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The Greatest Truth




The Greatest Truth

Mark 11:1-10 (Palms)

Luke 23:13-25 (Passion)


“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest...”


“Crucify him! Give us Barabbas... Crucify him!”


Hossanna ~ Crucify : in those simple words we feel the tension of this week we dare to call Holy. And we find the fickleness of our own humanity and faith.


It all reminds me of a verse that we talked about just a couple of weeks ago during our Lenten Bible Study from 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”


That’s a “high calling” that gives new meaning to both our humanity and our faith.


In February 1941, the Nazis incarcerated a Polish Priest named Maximilian Kolbe... and sent him to Auschwitz. In spite of the brutality of that infamous concentration camp, Maximilian lived out the spirit of Christ. He shared his food, gave up his bunk, and prayed for his captors. Which soon earned him the nickname “Saint of Auschwitz.”


In July of that same year a prisoner escaped from the camp. The policy at Auschwitz was to kill ten prisoners for every one who escaped. So, the next morning, guards gathered the prisoners into the courtyard. The commander randomly selected ten names from the roll book. Everyone there knew... they knew... that if their name was called... it meant death.

The commander began calling the ten names. At each selection another prisoner learned his fate.


The tenth, and final name called was Franciszek (Fran-sizz-eck) Gajowniczek (Gah-gone-a-zack). Upon hearing his name called, Francis broke down, and began to sob, “My wife and my children,” he wept.


At that moment: The guards sensed movement among the prisoners. They raised their rifles... the dogs tensed, anticipating a command to attack. A prisoner pushed his way to the front. It was the priest, Maximilian. He showed no fear on his face, no hesitancy in his step. The guard shouted at him to stop or be shot. But Maximilian calmly replied, “I want to talk to the commander.” He then stopped, removed his hat, and looked the German officer in the eye.


“Commandant, I wish to make a request. I want to die in the place of this prisoner.” He then pointed at Francis. “I have no wife and children. Besides, I am old and not good for anything. He’s in better condition.”


“Who are you?” the commandant barked. “A Catholic priest.” The entire crowd was stunned; the commandant, uncharacteristically fell speechless.


After a moment, the commandant asked again, “Who are you?” and again, Maximilian said, “I’m a Catholic priest. I want to die in the place of this prisoner.”


The commandant, “Request granted.”


Francis later said, “Prisoners were never allowed to speak. So I could only thank [Father Maximilian] with my eyes. I could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it. I, the condemned, was to live; and someone else willingly and voluntarily offered up his life for me, a complete stranger.”


Francis survived the Holocaust. After the war he made his way back to his hometown in Poland. In his backyard he placed a plaque, one he carved with his own hands. The plague reads, “A tribute to Maximillian Kolbe—the man who died so I could live.” There’s also a memorial at Auschwitz, placed in memory of “The Saint of Auschwitz.” (Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, Portland: Multnomah, 1989, pp. 66–68).


It’s called Substitutionary Atonement: the theological construct that asserts that Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary, in order to appease God’s Wrath, and set the path, The Way, for you and me, to be redeemed unto eternal life.


Of course, there are many who reject such an idea... such a doctrine (despite it’s acceptance in Orthodox Christianity for some 2000 years). Those who reject substitutionary atonement in the modern Church, claim it’s outdated. That it “flies in the face” of a loving God. That it makes God seem violent and vengeful... it paints a picture (consciously or subconsciously) of a God who cannot or will-not forgive sin without recompense of some sort. Of course, in Jesus’ case, the recompense happens to be the horrific execution of an innocent man. Which “grates” against everything that’s good, and holy, and right, and just within us...


But the part they’re missing, in their objections - the part they’re leaving out - the part that is absolutely crucial to the Gospel, is that Jesus was, and is, God!


It’s a Truth that’s replete throughout the Bible:


Colossians 2:9-10: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily... and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.“


John 10:30: “The Father and I are one.”


Philippians 2:5-6: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.”


John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”


The Gospels affirm that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us... God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Jesus is God!


This was no mere “man” taking our place on the cross. It was God himself. Fully human, yes... but (don’t forget) he was fully God, too! It’s one of the great paradoxes of the Gospel... and it’s the greatest truth of our faith.


That’s why we sing, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus is worthy of our worship, and praise... HE is our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord and God.


And the cross of Christ tells us, reminds us, time and time again (as we live our lives in its shadow) that God is a crucified God. It reminds us that, “God shows his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).


Dietrich Bonhoffer - the famous theologian, said, “If Jesus Christ is not true God, how could he help us? If he is not true man, how could he help us?” It’s both/and - NOT - if/or. As in Jesus is both God, and man.


J. Oswald Sanders, “If Jesus is not God, then there is no Christianity, and we who worship Him are nothing more than idolaters. Conversely, if He is God, those who say He was merely a good man, or even the best of men, are blasphemers. More serious still, if He is not God, then He is a blasphemer in the fullest sense of the word. If He is not God, He is not even good.”


Several years ago now... a man named David, lost his fourteen-year-old son (Rob) in a tragic accident. Several days after the funeral, David, in agonizing grief, drove to a Christian bookstore... and purchased a wooden crucifix, depicting Jesus’ suffering on the cross. David drove home, opened his toolbox, and grabbed a hammer and nail. He then walked to the kitchen and hammered the cross to the wall, right above his son’s empty chair at the dinner table.


Every evening, when he stared at Rob’s empty chair, David lifted his eyes to the cross and remembered that God, like him, had suffered great grief.


The cross did not explain his son’s death. Nor did it take away the pain of that death. But knowing that God suffered with him allowed David to survive that horrible time of pain and grief.


Many years later, that cross still hangs on David’s wall. It reminds him that the God of the cross is always with him, even in his deepest suffering.


As we move into this holiest of weeks... may you and I remember... and reflect upon the fact, that God is with us. Christ is with us. He never leaves us in our brokeness... in fact, he became our brokeness, to make us whole.


That’s why we sing all the louder, for all to hear: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes... to save us... to deliver us... to be broken for us... so that we might find life... and live it to the full!”


Amen.


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