It Could Have Been Different
Text: John 12:12-19
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus could have done things differently. He had the crowd eating out of the palm of His yet-to-be-nail-pierced hand. Witnesses of Him raising Lazarus from the dead had whipped up curiosity and hope in the streets of Jerusalem. The city was full of the faithful, gathered for the great celebration of the Passover, and over the course of those holy days of the festival they’d heard the ancient promises over and over again from Scripture—promises being fulfilled by Jesus. “Hosanna!” the crowds shouted, “Save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; blessed are you, Jesus, the King of Israel!” They wanted Jesus to save them. They wanted Him to replace King Herod as their king. Everything was primed—Jesus could have taken the throne of Israel. Even those who were opposed to Jesus had to recognize the landslide in His favor, as the Pharisees grumbled to each other, “Look, the world has gone after him!”
Jesus could have done things differently. That Palm Sunday, Jesus could have marched that donkey and energy-frenzied crowed right up to the fortress. They could have bust down the doors and taken the crown—a glittering crown of Roman gold for their King of Israel. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have let Peter defend Him, could have lent strength to Peter’s sword arm as he fought to protect his Lord and Master. Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to restrain the murderous mob that came to arrest Him. Jesus could have answered Pontius Pilate a powerful “Yes” when the governor asked Him if He was the King of the Jews, and then by His divine power He could have compelled the Roman governor to bend the knee. Jesus could have come down from the cross and saved Himself, as He had saved others. He could have, at that moment, removed the crown of thorns and taken a fairer crown as He seized the title posted over His sacred head, now wounded: “This is the King of the Jews.”
Jesus could have done things differently. He could have done things the way of the world: grasping power, avoiding suffering, destroying enemies, law of the jungle. He could have taken political power. He could have silenced His enemies and shamed them as they were shaming Him. But if Jesus had done things differently, if He’d done them in that way, it would not have been enough. It would not have been what we needed. It would not have saved us in the way we needed saving.
Our problem, the reason Jesus came into this world, is much bigger than politics. It’s bigger than governmental structures. It’s bigger than kings and governors and policies. It’s bigger than military strength. Our problem is bigger than respect and honor in society. It’s bigger than having the wrong side win; bigger than misunderstanding. The world—and even we—have often fallen for that lie: that the deepest problems we have are fixable with our efforts, our choices, our votes, our power, our exercise of strength, our works, our wisdom, our whatever. But the issues those things can fix are not what we need to be redeemed from the most.
What is it that need to be redeemed from? Sin. Death. Not the powers of flesh and blood mortals, but the power of the devil, who desires our eternal damnation. We even need to be redeemed from ourselves, from our fallen natures that are too quick to think of ourselves first, ourselves only. We need to be redeemed from all our futile solutions that could never offer redemption from sin, death, and hell.
So this is what Holy Week is for. This is why we hear the Passion of our Lord again, and all the wondrous ways He saves us—not in the ways we would expect, not in the temporary ways of the world, but in the grand, eternal ways that seal God’s promises of life and salvation forever. Holy Week strips away all the other things that have built up over the last year—the solutions we thought would save us this time, the worldly hopes that are so quickly dashed, the frustration that the kingdom is not coming the way we think it should. Day by day this week, we have Jesus revealing the ways in which He has saved us—ways that take care of our real problem, ways that offer eternal solutions to things like sin, death, and the powers of hell. During this Holy Week, we get the opportunity to view the beautiful gemstone of our salvation from every possible angle. We’ll spend the week filling our ears, eyes, and hearts with the ancient and powerful ways our God has rescued us, from the Garden of Eden all the way to this morning. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, our Lord will surprise us again with His unique ways of saving as we gather for Scripture and prayer at noon. On Thursday evening, we’ll see the unexpected ways in which He will continue to serve us, to wash our feet and hands and head and heart and soul in His Holy Supper of body and blood, bread and wine, given and shed for you. On Friday afternoon we’ll sit at the foot of Jesus’ cross and hear His last words spoken—words that surprise us, that shake up our balanced world-wise ways of thinking and living. Then that evening we’ll gather in the darkness to be submerged in His sacrifice again, to see everything else dissolve away in the perfect salvation of the crucifixion. Then, with renewed wonder and joy, we’ll see Jesus’ empty tomb—and our own—on Saturday night and Sunday morning as we join the highest and greatest celebration of the Church year on Easter.
Jesus could have done things differently. But thanks be to Him, and our heavenly Father, and to the Holy Spirit, that He didn’t. He knew exactly what we needed, and in His cross, His suffering, His words, His Supper, and His resurrection, He gave it all to us. He gives Himself to us, even now, for that is what we need the most. In the name of Jesus, the Crucified One. Amen.