Palm Sunday

Readings: Philippians 2:5-11 | Matthew 27:11-54

Text: Matthew 27:11-26

It is a blessing to our faith that we meditate on our Lord’s passion yearly. A Christian faith that has a fuzzy view of the historical, fleshly sufferings of Jesus Christ will easily fall for suggestions that the Christian life is just the best of the methods for self-improvement. Such Christians may intellectually understand themselves to be sinners, but it remains abstract. “Jesus died for my sins,” they say, but they cannot or will not conjure an image in their minds that the bruised and bloody Savior was not a victim of a cruel world. He was standing where I deserve to be, and so do you.

So, I would like to consider three aspects of our Lord’s passion from when He stood before Pontius Pilate.

1. Righteous Judge

Pontius Pilate was a government official. He was chosen to govern the province of Judea (Luke 3:1)

He was familiar with the ways of the Jews. He had both a familiarity with the ways of the Jews and the edict to keep the peace in Caesar’s name. (Luke 13:1)

The chief priest and scribes brought Jesus to the governor not because they wanted a fair decision. They wanted to get rid of Jesus with a veneer of justice.

What they got was exactly what they wanted—a judge who was acting unjustly. Slyer than a lawyer who knows how to manipulate a certain justice, they used the very tactics that spoke to Governor Pilate. Despite the warning of his wife (v. 19), despite his own judgment (v. 23), Pilate perverted justice.

In a last ditch effort to do what is right, he offered to the crowd to free either a known insurrectionist or Jesus. To emphasize this even more, he called Jesus the Christ. Nevertheless, they called for His death. They had the Christ, and would they had known it—but they did not understand.

Neither did Pilate. He did not understand at this point God’s narrative that the Righteous One must be condemned in order for the unrighteous sinner to be made free. Barabbas was a placeholder for you and me. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)

2. What profit is it to me?

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’”

Pontius Pilate was a selfish coward. He was no William Wilberforce who would rather face slander than drop his righteous cause. When the first round of resistance came to him, he remembered what his superiors had sent him to this backwater province for: keep the Jews in line. There had been incidences of radial Jews who had led the crowds awry. His job was to quell the nonsense.

So, despite his wife’s warning of this man’s innocence, despite the final question to the crowds, “Why? What evil has he done?” A riot was beginning, and he could not have that on his watch. His reputation was more important than doing what was true and good and right.

Who are we to point a finger at him? When it’s become difficult for us, how have we not caved to family or social pressures? What do we gain from standing for what is true? A lost job? Ridicule? Being alienated from our own children? When we see that it profits us nothing in this world, we are just as quick as Pilate to cave to the pressures.

3. Washing in water, washed in blood

What was Pilate’s response to this? He took water and washed his hands of the matter. What good was this? It has no power to absolve him.

What did the people respond? 25 And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”

Water and blood—both thing which God highly prizes, but without faith they are blind to its true importance! Pilate wanted to wash himself of the sin of condemning the innocent to death. If only we could simply wash ourselves of the sins which we have done. If only there were some cosmic “undo” button that would take back the past! But just like Pilate, we can find none, no matter how earnestly or publicly we renounce it.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” The crowd shouted this as they murderously sought the death of this Jesus of Nazareth. Likely, they didn’t know the significance of what they were shouting. This wish was heard in the cry of the Lord, who prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) And what they meant for evil—the lust for his blood and to be rid of him in the moment—God was working for good. For it was not their bloodlust, their will to “crucify the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) that had the last say.

“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) Through their evil acts, their utmost rejection of the preaching of the Kingdom of God and rebellion against it, God worked a salvation that is for every one of us. No matter how we have rebelled, it is a full forgiveness.

That water which Pilate desired to absolve himself? It’s fulfilled in the water of Holy Baptism, which cleanses not just hands and one’s own wounded conscience, but the whole person and truly is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21)

The blood for which the mob cried? It was exactly what they needed: The blood of Christ, the spotless Lamb, who shed His blood for the rebellion and wickedness of all of us. His blood be on us and on our children was answered by a heavenly messenger: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

And all we can offer to God is thanksgiving for the true and heavenly washing given us in the Name + of Jesus. Amen.