Palm and Passion Sunday – Confirmation Sunday
March 24th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Why Do It? Matthew 27:11-66
Why do we do it? There’s a nice crowd here today, on a big day, with Confirmation , and also Palm & Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. We’re coming into a season when more people attend Christian church services, as once again we remember and celebrate the central events of the work of Christ, His institution of the Supper, His Suffering, Crucifixion, and Burial, and His Resurrection. And the world, as always, is looking on, full of questions, often scornful, and maybe a little envious, since no matter what His enemies say about Christ and His Church, the world still counts their years from His birth. The Church, for all her warts, for all her divisions, is still the most influential force in history.
But why do we do these things? In a few minutes our confirmands will, Lord willing, make solemn and serious promises. Adults and youth study their way through the Catechism to get to this day, to be received as communicant members. Family comes from near and far to celebrate baptisms and confirmations. Active members set aside time, and donate money, and confess truths that the world mocks. Others may not come regularly, but they make sure they attend once in a while. Gathering as Christians seems to be important to a lot of people. But why do we do it?
This is a hard question to answer, with potentially as many different answers as there are people in this room. Even more problematic is the question of the quality of our motivations, and our understanding of the reality in which we live. Think about how many things we do, without really knowing why we thought they were good ideas. “A Rottweiler puppy, to keep us company in our apartment? Sure, that will be fun!” “Tear out the wall between the kitchen and dining room, to open up the space? Let’s do it, we’ll knock that project out in no time.”
Sometimes we do things, even though we know they are terrible ideas. “Why did I have that third beer, even though I knew I had to get up early, and three beers so often leads to four, and so on?” “Why did I blurt out the insult that popped into my head, insulting my boss, or my spouse, or my friend, why, when I knew my anger was not really at them, but at my lousy day?” “Why did I keep driving, even though I knew I was falling asleep?” Why, why, why?
Our motivations for being here this morning might be mixed up, too. Perhaps for some, all this church stuff is an unpleasant necessity, an outward show someone important to you expects. Whether you are young or old, perhaps you feel like someone is forcing you to be here. Maybe some of us are Pharisees, convinced that by showing up here, be that every Sunday or twice a year, I am making God love me. Or maybe I’m facing some trouble, and so I think I’ll strike a grand bargain with God: I’ll come to Church a few times, and He will take away my problem. Or maybe I just need a social outlet, and I love organ music and potlucks. Depending on how life is going, our motivations can be good, or mixed, or not so good. Examining our motives will not end well, I’m afraid. So let’s ask a better question: Why did He do it? We just heard the story of Jesus’ trial, condemnation, suffering, crucifixion, death and burial. Why did the Son of God go through all of that?
First, Jesus did all of that, because He knows what is at stake, … for us. Regardless of what people believe concerning Jesus and the God He reveals, everyone still suspects that there is a judgment day. In every religion, in virtually every philosophy, and most importantly, written on every human heart, regardless of what people claim, there is some idea of morality, of right and wrong, and of accountability, that there will be, or at least should be, some sort of moral reckoning, a judgment day when all the wrongs are addressed, and all the righteous are rewarded.
Now certainly, each of us, much of the time at least, tries to live like there isn’t any judgment day, like there are no consequences for our actions. Satan happily encourages the world to convince us this is true, that all that God stuff is a bunch of hokum. But life again and again reveals that we don’t believe God is merely a fable. Even when we try to run away from Him, certain events intrude on our “eat, drink and be merry” world, events that make it obvious God is real, or events that make us demand a world where good is rewarded and evil is punished. I’m talking about events like... falling in love, or having your heart broken. Events like having a baby. The birth of a grandchild. The death of a loved one. Or disease comes, robbing the pleasure from life, and yet making us treasure life all that much more. All of these life events, and many others, cause believers and unbelievers alike to pray to God for help, to worry about the future, and about forever, to hope that there is going to be justice some day, and at the same time to fear judgment day.
Yes, certain events break us out of our self-absorbed shells, and make us at least suspect that there is more going on than we usually want to think about, that there is a higher power, and right and wrong, and a day coming when good will be rewarded and evil will be punished. Well, our suspicions are true, and this day of reckoning is a big part of why Jesus did what He did. We imperfectly and perhaps only occasionally realize the stakes we are facing. But Jesus completely and perfectly knows what the stakes are for us. And so, He did what He did.
