Passion Sunday April 10, 2022
161, 160, 142, 162
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.
And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. (NKJV)
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
Today we remember a procession that took place on a Sunday, long ago. In one of our Scripture lessons for today we heard again the account of it by one who was there and witnessed it. From a place near Bethany, Jesus rode in procession to Jerusalem. It was a joyous procession with crowds shouting “Hosanna.” It was a triumphant procession with the crowds waving palm branches, a symbol of victory. It was a royal procession, for though Jesus rode on a lowly donkey, He was welcomed as the Son of David, the King of Israel.
Our sermon text records another procession, one that took place only a few days later. The character of this procession couldn’t have been more different from the one on Palm Sunday. That was a joyous procession; this was a solemn one. That was a triumphant procession; this one looked like nothing but a journey to suffering and death. That was a royal procession; this was a procession of the lowliest of men, those who had been condemned to death as criminals. This procession, like the one on Palm Sunday, would end in victory and glory, but that was not apparent to those who were there and witnessed it.
We note yet another contrast between the two processions. It must have been pleasant and easy to participate in the Palm Sunday procession. It must have been exhilarating to be among the crowds that day, to join in the shouting, to see Jesus riding on a donkey on a carpet of palm branches and garments laid down for Him to honor Him. However, it must have been hard even to watch the procession to Calvary. We see that from the response of some of those who were there. And even we who are permitted to watch the procession to the cross from a safe distance in time cannot but feel the heaviness of it.
Why, many may ask, should we subject ourselves to the experience of a procession to Calvary? The answer is that this is not an event that doesn’t concern us; it isn’t some event from the distant past that we can ignore without it making any difference. It is an event that has everything to do with us. It is for us that Jesus walked that road, and it is to our great benefit that we walk with Him. As we do that, we feel “THE WEIGHT OF THE CROSS.” It is a weight we need to feel, but more so, a weight we need to believe that Jesus fully bore.
The evangelists tell of some of the people who were present and took part in the procession to the cross on Good Friday. One of them is mentioned by name: Simon. Other than his name, we know that he was from Cyrene, a place in North Africa. The evangelist Mark also tells us that this Simon had two sons and that their names were Alexander and Rufus. He was “coming from the country,” that day, on his way to Jerusalem.
He was surely not intending to take part in a procession of condemned criminals being led to Calvary for execution. He may have been coming to the city for the Passover, looking forward to taking part in that great festival, perhaps looking forward to gathering with family and friends. But his plans—whatever they may have been—were interrupted. “On him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus,” Luke tells us. The soldiers in charge of the execution commandeered Simon to carry Jesus’ cross. Part of the punishment of crucifixion was that the condemned person was made to carry the cross on which he was to die. By reporting that someone else was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, the evangelists indicate that Jesus was unable to do so Himself. We gather that by this time Jesus was so weakened by loss of sleep, brutal mistreatment, and the scourging, that He collapsed under the weight of the cross.
Now why, we may ask, do Matthew, Mark and Luke include this in their accounts? It seems like a rather minor detail, and the evangelists don’t go into a lot of detail. But the Lord wanted this to be known; He wanted everyone who reads the account of His passion to know that this man was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus. Surely this incident is intended as a reminder of what Jesus had said about the cost of following Him: “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Whoever follows Jesus, whoever takes up the role of disciple, will do what Simon did. It cannot be any other way, Jesus tells us plainly. He intends that you and I, as we listen to the history of His passion and death, should remember what He said about discipleship: that it is the taking up of the cross. To take up the cross means to be identified with Jesus, to be willing to be known as one of His disciples. Think of the Twelve, the first disciples of Jesus, who accompanied Him during His ministry. They were glad to be associated with Jesus, pleased to be seen in His company.
Now being one of Jesus’ disciples from the very beginning involved sacrifices. Peter said as much to Jesus: “We have left all and followed You.” (Luke 18:28) It was one thing to be associated with Jesus when He was teaching and healing; it was an honor to be standing at His side. It was very different when Jesus was taken into custody and put on trial. Then it was dangerous to be standing with Him, to be put on the spot and have people point to you and say, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” (John 18:25)
Think of yourself in this way, as part of the group that is associated with Jesus. Let us be glad to be associated with Him, to be known as His disciples. Let us consider it the highest honor and greatest privilege to be counted among the disciples of Christ. And let that be so not only in connection with His teaching and healing but also with His passion and death. Let’s be glad to be associated with Jesus; not only when He is praised but also when He is despised, rejected, and scorned by the worldly and unbelieving. Let’s be willing to endure with Him the hostility, the contempt of the world. Let us say boldly that He is our Lord and that He is the only Savior. Let us not be afraid to feel something of the weight of the cross.
To feel the weight of the cross is to know why Christ suffered, that it was human sin that He carried. The group of women who mourned and lamented Him on His way to Calvary didn’t understand this; they didn’t know the true weight of the cross. They apparently understood that Jesus was innocent, not deserving to be punished and put to death. In this much they were right, but they didn’t see what Jesus was doing by submitting to the death of the cross. Many today take this same view: they see Christ’s passion only as an injustice done to a good man. But from our text we see that Jesus isn’t honored by this kind of sympathy for Him in His sufferings. He wants us to see that it was for us that He suffered; it was our sins that brought Him to Calvary. To be brought to a knowledge of our sins, to be brought to the sorrow of repentance—that is also to feel the weight of the cross.
But there is a limit to the weight that we feel and carry, just as there was a limit to what Simon the Cyrenian carried on Good Friday. What he was compelled to do that day was an inconvenience, it involved some extra work; but it was not a huge burden. He only had to accompany Jesus as far as Calvary; the journey was not a long one. He only had to carry the cross; he didn’t have to suffer and die on it.
So also we when we take up the cross and follow Jesus feel something of its weight, but we don’t carry its full weight. We are companions to Jesus in His sufferings, witnesses of His passion. We know what He suffered when He died on Calvary; the Scriptures reveal the extent and true nature of His passion. We know that there was more to it than the cross and the nails, the pain and the thirst. We know that on Good Friday the prophecy was fulfilled that said, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) “(He) bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24) Jesus endured the penalty for our sins during those hours of darkness when He cried out, “My God, My God, who have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) That is the full weight of the cross of Christ. He alone carried that weight; He was the only one who could have carried it.
For us, to take up the cross is above all to know and to believe that Jesus carried the full weight of our sins when He died on the cross. To take up the cross is to humble ourselves: to confess that we are sinners, to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves.
Compared to what Jesus suffered, the weight of the cross He bore, our cross is light. Jesus Himself said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) It doesn’t always seem that way, for following Christ means always swimming against the tide of this world. It means making sacrifices. It means putting Christ first, other’s next, and yourself last. But that burden which sometimes feels heavy will always be light to us if we remember the weight of the cross that Christ bore for us and what we now have because of Him. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.