He was humiliated. No one had seen humiliation like this before. Had an innocent man ever been punished so? What makes it worse is He had never done a thing wrong in His life. Every other innocent man punished for the crimes of another at least has sinned plenty. But this man never had. He deserved to be mocked, lashed, hit, spat on, blindfolded, by nobody. He did not deserve to be crucified. He was humiliated.
Humiliation is not fun. We hang our heads in shame when something humiliates us. Perhaps we get caught in a sin. Perhaps a bully says something really mean. Perhaps everything goes horribly wrong for you and it isn’t your fault. Nobody ever wants to be humiliated. It’s one of the worst things in life.
Christ Jesus was humiliated. He hung naked upon The Cross. His back was torn open. His hands and feet were pierced. His side was pierced after He died. He died in public in such a horrific way. He was put up there between 2 criminals – the Guiltless with the guilty. He had nowhere to go, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He suffered hell itself hanging on the Cross. How humiliating!
On Palm Sunday we heard the Epistle of our Lord’s Humiliation and Exaltation. St. Paul says Christ humbled Himself onto death and only then was exalted. His whole life was Humiliation. He was born in a stable, not a palace, laid in a manger, not a crib, and who would ever believe Him when He said His Mother was a Virgin? He had to flee to Egypt as an infant, wandered around the land during His adult years, and often lacked a bed. Finally they put Him on a cross and killed their God and He was buried. What humiliation!
But then His Exaltation began. His Burial is the prelude to it. The crucified weren’t often buried. They were just disposed of. They certainly weren’t put in a rich man’s tomb! But that tomb did not keep Him in. He rose on the third day! 40 days later He ascended into heaven and took His place on God’s throne. 10 days later He sent His Spirit to His disciples on Pentecost. Now He is preparing a place for us. He’s hearing our prayers and answering them. He’s protecting us and forgiving us. He’s guiding us through life and preparing us for the day He calls us to Him and for the day He returns to judge the quick and the dead.
He was humiliated because you have been humiliated. He is exalted on high that He might exalt you. He wants to bring you up out of your grave and remake you. He wants to take your dead body and breathe your life back into you and make you far better than you ever have been. He wants to make you a king or queen with Him in all eternity. From the humiliation of this life to the exaltation of the next – what joy! what bliss!
He is in heaven, but He is not absent. One translation of Acts says: “heaven must contain Him,” but that is not what St. Luke wrote. Instead the Scripture says: “heaven must receive Him.” He is not just up there with nowhere to go. He is everywhere. He is here. He is at work in this church. He is preaching. He is absolving. He is giving communion. He is shepherding His flock through this vale of tears unto life everlasting.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. This is one of our favorite images of our Savior. From ancient times people have drawn pictures of Him carrying a lamb on His shoulders. It’s an image that comes up frequently in the Liturgy. We sang some of the same hymns a few weeks ago on Lent 4, when we heard the Gospel of Him feeding the 5000. On Trinity 3 we’ll hear about Him going out to find the lost sheep. He feeds us. He cares for us. But is that what makes Him so good?
Today Jesus tells us what makes Him so good. It’s not that He gives you whatever you want. He doesn’t do that anyway. It’s not that He’s just a great guy that you just have to get to know. It’s not that you might enjoy hanging out with Him like anybody else – I’m not sure if that’s true anyway. What makes Him so good is simply this: He laid down His life for the sheep.
That humiliating experience makes Him good? How can that be? It’s the very means He uses to exalt you. Without Him you’d be on your way to eternal humiliation. We do not deserve perpetual gladness. We deserve to fall into the danger of everlasting death. This is because of our sins. They have caused us to be lost. They have caused us to lose eternal life. Our sinfulness is obvious every time we threaten someone who causes us to suffer, every time we revile someone because he slandered us first. But if the punishment fits the crime, then we must admit we should be threatened with eternal death and then we should receive it and be reviled by Satan and his demons forever. How humiliating!
But God does not want to humiliate you in eternity. He wants to exalt you. That’s why Christ was humiliated. That’s why the soldiers and all who passed by mocked Him. That’s why they condemned Him to die on a cross with a crown of thorns on His head and a stick for a scepter. That’s why he took the place of an archcriminal. That’s why He suffered hell. He was humiliated, and you will be exalted.
Your sins were put on His Body. He suffered for them. Not one of them was forgotten or left for you to deal with. Hell no longer is staring you in the face with its threatening, menacing jaws. The devil’s evil laughter is nowhere to be heard near you. Jesus is risen from the dead. He is exalted on high. Death can no longer touch Him—He’s destroyed it. Satan can’t nip at Him—He’s crushed him. Sin can no longer punish Him—He’s washed it away. He’s done this for you!
You belong to Him. He is your Shepherd. You are a sheep in His flock. He has taken His rod and His staff to lift you up off the path to hell. He’s put you on the path to heaven with His sheep. He’s walking along with you on this path. A good shepherd feeds His sheep and talks to them. This is what Jesus does. He talks with you. He caused His Word to be written for you. From it He calls to you. He tells you how to get to heaven. He tells you He is the way to heaven. He tells you to avoid everything that would take you off that path. He promises to always forgive you.
He feeds you. At this rail He gives you His Body and Blood. We see and taste bread and wine, but He says it’s His Body and Blood too. It’s the same Body Pilate crucified, the same Blood He shed even as He hung dead upon The Cross. He gives Himself to you here. He’s giving your body eternal life. He’s giving your body forgiveness of sins. He’s giving you what you need for your journey from this life to the next. He is guiding you. He is shepherding you. He is watching over you. He knows you and you know Him. You are loved by Him. You will be eternally exalted by Him. You will soon be with Him in paradise. Soon you shall see Him when He raises you from the dead. Soon your body shall be like His glorified Body, and you shall live forever.