Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Midweek Lent Sermon 5 [Luke 23:26-31] (5-Apr-2017)

This sermon was preached at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Magill, South Australia, 7.30pm.

Click here for PDF of sermon for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, bless all of us with your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

Tonight in our last midweek Lent sermon for this year, we reflect on the event where Jesus was led to place of his death.

In the last 50 years or so, there has been a change in the way many Christians have viewed the life of Jesus. In a time gone by, it was always seen that the suffering and the death of Jesus was central. Around 300 years ago, the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, who was also a Lutheran, wrote two masterpieces: St Matthew’s Passion and St John’s Passion. These works are the history of Jesus’ suffering and death set to music, together with poetry and hymns interspersed. To perform St Matthew’s Passion takes close to 3 hours. But you can see that in those times what care and what effort was taken to focus on the suffering of Christ.

If you look in our hymnbook, the largest section is the section is the “Passion” section, which also has the longest hymns.

But now, we are living in a time where many Christians could go to church for a whole year and almost never hear a single word about the suffering and death Jesus. Some people will say, “people used to focus on the suffering of Jesus, now we focus on the resurrection.” But this isn’t genuine. You can’t play these things against each other. I heard a funeral sermon recently, where the pastor said the person who had died was an “Easter person”, as if to say that they were simply a happy, energetic person. That’s not what Easter is about. And then people think that Good Friday is the day where we feign some kind of an austerity and solemnity, but then Easter is the day when we can forget about all that, kick off our shoes, mess around and be silly. This is not what Jesus’ life is about.

What has really happened in the church is that many Christians have forgotten that Jesus is our Saviour, our Redeemer, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Instead, they want to dress him up in some hippy flared trousers, and an open neck avocado and orange coloured shirt, and have him have a beer at the bar with us as just another friend! They want to make Jesus one of the blokes, one of the guys, one of our mates. But Christianity is a serious matter—sure, there is plenty of time for humour, and laughter, and enjoyment. But we also need to think about the real issues of our soul and of our life, that require a seriousness of purpose that is often not valued in our country. We need to have a renewal in our church that revolves around the suffering and death of Jesus, of Christ crucified. After all this is what St Paul said about his preaching, when he said: We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. The world still goes around, but the cross stands still.

In some sense, the Roman Catholic Church has kept a strong focus on these things, that should be admired. You might have been in a Catholic Church and seen what they call the “Stations of the Cross”. The Stations of the Cross is a devotion where they have 14 different pictures of different events as Jesus went to the cross. And this practice is based very strongly on the event which we read about in our reading tonight, where Jesus is walking to the cross. In some places, like in the city of Melbourne, an ecumenical stations of the cross walk in the outdoors is held each year on Good Friday. The idea of the “Stations of the Cross” is to walk with him, in some respect. In Jerusalem even today, if you ever have a chance to visit, you can walk what is called the Via Dolorosa, “the sorrowful road”, where Jesus walked his final walk of shame out of the city to Golgotha.

However, the problem with the Catholic “Stations of the Cross”, and the thing that can never it make truly “ecumenical”, is that there are many things depicted that are not actually mentioned in the bible, which are from legend. For example, the stations refer to Jesus falling three times, which simply isn’t mentioned in the bible. Of course, it’s not unlikely that he did fall, but it’s not written. Also, there is mentioned a woman called Veronica who came out to wipe Jesus’ face with a cloth, which then left a bloody imprint of Jesus’ face on it. These things just aren’t mentioned in the Scripture, and they really shouldn’t have priority in our understanding of what took place.

Not much is said about this event.

Luke says the most about it. Matthew, Mark and John say very little.

But in our sermon tonight we are going to reflect on three things.
I.                   The fact that Jesus was led out to be crucified, carrying his cross.
II.                 The fact that Simon of Cyrene was called upon to help him.
III.              Jesus addresses a group of women who were following him.

So let’s look at the first part, where:
I.                   Jesus was led out to be crucified, carrying his own cross.

In Matthew and Mark, we are told: When they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.

Throughout the events of the last day, Jesus had been clothed three times: once by Herod, once by the soldiers when they mocked him, and then before he was led away. Herod clothed him in “splendid clothing”, possibly a white garment, or something brightly coloured. The soldiers clothed him in a purple robe, and now they clothe him with his own clothes.

In some sense, these three different clothes remind us of different things: the white garment from Herod reminds us of the white clothing that priests would wear in the temple, and their splendid clothing, with jewels and gold thread. This reminds us that Jesus is our priest, in fact our high priest, who constantly prays for us before God the Father. He is a priest who is able to sympathise with us in our weakness, and was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. The purple robe reminds us that Jesus is a king, since purple is the colour that kings wear. He is the King of glory; the King of kings and Lord of lords. But then lastly, before he is led out, they put his own clothes back on him. These are his simply humble clothes that he normally wore. This reminds us of the fact that Jesus is a prophet, and just like all the prophets, he wore no fancy clothes, but was poor and lowly. Remember the encouragement that Jesus gives to his disciples about their persecution. He says: So they did to the prophets who were before you.

These three things, that Jesus is priest, king and prophet, is what it means that he is the Messiah, or the Christ. Messiah (in Hebrew) or Christ (in Greek) mean that he is anointed. The people who were anointed with oil in the Old Testament were prophets, priests or kings. Jesus is all three, and he is not simply anointed with oil, but with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and declared by God to be his beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased. This is the same Jesus who is going to the cross.

In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus carried his own cross. This was to add to the shaming of Jesus as he walked to place of his execution. This was a piece of wood that was going to sustain the weight of a grown man: it was no twig.

And we are reminded in this picture of Jesus carrying his own cross that he is the Lamb of God who carries the sins of the world. He is carrying a heavy load, and he carries it for us. In Isaiah 53 we read that the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

On one hand, we see the fact that it is us and our sin that has laid this on him. On the other hand, we also see that we have a wonderful Saviour, Jesus, who carries it, and takes it off our shoulders and takes it upon his own.

In Deuteronomy, we also read that the wood of the cross was a curse from God. It says: Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree. St Paul says about this in Galatians: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”. Jesus removes all curses from us, by taking this curse upon his own shoulders, which we see here as he carries his own cross. He takes the curse, but he gives us all the blessings of his kingdom.

