Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Did our Heavenly Father want Jesus to be betrayed, slandered, crucified, and killed?
It’s often the case that we can use an analogy, a comparison, with something we understand to better understand God the Father’s Word and action.
But there is no example to compare, no real-life comparison, of a father desiring for his son, his only son, to be betrayed, slandered, crucified, and killed.
No. In this case, our Heavenly Father’s Word and action—His great love for us—has no comparison.
Consider the same question asked this way:
Did our Heavenly Father desire to redeem the world?
So what would that take?
This is why there’s no human comparison—we can redeem neither the world nor ourselves.
But the shed blood of Jesus, the Christ, God in the flesh, that can and does and did redeem us.
And St. Matthew’s account of the Passion of Christ shows us again and again that God ensured that His Son would be crucified, that is, He ensured that the world would be redeemed.
First, we heard the chief priests and elders of the people plot together to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people’” (Matthew 26:5).
The chief priests and elders wanted to avoid two things: killing Jesus during the feast—during the Passover—and an uproar among the people.
Judas’s betrayal gives the priests and elders what they want but at the wrong time. They paid him thirty pieces of silver, all the same, desiring, above all, to kill Jesus, whom they envied.
And when Jesus is crucified, there is an uproar among the people—just as the chief priests and elders hoped to avoid. But this uproar was of their own design.
They “persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Matthew 27:20).
In fact, regarding Jesus, “they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (Matthew 27:23).
And when Pilate “saw…that a riot was beginning…he released for them Barrabbas, and…delivered [Jesus] to be crucified” (Matthew 27:24, 27).
The chief priests and elders wanted to avoid two things, but God made sure those two things happened.
Prior to all of this, Jesus said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2).
Jesus has prophesied His passion and death all along.
God has known, all along, what would happen.
And to make sure that it did happen—exactly what the chief priests and elders try to avoid—God ensures.
And these two things specifically are important, too.
That the crowd be stirred up, that there’s an uproar among the people, is a condemnation of the mob.
Peter, in Acts chapter two, does the same thing when he says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
And—that the crucifixion of Jesus necessarily occurs during the Passover, we can say this: the Passover lamb was killed and eaten, and those who eat of its flesh, though they killed it, are protected, safe and sound, by the God who—outside the house—destroys all.
It can be no shock, then, that this Passover Lamb, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, reinterprets the Passover meal in terms of His own flesh and blood. “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you…this is my blood…poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
And those who eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, even though they crucified Him, are protected, safe and sound, by the God who—outside the house of faith—destroys all.
Our Heavenly Father, desiring to redeem the world, ensured that the world would be redeemed through the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
“Despite the high priests’ secret plots, coded signals, and high powered weaponry, it’s not their will that’s being accomplished. The son of man is being handed over in accordance with God’s will revealed in the prophets. Only Jesus is aware of this fact” (Garland. Reading Matthew, 257).
“All this has taken place that the Scriptures and the prophets might be fulfilled.
“Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56).
Peter said he wouldn’t. So did the other disciples.
“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.
“And all the disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:33, 35).
But they don’t realize what they’re saying.
You might not think it necessary for Jesus to endure these things alone—that He must have had these, His friends, their company, at least, their help, at most to get through what He knew would be terrible.
We can’t understand God’s action. There is no human comparison for what Jesus endures.
He says they will deny Him. They say they won’t.
Jesus prays in Gethsemane. Peter and the two sons of Zebedee sleep.
They’re with Him. But they’re not with Him.
They’re not there to help Jesus. They’re at Gethsemane to learn from His example—to commend all things to God the Father who judges justly.
In fact, Peter writes exactly that: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Jesus had to be abandoned even by His friends.
His friends had to promise to stay and then flee.
God didn’t cause their hasty vows or sin. They didn’t have to vow—they didn’t have to flee.
But it is written, “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31; Zechariah 13:7).
“Jesus accepts his seizure as [being] in accord with the divine plan revealed in the prophets, but the disciples, who had all promised that they would die with Jesus, all forsake him and flee…They had forsaken everything to follow Jesus; [but] now they forsake their discipleship. It is not their rash vow of fidelity that is fulfilled but the Scripture as Jesus predicted” (Garland. Reading Matthew, 257).
And here’s why all of this matters:
Two of the disciples who betray Jesus are identified by name: Judas and Peter.
Jesus foretells Judas’ betrayal immediately before the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
And He foretells Peter’s betrayal immediately after the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper, then, is the center, the key to understanding why all this matters.
And in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says, “This is my body…this is my blood…poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
All that Jesus does and says, the Word of God, and His action, all of it is done to earn and give the forgiveness of sins to poor, miserable, sinners.
In Judas and Peter, we see an honest comparison between humility and faith and pride and self-help.
Both invoke curses upon themselves—Peter in his denial of Christ and Judas in betraying innocent blood.
Both regret their betrayal—Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Judas “saw that Jesus was condemned, [and] he changed his mind” (Matthew 27:3). Only Matthew records that about Judas.
But here’s the difference between the two.
Judas seeks forgiveness where it cannot be found.
He returns to the temple—where God no longer is—where callous shepherds turn him away, saying, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4).
And Judas tries exactly that.
He hangs himself.
He is condemned.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).
We don’t know what Judas was thinking, but perhaps he knew this verse, from Numbers chapter thirty-five: “No atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it” (Numbers 35:33).
Suicide is self-murder. It breaks the Fifth Commandment.
But it also removes God from authority and replaces Him, just for a moment, with the self. This breaks the First Commandment.
Instead of confessing his sin, instead of being reconciled to the other disciples, instead of living forever with God, he dies. Once. And for all.
Peter, on the other hand, is among the Eleven in Galilee, waiting for Jesus.
At the empty tomb, the angel tells the women, “Go quickly and tell [Jesus’] disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee” (Matthew 28:7).
And Jesus, Himself, says the same: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10).
That Peter’s at Galilee implies that he’s repented.
He trusts in God to save. And not himself.
The arrogance and despair of Judas leads only to destruction.
But the humility and faith of Peter leads to life.
Jesus does not turn away sinners who come to him in repentance. Only with him will they find the forgiveness they crave.
So now we see why these things must be.
The mob had to reject Him—the indictment against humanity must fall against us all.
Our sins crucified and killed Jesus.
It had to be at Passover—Jesus is the true Passover lamb whose flesh and blood forgive us and keep us safe.
His friends, His disciples had to betray and flee.
“There is salvation in no one else…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The difference between Judas and Peter, whose betrayals Jesus foretold immediately before and after the institution of the Lord’s Supper, comes down to whether or not you understand why Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and went to the Cross in the first place.
His body and blood is given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
God, in Christ, reconciled the world to Himself.
All are justified, forgiven.
And God gives that forgiveness freely to all who believe in the Lord Jesus.
Judas trusted in himself and was condemned.
Peter repented, trusted in God—His Word and His action—and was saved.
God ensured that the world would be redeemed.
He ensured that Peter—and even Judas—could receive life eternal.
He has ensured life eternal for you.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Confess your sins.
Repent and believe the Gospel.
And you will be saved.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!