March 20, 2005 A+D
St. Matthew 26:1-27:66
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We embark now upon our holiest of weeks. We commemorate the fullness of all time, the last days of Our Lord’s humiliation, the drawing of all men to God and the glory of the Father’s Name in the death of the Son. It is a theater for the worst of man. All the dark secrets of our hearts are exposed this week. We are there in Judas’ betrayal, in Peter’s denial, in the hateful crowd that chose Barabbas, in the cowardice and expediency of Pilate, in the cruelty of the Roman guard. But do not avert your gaze for shame, O Christian. Instead repent and rejoice. For the Son of Man was lifted up to draw you to Himself. It is your salvation, your adoption into grace, the bestowal of your Name and inheritance. It is your birth from above.
Do not be afraid to ask that apostolic question from the upper room: “Is it I, Lord?” Instead learn to see how it is. Learn to make confession, to say: “It could be me. I could be Judas, driven by greed, frustrated with the pace, wanting to take control. I am capable of these things and worse. I have have a history of selling myself cheaply. I’ve betrayed my country and my family. I’ve betrayed my God. I’ve mastered the white lie and the lesser evil. I’ve learned to look the other way and subdue the complaints of my conscience. I am no stranger to indulgence and nursing my addictions. I am ashamed of what I’ve done. I do not like who I’ve become. I wish I could go back in time and start over. Yes, it could be me. I could be Judas. I could be Peter. I could be Pilate. I could ask for Barabbas and yell ‘crucify.’ I could be overcome by bloodlust, anger, and hatred.”
Make confession lest your bone ache within you for the lie, lest your faith grow cold and your heart turn to stone. Examine yourself. Ask, “Is it I?” And then leave it there. Whatever sins you bring to this week, whatever regrets haunt you from this past year, whatever you’ve done wrong or left undone or unsaid, whatever shame you know, leave it all here at the footstep of Palm Sunday. Rejoice in the death of Jesus, in the harrowing of Hell, the destruction of the tempter, and the prophecy fulfilled. Rejoice in the will of God to make you His, the obedience of the Son, and the coming of the Resurrection.
His faithfulness is not derived from your obedience or loyalty. You were not worthy of His love, but He loves you anyway. It was His will to suffer your betrayal and abuse so that you would be spared. You ask: “Is it I, Lord?” And He says, “No. It is not. It is I. You are innocent. You are righteous and well-pleasing to the Father. The burden of all your past, present, and future guilt has been carried to my cross and buried in the ground. Your sins are gone. The thorns, the scourge, and the nails have bled them out of Me and you are clean. You are not accountable in heaven for sins on earth. You do not pay for what you have done, what you have thought or dreamed, or what you have said. I paid it all. There is no more. I welcome you back again. For I love you and I love you here with Me. I did it all for you and would do it all again just to have you. Be at peace.”
Is it so easy that you find it hard to believe? Is it too good to be true? Think on Barabbas: guilty of vile crimes, of treachery and betrayal. He took advantage of his own people. He was not trusted or respected. He ruined everything good he’d ever known. Yet he went free, pardoned of his crimes, restored to his people, given another chance, a new future. The mob chose him, a murderer, in their hatred over the Lord of Life who had healed their sick, driven off the demons, and given back their dead. But the Father was not sad. He would not have it any other way. What they chose in their hatred, what they meant for evil, He meant for good. In the end it is not they who chose Barabbas, but God. God rescued him from himself, from his guilt and penalty. Jesus switched places with him. It could not be any other way. For in this way, by the condemnation, the forsaking, the bitter sufferings and death of Our Lord, God won back creation from the Fall. He made all things new and rose again for your justification. Is it so easy that it is hard to believe? I suppose so. But not as hard as going to Hell. Barabbas was spared. So, too, are you.
Let this week heal your sin-sick soul, bind up your broken heart, restore your courage and your faith. Do not weep for your Lord but rejoice and sing Hosanna. The will of the Father is seen on the cross. The Name of the Father is glorified there. The Passover is done. The New Testament in His Blood is begun. And you are His once again and now forevermore.
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. His mercy endureth forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.