This brings us now to the second part of our reading, where:
II.                 Simon of Cyrene was called upon to help Jesus carry the cross.

In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus carries his own cross. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we are told that Simon carried it. Of course, there’s no reason to believe that both didn’t happen. Also, it is also quite likely that Jesus began to carry his own cross, but because he had been so weakened by his scourging, he needed some help.

Now, we don’t know much about this man Simon, except that he was Cyrene, and Mark tells us that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. In Romans 16, we read at the end of the letter where Paul is passing on various greetings to various people. He says: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. If Mark mentioned Alexander and Rufus, it is probably likely that many people knew who these people were, and it seems that in Romans here, there was a man called Rufus and his mother who were particularly close to Paul, and had looked after him. Simon of Cyrene probably became a Christian himself and raised his family as Christians too.

We read that he was from Cyrene. Cyrene was a city, founded by the Ancient Greeks, on the North African coast of the Meditteranean Sea. Today, this region is part of modern day Libya. Simon is a long way from his home. On the day of Pentecost, we read that there were people from Cyrene there, amongst all kinds of other people. We read where the people say: Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Romes, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our tongues the mighty works of God.

Simon was not the only person from this part of the world who was in Jerusalem, and yet he was most certainly a foreigner. We read in Luke: And as they led [Jesus] away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.

We have here a wonderful picture here of the words which Jesus had said to his disciples earlier: Take up your cross and follow me. It’s strange: on one hand, Simon doesn’t have any choice about the matter. He is forced to carry it. And also, it is not his cross—it belongs to Jesus, and Jesus is the one who is going to die on it.

This gives us a wonderful picture of our own Christian lives. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow me. He lets us carry his cross for a little while, so that something sinful in us can be put to death. But Jesus doesn’t make us pay for our sins, and atone for them—that is his job. Sometimes we feel in our lives that we have been carrying an incredible burden, which has been laid on us for a time. Often we carry things around with us that are actually not for us to carry—we have decided to carry them, whereas Jesus is the one who carries them. For example, sometimes people that we love might not act and behave in a way that we would like. And we take upon ourselves the task of changing them, or even converting them to the faith. Now, we can talk to people, encourage them, warn them, teach them, but we can’t change their hearts—that is Jesus’ job, and the Holy Spirit’s job. What a wonderful thing it is when we realise this, and we can say to Jesus: “Jesus, I realise now that I cannot carry this burden. I ask that you would take this burden away from me, and take it upon yourself.”

In 1 Corinthians 10, we read something about bearing temptations. St Paul writes: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. It’s strange—even Jesus is given the help that he needs to bear the weight of the cross. Simon only carries the cross for a time, and then it is no longer his any more. But Paul writes that God provides the way of escape. When we are burdened by some sin or troubles, we should be encouraged by the fact that God will provide the way of escape. But we often think that escaping means that we don’t have to bear it any more. Actually, it says: He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. He provided the way of escape, not so that we don’t need to endure it, but so that we can endure it. He provides the way of escape through the temptation. He leads us through it, not around it. And the wonderful thing about this is that God lays these things on us as long as they are of some benefit to our soul. And when we realise this, there is then a great joy in being able to bear the cross for as long as God would have us bear it. We know that in just a little while that Jesus will demonstrate his power and glory by showing us how he died on that same cross. St Peter writes: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. But now listen to what he says: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Also, there is that wonderful passage in Matthew where Jesus says: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. He doesn’t say that he will remove the load immediately, or straight-away, or when we think that we need it. But he does promise us rest. And he promises us rest in a very strange way. He says: Take my yoke upon you. You have carried your burden for long enough. Now carry mine for a while, follow me, and I will show you where this road ends up. It ends at Golgotha, at Calvary, where I die for your sins, and make full payment for them, and where I win you for myself. He says: Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. We find rest for our souls, knowing that the cross we bear belongs to him, and he is just lending it to us for a while for our training and our blessing. The loads we carry are heavy and burdensome, but to follow Jesus and carry his cross is a much easier weight. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. What a wonderful privilege it is to walk with Jesus and carry his cross!

The other important thing about Simon carrying Jesus’ cross, is that he was forced to carry his cross. Sometimes in our Christian lives, the people outside of the church force Christians to suffer for some part of the Christian faith that we would rather not have to. At first, it is painful. We might have preferred to suffer for some other reason, but Jesus chooses the issues for us that we have to wrestle with. And as he trains us, and as we endure with him, we realise that Jesus was even more gracious and merciful than we could have ever have imagined. He draws us further away from the corrupt and sinful world, and closer to him and his way of thinking. He trains us to think like him, as St Paul writes to the Philippians: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. This is what is says in Hebrews 13: Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. A chapter earlier iwe also read: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The last part of our sermon has to do with where:
III.              Jesus addresses a group of women who were following him.

This is what we read: And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

We read that there was a large group of people, mostly women—and Jesus addresses the women—who were mourning and grieving over Jesus. They felt sorry for him for what was about to happen to him.

But Jesus says to them: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. Jesus is saying: Don’t feel sorry for me, because I am going to do a wonderful thing now that is going to change everything as we know it. I am going to go and win the forgiveness of sins.

Previously, the Jewish people had divided the world up into two categories: themselves, and the Gentiles. But they had seen it all as an external kingdom. They were looking forward for a Messiah who was going to be a political figure, a great world leader who was going to suppress all their enemies. But now, Jesus is telling them: No—my kingdom is not of this world. The true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. I am going to establish a new kingdom now, I am going to be enthroned. The old older of things is finished, now there will be a new kingdom with a new kind of worship. This will be a kingdom of word and sacrament—of preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper—it will be a kingdom of the forgiveness of sins.

The world will now be divided into the sheep and the goats. There are those who trust and follow Jesus, and there are those who reject him. Anyone can weep for Jesus, but Jesus tells these women to weep for themselves and their own children. Weep over your own sins. And weep over the fact that your children will be sinners with you. But rejoice in what I am now accomplishing.

Jesus says: For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ What Jesus is saying here is that there is going to be a judgment over the world, and even in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will end, and the world will end. And it will be preferable to wish that their children had not been brought into the world than to see them have to endure it. It will be preferable to want to be swallowed up by hills and mountains than to be face to face with that judgment of God.

