Sunday before Easter

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; ; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle Philippians 2.5-11
Gospel S. Matthew 27.1-54

The Epistle for this Sunday declares the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, that is, that before he came into this world and took our human nature upon him, he was eternally with God the Father and enjoyed equality with him. However, in order to fulfil the plan of salvation he “made himself of no reputation”; he humbled himself, and became man. But that was not all, that would not have been enough to redeem us. He went further, and became “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”. The penalty for man’s sin and disobedience was death, and so, although he was wholly innocent, in order to redeem his people he had to suffer death in their place.

All this is set out very vividly for us in the Gospel for this Sunday. It tells of the confession of Judas in which he testified to the innocence of Jesus; of the dream of Pilate’s wife, and her plea to her husband to have “nothing to do with that just man”; of the question of Pilate to the chief priests and the elders, “What evil hath he done?” to which they had no answer; and his unequivocal declaration “I am innocent of the blood of this just person”. All this makes it abundantly clear that Jesus suffered not for any sins of his own, for he had none, but for the sins of others. He suffered, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”, 1 Peter 3:18.

But not only is the innocence of Jesus portrayed in the Gospel narrative, but also his divine nature. The soldiers mock him arraying him in a scarlet robe and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews”. So, also, do the passers-by, saying, “Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save thyself; if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross”. But this mockery was silenced and overturned when the centurion in charge of the execution, awed by the death of Jesus and the things that accompanied it, exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God”.

Here, then, the conditions necessary for our redemption are fulfilled. The perfect, sinless, Son of God offers himself a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. There is no other way that God and man can be reconciled and made one. Our age is a superficial one. It has little consciousness of sin, and little place for God in its thinking. But that does not mean that neither are real. Many people have thought little of these things until they have suddenly been confronted with them, and have then had an overwhelming consciousness of their deep sinfulness and of a holy God whom they have offended. And when they have become aware of both these realities, the only sure deliverance and refuge they have found has been in the Bible’s message of grace, peace and mercy, through the atoning, sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God. They have been constrained to make the same confession as the centurion at the foot of the cross, “Truly, this was the Son of God”.