Midweek 5 – 2022 LSB #’s 436, 421
Text – Luke 23:22-25
A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish & release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection & murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
FAITH FOR A COMPLICATED WORLD
Let’s be honest, the world around us is a complicated place that can be hard to figure out. Life can send us a fair bit of pain & suffering. Looking around, it’s not hard to spot cruelty & injustice. Pastors become aware of this when they walk alongside of people in their suffering.
Whether you’ve come through a lot or been spared a bit, we all know this; it’s nothing new. Life has been this way since Genesis 3, & it certainly is that way now. Let me be a little direct here, & point out a problem. Sometimes Christians speak as if the world is not a complicated place; at times Christians talk as if they sort of have things figured out, by & large.
Little sayings go around, & people often mean well. The sayings may contain some truth, but tend to make things way simpler than they really are. For example: “I believe in the power of prayer.” There is truth in that, of course, but what about the prayers to which God says, “No”? Or what about the prayers that seem to be met only with silence?
I’ve experienced that a lot in my life, & I’m pretty sure you have as well. Life is complicated, & we don’t know all we’d like to know about how it all fits together.
Here’s another one, & if you like this one, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. It goes like this: “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” Again, it’s a simple & hopeful thing to say, but it’s not in the Bible, you know.
I understand the good intent behind such a saying – but it does not acknowledge just how complicated the world is, & how puzzling – & frankly, how difficult life can be for people, including for children of God. And still, even though God’s ways are often hidden to us, we Christians believe that God is at work in the middle of the suffering. God is at work; yes, we do believe that. And yes, we do pray with faith because of the kind of God we have come to know.
Even with the evil in the world, we trust that God is at work against the evil, in spite of the evil, & sometimes God takes the evil & uses it for His purposes. How God does that I am often not at all sure. But I – we – believe that He does. Is this a blind sort of faith? It’s a pretty tall order, actually, asking people to believe in such a God.
The question is, why do we? A full answer would be another sermon series ... or maybe ten of them. But in a very beautiful way, the reading for tonight from Luke 23 gives us our answer, our reason for believing. We’re going to ponder what happened when the leaders of Israel led Jesus to stand before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea & Samaria.
What happened then? The short answer is ... evil, real evil in different shapes & sizes, coming against the only man ever to live of whom it could be said, “He did not deserve any of it.” And yet all that evil was taken up & put to use by the living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, for good; for my good, & for yours, & for the good of the whole creation.
This is why we can live as we do in a broken world, in faith & in hope. Let’s look at the “major players,” one at a time, from the reading in Luke 23. There are three of them.
First, the chief priests. We met them in the verses last week that lead right up to this evening’s reading. Their evil was the blind ignorance of unbelief. They hated Jesus. In His ministry, Jesus has claimed authority as God’s Son & the true King.
Jesus rejected the way they thought about their God & one another; Jesus leveled the playing field for all people, shutting out all comparison, teaching that the only way to know the true God is in complete humility, looking only to ... Him. To Jesus. For this reason & others, the chief priests have spoken with one voice. They have led Jesus to Pilate, & accuse Him of crimes against Roman order & Roman justice. They want Pilate to believe that Jesus is guilty, & they want Pilate to execute Jesus. But it doesn’t work. They can’t convince Pilate at all.
And when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in the north, the chief priests keep accusing Jesus there, but that doesn’t work, either. They can’t convince Herod that Jesus deserves to die. Herod belittles Christ & mistreats Him & mocks Him, but he does not rule that Jesus deserves to die. The accusations against Jesus from the chief priests don’t work.
But that does not stop them or their evil. They keep on coming, they keep on demanding Jesus’ death by crucifixion: “We would rather have that murderer, Barabbas, than this Jesus!” Did that convince Pilate to change his mind? Does he take their word for it? No. He knows that Jesus does not deserve to die.
But the voices of the chief priests continue. They meant it for evil. They were sincere, at least some of them, & they were pressing, pressing, pressing for what was ... wrong – the blind ignorance of unbelief – evil at work.
Another sort of evil appears in the reading, but we might be tempted to downplay it. We see that evil in the 2nd major player – Pontius Pilate – the governor of Judea & Samaria, directly responsible to Tiberius Caesar. Pilate represents the interests of the Roman empire, & the top two interests are (1) order & peace, & (2) tax money.
Pilate has made some mistakes during his years in the holy land. He’s learned the hard way how strong Jewish convictions are about spiritual things. It’s hard to be precise, but we wouldn’t be far off to say that Pilate has been governor at least 4 years, maybe as long as 7. As the Roman governor he has military troops at his disposal.
In matters of capital crimes, Pilate holds all the cards. Rome will not allow the local
leaders, the Sanhedrin, to execute someone even if they believe that person deserves to die. Pilate himself has to authorize the execution. With an insignificant, poor, non-citizen like Jesus, Pilate is prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge & jury. He can call witnesses or not call them. Pilate holds all the cards.
The chief priests get his attention at first when they accuse Jesus of disturbing the peace, interrupting tax revenue, & claiming to be a king. It’s the last one that counts the most, so Pilate asks Jesus point-blank, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus gives the same sort of indirect response He gave to the Sanhedrin: “You have said so.”
Whatever Jesus’ tone of voice, Pilate reads it as ... a “no.” He says, “I find no guilt in this man.” If the world were a just & honest place, if powerful politicians always did what was right, that would have settled things. But it’s not, & they don’t, & it didn’t. Pilate begins to move toward committing a great, great evil.