Jesus says: For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? What does this mean? Jesus has been walking around and teaching and healing, and it has been a wonderful time, where many people have been called to follow him. It has been a day of salvation. It is a time when the wood is green, and leaves and fruits can grow. When Jesus calls us to repentance and faith, we should not put it off until later. We should take his hand when he reaches it out to us. But Jesus speaks of a time later when it will be too late, when the wood is dry. It is like the parable of the 10 virgins, where the five foolish virgins have missed their chance, and the doors are shut, and the bridegroom says: Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.

And if Jesus, the Saviour of the world, who has no sin, receives this kind of treatment, what kind of treatment do you think people deserve, like us who do have sin? Jesus turns the women’s eyes away from the glory of the city, away from the glory of Jerusalem, and towards him, who is the light of the world. It is not the world and people and politics and society and culture that saves us, but Christ alone. He is the green wood, everything else is dry. And when nations fall, cities are overthrown, cultures are eaten away, societies crumble, Jesus shows to us his victory over all of it—his cross, his death, his blood, his sacrifice.

The Danish poet Grundtvig writes in a hymn:
Built on a rock the Church doth stand, / Even when steeples are falling; / Crumbled have spires in every land, / Bless still are chiming and calling; / Calling the young and old to rest, / Calling the souls of men distressed, / Longing for life everlasting.

And in a Swedish Advent hymn we read:
Jerusalem is fallen, / and closed its temple door, / its sacrifices ended, / its sceptre is no more. / Christ’s kingdom never ceases, / its glory still increases.

Hebrews 13 says: Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world – grant us your peace. Amen.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Midweek Lent Sermon 4: Audio Sermon (29-Mar-2017)

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Midweek Lent Sermon 4 [John 19:4-16] (29-Mar-2017)

This sermon was preached at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Magill, South Australia, 7.30pm.

Click here for PDF of sermon for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, bless all of us with your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

Tonight in our sermon we read about Pontius Pilate and his final dealings with the crowd before Jesus was lead off to be crucified. Last week, we read about where Jesus was scourged, and crowned with thorns, clothed with a purple robe, given a reed as a sceptre and mocked and spat upon.

This week, we read mostly about Pontius Pilate, walking back and forth inside and outside his headquarters, speaking to the crowd and to Jesus, before he finally gives up and hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Our reading tonight is broken up into three parts:
I.                   Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, and testifies to his innocence.
II.                 Pilate goes back inside with Jesus and asks him where he is from.
III.              Pilate takes Jesus outside again, trying to release him, but to no effect.

So let’s come to our first part, where:
I.                   Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, and testifies to his innocence.

We read in John 19:4, where Pilate says to the crowd: See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.

Last week, we read about the terrible suffering that Jesus endured. In fact, his scourging and mocking is right at the centre of the creeds, where we say: He suffered under Pontius Pilate. We read so clearly now, that even though Pontius Pilate had had him whipped in one of the most horrendous punishments known to humanity, he still comes out afterwards and says: I find no guilt in him.

So why did he have him flogged? Well, it was all politics: it was simply to appease the crowd. And Pilate had thought that maybe if he had Jesus flogged, that the crowd would have a sense of shame about it, and they would feel sorry for Jesus and agree to release him.

So Pilate says: See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him. We read: So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

What a mess Jesus must have looked, after all that he gone through just then. Compare that wonderful time before the fall into sin, when God created woman and brought her to the man. We read: Then the man said: This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. What an amazing thing it was for the first man to see for the first time the first woman!

Now everything is reversed. This time God, through Pilate, presents his own Son to the crowd. The Jews were God’s chosen people, his bride. And now Jesus, their bridegroom is presented to them. Behold, the man! And yes, they might even see quite clearly and openly that he is flesh of their flesh and bone of their bones. And yet, instead of receiving him with love and affection and devotion, as the first man received the first woman, they receive him with burning hatred, with not a drop of sympathy at all. We read: When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

These words of Pilate — Behold, the man! — also remind us of what St Paul says in comparing Adam and Christ. He says: The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. He also says: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall be made alive. There is this comparison between Adam and Jesus. Adam sinned, Jesus dies for sin. Adam started off perfect and pure and strong and healthy and even immortal, and then ended up completely wretched because he chose sin. But then Jesus comes along, and he is true God, and he then becomes completely wretched and poor and hungry just like us when he becomes a man, not because he is a sinner, not because he chose to sin. But he chose to bear our sin, and to carry it. And now Pilate shows us what it looks like for a man to bear our sin: Behold, the man!

It will also be a wonderful thing when we appear before God’s throne, full of sin. There is nothing in us that is worthy of God accepting us or welcoming us into heaven. But we can say: Behold, the man! Don’t look at me and my sin, but look to Jesus and his atonement for sin. Look to Jesus and his purity. This is the man who has died for you and made himself your brother and your Saviour. Pilate says: Behold, the man! John the Baptist said: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

When the people called for his crucifixion again, we read that Pilate said: Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him. Pilate here is almost throwing in the towel, so to speak. He is fed up with it all. He says to them that he finds no guilt in him. But on the other hand, he puts out a challenge to them: Take him yourselves and crucify him. It’s almost to say: I can’t come up with a reason to crucify him. So if you want to crucify him, you better have a good reason. I’ve exhausted the Roman law, so if you have a good reason to crucify him, I want to hear it.

So what do they say? They say: We have a law, and according to that law he ought to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God. Now the Jews had the law in the Ten Commandments about taking the Lord’s name in vain. And also we read the law in Leviticus: Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. Now the Jews here thought that because Jesus had said that he was the Son of God, that he was blaspheming the name of the LORD. But he would be blaspheming the Lord’s name if such a thing were not true. For example, if you or I said that we were to Son of God, it would be blasphemy, because it’s not true. But Jesus had not only testified with his mouth that he was the Son of God, but also through his works, and his wonderful healing and comforting miracles. It was true.

But there was a lie in what they said. Jesus had not made himself the Son of God. God himself had declared from heaven that he was His Son, at his baptism, and also at his transfiguration.

