3rd Wednesday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, have you ever seen one of those public marriage proposals before? You know, at a football game or basketball game where the guy proposes before everyone and it’s even on TV? If you’re going to do that, you better wait until the right time when you know absolutely sure what the answer is going to be. About 8 years ago at a Houston Rockets basketball game, a guy got down on his knee at center court during halftime and proposed to his girlfriend. While they were showing it, the TV announcers began to joke about how just once they’d like to see the girl say no- and right after the announcer said that the girl actually said no and ran off the court leaving him kneeling in center court with the ring. The announcer then said, “You know, I was just joking when I said that.” When and how a man proposes makes a big difference, right? I mean, if he does it too soon or in the wrong way, he may ruin everything. Timing means everything. Tonight, we’re looking at an irony that has to do with timing. It focuses on what the religious leaders said about when they wanted to kill Jesus, “Not during the festival.”
The festival that they’re talking about is, of course, the Passover. It was the most important Jewish festival of the year and it was followed by a week-long celebration- the feast of the Unleavened Bread. Jewish people from all over the world flooded to Jerusalem to celebrate this. It’s now just two days away from the Passover, you could feel the excitement in the air and Jesus’ enemies agreed that they wouldn’t kill Jesus during the festival- it was the one time they didn’t want to kill Jesus.
The gospel writer Matthew sets up this irony. On Tuesday of Holy Week, we’ve got two groups meeting. We have Jesus and his disciples on the Mount of Olives and Jesus is teaching them. Then we have the chief priests and the elders all assembled in Caiaphas’ palace. And what were they doing? “They plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.” So, the very people, the leaders of the Jews, who were entrusted to both keep justice and purity in the land, hated Jesus so much that they were plotting to kill him. And they wanted to do it in a sly way so they wouldn’t be blamed for it.
So they reached a consensus on one important matter: not during the feast. They all recognized how important this was. It would be much easier to deal with Jesus after the Passover was over. The crowds would all go home, Jerusalem wouldn’t be so populated, then they could do away with Jesus. But not during the feast – it was the one time they didn’t want to kill Jesus.
And what’s Jesus doing at this time? He and his disciples had a busy day, Jesus taught in the temple, confronted the Pharisees, then he brought his disciples out to the Mount of Olives and Jesus taught them about the Last Day. And Jesus said, “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” It didn’t matter what the leaders were plotting, Jesus’ time had come, in two days, on the Passover itself, Jesus would be arrested so that he could be crucified. Right when his enemies didn’t want to do it, they would kill him.
And it wasn’t going to sly or sneeky either. Jesus wasn’t going to die by getting a knife in the back from an assassin, he wasn’t just going to be disappear and never be heard about again. He was going to be crucified. That was a public act, it would have to be done by the Romans – they were the ones who crucified, so that would require a legal proceeding, it would be a public procession and a public execution.
Nothing about Jesus’ death was going to be what the Jewish leaders wanted or expected. That’s irony. And what can we learn from it? Who is really in control here? The leaders of the Jews thought they had matters under their control, they thought they could manipulate things around their designs, even control the Roman governor to do what they wanted, they were convinced things would happen the way that they wanted it to. But, God had a different plan. God wanted Jesus to be arrested an die right around the Passover, right around the time when thousands and thousands of Jews were sacrificing one year old, male lambs without blemish or defect. God wanted Jesus to die in a city that was packed with thousands and thousands of people.
So, the very people who agreed that it wouldn’t happen during the Passover were the very ones who paid Judas to betray Jesus, brought the soldiers to Gethsemane to arrest him, gathered false witnesses in the middle of the night, held a mock trial, demanded that Pilate put him to death, asked for Barabbas to be released and Jesus crucified, they taunted Jesus while on the cross.
But God’s plan would not be stopped. God remains in control. God even uses the actions of unbelievers to accomplish his purposes and his designs. Do we believe that? Do we trust that God is in control and that HE will accomplish His purposes no matter what? You see, God doesn’t ever scratch his head or throw his hands up in despair and say, “What am I going to do now?” He uses all things to accomplish his purposes. Do we believe that? Do we believe that God is in control and will work things out even in the midst of difficult times? You see, not believing God is in control makes me think that I’M in control and I have to make sure things happen according to my plans- and that’s too much, I can’t control everything – thinking I’m in control leads to stress, worry, anxiety, and fear.
But what do we see here? God’s in control. Jesus determines the time of his death – it will be during the feast and it will be crucifixion. You see, it wasn’t an accident that Jesus died on a cross either. The Romans had other ways of executing, the cross was reserved for the worst. It was horrible pain, but the Bible highlights no the pain of the cross, but the shame. To the Romans those who die on a cross were those deserving of NO dignity in death. To the Jews, God had said, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” This is what that means- Jesus knew he was going to the cross to suffer as the most shameful person ever and to be cursed by God. Why? For you and for me and for all. God placed all our mistrust, our doubt, our worry, our fear, our sins and punished Jesus for it all. Because Jesus did that, you are forgiven fully and freely!
Timing is everything. God used the hate and jealousy of the Jewish leaders to have Jesus put to death at the right time and in the right manner so that Jesus could fulfill his mission and win eternal life for you and me. That’s irony, but that’s also incredible grace and a demonstration of God’s incredible control of all things for us, His people. Amen.