Old Testament and Epistle Reading as noted. The Passion of Our Lord is a conflation from all four Gospels from the LSB Altar Book and into parts.
OT Reading, Isaiah 52:12-53:13: Suffering Servant
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘your God reigns.’” Normally heard at mission festivals and around Christmas, this is the same chapter of Isaiah. You see the One who brings good news with beautiful feet is the One whose feet will be nailed. This is why we gather on this night, the beautiful Servant with beautiful bring the good news, the Gospel comes as the Servant of God is lifted up and exalted. We’ve turned our own way. The Lord continues to bring His sheep back. He will be crushed. He will be beaten. For our transgressions, for our iniquities, for our sin. He is numbered among transgressors, treated as a common criminal, bearing the sins of many, the sin of the world.
The promised servant, the promised Messiah (the Christ), is coming, born in flesh to take on the wrath of sin, death, and hell for God’s people. To turn us back, to bring us peace with God.
Epistle, Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9: The High Priest
The role of the High Priest was to make the sacrifice in the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt among His people. Where blood was shed on behalf of all the people. Our High Priest is Himself the sacrifice. He is not unable to sympathize our weakness though. He is indeed flesh, body, bones, and blood. He is tempted. He struggles as we will hear in the Gethsemane. Yet, without sin. He undergoes all things for you. He prays for you, He struggles for you, for you He strives and wrestles. For you He suffers. In Him is eternal salvation. He brings you to the throne of grace that you may receive the mercy of God, help in the time of need, life in the midst of death. Jesus, your High Priest, sacrifices on your behalf for forgiveness and life with God.
Part 1: Where Are You Going?
It’s a question we might ask Jesus. Where are you going? Or perhaps more true for us, where are you taking us? The disciples had been with Jesus for 3 years, listening, learning, and hearing the Word made flesh. Now for a little while He will be gone. Peter wanted to follow. Perhaps you think you might too. We want to follow Jesus except when it leads to places we did not expect, when it it is not down the road we desired or planned.
Peter can’t go. Not now. And neither can you. We can’t go with Jesus to the cross. We may not like that Jesus must suffer and die, but He must. He goes the way of suffering, this is His Passion.
He is going the way He must go. Only He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Only He can endure death and hell. We can’t go with Jesus. If we were, we’d screw it up. It wouldn’t be the perfect Lamb going forth – destined, dedicated, willing, did His work and met His death (LSB 454, st. 3). We can’t go for He goes the way of suffering for you. He goes where you can’t so that afterward He may bring you through.
Part 2: Friend that Betrays
How could Judas do such a thing? How could one of the twelve, who has seen the miracles, heard the preaching, and been around for it all consider doing anything against Jesus? At least that’s our inclination. But what is Jesus worth to you? Is He worth giving up for a sporting event? How about that vacation where you can’t be bothered to go receive His gifts? Or that job opportunity to really cash in. It may even precious time with your family and friends. Many things come into our lives that tempt us to forsake Jesus, even for a brief moment.
Judas wasn’t the only one either. The disciples can’t even stay awake for an hour with Him. One hour. It’s a lot. I mean who would could give up an hour for prayer for the One who is taking away the sin of the world?
And to betray Him with a kiss, how could Judas do such a thing? False piety exists in us all. We kiss Jesus with an occasional kiss, a token offering of love and friendship, prayers when we are desperate but neglect to return thanks, occasional worship but only when convenient, but in the heart lies betrayal and deceit. Or like Peter we respond with swift action because it seems right and the Lord must correct and rebuke us.
The Son of God is betrayed and abandoned. For He must go alone the way of the cross to redeem us, to give us forgiveness of sin. Go to Gethsemane, you who feel the tempters power. Your Redeemer’s conflict see as He is taken to cross to redeem you. God’s own sacrifice complete.
Part 3: Would You Deny?
People have this tendency to hear what they want to hear. Jesus did indeed say, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Never did He say “made with hands.” It’s kinda like that from the beginning, God says “don’t eat” and Eve tells the serpent “neither should we touch it.” This is why He comes to die. Because we screwed it all up. And we mock Him. We may not hit Him and say prophesy to us who did it, but we bargain with God and say we’ll believe if He does this one thing we request.
And then there is poor Peter. He’s had a rough night. Jesus takes over the Passover with the new covenant in the Lord’s Supper but says one of them will betray Him. He’s sworn to go with Jesus and tries despite Jesus telling him he cannot. He swears He would never deny Jesus, and then does.
I kind of sympathize with Peter. His heart is in the right place. He outwardly speaks and does what he’s supposed to. He even occasionally acts boldly by taking the sword to defend Jesus, just at the wrong time and is told to put it away. Then, when pressure comes, when it comes time to proclaim the Lord’s truth, go into hiding and we may even deny being Christian. All caught up and excited as before he boldly proclaimed, “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” (Matt. 16:16) and now denying Him. Easy to do and say in the midst of those who believe along side you, and troubling at the time of trial. What is God’s Word, who is God, and who is Jesus, do we know Him, are we with Him?
We think of Judas as the betrayer, but in the midst of it all is highly regarded St. Peter. In the midst still is ourselves. Denying Him when times are tough and being with Christ goes against the popular opinion. Betraying Him for earthly gain, and being remorseful when it seems too late.