But this thing stabs Pontius Pilate in his conscience. You see, in Ancient Roman religion, the gods were super-human beings, as they often are in many pagan religions. And Roman people were open to the possibility of one of the gods coming down in human form. Caesar Augustus had actually called himself amongst other things Filius Dei, the son of a god. What the Jews said to Pilate here would have really made him tremble. I know that he is innocent, but the Son of God, you say? And so we read: When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

Once again, Pontius’ Pilate’s grand plan to free Jesus through arousing sympathy for Jesus had backfired on him, he comes out in confidence, and he ends up in fear.

This brings us to the second part of our reading where:
II.                 Pilate goes back inside his headquarters to speak to Jesus.

We read: Pilate entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

Now Pilate is not asking him, “Where are you from?” just like we might say that to someone in the church narthex to someone, talking about what city or town they come from. Pilate already knows that: he knows that he is from Galilee. That’s why he had him sent off to King Herod. He is asking him something much deeper. And yet: Jesus gave him no answer.

This is like a young couple, who are in love, and thinking about getting married. They say to each other: I love you. And when they say this, they take a risk, and also commit themselves to each other. When Jesus says to Peter: Who do you say that I am? He says: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter knew where Jesus was from. He made a confession of faith.

But imagine the young couple, and one of them said, “Do you love me?” This question is not a commitment, but doubts whether they really do, and they want the other person to commit first. If you put yourself on the line first, then I’ll follow, but I won’t take the risk, and take the lead. This question could also carry underneath it a rebuke, as if to say: “Do you love me? You sure don’t act like it!”

And so, Pilate says to Jesus, “Where are you from?” He won’t make a confession of faith. He says to the crowd that he is innocent, but he won’t commit himself to Jesus. Jesus has already said enough to create faith in him. He had already said: My kingdom is not of this world. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Jesus already told Pilate that he came into the world from outside of it, from eternity, from the bosom of the Father. And so in answer to his question, Jesus remains silent.

This makes Pilate angry. He says: You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you? Pilate threatens Jesus here. It’s as if he says: Hey, speak to me, or I’ll crucify you just for that! This would be as if a world leader said to another world leader: Reply to my emails, or I’ll launch a nuclear bomb! Everyone knows just how silly this is. So Jesus does open his mouth, and doesn’t give his answer, but says: You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.

Jesus says something here about authority. We live in a society that doesn’t respect people in authority. Many students in schools don’t respect their teachers, citizens don’t often respect their politicians and leaders very highly, and we could give other examples. But God has actually created authority, and he has given it to the world as his blessing and as his gift. Now, there are plenty of people who abuse their authority, but the abuse of authority doesn’t make authority in and of itself a bad thing.

So God has created authority in the home, in marriage and in the family. He also has created authority in the church. And he also has created authority in the civil realm, in society, with leaders, police, armed forces, and so on.

It’s a wonderful privilege that God gives to us to pray for those who are under our authority, and to pray for those people who are in authority over us. St Paul writes in 1 Timothy: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. Also, we read in Romans 13: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. St Peter also writes in his first letter: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Pontius Pilate is a governor, just like Peter mentions here in his letter.

Have a think about our leaders, and world leaders. We might imagine some leaders that we like, and some we don’t like. For example, there’s the prime-minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull. Or the South Australian premier, Jay Wetherill. Or there’s our local members of parliament. Or then there’s the Queen, who is also the Queen of the Commonwealth of Australia. Whether we personally like these people or not, the fact is they have their authority from God, and God has placed them there.

There is great wisdom is knowing what authority we have, and then to use it.

And so here we have Pontius Pilate, who is threatening to crucify Jesus for not opening his mouth. And Jesus says to him: You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above. This means that when Pilate finally does give Jesus over to be crucified, it is God who has allowed it to happen. But also, if Pilate misuses his authority by sentencing an innocent man to death, it is a great sin. And Jesus says this to him: Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. Jesus says: If you crucify me, it will be a sin, and even a great sin. But those who have given me over to you, to manipulate you, and to use you, and to get what they want by pressing in on you, they have committed a greater sin. They are using God-given authority not to promote what is right and good, but in order to suit their own ends.

This now brings us to the third part of our reading tonight, where:
III.              Pilate brings Jesus outside again, and tries to release him, but to no avail.

We read: From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” This time, these words are addressed to Pilate. In effect, the Jews here are threatening Pilate, as if to say, If you don’t do what we want, we’ll put in a bad report about you to Caesar, and he won’t like that, will he, Mr Pilate? Pilate is now put in a difficult place. The crowd remind Pilate that he is not simply a man in authority over them, but he is a man under the authority of Caesar. What will Caesar think, they say, if you don’t put a rival king to death?

We read: So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. We can see here that this is Pilate’s last opportunity. He is going to sit in his official judgment seat. The judge is going to make his pronouncement. John also mentions the day and the time. It is the Day of Preparation—the next day is going to be the Sabbath, and time is running out. It is Friday at midday, and there are only so many hours left in the day. Later on in the chapter, we read that the Jews didn’t want to have bodies on the cross on the Sabbath, so they asked Pilate to break their legs and get the job over and done with. But here we are told specifically, that Pilate has ascended onto his judgment throne. As Peter says: He is a governor sent by God to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

And so mindful of this holy calling and duty that God has bestowed upon him, he says: Behold your King!

We read: They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Just as they chose to have Barabbas released—a murderer instead of their creator—so they also choose to have Caesar as their king, the Roman Emperor, who has taxed and oppressed them, and call for the death of the King of heaven, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the King of David, the Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David and the Son of God.

I once met on a train a young woman who told me, “I used to study theology, but now I’m studying politics.” I spoke too quickly—(it was a bit cheeky of me!)—and quipped back at her, “When you get rid of theology, the only thing left is politics.” Now, we need theology, we need God’s word—we need it for learning about our God and our salvation. But we also need politics—we need politics to shape and form our society to run smoothly. But you can’t exchange Jesus for Caesar. You can’t substitute God’s kingdom for the earth. The devil showed to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said: All this I will give you if you bow down and worship me. You can’t exchange the joy and the bliss and the grandeur of heaven, for this world, these ashes, this dust, this valley of the shadow of death. And yet, this is what the people do here—and yet Jesus knows that he is winning for us an open door into heaven, and he bows his head and submits to the corruption of their politics, and he dies for it.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather than a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

Pilate tries to excuse himself by washing himself clean, in a little symbolic ritual, and declaring his innocence. But he is saying: Jesus is innocent, and I want to share in that innocence too. It’s you that are forcing me into this.

