Text: John 12:12-19
As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.
It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.
But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.
The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.
The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.
The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.
The Evangelist writes,
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.
As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.
Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”
What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.
So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.
I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.