Matthew 27:54—Passion (Palm) Sunday


“Truly This Was the Son of God!”

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

What was it that gave it away for this Centurion, this Roman soldier? How did he come to know that Jesus was the Son of God? This question that arises out of the Gospel of Matthew is really the mystery of the ages. It combines the two great gifts and mysteries of the Christian Church: that God became the man, and that God died on the cross for our salvation.

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

So what was it? Was it the thunder and lightening? Was it the temple veil being ripped in two? Was it the dead rising from their graves and going about in the city? What was it that proved to this Roman soldier that Jesus was the Son of God?

St. Paul pondered this question in the first hymn of the Christian Church, found in Philippians chapter 2. Hear a part of it again:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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Jesus, the very Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and took to Himself the flesh and blood of humankind—the Creator incarnated as one of His creatures. Jesus lived a life of perfect submission to His Father’s wii, and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross—the death of a criminal; the death of one abandoned by God and man alike. It is to that death that Jesus rode in on Good Friday. He rode into Jerusalem as a King, as the mighty conqueror on a donkey, an animal of peace. He rode in as the Son of God. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, they cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna, or “Lord, save me.” This is the God who comes to His people in their need, in their weakness and pain, their hurts and sorrows.

But as we heard in the Passion of our Lord, the same crowds that cried out Hosanna! Later cried out CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM. Now don’t be so quick to judge them, for we do the same thing. Time and time again we hold up our Lord as King and Savior, and yet we turn around and spit upon him by our sin and unbelief. As you hear those words from Philippians, it is clear that you do not live like Jesus. Nor do I.

Are you humble? Do you take the form of a common servant, helping others in need, to the point even of your own death? Of course not. We are all full of pride and envy and lust. Open your eyes and you will see that God knows who you are as a sinner in need of redemption. You are dead, lost in the ditch on the side of the road. Oh, to be sure, we all put on a good front. But deep down you know that you are guilty of our Lord’s death just as much as those crowds were to many years ago.

Perhaps this is what the centurion saw at the crucifixion. He saw a man who gave of Himself so completely, so utterly, that there was nothing left. God abandons him, so that you will never be abandoned. Jesus cried out from the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me! (Psalm 22:1-31). Jesus was despised and forsaken by men and God alike.

Yet it is in that forsakenness that we find redemption. Jesus was abandoned, but you are in God’s presence every day. God in His mercy has built a house, His house, here for you. God draws you into His house, picks up the broken pieces of your life, and puts you back together—all because of Jesus. We call this the Gospel. Good News. There will never be better news than that.

It should be you and I in the grave. We are the ones who deserve death and condemnation. But He is the one who died, and we are the ones who live. I suppose you could say that we are all Barabbas. Who was Barabbas? He was a murderer and a rebel, condemned to death, who went free for no reason other than Jesus’ condemnation. That’s you. You should be there, but instead God gives you heaven itself. What could be better? What could give you more hope than that?

As the people cried to Pilate, His blood be on us and on our children. Yes! It is only Jesus’ blood on us that can wash us clean. It is only His blood, which we receive at His Altar today, that can cleanse the hurting soul, lift up the downtrodden, and give hope where there is only despair. The crowds those many years ago meant it as a curse, but we pray daily that His blood would be on us. Jesus blood and death is your only hope for life.

“Truly this was the Son of God. ”

So cried the centurion. So do we cry out as we confess in the creed,

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.

So as we join with the angels and all the Church in heaven and on earth this week, join in the song of all creation. Come to God’s house again and again, and see His love for you. Eat His body and drink His blood, and God’s blessings flow into you like a fresh spring rain. Hear His Word, and rejoice! This is the God who wants only the best for you. This is the God who would give you heaven itself. Hear, and believe that truly this was the Son of God.

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