But then the Jews say something quite tremendous. They say: His blood be on us and on our children! It’s as if they are saying: “Don’t you worry, Pilate! You might have a bad conscience, but we don’t. We know he’s guilty. His blood can be on us and even on our children, but we know that we are right and that we have nothing to worry about. We know that we are innocent, and we know that he is guilty.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. They did not give him a fair trial. Pilate had tried to free Jesus, the crowd had simply pushed and pushed until their voices prevailed.

In some sense, they call upon themselves the guilt of Jesus’ death upon themselves, convinced that they are right and Jesus is wrong. However, those of us who believe that they were wrong and Jesus was right must really shudder at these words.

These words are very sensitive, especially in the way that they have been used in history. Sometimes, different people have developed a particular hatred for Jewish people, and this came to a particular head, when Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party exterminated many, many Jews—together with many other unwanted people—in the holocaust at the time of WWII. Hatred towards to Jews was justified because they had called the guilt of Jesus’ death down upon them and upon their children.

And yet, we who are Gentiles, have been grafted in, through holy baptism, into God’s people. Both Jews and Gentiles are called to be part of God’s church on earth. And of course, Jewish people are so close to our faith, in that they have the Old Testament, and yet they are so far away in that they reject the New Testament, and Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus was a Jew, as were all the apostles, and all the writers of the bible. As St Paul writes: But if some of the branches [that is, some Jews] were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, [that is, Gentiles] were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who supports the root, but the root that supports you. The Jews were originally God’s chosen people, and now we have been made God’s chosen people together with them. Those Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah are cut off, and need to be called to repentance and faith just like the rest of us. As long as Jews and Muslims in the Middle-East reject Jesus together they will always be fighting. Jesus calls both Jews and Muslims to him, to his cross, to his blood, to his peace which passes all understanding. Imagine what a joy it would be for Jews and Arabs if they had one common Saviour, Jesus Christ, having one common baptism, and could share in the Lord’s Supper together! This is not to say that Jesus’ peace is simply a political thing—not at all. However, Jesus says: Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you. What a wonderful joy it must have been for that Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 to read prophet Isaiah—that prophet which he knew so well—and then to realise that it was talking about Jesus!

It should be a great prayer for us towards those of the Jewish race and of the Jewish faith that the blood of Jesus may be upon them and upon their children, not as a curse, but as a blessing. And this should also be our prayer about ourselves and our children, just as Peter said on the day of Pentecost: Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

Behold the man! Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world—have mercy on us! Amen.

Midweek Lent Sermon 3 [Matthew 27:26-31] (22-Mar-2017)

This sermon was preached at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Magill, South Australia, 7.30pm.

Click here for PDF of sermon for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, bless all of us with your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In Isaiah 50, we read the following words: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I did not hide my face from disgrace and spitting. In our sermon tonight, we think about particularly where Jesus’ physical suffering turns particularly nasty in a way that we haven’t seen yet in our readings so far. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus anticipated this great suffering, and was so shaken by the thought of what was to come, he sweated blood and an angel came to minister to him.

In our reading tonight, we read about the scourging of Jesus, how the soldiers gathered around him and clothed him with a purple robe, crowned him with thorns, put a reed in his hand, mocked him by kneeling before him, spitting at him, and striking and slapping him. And then after all this, Pilate brings him out before the crowd, and present him to the them.

May the Holy Spirit come and help us tonight in all of our thinking, and increase our faith in Jesus, our Saviour. Amen.

Let’s look at the first part of our reading tonight:
I.                   The scourging of Jesus.

In ancient times, it was a common punishment to flog a criminal. Some countries in the world today still use this as a punishment. Even in the Old Testament, there was a law about it in the book of Deuteronomy: If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. We even read in St Paul’s letter that he had received this punishment. He writes in 2 Corinthians: Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. It was common for the Jewish people to give 39 lashes, 40 minus one, just to make sure that the people were not given more than forty.

But in Jesus’ case, it was something quite different. Notice in the book of Deuteronomy, God set a limit to the number of lashes—the number 40. And there is a reason given: Lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.

Jesus was not flogged by the Jews, but by the Romans—in fact, he received a scourging, as it called.

But let’s go back for a moment to the book of Genesis. One thing that we read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, is that before the fall into sin, it says: The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Later, when they had been deceived and had fallen into sin, what is the first thing they do? It says: Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. When God comes walking in the garden, Adam says: I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself.

A Roman scourging called for the prisoner to be naked. There was no consideration of shame—there was no regard for whether the person would be degraded. Also, the Romans would use a whip with pieces of metal or bone embedded in the whip. The purpose was to make a mess of the person. Also, there was no limit to the number as with the Jews.

This is what Jesus underwent in our reading. Also, in John, it says that Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. It was probably not the case that Pilate himself personally flogged him. We might say that Pilate had bought a horse, but that doesn’t mean that he personally went and inspected the horse and handed the money over. Most likely, he would have an employed horse-trainer who would go and do all of that for him. So also, with this: Pilate would have had someone employed to carry out this scourging. Think about if we had had such a thing like this in our society today—who would do it? Who in our country would agree to do this? Only the most deranged low-life imaginable would be willing to do this. We could imagine Pilate had got one of his most bloodthirsty soldiers, an “ex-prison guy”, in other way, a madman to do this job.

This is the kind of person that Jesus was in the hands of. And strangely enough, not much is said about it in the Scripture. In John we read that Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. Matthew and Mark simply say: And having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. And yet this one word: scourged, or flogged, indicates the fulfilment of a wonderful prophecy from Isaiah. We read: Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds [or with his stripes] we are healed.

