Scripture: Matthew 27:11-54
Today we celebrate with thousands if not millions of people the crowning of a king. A king who we believe was sent to us from God, who was going to restore order and peace to the nations. Today is Palm Sunday.
Over the years I wonder if we really understand what this day really represents? We like millions before and around us claim that Jesus is king. We sing Praise to God, “Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna, such a strange word. A word that means save, rescue, help, or “save, I pray.” It is a cry of mercy of those that are found in the midst of a deep dilemma. Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. This was the cry of people that were caught in the midst of cultural, political, and religious bondage and they we crying PLEASE SAVE US!
Today we use this term almost flippantly. We sing in our hymns and choruses of praise, but do we really think about what is being said? We say it as if it is the rallying cry or the slogan of a dynamic king but in reality it is a cry for help, an urgent desire to know the truth and to be set free.
The depth of the words we use can loose their meaning on us. Terms like awesome were once used only to describe seemingly miraculous events that were beyond description and could only be attributed to divine intervention. Today its use is so common that my tie could be awesome… And my tie is not nearly a miraculous event that can only be attributed to divine intervention, it is something common, anyone and everyone has access to one similar if they go to their local department store. Hosanna is one such word. We raise our hands and cry hosanna as we sing… well some people do but not us necessarily, but when we use it we are not really screaming for salvation. We use it like many other words in worship; its deep meaning has almost been completely lost through the generations.
I begin here because I want us to really picture the struggle of this festive and turbulent time, this day we call Palm Sunday. There were many that wanted Jesus to be their king, as he rode into the City of David on the donkey so long ago. In the midst of their struggle, their strong desire to be free from the exploitation of their overlords they were crying out Save us, and lead us to God. Then there were others there that had become accustom to the overlords and the status quo. They used their positions to manipulate and control, though being very faithful to the traditions of their Fathers, but using it for personal advantage in their present life. The faith and the law became empty. Those that could afford the status gained favor and those that could not could only move up in status if they exhibited some extraordinary gift: a gift of leadership, a beautiful voice, maybe even if they had some special understanding of finance and they systems of trade. Both sides were looking for a king but both sides were seeing very different pictures of what that king would actually look like. One was the source of salvation, freedom, and dignity. The other saw one who would unite and empower the leaders to rule and control the nation completely.
These two views bring us to the passion we read about today, two groups with two very different views of a singular figure looking through lenses of their interpretations to determine where they would stand. This tension was not only on the outside the circle of disciple of Jesus, but ran deeply in the interactions of those closest to Jesus. When we consider the names and occupations of the twelve men we know as the disciple or apostles we see stories emerge Matthew or Levi was a tax collector, a man whose namesake was the tribe of Israel devoted to service to the Lord but was living a life sold out to the ones that were oppressing the chosen people. We have Simon the Zealot; we may assume they added the Zealot to differentiate between Simon Peter and the other Simon but Zealot is a term that had meaning and would not be used for a person without a purpose. Simon was a freedom fighter, one that would give his life for the cause of Israel and would do anything to advance the faith and nation. Then there is Judas Iscariot, the demon of the gospel narratives. Some would venture to say that Judas was also an extreme Zealot likening the term Iscariot to the men of the dagger, meaning that Judas may have been a member of an ultra secret fighting force of Israel, a band of assassins. We do not know this for sure, but it does give some insight into how or why he did the things he did.
Men of different background within and without Jesus’ inner circle with projecting their desires onto who or what Jesus should be. Yet a week after this seemingly jubilant time Jesus is found not on a throne but mocked before the world standing at the judgment seat. How quickly the crowds moved from crying out for salvation to crying out for blood, yet how far are we from these people?
Jesus, standing before the governor is asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replies, “You say so.” Have you thought about that short conversation? Have you really considered what Jesus was really saying? You say so. Meaning, for him to be standing before this man, this man in some fashion had to make a judgment either way. This man, Pilate, would either have to say yes he is the king or say no he is not. The answer to this question had very different ramifications. One leads to death as a rebel the other would lead to freedom. Pilate refused to make a judgment. This is not the history of this particular man. Pilate was not an indecisive man, in fact history shows that this man would nail someone to a tree for a cross less, Jesus even makes a reference about the bloodiness of Pilate when he speaks of the Galileans whose blood was mixed with the blood of the sacrifices. Pilate was quick to make Judgment. But there was something different about Jesus.
Jesus was a very popular and radical figure. He had a following that could at any moment turn to rebellion, Rome definitely would have had their eyes on this man, because any large group of people meeting together would have attracted the attention of any tyrannical leader. Pilate knew what Jesus taught, he was probably behind some of the questions that Jesus was asked, because the Sadducees were in many instances puppets of the Romans. Jesus posed a threat but the greater threat was not in the man himself but in what would happen if he took a side in the issue.
