On Palm Sunday we read about how the people shouted “Hosannah!” while Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. This proclamation is directly from Psalm 118 and means “save us!” This cry for rescue is the perfect introduction to Holy Week.
Holy Week is the week in which we turn our attention to the idea of rescue. It’s a time in the Christian calendar when we focus on the moment in which Christ rescues the world.
We see this theme of rescue through the years of church tradition as there are a number of Scripture readings associated with the various days of Holy Week, the vast majority of which focus on salvation, rescue, and redemption.
One of those texts is Isaiah 49:1–9. To reference just a few verses:
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Another is Psalm 72:1–6. The first three verses say:
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliverme and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
If you think about it for a moment, it’s a bit odd that the idea of rescue is at the heart of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. When we picture Jesus on the cross, the first idea that comes to mind is NOT typically rescue. This certainly wasn’t the case for those witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion. The last thing they were probably thinking while he suffered on the cross is, “Look! He’s saving us!,” let alone, “Look, he’s saving the creation!”
That his idea is unnatural is affirmed in the conversation that Jesus has with the men on the road to Emmaus. As he meets them on the road and they are disappointed and discouraged that the one who was supposed to rescue them didn’t.
This is also evident in the fact that the disciples go back to fishing after Jesus died.
The reality is that the masses following Jesus (including his disciples) were anticipating a rescue like how Moses rescued their ancestors from Egyptian slavery. They were expecting rebellion, war, and political victory over their pagan oppressors. They weren’t expecting a Roman execution.
So, I ask again, what does the cross have to do with rescue? While eternity doesn’t afford enough time to answer this question fully, one way to say it is that Jesus died to rescue God’s creation project.
God had a very specific plan for the creation and humanity’s role in it, and it ran amuck because of human rebellion. The plan was for humanity to reflect the selfless, loving character of God into the world. They were to glorify him by looking like him and acting like him. This is the vocation of the divine-image-bearers. Because of human rebellion, however, the creation glorifies and points to evil and death rather than to God.
When Jesus obediently died on the cross out of love for his enemies, he rescued God’s plan for the creation.
In his death he was a faithful witness to the character of God. Because of Jesus’s death, the world was finally able to see what God truly looked like. Jesus did was Adam and Eve didn’t do.
Jesus was entirely faithful. He loved like God. When this happened, God’s plan for the creation was rescued. When Jesus faithfully put the love of God on display for all to see, the final phase of the creation-redemption project was launched.
When we look at the cross, we should see the glory of God. We should see the faithful witness to God’s character. We should likewise see a model of God’s call to holiness for all people. In Jesus’s death we see the heart posture that all humanity is supposed to have. The creation plan was rescued in the cross.
Yes, it is also by the death of Jesus that individuals are rescued from eternal damnation and separation from God. Yes, it is because of the death of Jesus that we are rescued from the consequences of sin.
We fail, however, if we stop there.
The death of Jesus does not rise and fall on you and me. The endgame of Jesus’ saving work is the rescue of the entire creation project and its intended goal of glorifying God.
Keep in mind this week that Jesus died to rescue the Holy Trinity’s creation project. If we continue to think that Holy Week is all about us, then we still haven’t been rescued. Holy Week is all about Jesus.