This event teaches us about who we are. It brings us face to face with our sinful nature. Here we see a man laid bare, like Adam and Eve in the garden. Before the fall, there was no shame. But now, Jesus is stripped of his clothes—the purpose of this is to shame him. And in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were clothed with skins. Because of the sin, payment was required, and a animal, maybe a sheep or a leopard or something, lost its life in order to cover them. But here, Jesus’ bare skin is not covered up, but it is removed from him, one stripe at a time. And Jesus reveals to us his true humanity. When Jesus was on the mountain of the Transfiguration, he showed a glimpse of his divinity: the light of his divine nature shines through his face and his clothes and lightens up the night. We learn here that God the Father is his true Father, and that Jesus is his true Son. As John says: We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father. However, that same skin which glowed with all of God’s power and energy, is now stripped to reveal that he had a human mother, Mary. And he shows to us, by submitting to this tremendous cruelty, that he underneath his skin, like all members of the human race, we have blood and flesh and bones.

The shame of this whole event of Jesus’ scourging is our shame. The innocent Son of God is stripped and tied in place, and subjected to a beefy pagan madman, and in his hand with one of the nastiest known weapons know to the human race. Can we even come to think that this is our human nature? This is our sin being punished.

But also, Jesus does not want us simply to think about this because he wants to shame us: no—he does this because he wants to cover over our sin, and forgive it. We should think about this not about what other people did to Jesus, but what Jesus himself accomplished and achieved. Psalm 32 says: Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Jesus’ nakedness and flesh is uncovered, you are covered by him. St John writes in his first letter: The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. And in Isaiah, we read: Upon him was the chastisement—not for nothing—but that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

So often as a pastor I have heard people say: If you knew what I had done, you wouldn’t be so quick to speak about forgiveness. What I’ve done can’t be forgiven. Yes—you’re right, I might not know what you’ve done. But I know what Jesus has done. And if only these words about Jesus’ suffering and death for you would hook into your mind and skin, your heart your flesh, just as that whip did to Jesus! Hebrews says: The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow. Let it pierce! Let it sink in. You are a beloved, forgiven, child of God. By his wounds, with his stripes, you have been healed.

We come to the next part of our reading:
II.                 Jesus receives a mock-coronation.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read: Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put scarlet robe on him. Mark calls it a purple cloak.

When we hear in our times about someone wearing a certain colour, we don’t often think very much about it, though we do have some associations. We clothe baby boys in blue and baby girls in blue. We are used to the police and the navy wearing blue, the army wearing brown. Pastors often wear black and white. Brides wear white at their weddings. We might look twice if someone wore a gold or silver suit or a dress.

However, in ancient times, purple was a very expensive colour to wear. Purple dye was made from a particular type of sea-snail, and was hard to come by. Generally, it was royalty then that wore purple. Even today, if you see an official photograph of the Queen with her crown, she would often wear a purple robe. In the New Testament, we read about the businesswoman Lydia who became a Christian. We read: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshipper of God. When Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we read that the rich man wore purple. This is to say that the man was dressing like a king, when he wasn’t one. Being rich doesn’t make a person royalty. (This would be like if wealthy people like Clive Palmer or Rupert Murdoch started to wear gold crowns!)

Here in our reading, Jesus is clothed in purple. This is a mock coronation. He is given a royal, purple robe, not because they recognise him as a king, but because they are mocking him.

Once again, if we go back to Genesis, we read that God said: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. God says to his human creatures: have dominion. In order words: live like kings and queens and royalty, ruling the world together with me. But Adam and Eve exchange this royal dignity of having dominion for being the devil’s slaves. They weren’t satisfied with the dignity they had already received from God, and the devil tempted them by saying: You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat it you will be like God! And yet the promise is false.

Now, Jesus, the true King of glory, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, is treated like a pretend king, and is clothed with a purple robe.

The next part of the coronation ceremony we read is where we read: and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand.

This is a mock version of a real crown, and a real sceptre, usually made out of gold, which were symbols of a king’s authority.

In Genesis we read: When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Can you imagine this picture of a perfect serene created world, with a gentle mist watering everything? But then after the fall into sin, we read where God says to Adam: Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. Here in our reading tonight we see these thorns and thistles return. The thorns are twisted into a terrible crown, and a thistle, or a reed, is put into Jesus hand as a sceptre. The very things which were God’s judgment upon Adam, Jesus now takes upon himself as he takes that same judgement upon himself.

In Psalm 110, we read the wonderful words: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Here in the city of Jerusalem, from Zion, the LORD sends forth his mighty sceptre. Jesus receives a sceptre in his hand—but not a gold one, but an old stick. And yet the words are true: Rule in the midst of your enemies! Jesus is here surrounded by his enemies, and yet he is not being ruled, but he is ruling. We read in Matthew that the soldiers took the reed and struck him on the head. Jesus knows what he is doing—he is suffering all of this to make atonement for the sin of the world.

The next part of the mock coronation happened like this. We read: And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Mark says, they saluted him. Remember here that when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read: Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he”. [In Greek, the word are simply I AM, just as when he said to Moses, I AM, when he spoke from the burning bush.] It says: When Jesus said to them, “I AM”, they drew back and fell to the ground.

Do you see here that the immense power of Jesus’ words, and the use of the words, “I AM”, forces the people to the ground—the power is so great, so intense, and so immense. And the same here: when these soldiers are in the presence of Jesus, they can do nothing but kneel and hail and salute him. They do it out of mockery, but we know their actions speak true. This is the very thing that we should also desire when are face to face with Jesus: to kneel before him, to hail him, and to salute him as our king. But not in mockery, and God cannot be mocked. When King David was anointed as a king, God said to Samuel: The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

We also read in Philippians: At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here we see in this mock coronation ceremony, that the soldiers also kneel before God and confess Jesus as king of the Jews. We can see their outward appearance, but God sees the heart.

What also is part of a coronation ceremony? Well—normally if a king or queen is crowned, there would be a great cheer from the crowd. But what do we read? And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. We see here a fulfilment of the prophecy from Isaiah: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

God would know what these men ate, what they had for breakfast. God would know when they had last brushed their teeth, and he would have seen the gingivitis and the phlegm. In his suffering, Jesus received the filth and the dirt of human spit upon his face. By contrast, after Jesus had risen from the dead, and had destroyed death and conquered death, and had no sign or scrap of death anywhere around him, we read that he breathed on his disciples and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. This breath would have been even fresher than that cool gentle mist over the Garden of Eden. That mist was created by God, but Jesus was God himself.

