In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Throughout history, great kings and rulers have been given great titles. Cyrus, Alexander, and Charles all had “the Great” as monikers. There was also William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion-Heart. Two of my favorites – there was Brochwel “the Fanged” who ruled in Scotland and Ferdinand “the Bomb” who ruled in Italy.
The main focus of Matthew’s Passion account we just heard is the royalty of Jesus. Christ rode into Jerusalem on a royal donkey just like King David and King Solomon (1 Kgs. 1:38) had done. But Matthew doesn’t focus on Jesus’ royal greatness or magnificence. Instead, Matthew focuses on King Jesus’ innocence. Matthew points us to King Jesus “the Innocent.”
Though Jesus is falsely accused of many things, constant, consistent testimonies keep showing up that our Lord is innocent. After he had betrayed Jesus, Judas confesses, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Mt. 27:4). Pilate’s wife tells her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Mt. 27:19). Pilate knows that Jesus was innocent and tries to wash his hands of the capital punishment. And the centurion, when he witnessed Jesus’ death, confessed, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54). Yes, Jesus was innocent.
Jesus was innocent, but you are not. When you stand on trial before God on the last day, innocence is what you need, not greatness. But, again, you have not been innocent. Instead, you’ve sought to be great, mighty, important, and powerful. In your quest for greatness, you have left a wake of pain and suffering behind you. You’ve been selfish, and your words and actions have hurt those who love you most. By your thoughts, words, and deeds, you place yourself not beside Jesus “the Innocent,” but by Barabbas “the Murdering Rebel” (Lk. 23:19).
But in our Lord’s Passion, guilty Barabbas goes free. The Gospel text you just heard is called “the Passion” because this is how God loved you and the reason that you love Him.
When you hear John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son,” have the Passion accounts in your mind. The word ‘so’ in John 3:16 means “in this way.”
King Jesus the Innocent has come into the world to trade places with sinners – to trade places with you. The weight of sin you carry on your back was whipped into His back. Your hurtful actions went into His hands so that your hands may be cleansed. The bitter words you have spoken have gone into His ears so that you can hear the sweet words, “Not guilty,” on the Last Day.
And even now, you are declared to be innocent by God. Connected to Jesus the Innocent’s death and resurrection in your Baptism, there is now no condemnation for you (Ro. 8:1). This is Christ’s love for you.
Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. The Priest has come to the Temple. The Prophet has come to Mt. Zion. The King has come to His city. But most importantly the Lamb of God has come to His altar, where He would in five days breathe His last and pour out His blood for you (Pr. Wolfmueller). This is your Lord’s Passion, done and completed for you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.