. Pilate knew this man Jesus was no threat. He was King of the Jews in some unworldly, religious way. Pilate could see no reason to condemn Jesus to death. But the crowd called for Jesus’ crucifixion and when it looked like a riot was about to start, he said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” and he washed his hands with water. And all the crowd answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Pilate released Barabbas and after having Jesus whipped, he delivered Him to be crucified.
Of course, we know Pilate was lying. He was not innocent of Jesus’ blood. He had boasted to Jesus that he had the power to crucify Him or free Him. Was the crowd lying, too? No. Jesus blood, His death, was truly on them. But not just Jews demanded Jesus’ blood. It says the whole crowd called out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Not just Jews, but Romans, Greeks, and visitors from nations around the Mediterranean and Asian world. The blood, the death of Jesus on the cross is truly on them and their children. But it is also on us and our children. If we had not been dead in our sins, if we had been able to fulfill the law perfectly, if we had been righteous, Jesus would not needed to come and die for us, to receive the wages of our sin, death. But we are not righteous, and we cannot become righteous in God’s eyes by anything we do because everything we do is tainted by self-interest and pride –by sin.
Jesus carried our sins to the cross and there He felt the eternal wrath of His Father for every sin that you and I have done or will ever do. As He hung naked, Jesus felt the pain and shame of our hidden sins as surely as He felt the nails in His feet and hands or the crown of thorns digging into His brow. “His blood is on us and on our children.” How true. We are the crowd. We are lying Pilate who thought he could fool God with by washing his guilt away with plain water.
But we are also saved, because Jesus died for that crowd and for us and our children. We are saved, forgiven, not by anything we do, but by what Jesus did. He became sin for us, so that we might be righteous through Him, through faith in His atoning death for us. He bought us back, lost and condemned people, purchased and won us and our children from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. (Small Catechism, explanation of second article of the Creed).
His shed blood, His death for the sins of the world, not just the Jews, be upon us and our children, for it opens the gates to the Heavenly Jerusalem that we and our children may enter. We enter with Jesus through faith, the faith we received when we heard the Word of God, when we were baptized, when we were given the white robes of righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness, robes washed in the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb of God, the King of Kings.
The crowd who called to have Jesus’ blood on them didn’t know what they were saying. They meant it for evil, but God used it for good, as He does with all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God accepted Jesus’ offer of His blood for ours and raised Jesus from the dead, to confirm that sacrifice, and to ensure our salvation to eternal life. Now the blood of Christ is a life giving blood for all who believe, applied to us in the waters of Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar where we receive it truly in and with the wine for the forgiveness of sins.
We receive all the gifts won for us by Jesus’ blood by faith. When we repent of our sins and stop pretending that our guilt is washed away by giving into the pressure of the crowd, we see, instead of a shamed man on a cross, our Savior, our substitute, our Lamb, our King, given up to death for us, so that we don’t have to die eternally. We believe the promises He gave us, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
So as we begin Holy Week let us look at our Jewish and Muslim and atheist brothers and sisters, and all unbelievers, and pray that the Holy Spirit would work faith in Jesus Christ in them through the hearing of the Word of the Gospel and through Baptism. May they come to know the joy that Jesus’ blood is truly upon them and their children, no longer in guilt, but in the forgiveness won for them on the cross. Let us pray that they will someday join with us in proclaiming. “Hosanna, hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” Amen.