Just to finish our sermon tonight, we should also remember that at Jesus’ ascension, we see the other side of what happened in our reading tonight. Tonight we read about his mock coronation, but at the ascension we read about his entrance into heaven, where he sits down at the right hand of the throne of God. Instead of the sound of mockery, we read in Psalm 47: God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. In stead of the laughing, the jeering, the fake saluting, we read in the same Psalm: Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne!

Let’s bow the knee before our Saviour and Redeemer and our Sacrificial Lamb, who, as Isaiah said, was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our inquities. Let’s receive him as our Saviour and our king and our Lord, and worship him in spirit and in truth. Let our hearts and our lips speak together, and not in conflict with each other, as Jesus says to the Pharisees: The people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

The famous hymn says:
O sacred head, now wounded / With pain and scorn weighed down / In mockery surrounded / With thorns Thine only crown. / O sacred head, what glory / What bliss, till now, was Thine! / Yet, though despised and gory, / I joy to call Thee mine.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us! Amen.

Midweek Lent Sermon 2 [Matthew 27:15-23] (15-Mar-2017)

This sermon was preached at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Magill, South Australia, 7.30pm.

Click here for PDF of sermon for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, bless all of us with your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In our Lent sermon tonight, we’re going to continue from where we left off last week, where we were looking at the event where Jesus goes to Herod.

We read that Herod had mocked Jesus and sent him back to Pilate dressed in a royal robe of some kind. So now that Jesus has been returned to Pilate, this is what we read in Luke 23:

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of the charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”

You remember in our readings last week, that Pilate had tried to rid himself of having to deal with Jesus, and so when he had heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him off to Herod. Herod also didn’t know what to do with him, so he sent him back to Pilate.

And Pilate gathers together all the people again. And he says: You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people.

In our passage last week, we read that the chief priests had said: He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place. When they say he was stirring up the people, it didn’t so much mean that he was simply getting them excited—that would have been no crime. When Pilate says that they had brought Jesus to him as one who was misleading the people, he also doesn’t mean that Jesus had simply made some mistakes in his teaching. What he was talking about was that Jesus was being accused of leading the people in a revolution. He was being accused of misleading people or stirring them up against the established order.

But of course there was no proof that Jesus was doing anything of the sort. Remember though that Jesus says: I am the way, and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except by me. This saying of Jesus is a great comfort to Christians, but to outsiders it is a real stumbling stone. Paganism has always believed that there a multiple roads to God, and that experience is more important than truth. You can have two people who have some kind of religious experience, but say conflicting things. Pagan unbelief says, “Who cares about the conflict? You can’t criticise the experience. That man or woman is a holy man or woman.” This is not what Jesus teaches. He teaches only one way to God, and that is through him.

And so, would it be any surprise to us that those who don’t follow the words of Jesus are going to criticise him for misleading people? When King Ahab saw Elijah, he said: Is it you, you troubler of Israel? And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel but you have.” In the same way we could say about Jesus: It is not Jesus who is misleading people, but everyone else is misleading people.

Back to Pilate – Pilate once again proclaims Jesus’ innocence. He says: After examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.

Even though Jesus is innocent, Pilate says that he will punish him. Here, he means a flogging. It’s as if he is saying: I understand that you want him to stop preaching, but he hasn’t really done anything to deserve death. How about I give him a flogging? Hopefully, I’ll scare him enough that he won’t say anything more.

The punishment is unfair and unjust—it is simply to appease the crowd. However, we need to remember here that Jesus is the lamb of God, and he is carrying the sin of the world. And our sin can’t be dealt with by a simple flogging, and then it’s done. It is worthy of death, just as God said in the Garden of Eden to Adam: If you eat of that tree, you will surely die. Yes, Jesus is innocent, but he is carrying our sin, and he is doing it for us. He is making atonement for us, he is making a sacrifice for us.

Now, we come to the text which we read earlier from Matthew 27. We read: Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. What we are talking about here is a arrangement that the Romans had with the Jewish people to keep them happy, and to give some kind of appearance that they were good and generous rulers. So when it came around that the Jewish people were celebrating the Passover, at they were at this time, the governor would release a prisoner. This did three things: firstly, it gave the people the opportunity to release someone who was unjustly imprisoned, and possibly to right a wrong that had been committed by the Romans; secondly, it gave the Romans a chance to keep the people happy; and thirdly, it made the Romans look good.

Once again, we see how part of the way in which the Romans ruled the people was every now and then to give them what they wanted. So just as Pilate had threated to flog Jesus and release him, to keep the crowd happy, so also we see that there were other customs in place to keep the crowd happy.

We read: And they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. In John’s gospel we read about him: Now Barabbas was a robber. This is true, but he wasn’t a pickpocket. This is a serious robber, like a highway robber, or like an Australian “bushranger”, who would be happy to kill anyone who got in his way. In Mark’s Gospel we read: Among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. Do you hear that? He had committed murder in the insurrection. An insurrection is an uprising, or a rebellion, or the beginnings of a revolution. Luke says that he had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Luke even gives us the impression that he was one of the people who was instrumental in leading this uprising, and that he was one of the front-runners. After all, Matthew says that he was a notorious prisoner.

And so what do read that happens? We read in Matthew: So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” We also read: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.

Here we see that Pilate has a plan. He knows that Jesus is innocent. He doesn’t want to send a man to his death who doesn’t deserve it. And so what is he going to do? Well—he thinks—maybe if I can get them to release Jesus, according to this custom. But here’s the problem: The custom was that there would be released whatever prisoner the crowd wanted, not whom the governor wanted. If a mother tried to pull this trick with their child, and said, “I’ll buy you whatever icecream you choose”, and then the mum tries to wrangle it in such a way that the child should choose her favourite, so that she could also have a lick, the child would smell the rat a mile off. “No, mum—you said I could have whatever icecream I wanted. I don’t want Rum and Raisin. I want to choose the icecream that I want!”

And so this is a similar trick that Pilate is trying to play on the crowd. To release Jesus was his idea, not theirs. And yet, he thought if he gave them a choice between someone they simply didn’t like, and a hardened criminal like Barabbas, they would obviously choose to keep Barabbas in jail. Think about a notorious criminal that we might know—we all know what prisons are like. The worst thing about going to gaol is not simply having your freedom taken away, but being stuck in there with all kinds of bloodthirsty characters. Barabbas is probably someone a bit like Chopper Reid. He thinks, if I gave them a choice between Jesus and Chopper, surely they would want to keep Chopper back in the clink! Surely, people must think: Don’t let Barabbas out! We don’t want him back loose on the streets! Pilate thinks that common decency would prevail. He sensed that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Hopefully, this choice between Jesus and Barabbas would put them to shame, and they would see just what fools they had been.