Pilate comes up with a crafty plan, he had made a custom of pardoning someone during the festival, so he brings before the people Jesus, and Jesus Barabbas. This is an interesting trial. Jesus or Joshua means literally means God Saves, or God is our deliverance or salvation. Both men presented before the people had this name. Both men stood before them as icons of the hope that the people of God had in their future, an image of who their faith and trust truly hung. Barabbas is a compound name, Bar means of, and Abbas, or abba means father. So Barabbas means of a father, or a man’s way. We have before the people a trial or a crossroad. Standing before them they must chose do we want to move forward in this new teaching of Jesus or do we want to fall back into the comfort of the faith of our fathers. Do we move forward in the light of God, or do we keep doing what we have always done. Do we choose the kingdoms of men or the Kingdom of God? This choice would determine not only the future of the nation but is a testimony in who or what their faith lays.
The crowd chose the zealot, bandit, freedom fighter Barabbas over Jesus. They chose to continue the struggle and fight between the cultures of Rome and Judea over a new path. They chose war over peace. Jesus was not anti Rome, and Pilate knew this. Jesus was not worried about the political aspects of the world, but was focused on the personal relationships between God and man. In other Gospels Jesus answers Pilates question my kingdom is not of this world. Which was ok with Pilate because in that statement Jesus was saying I could careless about the government, but what is important is how we treat the people around us. But the people chose Barabbas.
Jesus came teaching a rhythm of life, a rhythm of Worship, Prayer, and Service. He taught this rhythm to his disciples, a rhythm goes beyond national boarders, cultures, and races. It did not matter if the faithful to this lifestyle were Jewish, Samaritan, or even a Gentile, Jesus taught the rhythm and served all people. The healing he provided went to the people of Israel and also to the Roman official, Jesus sat at the table with Pharisees and touched the lepers. It did not matter who you were if you cried Hosanna Jesus was willing to serve.
But the people chose Barabbas, and in that choice they chose tradition over obedience. The soldiers dressed Jesus up and mocked him. Giving him a robe of scarlet and crown of thrones and a reed as scepter. They bowed down to him hailing him as king, but just the hails were nothing more than empty words filled with hate. They hung him on a cross and the people also mocked him. “He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.”
How often do we join in that chorus, mocking Jesus instead of crying out Hosanna? How often do we cry out for Barabbas instead of becoming a blessing for those around us? I ask these questions in all seriousness because often we can get so tied up in our theology and apologetics that we forget to listen to the cries of hosanna around us. We see the person struggling with a substance abuse problem and we judge before we offer help, we talk badly about the scared teenager who chose an abortion instead of encouraging her to embrace a testimony of respect for all life, or maybe we reject completely a person who has a view different world than our own. When we cry Barabbas or hold firm to tradition, we often fail to participate in the very ministry that Jesus has been urging and inspiring us to take up.
I am not saying that theology is bad. I love theology. I will read theology as eagerly as I can read the latest mystery novel. But theology should be moving us to action. Theology is one of those deep aspects of prayer and embracing the Spirit of God, as we study theology or study God we should be moved into something greater. Our prayers and interactions with God should draw us closer to the one we worship and to those He loves.
The mockers stood before Jesus on the cross, and listened to Him scream out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” It is similar to the pleas that Jesus gives in the Revelation recorded by John and sent to the seven churches. So many left their first love, so many left the cries of Hosanna, and instead began to cry Barabbas.
Why have you forsaken me? Where do you find our help, where do we find salvation, where is our hope? Is it in the heritage we gain from our fathers or is it in the revelation of God? Jesus is the full and true revelation of God, He is the Word made flesh to dwell among us. Jesus left the glory of heaven, was made into the likeness of man, and born of Mary. He grew in knowledge of the Lord as He learned just like each of us how to read, how to interact with others, and how to work all the care of our parents. He took on the full experience of humanity, he knows our struggles and our pains, and He knows our temptations, and the spiritual and emotional strength that is required to overcome those temptations. He had friends and lost friends, he experienced rejections and wept when a loved one died. He came down to earth to restore the relationship between God and Mankind. In His divinity He brings God to man, and in His humanity he lifts us up to God.
Today we are left with a choice, the choice is one that has faced every person in all of history, and it is the choices that Pilate gave the people of Judea that day. Which will you choose? Who will you choose to be your salvation, Jesus or Barabbas? One led the people of Judea into the Jewish wars and the destruction of all that they held dear. The other leads us to the cross. One leads us to the failing kingdoms of men here today and gone tomorrow, while the other leads us to the hope of a new restored life that will last into eternity. One mocks while the other restores, one is a path of darkness and destruction while the other is a path to light. One is a rhythm of continuous cycles of selfishness, exploitation, and manipulation, while the other is a rhythm that bring us to become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy I want us each to imagine ourselves standing there with the crowd before Pilate, looking up toward the judgment seat. Who will we choose? Which lifestyle will we choose? Will we chose a life that brings hope or despair? Will we choose Barabbas or Christ?