The Rest of the Story

Text: St. Matthew Passion
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 4/13/14

Every year we hear the sad story of the Passion of Jesus, on Sunday according to the synoptic evangelist (this year St. Matthew) and again on Good Friday according to St. John. The Great and Holy Week is designed for us to make an extended meditation on our Lord’s death. No matter which way you look at it it is a very sad and heartrending story. Yet we know, God willing, that Easter is coming. And so it’s like the saying I heard some time ago and has now been turned into a song by a quartet named Legacy Five:

I’ve been readin’ in the Bible,
’bout the ending of the age.
And one thing that’s for certain,
it grows closer every day.
But I am not concerned about,
the way it’s gonna end.
‘Cause I’ve read the back of the book and we win.[1]

The dramatic in me wants, every year, to “get in the mood,” so to speak, in hopes of somehow experiencing some of the pathos, the fear and terror, the wonder of it all. This year, however, when I read the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus I did not raise my voice at Jesus’ loud speaking, saying, “Lazarus, come out.” I simply reported that he said these words with a “phonei megalei,” “a loud voice.”

That’s what the four Gospels are, the record and report by the authorized witnesses of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They each have extended introductions, Matthew writing primarily to a Jewish audience, Mark reporting the witness and preaching of the Chief Apostle, Peter, Luke “an orderly account…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4), and St. John the most deeply theological yet very real eyewitness account. But the goal of all three is this event that began when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, for the last Passover, for His betrayal, condemnation, crucifixion and burial in a borrowed tomb.

As the hymn has us ask,

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease
And ‘gainst Him rise” (LSB 430:4).

Why? It is simply that this is the event, long prophesied and predicted ever since God first planned to win back His creation beginning in the Garden of Eden, the method by which He could, both, satisfy His just condemnation and punishment of sin, yet also reconcile people and His whole creation to Himself. It took more than all the predictive animal sacrifices of the Old Testament and the demands of the divine Law. It took a human being, one of us, to finally keep God’s Law perfectly and yet then to be the one human sacrifice that had the power to appease God’s wrath and justice for all. That could only happen if that human being was sinless in himself. And since that hereditary defect is in all of us God Himself, the Son of God, the glorious Second Person of the Holy Trinity did the long predicted, long expected yet almost unbelievable act of taking on our human flesh, or as St. Paul says today, “making himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Then, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

That death, and none other, changed everything. It was nothing less than “the power of God, who saved us and called us” to that “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8-10).

So here it is for you and for all the world to hear, to understand, to receive and to believe, the Great and Holy Week.

Go to dark Gethsemane,
All who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

Follow to the judgment hall,
View the Lord of life arraigned;
Oh, the wormwood and the gall!
Oh, the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn from Him to bear the cross. (LSB 436:1-2)