When Pilate hears that Jesus is from Galilee, he decides to get the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, into the picture. We don’t know why. Is Pilate looking for more information? Could be. Does he want to shift responsibility, or unload the blame for what happens? Maybe. Whatever the reason, off to Herod goes the helpless Jesus.
The ruler of Galilee seems to treat Jesus like a source of entertainment; he wants to see a miracle. Jesus does not speak one word to him. So, Herod mocks Him, & beats Him, then sends Him back to Pilate. Where does the evil stand now? Where it was before. Pilate knows ... & he knows that Herod knows ... that whatever else they think, Jesus does not deserve to die.
But the chief priests gather all their voices & all their forces, & they simply demand crucifixion. Finally, Pilate played the cards that only he held, the authority that only he could exercise. He decides that Jesus will be crucified. Here is where we might make a terrible mistake. We might shrug our shoulders & say, “What did you expect? Isn’t that the way it works in politics? Powerful people do what’s convenient, they compromise, they give in to special interests.” Happens all the time, right? So we might shrug our shoulders & say, “Oh well, what did you expect?”
Friends, the living God expects a lot more than that from rulers, & from Pontius Pilate. Governments are God’s idea, & whether it’s the king of Israel or the king of Moab, whether it’s Pilate long ago or a government official in any nation today, in God’s way of looking at things to whom much is given, much is demanded.
The Bible doesn’t say a lot about it, but it does say this. Ruling authorities exist to protect the weak & the helpless, the widow & the orphan. God has given to government the responsibility of rewarding those who do right & punishing those who do wrong.
Pontius Pilate is no exception, & just because we’ve come to expect so little of civil servants in our day does not let Pilate off the hook. His choice, his choice to send an innocent man ... the innocent man ... to death by crucifixion is every bit as great an evil as the screaming voices of Jesus’ enemies. Rulers are supposed to protect the innocent.
And there is no doubt, no doubt; Pilate knows that Jesus does not deserve to die. What an evil thing St. Luke describes: “He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection & murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.”
What kind of a world is that? The same kind of world we have today. The evil of blind, stubborn resistance to God’s chosen One. The evil of powerful people who know the facts, who know what’s right, & for whatever reason choose not to do it. Sins of commission. Sins of omission. It was their world & it is ours as well.
Friends, please try, now, to be a little surprised by the verses I’m going to read from Acts
4. This truth in these verses may be familiar, perhaps to everyone here. Familiar or not, we can still stand in awe & wonder at the kind of God that we have. Acts 4 takes place just a few weeks after Good Friday, Easter, Ascension & Pentecost.
The same enemies of Jesus are now the enemies of His apostles, who are preaching in Jesus’ name. They’ve arrested the apostles & threatened them if they keep on with their message. Luke writes, in Acts 4:24–28:
… “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven & the earth & the sea & everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, & the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, & the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord & against His Anointed’ – for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom You anointed, both Herod & Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles & the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand & Your plan had predestined to take place.”
Did you hear it? “Both Herod & Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles & the people of Israel, did whatever Your hand & Your plan had predestined to take place.” Was it evil? Did the power players do evil? Yes. Was God caught off guard? No, He was not – He had planned it all in advance.
Did God take the evil, & use it for good, even though no one could see or understand? Yes, He did. That’s the sort of God that we have, because along with the chief priests & Pilate the governor, the other major player in the text is Jesus. He doesn’t look like the Lord in these verses. The true King seems like anything but a king.
Jesus looks like a pawn; the powerbrokers move Him here & there. He speaks to Pilate once, but otherwise is silent before the power of evil. But that’s because God has planned not to stop the evil. No, God will take it & use it, actually use it. Jesus is the true King, & a true king represents his people.
In the ancient world, in the Bible’s world, you might even say that the king sums up his
people, all right there in his own person. He is the people. So, what happens to the king also happens to the people. And who could have ever understood this while it was happening? God took the evil that the people were doing & that the people deserved, & He brought that evil against ... the king – against Jesus.
God’s plan was not to stop the world from acting. Jesus knew this all, & He let it happen – to Himself, to our King, to our representative. Jesus took the evil ... so He could take it away. He took it, so He could take it away. The evil was deadly. The chief priests had their way. Pilate did the deed, & God died.
Only Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus were there to bury the body, to bury the corpse, to bury Jesus. The evil was strong & it went with Jesus into the tomb. But Yahweh is stronger still, & Jesus rose from the dead, leaving the evil behind, having taken the evil away from you & me.
The world is evil. But Jesus reversed how the world is, & started a new creation. You & I are part of that because we’ve been joined to Jesus, baptized into Him, & we cling to our King. Jesus is our King who takes evil & works it for good, even when no one else can figure out what is going on. Jesus knows. Jesus knows.
Friends, our world is complicated. There is a lot of pain & lots of confusion. Much of the time, it’s probably best for us to say two things. The first: “I don’t really understand how this is all fitting together, but I am here with you as we go through it.” The other thing we say & that we believe: Our God is still at work. He knows how to take the evil & use it for good.
That’s not a blind faith. The proof of it, simply put, is Jesus. God worked good from evil that night for us, & all people, through Jesus the King, our living, reigning King. God still does that today, for the people of the King. In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy
Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned; Oh, the wormwood & the gall! Oh, the pangs His soul sustained! Shun not suffering, shame or loss; learn from Him to bear the cross. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:2 & 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet