“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?'” (Matthew 21:10)
When I began working with the youth at First Lutheran Church in Nashville, Tennessee during my first year at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I got my first taste of parish ministry.
One Sunday afternoon there was a youth rally at First Lutheran and there were youth from several Lutheran congregations who attended. I didn’t know the youth from those other congregations nor some of their pastors. But one of the pastors really shocked me.
His name was Pastor Rau. I had not met him before the rally, but later I heard that he worked as a chaplain for many years and in his retirement served a very small congregation in downtown Nashville. At one moment during the meeting when everyone was eating, Paul Rau asked me, “How much are they paying you here?”
I was speechless for a moment. I finally said, “Why don’t you ask Pastor Reider?” ( He was the pastor of First Lutheran Church.) Later that afternoon I kept asking myself, “Who is this pastor who shocked me with a question about my salary as a youth worker?
“Who is this?” was on the minds of the crowd of Jews who shouted blessings to Jesus and who spread their cloaks and palm branches before him as He rode on that donkey (and colt) in a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and on His way to the cross.
Matthew tells us as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, He fulfilled the prophecies from Zachariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11) about the Messiah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It is Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem and to the cross as the Messiah to save us all from the threatening dangers of our sins.
But the crowds didn’t see Jesus as the Messiah when they shouted “Hosannas” and “Blessings” to Him. Matthew tells us the crowds thought that Jesus was a “prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Now that was important because prophets spoke messages from the Lord. But the crowd didn’t understand that Jesus was the final prophet of God whose death and resurrection would speak eternal life to all who believed in Him and save us all from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil.
On this Palm and Passion Sunday, we learn much more about who this Jesus is from the reading of the Passion Narrative.
We first look at Jesus before Caiaphas, the high priest. Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was the “Messiah” and “Son of God.” With faith in His Heavenly Father, Jesus replied, “You have said so. But I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of glory.” On the last day Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. He will give eternal life to the righteous, but the unrighteous will depart from Jesus and His love.
When a bloodied and bruised Jesus stood before Pilate, this governor asked Jesus , “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate wanted to know if Jesus was an earthly king who would rival him and his power? But Jesus was not the earthly king, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who God sent into this world to reign over all creation with mercy, grace and peace.
It was mid afternoon. The sky was dark. On a hill, the place of a skull, outside of Jerusalem, the innocent Jesus was crucified between two criminals. Jesus cried out to His Father in heaven, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The bystanders who heard Jesus cry out thought He was calling for Elijah. Then Jesus cried out one more time with a piercing voice and “breathed his last.” At that moment the temple curtain was torn in two; an earthquake shook the land; tombs were opened.
At the moment of His death when the earth cried out with a black sky and a shaking and splitting ground, the terrified centurion and a few others keeping watch over Jesus shouted, “Truly, this man was God’s Son!
Who is this Jesus for you? Is He merely a historical figure who went around doing good? Is He a social reformer who gave us some principles about loving our neighbor? Or is this Jesus much more than that?
Jesus, God’s Son, is the one:
“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 the cross.”
(Philippians 5:6-8 NRSV)
Thanks be to God.