March to Calvary
In Bible class last week I turned around the 19th century English weather proverb March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I think I did that because I was thinking not of March weather but of Jesus march to Calvary.
Jesus did come in like a lamb rather than a lion when He began this march to the cross about 30 years ago. Jesus was on the march from birth on. Simeon said the Child would be spoken against and when he said Marys soul would be pierced by a sword too that meant her Child would be as well. But as usual, Im getting way ahead of myself.
Jesus came in like a lamb. Who was His birth announced to? To shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Where was Jesus born? In a stable where animals are kept. What was Jesus first crib? A manger, a feeding trough for animals. There you go; right there are 3 signs that Jesus came in like a lamb. But the crowning proof is that when Jesus begins His ministry John the Baptist points to Him and says, Theres the Lamb of God that takes the way the sins of the world.
Jesus began the march to Calvarys cross like a lamb, but He goes out like a lion. Lions are symbols of kings. They would wear lion skins for coats. King Solomons throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the 6 steps, one at either end of each step. One of Jesus names is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Jesus enters Jerusalem today unlike any of the other times. He enters with a roar. A very large crowd heralded Him with Hosanna, or save now, Son of David. Son of David was an Old Testament title for king of the Jews. They spread their cloaks on the road which was the way the ancients honored a dignitary; it was the forerunner of our red carpet. This was how King Jehu was honored in 2 Kings 9. John also tells us they cut palm branches and went out to meet Jesus. Palm branches were like the national flag of the Jewish nation. King Jehu was welcomed with palms; Palms were used in rededicating the second temple about 130 years before Jesus was greeted by them. In 141 BC when triumphant Simon Maccabeus entered Jerusalem palms were used as a national symbol of victory. Palms were put on Jewish coins as a national symbol during the revolts against Rome which would take place 40 and 100 years after Jesus triumphant entry (Kiehl, The Passion of Our Lord, 28-29).
Jesus enters Jerusalem like the king of beasts accepting accolades as king, as Messiah. No more of this, Shhh, dont tell anybody Im the Messiah. Now its, Im King of the Jews; hear me roar. Even the donkey can be looked at in a kingly way. First, that is how the prophet Zechariah predicted the people of God would know their king. He would come to them riding on a donkey. Second, when King David wanted to make sure everyone knows Solomon rather than another son is his choice for the throne what does David do? He instructs him to be placed on his personal mule, and when a messenger reports to the pretender to the throne that David has made Solomon king the first proof he offers him is, They have caused him to ride upon the king's mule.
Jesus came in like a lamb but Hes going out like a lion. He enters Jerusalem like a king and then acts like one. With royal, unquestionable authority, He cleans the Temple like He owns the place. He even calls it My house. Youll appreciate what a, kingly thing this was to do if I put the situation in todays terms. The temple was the major economy of Jerusalem. It was run by a Jewish family in cahoots with Rome. They raked in bundles of money from all over the world in the name of religion. Jesus cleaning the temple is like a press conference where He announces Hes bringing down the corrupt political machine that has been taking advantage of the people.
Throwing the money machine out of the temple is an in your face type move worthy of a lion, of a king, but Jesus goes one better. He sets up shop here. Only Matthew tells you, The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple and He healed them. Unlike other miracles, Matthew gives no details. He passes by any praise given to Jesus. He doesnt mention any joy of those healed. Thats because the point is Jesus has taken over the temple, and even the children know it. They hail Jesus as their Savior and King, and when challenged by the church leaders for accepting their praise Jesus replies in a kingly fashion that their cries arent blasphemy but the fulfillment of Scripture.
Jesus started this march to Calvary with bleats and bahs but Hes finishing with a roar. Go to the zoo; nobody stops and turns when a lamb bleats but everyone does when a lion roars. A lion cant be ignored. If a lamb gets loose from a zoo, no alerts go out; its a different story with a lion. Lions not lambs need killing.
