He Emptied Himself
The Liturgy of the Palms
The Liturgy of the Word
It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From John’s Gospel we read:
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. (John 12:12-16)
It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the crucified. Of course, the chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty when it comes to tyranny. Little has changed over the years.
Nevertheless, such a quick desertion of Jesus was remarkable. Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Mark’s Gospel:
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ (Mark 14:26-27)
Peter was no exception. We read again from Mark:
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:66-72)
In the face of such betrayal, Jesus seemed remarkably calm. The wonder of it all is that Jesus so willingly gave up himself. He endured such horrendous suffering. We read in Isaiah:
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)
Let us place ourselves in the story. Have we ever gone from glorifying Jesus to denying Jesus in a short span of time? We celebrate him in church. What about outside of church? That is becoming increasing more difficult to do in our pluralistic society. Or should we say “atheistic society?”Have you noticed how the media looks upon Christians today?
If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
There is a price to pay in following Jesus. The chief priests were unwilling to surrender their gatekeeper positions. Pilate was unwilling to go against the crowd. It was too big a risk for him. At times, have we forsaken Jesus and been unfaithful to him because the price was too high?
Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins. He gave up his life on a cruel cross that we might become free from sin. God literally tore himself apart where the Son was separated from the Father for a moment, because our sins were on the back of Jesus. We read again from Mark:
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:33-39)
Jesus has promised us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He forgave Peter and restored his ministry. Do we need his restoration today? He surrounded his all for us. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross. For this reason he is able to pour out his Spirit upon us all. Where we are weak he is strong. Walking together with Jesus in his Spirit. we will be able to stand for the truth of the Gospel no matter what the challenging might be. Amen.