April 09, 2017
By John Partridge*
Matthew 21:1-11 Matthew 26:14-25 Matthew 27:11-26
Have you ever felt the earth move?
I’m not talking about when the love of your life kisses you for the first time. I really mean, have you ever felt the earth shift?
On April 18, 1906 the city of San Francisco experienced the most devastating earthquake of its history. A foreshock hit the city first and then 20 or 25 seconds later the full intensity of the main quake began. The earth shook for over a full minute. People said that you could see waves several feet high moving down the streets as the city heaved up and down. In some places the earth was displaced as much as 28 feet and the Salinas River shifted to a new course and now the mouth of the river fed into the bay six miles from where it had previously. With both gas mains and water mains sheared and shattered all over the city, fires raged out of control for weeks and in the end, 80 percent of the city was destroyed, at least 3000 people were killed, and 300, 000 people, 75 percent of its population, were left homeless. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 not only changed the course of history for the city and the people who lived there, it changed the course of history for all of California and the entire United States and beyond. Everything from building codes, to the design of water mains and fire fighting equipment, to mining and drilling regulations, and even the planning of things like the interstate highway system, were all shaped, and continue to be influenced, by our understanding of this disaster.
The word “seismic” means “pertaining to, of the nature of, or caused by an earthquake or vibration of the earth, whether due to natural or artificial causes.” Earthquakes are a big deal. But other world events can be said to have a “seismic” impact as well. Other events in the story of humanity can have world changing impact or set in motion a chain of events that redirect the course of history just as surely as the San Francisco earthquake changed the course of the Salinas River.
Our scripture readings for today describe one of those events. We begin this morning by reading from Matthew 21:1-11 as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.
21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus and his disciples were not alone as they entered the city of Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Thousands, even tens, or hundreds of thousands, of people came to the city for this celebration. The historian Josephus recorded that the city would swell to many times its normal population during the festivities of Passover week. And so, as Jesus entered the city, he rode on a donkey as a symbol of royalty and the people proclaimed him as the Son of David, or, as the king of Israel.
But only a day or two later, on the first day of the feast, the first tremors of the shockwave begin in Matthew 26:14-25.
14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
And so Judas, through the betrayal of his companion, teacher, and friend, sets in motion the beginning of a seismic sellout and betrayal of Jesus. Skipping ahead a little to Matthew 27:11-66 and the trial of Jesus in front of Pilate, we read this:
27:11 Meanwhile, Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Only days earlier, the crowds in Jerusalem had proclaimed the arrival of Jesus as they would have the arrival of the king of Israel but now, after the betrayal of Judas and the manipulation and distortion of justice by the leaders of the church, Jesus is sold out and abandoned by many of the very people who would have proclaimed him king. It is a sellout of epic proportions, a seismic sellout, if you will. And that sellout leads to the single event that would change the course of human history more than any other.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.
38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
At the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth itself is shaken, rocks split, tombs break open, the dead walk the earth, and the curtain that separates ordinary humans from the holiest of places in the temple is torn open from top to bottom. Even the centurion on guard realizes that something supernatural is happening and proclaims that Jesus must have been the Son of God.
Far more than just and ordinary earthquake, the earth was shaken and the course of human history was changed forever.
But so what?
What does any of that mean for you and me?
Simply put, hear these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-11.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Jesus was the Son of God, God in human flesh, and yet he did not wield his power over other humans in an effort to intimidate or subjugate, or to glorify himself. Instead, he became a servant, even sacrificing his own life, so that all of humanity might be saved from sin and death.
We are encouraged, therefore, to remember this model in our relationships with others. Rather than expending our efforts to glorify ourselves, we are called to use our time, energy, skills, strength, and talents to help others.
Looking out for number one might change your life, but looking out for everyone else will change the world.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.