We’ve reached Holy Week at the end of this Lenten season in which we have been preparing for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – the Easter or Paschal Triduum.
This preparation is something that our Lord Jesus Christ did as well. His whole purpose in coming in the flesh leads up to this Holy Week. Indeed, God’s promises throughout the Old Testament lead up to this week, when Jesus will die for us by being raised up on the cross. It’s going to be a tough week for Jesus. He says in John 12:27 that his soul is troubled, because he knows what the end of this week holds for him, but it is for this purpose that he has come.
In fact, in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, we see a contrast between the glory that comes from man and the glory that comes from God. John notes that some of the people refused to confess their faith in Jesus, even though they believed, because they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. They were scared of being ridiculed or ostracized and losing that man-given glory.
The glory that comes from man is shiny and flashy and flattering. It is a glory that captures our eye, and tempts us, and may even cause us to strive for it. We like the outward glory that comes from being honored by other people, along with the material rewards which often come with it.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t strive for this glory, though. Of all people, he deserves all glory and honor. He is God incarnate. He was there in Isaiah 6 with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the seraphim sang their three-fold praise of the Triune God, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The prophet Isaiah saw Jesus and his glory; as John states in John 12:41.
So, Jesus Christ – the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – was there in the throne room, in the presence of creatures who sang his continual praises. How could he ever leave that glorious place? Certainly, we would never leave. We love to hear people speak well of us, and would be perfectly content to live among those who constantly sing our praises. Why on earth would we leave the realm of praises to come to the land of our enemies?
However, Jesus didn’t act as we would act. Instead, as Paul says in Philippians, “Christ Jesus… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6ff).
Jesus left the truly glorious presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the praises of the angels to come to earth. He came to the land of his enemies, all of us sinners who were born opposed to God due to the original sin of Adam and Eve which plunged all creation into darkness. In fact, not only did Jesus come to us, but he came to die for us so that we will no longer be enemies of God who are enslaved to eternal death, but rather be God’s children instead, freed from the hold of sin, and brought into eternal life.
So, Jesus left all that heavenly glory behind to come to do what God had long promised in the Scriptures. He came, in fact, to be the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah 52 and 53, raised up and sprinkling the nations with his sacrificial blood in order to cover our sins. So, in accordance with the Scriptures, Jesus was born as a humble baby to a humble virgin mother. He was dirty and hungry and thirsty. He lived among a people who did not recognize him as the Son of God come in the flesh. His glory was veiled from anyone but those who looked upon him through the eyes of faith.
Even when he healed the sick and raised the dead, like Lazarus, and manifested his glory through these actions, people continued to reject him. In fact, the chief priests wanted to put both Jesus and Lazarus to death so that more people will not go away and believe in Jesus. Jesus threatened their glory, and so they rejected the only one who is truly glorious; they rejected the Son of God. They wanted the continued praises of others, while rejecting the only one who is truly worthy of all praise and glory, the one who left it all behind in order to come to die for these very people who are so unthankful.
So, Jesus enters into the city on a humble donkey in order to begin his final week. This is no grand kingly procession into the city. The Romans – in the bygone days of the great Republic – when a conquering general earned a triumph for some great victory, would allow the general to enter into the city with a large procession of captured enemies and plunder, standing on a horse-drawn chariot, wearing a laurel wreath, and surrounded by admirers. The Romans knew how to show off the glory that comes from man; they perfected this type of self-aggrandizing show.
Jesus, though, enters into Jerusalem riding a beast of burden. This donkey has been pressed into service, just as Jesus himself, in just a few days time will perform his service on the cross. Jesus is hailed by the crowds, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
They seem to think Jesus is a conquering general; they think that they are giving him his triumph. They may even think that he has come to kick out the Romans and give the Jews back their kingdom. But, crowds often clamor for what they know not and seek things which are much too small. And restoring the kingdom of the Jews and removing the Romans is not what Jesus is coming to do, so in just a few days time, when he is arrested, many in the crowd will change their tune and shout “Crucify him!” instead. Jesus came to do so much more than restore an earthly kingdom, he came to restore us to God and each other by bringing us into his kingdom, the very reign of God, and ultimately, restore all creation to perfection so that at the resurrection of our bodies we may live in it in peace. This is truly glorious.
Yet, this glory that comes from God is veiled, so many people miss it. It’s on the other side of the cross; it’s in the empty tomb. It’s behind the shadow of death in the resurrected life. Jesus gave up his apparent glory to come to us in flesh and then give up his body and spill out his blood for us on the cross. During his earthly ministry he healed the sick and raised the dead and manifested his glory through these acts for all who had ears to hear and eyes to see. But, even for the most faithful of his disciples, the cross seems to end all of this. Death seems like it’s the end.
But, like a grain of wheat which dies and then rises to bear fruit, so too does the cross on Good Friday lead to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Jesus is restoring his fallen creation, and it is a manifestation of his glory.
This Holy Week of seven days, beginning today, echoes back to the initial creation in Genesis. In Genesis, God created in 6 days and rested on the seventh. Now, this week, Jesus enters into Jerusalem to begin his work on Sunday, the first day of the week. He works all week, cleansing the temple early in the week and then instituting the Supper of his body and blood on Thursday. Then, he finishes his work on Friday – the 6th day – as he is killed on the cross. Then, he rests on the tomb on Saturday – the 7th day, the Sabbath rest. Jesus truly is completely obedient to the will of the Father, dying for our sins and doing everything according to his Father’s will, even resting on the Sabbath for us in order to fulfill the whole Law on our behalf. He completed his work in 6 days, resting on the 7th, just as it was in the beginning of creation – only now, Jesus is restoring his fallen creation.
Thus, on the 8th day, the first day of the new week, Jesus rises. Death has no hold on him. Our sins can not keep him down, because he killed them there on his cross. So, Jesus died, but he also rose, and then 40 days later he ascended back into heaven into the presence of the Father to justify us before Him with his own blood as our great High Priest. Jesus was glorified, and he manifested his glory through his resurrection and then his ascension. He defeated sin, death, and the devil. He took away the punishment for your sins and reconciled you to God and each other. He began the restoration of all creation. This is truly glorious, and Jesus has done it for you by dying and rising.
So, this then is the glory that comes from God: you have died and risen with Jesus. It is a glory that you have from God that is veiled to the eyes of the world. For in Baptism, God killed you; but, He also raised you again. He killed your old self, but then raised you to new life in Christ. You have lost your life, but now have kept it for eternal life, because Christ has given it back to you, washed and cleansed and sanctified. This is the glory that comes from God, the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
So, this last week is what Jesus came to do. It’s what God had been promising ever since Adam and Eve brought sin and decay and death into the world. Jesus came to humble himself by going up on the cross for you and dying there. What Jesus the Christ did was anything but glorious in the eyes of the world. It wasn’t shiny, it wasn’t fancy, it certainly wasn’t clean; the same God who Isaiah saw and to whom the angels sing praises was bloody, sweaty, thirsty, tired, and finally gave up his life for you. While the crowds looked on, some now gloating who only days before had hailed him as their king, the Son of God died on the cross for them, for you. In him, we see what true love is: it is a sacrifice, a giving up. And God sacrificed for you so that you may love him as He loves you. Amen.
(Image: Painting of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Alexander Gibbs (1832–1886) on the north wall of the sanctuary, executed in 1883/4. The inscription quotes Matthew 21:9: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest. (See Brian M. Walker, A History of St George’s Church Belfast, p. 78–79.). By Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73747426)