Agnes Dei or Just Part Way
Palm Sunday (3-28-10)
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
During the great Passover Feast of Jerusalem the community would be packed. Jerusalem would grow to 10 times its normal size. The nature of the community would be one of celebration. In some ways it’s hard for us to understand the Passover. It’s like combining several Holidays together, Independence Day – The Celebration of independence from the Bondage of Egypt, Christmas – The gift of a promised land given through God’s promise voiced though the prophet Moses, A Family Reunion – The Passover was a required annual gathering of Jewish men in Jerusalem for the feast. It was a time to celebrate, to relive the great events of God love for Israel. And most importantly it was a time to receive the forgiveness of sins.
And you know what happens when you get that many people together. It becomes a great festival. And with festivals are parties. And with parties are food, drink and street vendors. The streets would have been full of people selling their wares and food stuffs. Have you ever been to a third world nation? Have you every visited a street market? That would have been the aroma filling the air. But add to it about 150,000 people who didn’t use deodorant. All of them excited about being in Jerusalem. And probably most of them had heard about Jesus, about all His miracles and most especially about the raising of Lazarus less than 2 miles away in Bethany. In the back of their minds was the question, “Is He the One, the Anointed One – The Messiah?”
It was into this atmosphere that Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted as The Triumphant King with shouts of “Hosanna – Lord Save Us, now.” Some Greeks, who came to worship at the Passover, wanted to see Jesus. So they went to the disciple Philip the only disciple with a Greek name. He wasn’t so sure about this, so he went to Andrew, and the two of them went to see Jesus. We don’t know if Jesus ever met with the Greeks. John just doesn’t say. But more importantly is what Jesus says. This visit of the Greeks prompts Jesus to speak of His coming death in broad terms. His hour had come with the coming of these Greeks; the hour of His glory, His death. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself"(John 12:31-32).
ALL, please don’t skip over that all-inclusive little word. We are so accustomed to thinking of salvation in exclusive, private terms. Just me and Jesus! Jesus died for me! Jesus loves me! He’s is my Savior! My Redeemer! My Lord! I see your heads nodding. I’m afraid we’ve grown far too comfortable using the vocabulary of American Protestantism where Jesus is a potential Savior whom you actualize by believing in Him, praying to Him, giving Him your life. In other words, Jesus really isn’t the Lamb of God who actually takes away the sin of the actual world in His actual death. He’s only a potential Lamb who potentially takes away the sin of those people of the world who have the potential good sense to decide for Him and believe in Him. But there’s a big problem with that.
It’s like having the power hooked up to your house and a light bulb screwed into the light socket and all you have to flip the switch and your Gospel light will shine. Do you see what that does? It turns faith into a work you do, albeit with God, but it puts salvation into your hands, your control, your decision, but then God is your partner not really your Lord.
But Jesus isn’t just the Savior of the savable, the Redeemer of the redeemable, the Light for the enlightened, or the Lord of those who have the good fortune enough to be born into the right religion. He’s the Savior, Redeemer, Light, Lord of the world - the universe, even the cosmos. He’s not the center of your life, HE IS YOUR LIFE!
OT Israel seemed to have trouble hanging on to this. Israel was supposed to be a priestly nation to proclaim the Name of Yahweh as the Creator and Redeemer of the whole world. Instead Israel treated God as though He were some kind of local deity, and as if they were God’s only country with a favored nation status. They rest of the world was the goyim, the uncircumcised, those filthy Gentiles. The Greeks who came to see Jesus were apparently Greek worshipers who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But in the eyes of religious Israelites, those Greeks would always be second class citizens, outsiders and foreigners. And so when the Greeks came to see Jesus, Jesus seizes the opportunity to proclaim a universal death that goes beyond the borders of Israel, to embrace the whole world, those Greeks included.
Jesus compares His death to a seed, a kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. It must die. If it doesn’t die, it remains alone and fruitless. But if it dies, it rises from the ground to produce much fruit and many seeds. You see this is just like your gardens about this time every year. You take some seeds and bury them. They die, in a sense but in a few days, if you were to dig them up, they wouldn’t look like seeds anymore. But if you leave them alone in a couple of weeks they rise and grow to be plants that bear fruit with lots of seeds. And the point is this: in order for a seed to fulfill its seedy destiny, it must die. If it doesn’t, it remains alone and fruitless.
So it is with Jesus. Death is His destiny. It’s why He came. Death and resurrection is God’s way of working. The entire OT teaches that. The whole world lives, moves, and has its being in the death of the Word, the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. He’s the Lamb who was slain from the foundations of the earth (Rev. 13:8). His hour of glory is the hour He shows Himself dead in darkness on a cross. The world lives by the death of Christ.