St. Chrysostom notes that Jesus enemies easily found many things in His entering Jerusalem to provoke them. He lists the multitude praising Him, His cleansing the temple, His miracles, and the children (Homily 67.1, Gospel of Matthew). He misses one. When the whole city is abuzz with the question of Who is this? The crowds say, This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth not Jerusalem, form Galilee not Judea. O Jesus is just asking for it, isnt He? If only Hed stuck to His bleating, who wouldve killed Him? Who sees a lamb and says, I need to kill that? Its a different manner when youre confronted with a lion.
To be totally accurate, even when Jesus was going about as the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world, the church leaders still wanted Him dead. But they all agreed they could wait till after the Passover feast; they didnt want to risk a riot by the people. Not that they feared the people hurting them. What they feared is the Roman occupying force using a riot as an excuse to remove them from their positions of power. It was all quite political, rather complicated, and messy this Jesus problem. But it could wait till after the Passover; it could wait that is till Jesus roared on Palm Sunday and announced the Lion of the tribe of Judah had arrived. They could put off dealing with the Lamb Jesus but not the Lion, and they ended up doing so right during the Feast of Passover.
God almighty wanted to make sure you cant miss that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, and what better way to do that than to have Him sacrificed during Passover? Who can miss the connection then? The Old Testament Church escaping from Egypt was commanded by God to paint the blood of a lamb around the door of their homes so the angel of death might pass over them and not kill their firstborn. What? Doesnt God know where His people live? In the 5 plagues before God had distinguished between His people and the Egyptians why is the blood needed now? Because this pointed to Jesus and the fact that there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of His blood and that the benefits of His blood can only be had by faith. If you didnt believe the blood of a lamb was needed for your house to be passed over, you wouldnt paint it around your door, would you?
God by making sure His only beloved Son died during the Passover has drawn a line between the Old Testament Passover lamb and the New Testament One. Paul clearly saw it saying, For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. The question is do you believe His Blood is thick enough, rich enough, gracious enough so the avenging angel will pass over you? Then you want this Blood; then you need this Blood; then youve got to have the Blood of the Lamb of God who is also a Lion.
Where do you get that Blood? That Blood is put over bodies by means of Baptism in the Name of the Triune God. I put that Blood in your ears when I forgave you in the name of the Triune God earlier. And in Communion that Blood is put into bodies ravished by sins, haunted by Death, and chased by the Devil.
But how do you really know, I mean really know that Blood is meant for you? Well if Jesus had died any other time other than at Passover, I think we might have a reason to doubt. The Lamb of God who carried the sins of the world needed to die at Passover so you could really know His Blood was meant for you. So He would die at Passover Jesus rode into Jerusalem roaring like a lion not bleating like a lamb.
I dont get it. How does Jesus dying at Passover help me conclude His Blood is meant for me? Only at Passover was there the custom of the Roman governor releasing a guilty prisoner. The people could ask for anyone they wanted. The Roman governor, hoping to be able to release Jesus who he knew was innocent, offered the crowd a choice between Jesus and a man named Barabbas. This Barabbas was guilty of rebellion and murderer. These are the first two sins recorded in the Bible. Adam and Eve rebelled against Gods gracious paradise and Cain murdered Able. The crowd chose the guilty man and sent the innocent Jesus to His death, and God the Father agreed. Jesus would be put to death not only in place of but for the sins of Barabbas and all people.
Have no doubt that Jesus Blood in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion is meant to cover, to forgive, to wash away your sins regardless of how big, how ugly, how shameful they are. God had a choice and He choose to punish Jesus in your place. Before the eternal judgment bench you and Jesus stood. The Father said, I choose her; I choose him. She/he will be let go; My Son will go to the cross, to hell, to death, to judgment; they will go free in, with, and under His Blood.
Jesus finished the march to Calvary like a lion so He might die as the Lamb of God at Passover and so we might live in praise of the Lamb who is also our Lion. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20100328); Matthew 21: 1-17