You see, every religion and every philosophical system is an attempt to understand the world that Jesus created, and still rules. Our innate sense of justice, the moral code that everyone has, at least somewhat, this is a dim reflection of who Jesus is, along with His Father and His Spirit. Yes, Jesus knows the stakes for us, that there is a Judgment Day coming, when every wrong will be punished, and every good rewarded, when all the delays and second-chances and excuses will be swept aside, and each one of us will face the consequences.
Jesus knows that day is coming, for every person, and He knows that none of us can handle it. None of us can fully understand, let alone meet, God’s moral standard. Jesus knows that left on our own, judgment day is going to be a complete disaster for all of us, an eternal disaster, a never-ending ruin. So Jesus does what He does, in order to face judgment for us. His unjust arrest and false conviction, the whips, the crown of thorns, the beatings, the mocking and spitting, the crucifixion, the death, all of this suffering is only the visible side of something much worse, something we can’t see, something hidden in the eternal relationship of God the Father and God the Son. On Good Friday there was a much greater, invisible suffering, the wrath of God against all human wrongdoing of all time, including the punishment deserved by you and I for our sins, all of it poured out on Jesus, so that it doesn’t need to be poured out on you and me. Jesus willingly faced this unthinkable suffering, because He knew that only He could take our place, only He could take all our suffering. Jesus did what He did, because He loves you and wants to save you from judgment.
Jesus did what He did, also because He knows what is at stake… for His Father, and so also for Himself. The Father’s desire, which is also the Son’s Desire, is to have a people, a countless throng of faithful people who rejoice in all the gifts of God and sing His thanks and praise forever. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit perfectly love and serve each other within the unity of the Godhead. So also God desires to give His love, His life, His joy, His glory, to His people. Sin, introduced into this earth by the fallen prince of angels, Satan, threatens God’s Desire. Sin contradicts God’s goodness and draws His wrath. Sin, infecting every man, woman and child on earth, made it impossible for us to please God. And yet God would not allow Satan to ruin His plan to have a holy people filling His heavenly courts. And so, Jesus did what He did, in order that God’s plan be realized. And it has been realized, salvation is complete, in Jesus. For all who believe that, despite my sin, despite what I deserve, Jesus suffering and death have taken away my judgment and earned my place in God’s kingdom, all who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation have it, a free gift, received by faith, completely apart from any works on the believer’s part.
That’s it. There are a lot more details, a lot more distinctions that need to be understood and maintained if we are to avoid messing up the faith Christ has taught us through His Apostles. But in a nutshell, Jesus did what He did because apart from His self-sacrifice, we are all doomed to eternal judgment, something no one in their right mind would want, but even more, something that God does not want.
You may have your doubts. Certainly the devil is working overtime through what we watch, read and listen to day after day, trying to convince us that this basic Christian message is full of errors, or disproved by science, or is narrow and bigoted and unloving towards all those other great religions out there. There are even many preachers and teachers who claim the name Christian and yet deny this basic foundation of Christian faith. They are wrong.
If you have questions, doubts, and problems with this doctrine of Christ, by all means, ask them. Call me up, take me out for coffee, and tell me all your biggest objections. I’m always happy to tackle the tough questions, not because I have all the answers, but because I know that God through His Word can and will defend Himself just fine. For two thousand years, the teaching of Christ has been under attack, and yet it goes on, because God is behind it. God, along with all His faithful people, will prevail, in the end.
Believe what Jesus has said. Believe in what Jesus has done. There’s nothing you can do to change the facts of your sin-caused doom, but Good News, there is also nothing you need to do, because in Christ, and through His ongoing work, the facts have been changed for you. Indeed, God Himself, who completed our salvation on Calvary, continues to do all the work, delivering His forgiving victory to sinners, day by day, and week by week, through His Word and Sacraments.
Whatever your motivations might have been for coming here this morning, they don’t matter very much, because God’s motivation for arranging this meeting is to deliver to you grace and peace and eternal life, through the forgiveness of your sins, won for you on the Cross, and delivered to you by the Holy Spirit, working through His Word, today, right here. Why should sinners seek Baptism, for themselves and for their children? Why should people gather to hear God’s Word, every Sunday? Why, as these confirmands are doing today, why should anyone study, learn, and publicly confess the faith so they can rightly receive the Lord’s Supper? Because through these things, through these means, Jesus delivers Himself to us, today, overcoming our sins, removing our guilt, calming our fears, and lifting our eyes, to see the love of God and His completed plan, hidden in the suffering of Christ crucified. God through Jesus has done all of these things, for you, that He might bless you, today, and forever and ever, Amen.