"…and setting a guard."

Text: St. Matthew Passion
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 4/17/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

The enemies of Jesus remembered talk about Jesus’ prediction of being raised from the dead after three days. So they sought to get final control of the situation by setting a guard before the tomb to make sure His disciples didn’t come to steal away His body and then claim a resurrection. But who is in control, anyway?

Right now we along with the first disciples should feel like we’ve lost control, completely. It was great and inspiring and a happy occasion when we entered Jerusalem with Jesus and the crowds cheering Him on, “Hosanna,” “Save us, now,” “Blessed, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Of course the cheers died down as they always do. One day followed into another. We spent a pleasant Passover with Him though He did and said some rather strange things…washing our feet…calling the bread His body and the wine His blood. And then the mysterious prediction of one of us betraying Him. We didn’t even finish the meal in the usual way before we went out in the night to a garden to pray.

It was then that we lost control. Judas and an angry crowd arrested Jesus and took Him away, and we all ran away. Have you run away from Jesus? from the cross?

It seems Peter tried to keep some control by following them as they took Jesus to the high priest. But even he soon lost control as people around recognized him and accused him of being a disciple of Jesus. Have you ever been “accused” of being a disciple of Jesus? What did you do? Peter again tried to get control of the situation by denying their accusations. Fortunately, a bird, a stupid rooster preached the accusing Law of God to Peter, and Peter gave up trying to control things, and repented, and wept bitterly. Who is in control?

Talk about losing control! Judas tried to take matters into his own hands ending his own life. Then Pilate the governor, then Barabbas, then the crowds shouting and threatening a riot, then the soldiers, Simon of Cyrene, the cross, the nails, the mocking, the darkness, the spear. Then the silence of the tomb, “and they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” Setting a guard they were in control. Or were they?

Who’s in control? Not you! And that’s what the entire celebration of Holy Week is all about. It’s what the Gospel and the Catechism is all about. Who is in control? Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). And now “the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mk 14:41). Nevertheless, He was still in control. “This woman has done it to prepare me for burial.” “I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” “One of you will betray me.” And He was in control even from of old, as He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” “All this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver…and they gave them for the potter’s field.”

And you think that is amazing? Then what of the Good Friday words-come-true of Psalm 22 heard echoing around the altar stripped of His glory? “My God, my God.” “All who see me mock me…they wag their heads; He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws.” “They have pierced my hands and feet…and for my clothing they cast lots.” Who is in control?

To repent and believe is to lose control, or rather, to give control over to the One who washes you with living water and the Spirit and with the blood of the Lamb; the One who clothes you in a white robe and places you at the right hand of His gracious judgment; the One who says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40).

God’s gracious control of your life and your destiny is His gracious promise. You are summoned to believe it, privileged to see it, for now most of the time in hindsight, once in awhile right in front of your face, but always according to His Word and promise. By His promise alone He is with you to the end of the age and you will be with Him in paradise forever. Hosanna! Save us, now. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.