At this point, Matthew interrupts all of this “action”, and he tells us about a little event which only he tells. We read: Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”

Pilate is not only being pulled in all directions by the crowd, but now his wife gets involved. There are many dreams in the bible—we might think particularly of Joseph in the Old Testament with his dreams. But then also there are many dreams in the Gospel of Matthew. When we read about Jesus’ birth, we read about Joseph having many dreams: about taking Mary to be his wife, about fleeing from Bethlehem to Egypt, about coming back from Egypt, and about settling in Nazareth. Also, we read about the Wise Men being warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Here, we have Pilate’s wife suffering much in her dream about Jesus. She wakes up, and is frightened, and warns her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus.

Isn’t it strange that here is a Gentile woman who perceives much more about what is going on than the crowd and the priests? Through this dream, her conscience is pricked, and she realises that there is something big going on here.

Sometimes people make too much a thing about dreams. Pagan people have often look to dreams as messages from whatever spirits they worship. Sometimes, in the bible, we see God also send people messages in a dream. But we also have to be careful that we don’t look for this, and try and use techniques to play games with our sub-conscious. If we dream, we dream. If we don’t, we don’t. Sometimes a dream brings to mind someone we know—well, we should pray for them. Or maybe a dream makes us worried about something—well, we should pray about it.

Take for instance, St Peter in the book of Acts falls into a trance. But that doesn’t mean that we Christians should work ourselves into a trance in order to get a message from God. That’s called shamanism—that’s what witch-doctors do in Africa and Siberia and South America. It’s a form of witchcraft that we should avoid like the plague. The same goes with dreams—if you want to hear God’s word, read and listen to his word in the Scripture. Don’t go chasing after dreams, because the devil can mess with people in their dreams too.

In the case of Pilate’s wife, all we read about is that dream terrified her conscience. And she says: Having nothing to do with that righteous man. This is the wrong message. Yes: he is a righteous man. But even though we are unrighteous, this righteous man—who is also the righteous God—wants everything to do with us. The fact that we are ungodly, and Jesus is righteous, the fact that we are sinners and Jesus is perfect, does not mean that we can have nothing to do with him. Rather the opposite—Jesus is laying down his life for you, so that you can be with him, both in this life and in the next. He forgives your sin, so that you can have your whole lives—and the next life—with him.

Now we come back to the crowd. We read: The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified.”

We see here that Pilate’s great plan has back-fired on him. He thought that this would be the opportunity to release Jesus. But instead, they choose to have Barabbas released. Now that his plan hasn’t worked, Pilate is stuck. The very fact that they have called for Barabbas, now gives them the opportunity to call for Jesus’ blood. Pilate is stuck in a corner. He says: What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? They say: Let him be crucified. Pilate protests Jesus innoncence. He says: Why, what evil has he done? But the cat is now out of the bag. The horse has bolted. All the crowd have to do now is keep shouting louder and louder, so that they eventually win. Pilate’s protests are drowned out.

This is often the way it is. Truth can only be attacked with noise, noise, noise. If the truth is inconvenient, all we can do is make sure that the truth is drowned out, and that the falsehood or the error is proclaimed louder and louder. This is why it seems to us so often in the world that unbelievers and those who have false beliefs are more energetic and have more passion and fire in their bellies than believing Christians. But you see, energy and passion and fire is all they have. Jesus doesn’t pray to his Father: Sanctify them with your energy, with your passion, with your fire. Instead he says: Sanctify them with your truth; your word is truth.

So the crowd chooses to have Barabbas released and Jesus crucified. Just as a final thought for our sermon this evening, we see here the corruption of the human will. Because we are sinful, fallen human beings, every part of us is corrupt. Our bodies age and get diseased. Our hearts are full of all kinds of evil thoughts. Genesis says: The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. This includes our will. Our sin always wants to hide itself and protect itself—it never wants to be exposed. And so our hearts do not choose forgiveness. It is Jesus who chooses us.

Some Christians make a mistake in this regard. They think that Christian conversion is about choosing to follow Jesus, or making a decision to follow Jesus. But this isn’t the case. Jesus is the one who has made a decision from the foundation of the world to have you as his follower. He has called you through his word and Holy Baptism. Jesus said to his disciples not long before he was arrested on the night when he was betrayed: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.

Jesus has died for the sins of the whole world. That means he has died for your sin. He has called you through his word, and he has baptised you, and he constantly gives you the opportunity to hear his word of forgiveness spoken to you by your pastor in the church. This is what you should put your trust in, because this is Jesus’ words. Don’t put your trust in your decisions, and in your will—the human will is corrupt. In our reading tonight, the crowd freely chose to release a criminal and to crucify its Saviour. That’s what human will does.

However, once we have been converted, then Jesus sends us his Holy Spirit to change and shape our will, so that we choose things which are pleasing to him. This is something that is only begun in this life, though. Even as a Christian we will find ourselves doing things that we wish we hadn’t done, and things that we don’t want to do. St Paul says: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Jesus here in our reading shows us what our hearts and our wills really are. Our sinful flesh, and our sinful hearts, want to see Jesus out of the picture. Like Pilate’s wife, our sinful hearts and our dreams want to have nothing to do with this righteous man. When Peter’s boat was breaking from all the fish Jesus had allowed him to catch, he said: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

Jesus was crucified because people just you and me wanted him crucified. And now he says to us: I know that wanted me dead. I know that like my disciples you would rather run away. But I have died for your will. I have died not because the world wanted it, but because you need it. And so, now, do not be afraid. What is more important is not want you want, but what God wants. We read in Isaiah 53: It was the will of God to crush him. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said: Father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me. Yet, not my will, but your will be done.

Thank you, Jesus, for your perfect will, for submitting to your Father’s will, and even letting yourself be submitted to the will of the crowd, so that you could go to the cross to purchase and win me and all believers. Teach me your will, O Lord! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world—Have mercy on us! Amen.