It wasn’t too late for Judas, just as it wasn’t too late for Peter. Peter repented. Judas put it on himself to fix the problem. There was nothing he could do to make it right. He was lead to despair and death by his own hands. Peter was broken and wept bitterly. Yet was given to remain and confess at another time. For the Lord whom He just betrayed and denied was dying for him and for you. Innocent blood was being shed for the guilty, to pay the price we cannot pay. The suffering servant goes forth towards our death, upon the cross due to our evils that multiply to ransom me, to ransom you, and set us free.
Part 4: The Crowd Shifts
Crowds have a way of changing momentum in a moments notice. It was a mere week ago that Jesus raised Lazarus from four days dead in the tomb. That’s what lead to their praises and shouts on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” Now they’ve been persuaded. Things haven’t gone as they planned or desired.
The promised King doesn’t look like He is bringing the nation of Israel to restoration. The people who were looking for a restored nation, freedom from Caesar, appeal to Caesar and even use the Roman government they despised to have Him killed. The reason Pilate is even at this post is the governor was to watch over and keep these people who sought freedom from Rome under control. Barabbas, whose first name was also possibly Jesus, and who name means “son of the teacher,” was likely there for trying to start a riot, an insurrectionist who fought against Rome and in doing so brought tighter control and restrictions upon the Israelite people.
In a matter of few days, the people have turned from proclaiming the triumph of the King to wanting a man who instigated riots, brought trouble and persecution, just so the Son of Man may be crucified.
The King will be crucified. Crucified to satisfy the desires of the people. Crucified because He wasn’t what the expected or desired. Crucified because all were looking for earthly kingdoms – Pilate and the soldiers after Rome’s, the people wanting Israel back in their own control. The King of Heaven and Earth is mocked and beaten since He didn’t come through with popular demands. The King of all creation goes forth. His blood is on us and our children. Though not as guilt, but sprinkled on us as the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled upon the people in the Old Testament. His blood is given and shed for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Crucified for you who mock, who along with Pilate ask what is truth from Him who is the truth and the life, for you who spit on Him and would strip Him of His glory for your own desires, who seek an earthly kingdom. Crucified to shed His blood for us.
Part 5: It is Finished
Weep not for Jesus but for yourselves. Imagine the world that proclaims to be barren, without children, is better than God’s gifts of life. Imagine a world that would rather be buried in the mountains, meaning dead and buried with no glimmers of light and life. The world mocks Jesus. They gave Him wine mixed with gall. Let’s call it what it really is, wine mixed with bile, urine. Not only do they deny who He is, but completely seek to embarrass and harass Him, totally mocked and tortured in every way. For the one who refuses to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, only comes mocking to the point of being down right vulgar.
It continues still today. People give Jesus the bile of their lives, like the criminal and the crowds mocking, we have this tendency to look at Jesus take His words and make them what we want them to say. Sure He said He’d rebuild the Temple, but He Himself is the Temple, the place where God dwells. Just wait, for God dwells in the flesh of the Son, the One hanging on the cross. When we face the reality of our sin, the struggles and problems of this world, we have this tendency to mock Jesus and ask why doesn’t He save Himself and us. We might even mockingly say we’d trust in Him more if He does this one thing for us. We justly deserve death and hell. We have what is owed to us, and truthfully even with everything of this world better than we deserve, even on our worst days – better than we deserve.=
We, however, are left in the position of the thief who knows His place. We can only plead. Remember me in your kingdom. We have His Word and promise, paradise is ours, we will be with Him. Having fulfilled all that was written, the Word made flesh proclaims of all that has been promised from the beginning, “it is finished.”
Sin is paid. Death atoned. Your deliverance accomplished. On this day Christmas finds its fulfillment. God dwells in the flesh. In the Word made flesh God and sinners are reconciled. It is only a matter of time before death and the grave come for you. There’s no escaping it. Death is an enemy and it will come. But Our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil on the cross takes the enemy of death and flips it around. Christ’s Christmas incarnation finally comes to its pinnacle, “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him…” Christ the Son of God came to serve and not to be served and His crucifixion offers the greatest and most holy service to men. Christ faces the one thing that humanity wishes not to acknowledge or at best covers over it with superficial actions and language, that thing being death.
The world mocks and looks away. The world would rather not see the crucified Christ. Truthfully, we do better with Christmas, cute babies, angels, lights, and presents. Not quite as good but we do fine with Easter too, as long as the cross is empty and we don’t have to be reminded of death. Yet in death He proclaim, “It is finished.” Christmas, Christ’s becoming man, comes to it’s completion. Here in the death of the Son is the Christmas gift, God and sinners are reconciled.
And so we are the tomb. It is dark and lifeless inside. Laying in death, wrapped in a burial shroud lies the dead body of the man called Jesus who has been bruised, beaten, and bloodied. On the outside evening has come and the second day, the Sabbath day of rest has begun. It is complete darkness. There is no sound. There is no life.
But soon there will be! All is not as it seems in this house of death. The body which lies in the silent darkness of this tomb will not return to dust. The cold, black, lifeless, death will not long keep its hold on Him. It’s earth shattering, sinful man is restored to the Father. For you and your sin, “it is finished.”
Gather and keep Vigil for the best news the world will ever hear. Gather and receive His gifts as we hear and proclaim not the darkness of death but the light of Christ and the life that He brings.