And it’s that way with all of us too. We die to live. “Whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We don’t have yesterday - that’s only a memory. We don’t have tomorrow, that’s yet to come. We don’t even have five minutes from now. All we have is this present moment called “now” which we tend to cling to with all our strength. And it’s only when we let go, drop dead to our life in this world, that we have a life.
We love Easter Sunday but avoid Good Friday. We are drawn to the open tomb, but not to the cross. We might cringe to hear little children giving Jesus a hearty thousand, thousand thanks for bleeding and for dying. We try to shelter them from the harshness of death, whether a pet or a loved one. And we fail to teach them the one thing they must know to understand the world in which they live: that dying is the only way to live in a fallen world. The kernel of wheat must die. Jesus must die. We must die.
Jesus says that anyone who serves Him must follow Him, that means, follow Him through cross and tomb to resurrection. “Where I am,” Jesus says, “there my servant is too.” There on the cross. There in the tomb. Risen from the dead. At the right hand of God. You’ve been crucified with Christ, raised with Christ, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. It’s already an accomplished fact, a done deal in Jesus. His death is your death. His burial is your burial. His resurrection is your resurrection. His ascension is your ascension. And now, as far as God is concerned, your life, that is, your whole life – it is hidden and buried safely in Jesus. All you have to do have life is drop dead, like the kernel of wheat dropped into a hole in the ground, which is hardly much of an accomplishment on your part, is it?
So what about having faith, you might ask? Don’t you have to believe? What else can you do? When you’re falling down into a black hole and can see nothing at the bottom and you hear a voice that says, “Don’t worry. You’re safe. I’ll catch you,” all you can do is believe! You have Jesus’ word on it. You have His death and resurrection as proof. You have Baptism, which is your own personal burial in the death of Jesus. You have Jesus’ body and blood, as the bread and wine for your life. But for now, you can’t see anything. You can only trust Jesus, take Him at His word. As the writer to the Hebrews defines it, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not yet seen.” What you can’t see now is your life hidden in Christ. Now you simply must believe it.
Jesus calls His death the judgment of the world. “Now is the judgment of the world.” Jesus didn’t come to judge the world, but to save it. When Jesus died, the world was judged in Him. When we say that Jesus died in our place, that doesn’t mean that He was on the cross and we were off somewhere else getting a Coke and hamburger. It means that Jesus embodied you and me, the whole world - bar none, in His own body. “Christ died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor 5:14). His death is God’s judgment on the world.
Think of it this way. You come into a courtroom and the judge looks at you and says, “What are you doing here? You’ve already been judged. Your case is closed. Go home.” But you insist that it just isn’t so. You want to argue your case. You have all your papers in order. But the judge won’t listen to any of it. He already passed judgment on you one Friday in an afternoon session between Noon and three. “But there must be some mistake, you say. “I wasn’t there.” “Sure you were,” says the judge, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole world was there. And I’m not about to reverse my judgment. So go home and have a drink or go to jail if you want. But either way the court’s adjourned and your case is dismissed.
Jesus calls His death an exorcism of the world. “Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” The devil may prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. But the only teeth the devil has is the lie that says, “It just isn’t true, the world hasn’t been judged in Christ. The world didn’t die in Christ. You must do something to complete what Jesus started. You control your destiny. You’re the god of your own life. You call the shots.” That’s the only tool the devil has in his bag - the Lie that Christ is not the Savior of the world, that you must save yourself or at least add your 10 cents worth.
I don’t know why people who call themselves Christian get so worked up over the devil. It’s probably just ignorance. I suspect, that we’ve bitten into this dualistic notion of good and evil, which is how the devil originally deceived Eve. The idea that there is a great battle going on between good and evil and that outcome is still unknown. Will God or the devil win? But Jesus makes it abundantly clear. On that very Good Friday when Jesus hung on the cross, He did to the world what He had done to so many demon-possessed people in His ministry. He drove out the devil; He exorcised the world. In fact, Mark’s version of the Gospel paints the details of Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of an exorcism. In the death of Christ, the devil is cast out. “He can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done. One little Word can fell him.”
“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all to myself.” Jesus speaks of His death as the death of the world. All! Not some. Not a chosen few but All. The good, the bad, and the ugly and you. He (T) was lifted up for ALL, and that includes you and for your salvation. For in Him alone is life - eternal life. For He is the Agnes Dei! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and He has had mercy upon us. For Jesus paid the price in full with His very blood so that we can know beyond any doubt that all of our sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, for Jesus sake and in Jesus name, AMEN and AMEN!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.