+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion. The Palm Sunday Gospel, of course, recounts Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before His arrest and crucifixion. You heard that reading earlier from the steps outside the front of the church.
The Passion Narrative is that rather long reading that you heard from Mark's Gospel just a few moments ago. In some sense, everything you hear read from this lectern throughout the year builds up to this moment in time, the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. This is the crucial moment in all of human history. Life and death weigh in the balance. Those who refuse the forgiveness won by Jesus are confined to eternal torment in hell. Those who, by God's grace, embrace the free gift of forgiveness are granted life and salvation.
We pick up the story in Mark's gospel with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. All of the disciples had gathered around the table to eat the Passover meal with Jesus. Though it was tranquil inside, there was a storm of discontent and deceit brewing outside. The powers that be had had enough of Jesus. They had seen Him incite crowds one too many times. They had seen Him erode their popularity and their power over the masses. They watched as He commanded the allegiance and the devotion of people, not by coercion or by force, but by compassion, by His tender mercy and care. The fullness of time had come.
Judas, one of the twelve, was identified as the one who would betray Jesus. Later that night he came into the garden with soldiers carrying swords and clubs. He was accompanied by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Judas didn't know it, but he was a pawn in the disgruntled leader's grand conspiracy. A sign had been given. Judas would kiss Jesus, a common sign of affection and honor. This particular kiss, however, would mark Jesus for arrest and crucifixion and it would ultimately mark Judas as the man who betrayed the Prince of Life.
Judas, some would say, was destined to do what he did. The mere suggestion, however, defies God's Word and ultimately it questions the mercy of Christ who "would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." If God didn't love Judas, how, my friends, do you know that He love you!?
Whether it was greed, or, simply that he no longer believed that Jesus was the Christ, or, perhaps a little bit of both, the fact is, Judas acted freely in his betrayal of Jesus. Choices have consequences. As a result of his choice, Judas became one of those figures that we love to hate. The annals of history mark him as the one who traded life and salvation, God's priceless treasures, for a few pieces of silver.
Judas died, as the Scriptures say, the "son of perdition," which means he lost his soul to the place of the damned. Though he regretted what he had done, he considered himself beyond the redeeming love and mercy of Christ, despairing even of the forgiveness that Jesus would win for him on the cross. Though he tried to give the pieces of silver back to those who paid the bounty, he was directed to see to his problem himself, something neither he, nor any of us, have the capacity to do when it comes to our guilt before God.
Judas' story is a tragic one. I've gone through it this morning somewhat at length as a bit of warning to all of us. Choices have consequences. Sometimes those consequences leave us in a place where we consider ourselves beyond the reach even of God's grace and mercy in Christ. We never are, of course, outside of God's love in Christ, but, our perception, your perception, my perception, can deceive me, leaving me wondering if God's forgiveness is big enough, broad enough and free enough to cover even me.
I've also gone through Judas' story again because it brings out something about us that only heightens and intensifies God's wondrous love for us in Christ Jesus. I'd take you back in Mark's gospel to the part where Jesus identified His betrayer. He said "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." Again, it was the night of the Passover. In hindsight we know who it was who would betray Jesus. But, the disciples didn't know who it was. In fact, Mark tells us that when Jesus said that one of them would betray Him, each one of the disciples asked Him, "Lord, is it I?"
It's an amazing thing, isn't it? "Lord, is it I?" Every one of the disciples knew what was in them. They knew they were capable of denying and betraying Jesus. They knew that, given the right circumstances, the right time and the right threats to their person, they might well sell their souls for a pittance, even as Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge. In short, none of them were certain that they would be faithful to Jesus to the end, that they would treasure the things of God over and above the things of the world to their dying breath. All of them knew that, were it up to them, they would betray even Jesus, destroying the witness of the gospel in them and their witness to the world.
Not surprisingly, Luther carried that same self-awareness with him throughout his life and ministry. There is a prayer he offered in the sacristy before he led God's people in the Divine Service. It's known today simply as "Luther's Sacristy Prayer." He says, "Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago."
The point is, the Gospel isn't finally about God loving us because we make all the right choices in life. Rather, it is about Him loving us even though we are filled with such a deceptive heart and soul, even though our choices, at times, are less than honorable and less than worthy of His grace, even though if things were left up to us we would bring everything, His forgiveness and mercy in our lives, even our devotion to Him to destruction. When Jesus said that one of His disciples would betray Him, none of the disciples were so presumptuous as to point the finger at someone else. You see, they knew! They knew they were capable of doing what Judas ultimately did.
"Know thyself." It's an old Greek maxim. No one really knows who first coined the phrase. It may have been Socrates, or Pythagoras, or, perhaps the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. In the end, it doesn't really matter who came up with it. It's pretty sage advice. Knowing ourselves, particularly from a Biblical perspective, keeps us from pride and arrogance. Ultimately a brutal and honest self-awareness leaves us seeking help and finding hope outside of ourselves.
Having changed all of human history by His death and resurrection, Jesus stands as that single source of hope still today. Amazingly His death on the cross for the sins of the world would encompass every sin and every sinner. Judas, who betrayed Him, was not forsaken by Jesus. He loved him unto death, even death on a cross. Jesus literally became the betrayal of the betrayer, and Judas, though he couldn't fathom such grace, nor would he receive it, literally became the righteousness of the one he betrayed.
"Lord, is it I?" Yes, Lord, show me my sin. Let me be brutally honest with myself that your forgiveness might ring ever sweeter in my ears and that I might embrace it all the more.
"If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Your cross my fear disarm;
Peace of conscience give me.
Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy passion.
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!"
(LSB 440 v. 5)
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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