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“Questions at the Cross: Who Is This?”
Matthew 21:10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Palm Sunday—March 24, 2013

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

For our Lent services this year we have been asking “Questions at the Cross,” questions asked by Jesus and others during the first Holy Week.  We will continue this sermon series later this week at our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.  On Maundy Thursday, after washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, Jesus asks them, “Do You Understand What I Have Done for You?”  On Good Friday, before condemning Jesus to death, Pontius Pilate asks the crowd crying out for his crucifixion, “What Crime Has He Committed?”  The final sermon in this series will be on Easter Sunday, as the resurrected Lord appears to Mary Magdalene without her realizing who he is, and he asks her, “Why Are You Crying?”

This morning for Palm Sunday we consider the question asked about Jesus on the first Palm Sunday, as recorded in today’s Gospel Reading: “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’”

The exultant crowds on that first Palm Sunday shouted out before him as he entered the city, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is the King of Israel!”  But, to the crowds on Good Friday, Jesus is a big disappointment.  That’s because they expected him to exploit the Passover festival as an opportunity for revolution, to overthrow the Romans who were occupying their land and establish his kingdom on earth.  But, instead Jesus tells Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  “Who Is This?”  To the crowds on Good Friday, Jesus is a big disappointment, so they cry out, “Crucify him!”

To the chief priests and other religious leaders, Jesus is a religious rival.  On Palm Sunday his path is strewn with the people’s cloaks, and palm branches, the traditional symbol of triumph and victory, are enthusiastically waved by the crowds and laid down in honor before him. “Who Is This?”  To the chief priests and other religious leaders, Jesus is a religious rival, so they plot to kill him.

To Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, Jesus means only one thing: a way to make money.  Loving money more than his Master, Judas goes to the chief priests and makes a deal.  “Who Is This?”  To Judas, Jesus is only a way to make money, so he agrees to betray him for 30 pieces of silver.

To Barabbas, Jesus is a lucky break.  Barabbas is in jail for insurrection, stirring up revolution against the Romans.  Facing crucifixion himself, Barabbas actually is guilty of the very crimes of which innocent Jesus is falsely accused.  But, then, something totally unexpected and incredible happens.  It was the custom at the Passover to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd, and when Pilate gives them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, they cry out, “Release to us Barabbas!”  So, the guilty Barabbas is released, and innocent Jesus is condemned.  “Who Is This?”  To Barabbas, Jesus is a lucky break, so he takes his undeserved freedom.

To Pontius Pilate, Jesus is a political inconvenience.  Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, he knows it is out of jealousy that the local leaders have handed Jesus over to him.  Pilate even declares Jesus not guilty, and pathetically tries to wash his hands of Jesus’ innocent blood.  But, when they threaten Pilate, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar,” he finally gives in to the murderous mob and hands Jesus over to be crucified.  “Who Is This?”  To Pontius Pilate, Jesus is a political inconvenience, so he pathetically tries to wash his hands of this innocent man’s blood, and hands him over to be crucified. 

To the soldiers at Pontius Pilate’s palace, Jesus is a joke.  They strip him, mockingly dress him in a king’s purple robe and a crown of thorns, with a staff for a king’s scepter.  Before him they bow in ridicule, “Hail, king of the Jews!”  Spitting on his face, savagely beating him with the staff, painfully piercing the crown of thorns into his bloody brow.  “Who Is This?”  To the soldiers at Pontius Pilate’s palace, Jesus is a joke, so they torture him and laugh at his agony.

To the executioners at Calvary, Jesus is just a day’s work.  A routine they know so well.  Only, this time, it’s far from routine.  Even as they nail Christ to the cross he cries out something the likes of which they have never before heard from a crucifixion victim: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  The sign above the victim’s head usually lists his crimes, such as murder or theft, but the sign above Jesus proclaims, “The King of the Jews.”  From noon to three o’clock an ominous darkness comes over the land, until finally he cries out, “It is finished!  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  “Who Is This?”  To the executioners at Calvary, Jesus is just a day’s work, so they drive the nails into his hands and feet, raise up his cross between two criminals, sit and watch as he slowly dies, even gamble to divide his clothing among them.

To the crowd around the cross, Jesus is a failure.  “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and save yourself!  He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”  “Who Is This?”  To the crowd around the cross, Jesus is a failure, so even as he hangs dying they insult, and mock, and curse him. 

The Apostle Paul tells us in today’s Epistle Reading: “Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

“Who Is This?”  Jesus is the Lord; Jesus is your Lord.  “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” Paul says in Colossians. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

“Who Is This?”  Jesus is the Savior; Jesus is your Savior.  “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,” Paul says in Ephesians, “as an offering and sacrifice to God. . .  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

“Who Is This?”  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says.  He is your way to heaven, your true hope of eternal life.  “For my Father’s will,” he promises, “is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

“Who Is This?”  “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of  Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Throw down before him the cloak of your service; lay in honor before him the palm branches of your faith in him; open for to him to enter in triumph the gates of your heart.

“Who Is This?”  “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is the King”—of your life!

Amen.

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