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Sermon for Palm Sunday/the Sunday of the Passion – April 2, 2023

Matthew 27:11-54

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The centurion had seen many crucifixions before. It was a common Roman practice, so he had probably witnessed hundreds of them before this one. His Grandpa may have told him stories of the slave revolt a generation before that led to 6,000 men being crucified along the Appian Way.  It was part of Roman lore.

Crucifixions weren’t at all uncommon among the Romans. As a centurion he’d seen plenty of them.

But this one was different. It was different from the very beginning.

Usually when someone is charged with a capital offence, they have a lot to say in their own defense. They will say anything to beat the charges, and if that doesn’t get them anywhere, they will plead for their lives.

But this Jesus remained silent before his accusers.

Usually when someone is mocked and spit upon and beaten, they react in one way or another. They might return the insults. They might try to fight back. They might squirm and try to escape. No matter how hopeless the situation might be, it’s just human nature. That fight or flight reaction is so strong. If nothing else, they will plead for mercy.

But this Jesus bore it all without any hint of protest. He almost seemed to be doing it all willingly.

Yes, this one was different from the very beginning.

And then, as this Jesus was dying, weird things started happening – calamities that were cosmic in scale.

The sky grew dark. It started at Noon, and by the time it was 3 o’clock it was as dark as night. That’s when he cried out with a loud voice. That’s when he breathed his last. That’s when he died. It was as though the sky itself was grieving what was happening. It felt that ominous. It was like the sun was setting on an entire era of human history. It felt that significant.

Then there was an earthquake! You take it for granted that the ground is reliably stable, and so it is terrifying to feel it shaking beneath your feet, rolling and heaving, throwing you off balance. The earthquake was strong enough that enormous rocks were split, cracked open like eggs when they’re dropped on the floor. It was as though the very foundations of existence were being shaken.

This was no ordinary crucifixion. This one was different, thought the centurion. And as he stood there keeping watch, terrified by what he was witnessing, with a trembling voice he looked at Jesus on the cross and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Of course, this was no ordinary crucifixion. Of course, this was God’s Son.

Jesus took his sentence without argument – “like a sheep who before his shearers is silent,” as Isaiah had prophesied.

Jesus took all that abuse without protest – the insults, the spit, the fists pounding his face and the scourges striping his back. All of this, along with the crown of thorns pressed painfully into his forehead and the nails driven through his hands and feet, were taken willingly.

As Saint Paul says in our epistle reading, Jesus, although he was God, emptied himself. He submitted himself to death, even death on a cross. He emptied himself on purpose, with intentionality, willingly taking our sin upon himself.

And when the sky drew dark, the sun was indeed setting on an entire era in human history. Sin was being defeated, conquered, destroyed, atoned for. It would no longer separate a fallen humanity from a holy God. Through this crucified Messiah, humanity was being redeemed. And now, all those who place their trust in him have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

When the earth heaved and rolled, the foundations of our existence were indeed being shaken. Through this crucified Messiah, death itself was dying. And now, all those who believe in him, even though they die, will live.

This was no ordinary crucifixion. Jesus did it for you. He suffered for you. He died for you.

He did it to save you. He did it to redeem you. He did it in order to defeat sin, death, and the devil. He did is so that there would be nothing left that could possibly separate you from God.

This was no ordinary crucifixion. Truly this man was God’s Son.

And as we will learn next Sunday, he still is.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church