The Christ who shone brighter than the sun, the Christ who banished Beelzebub in the desert, the Christ who opened blind eyes and raised Lazarus from the dead…that Christ Scripture forces us to see today prepared for burial, betrayed, bushwhacked, butchered, buried. Only when he is dead, and then only by the godless soldiers who beat him, nailed him to the cross, and mocked him, the soldiers who gambled for his clothes and stabbed him with a spear, only they say, on that dark hill, “Surely he was the Son of God.”
Most certainly we would not have written it this way. Maybe we could believe he needed to die, but more heroically at least. The holy people rising from the dead is a nice touch, and the temple curtain tearing too, but they went mostly unseen. No doubt the priests duct-taped that curtain and hushed up the whole thing.
No, if the Holy Spirit hired us to write this screen-play, we would play up the whole “Son of God” thing a bit more. We would write a titanic struggle between good and evil. If Superman must die, it will be after leveling cities, punching powerfully, and defending those he loves before falling down dead upon the enemy that took his life. “Remember, you’re the Son of God. You are God. Act like it.” With such words we would advise Jesus.
“You’re the Son of God. Act like it.” It beggars our belief, it surpasses our understanding that Matthew 26 and 27 show us Jesus doing exactly that. Being God. Acting like it.
“How?” you ask. He didn’t use it as a prize. Nor did he show off his “get out of jail free card.” “You can’t touch me; I’m the Son of God.” He didn’t act the spoiled rich kid saying to the police, “Don’t you know who I am?” Though couldn’t he have said that to Caiaphas and Pilate ten times over? He sort of did in Gethsemane, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
He could have done that. But, as he went on to say, “But how then could the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” “This way”? Riding on in lowly pomp to die. As he did on Palm Sunday. Already at Simon’s house, he set the stage, telling his friends after getting perfumed, “She has done a beautiful thing to me….She did it to prepare me for burial.”
It is this view of Jesus that the apostle Paul begs us to imitate. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” The God who created the universe, yet he made himself nothing. The King of kings, yet he becomes a servant. He stands above and beyond all sin and death, yet takes the likeness of sinful man, to be a sin offering, and obeys death, even death on a cross.
Paul says to us, “Be like that.” As you struggle. As you suffer. As you deal with false teaching and persecution. As you ride on in lowly pomp to die, however it is that death stalks you. You imitate Christ. Riding on in lowly pomp. To die. This alone is worthy of the gospel, as Paul told the Philippians. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ….This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God.”
Again, not how we would write it. Our screenplay wouldn’t include cancer, or if it did, it would end in a heroic healing, a miracle of medical science, back on our feet and at 110%. But lowly pomp means sometimes a slow spiral into more and worse cancer, and then death. Lowly pomp means sometimes sin seems to win – divorces happen, the liar wins out, a worthy ministry sinks. Not how we would write it. It angers us that God would write it this way. “Enough of this lowly pomp garbage! How about a little triumph? Is that so much to ask? How about letting us grasp that brass ring, that divinity, that imperishable and incorruptible!”
What if Christ had written it that way? What if Christ had exalted himself to the place he so rightly deserves? What if he jumped off the temple and floated down eating stones-turned-bread? What if he summons legions of angels and blinds Pilate’s soldiers? What if he ascends off the cross shouting, “See, see, I AM the Son of God!” What if Christ decrees an end to cancer, divorce, and failure? Even death? What if he says, “Enough of this lowly pomp! Get my crown. Move over Caiaphas, I’m taking charge.”
That’s God as we write him, a delusional vision of God that leaves us doubting everything the moment any kind of weakness or failure enters the picture. The kind of God who boasts only in himself and barely has room for the likes of us. The kind of God who might, you never know, simply abandon us to hell because he has more important things to do and better people to do them with. This God isn’t satisfied with words, or Baptism, or the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, he needs more, much more!
God as he wrote himself is infinitely better. This God puts himself into the balance scales, against my sin. This God rides on, not ignoring your weakness and infirmity, but bearing it, taking it off you and putting it on himself. This God rides on in lowly pomp to do that most heroic of things: to die, not for good men, but for enemies, for the wicked and the ungodly. For you and for me.
Then, and only then, the Father says, “Come up to the highest place.” Only then, when Christ has conquered enemies not by over-aweing them, but by destroying them in his death, crushing them with his resurrection, does it all come together. Only then do we see, as the soldiers did, that this is the Son of God. And he acted like it the whole time. He didn’t spurn being like us. He became our brother to make us the Father’s sons. He didn’t secretly hoard his wealth. He became poor to make us rich. He let his Father crush him and cause him to suffer. So that we don’t have to.
What he showed us a week after riding that donkey cinches it. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas cried. Thomas refused to believe the script. “The Messiah dies and rises? B’ah! Nonsense!” Just as nonsensical as God letting us wallow in disease and death and depravity, surrounded by foes and pagans, swallowed up, like Jonah, in the whirling waters of a sinful world and sinful natures.
Only then did God exalt him. God raised him from the dead. God left my sins, my death, my everything in that tomb. Jesus showed me the nature of God: love, love for sinners, a love that rides in lowly pomp to die, that strengthens me to ride on in my own lowly pomp. Though cross and death lay before me, it ends in resurrection, the resurrection that began when God killed me to death in the font and raised me to life through faith in Christ. It ends in standing at the highest place, before Christ, bowing the knee, unfurling the tongue in confession, finally seeing what we’ve been eating throughout our lives, the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood that’s for my forgiveness, seeing and shouting: “You are the Son of God! Thank you for acting like it!” Amen.