Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sermon: Luke 22:63 - 23:25 The King Tried

As we’ve journeyed with Jesus this week, we know all too well what lies ahead. We’ve heard the story many times before, we know (even if the first disciples didn’t know) that the cross awaits on that first Good Friday. It’s so familiar to us, though, that sometimes it’s good to be able to stop and think, to ask questions, to watch in slow motion replay. If you’re watching a football game on TV, they’ll show the build-up to the goal, how it came about. Gary Lineker and his mates on Match of the Day will analyse the series of passes and dummies and shots that led to the goal.

In a similar kind of a way, our reading tonight helps us to see the build-up to the cross. Why was it Jesus was crucified? What led to Jesus being nailed to the cross? How did it come about? And what does it mean for us?

We begin with the men holding Jesus (63-65). They’ve arrested him, taken him prisoner, but there is no due process here, no fairness, no hint of being innocent until proven guilty. Rather, the guards mock him and beat him. They have heard that Jesus is regarded as a prophet, so they blindfold him, asking him to prophesy, to say which of them was hitting him. Jesus is scorned and insulted.

From there, he is taken to the assembly of the elders (the Sanhedrin), which could not meet at night, so they wait for the very first glimmer of daylight in order to not break the law. How ironic, given what happens next. Do you see what they say? ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ (67) Yet Jesus makes the point that if he did tell them, they would not believe.

They sit in judgement over Jesus; they have already decided that Jesus must die. It’s the action they have worked towards for so long. Yet the tables are turned, as Jesus continues: ‘But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God’ (69) Jesus will be seated in the place of judgement; he will try them, but they refuse to listen; they refuse to believe.

They continue by asking if he is the Son of God, and his answer is enough for them. They don’t pause to consider if he is speaking the truth. They refuse to contemplate that Jesus is actually the Son of God, the Messiah. They have the ‘evidence’ so called, they can now take him to Pilate. The build-up continues.

It’s obvious, though, that the charge of being God’s Son won’t mean anything to the pagan Roman governor, Pilate. Instead, they claim that Jesus is leading the nation astray, telling people to withhold taxes from Caesar, and setting himself up as king.

For Pilate, a troubled governor who had already upset the locals in Jerusalem and caused bother for Caesar, this wasn’t what he wanted to hear. The Romans wanted to keep the peace, to control the Jews, but every so often there would be a new uprising. Pilate had to keep control.

When he asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, Jesus answers ‘You say so.’ Pilate’s opinion is that ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ He is not guilty. Why didn’t he stop the proceedings here? Why didn’t he release Jesus? The crowds don’t like it. They press on, mentioning Galilee. Pilate reckons he has his escape route.

King Herod, ruler of Galilee, was in town for Passover. If he’s from Galilee, then he can be Herod’s problem. Herod was delighted. For a long time he had been wanting to meet Jesus - not to hear his teaching and believe his message, but simply to see a sign. He was interested in miracles - he wanted a Paul Daniels type performance, but Jesus refuses to answer his questions, and performs no sign. Even with the false accusations of the chief priests, still Jesus remains silent.

The innocent prisoner is mocked by Herod; they dress him up in an elegant robe and send him back to Pilate. Again, Herod found him not guilty (15). Why wasn’t he released? The way of the cross continues.

Pilate once again declares Jesus’ innocence. ‘he has done nothing to deserve death.’ (15). Surely he should be released? But no, Pilate’s offer is to have him flogged and then released. Can you imagine the uproar if a government decided that suspects released without charge first got a flogging to send them on their way? Perhaps Pilate is trying to compromise with the crowd.

But the chief priests and the crowd’s opposition has turned into an avalanche. We’ve escaped the snow here, but in County Down and County Antrim, the snow remains - it wouldn’t take much on one of the hills to start an avalanche, but it quickly grows and builds until nothing can hold it back. So it is here with the crowd.

Pilate offers to flog and release; they shout back: ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us.’ (18). Pilate addresses them again, but he’s shouted down: ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ (21). Momentum is growing; the snowball is hurtling down the hillside, bringing more snow with it.

For the third time, Pilate maintains Jesus’ innocence: ‘Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death.’ (22). Their loud shouts continue, ‘their voices prevailed.’

Pilate has given in to the mob rule. He condemns the innocent and hands him over to be crucified. The one who is not guilty is treated as the guilty one. The cross stands waiting for the Lord Jesus.

We’ve watched the slow motion replay. We’ve seen as the guards mocked Jesus; the elders condemned Jesus; Herod mocked Jesus; Pilate gave in as the crowd pressed for his death. Each person and group contributed and to the death of Jesus, the cruel cross. The repeated verdicts of the innocence of Jesus highlight the injustice of his death. To simply observe the human actors with their motives and desires and agendas as they collide and conspire could lead us to despair. Except we know that through it all, God is still in control. Herod and Pilate and the chief priests are all responsible for their actions, but even in this darkest of days, God is working to bring about his purposes.

The cross is the ‘cup’ Jesus asked to pass from him, but to which he submitted. It is in the cross that Jesus saves us, as he substitutes for us.

Consider Barabbas. He was a condemned man. A murderer and a rebel. He deserved the punishment that was due. He waited on death row. The cross had his name on it. Yet this guilty man walked free. Imagine that as he took off his prison clothes and walked out in freedom, that he watched as Jesus was nailed to the cross. He could truly say: ‘He died in my place.’

We may not like to hear it this way; we may not like the comparison, but we are Barabbas. We each of us deserve the death penalty. We stand rightly condemned. Yet Jesus has taken our place. He has died the death we deserve - the innocent for the guilty. The choice remains - will we cry ‘crucify’ and reject Jesus, or will we receive the pardon he provides, and worship the crucified Lord, who died that we might live. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church at the Holy Week midweek service on Wednesday 27th March 2013.

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