Monday, April 06, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 26:57-68 for Lent 6, "If you are the Christ, the Son of God..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The 6th and final part of our sermon series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered” is really as much a demand as it is a question. The high priest Caiaphas says, “I adjure you by the Living God, tells us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” A man appointed to be the mediator between the people of Israel and God, used his office of high priest to thunder against the very Son of God. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Under the cover of darkness, the ruling council of the Sanhedrin convened, as Jesus had been betrayed and arrested at night. With unmasked intentions they pursue a way to put Him to death. The frustrating part was how to condemn an innocent man. There were no charges that could stick—so they gathered false witnesses that broke the 8th commandment to slander Him. Twisting His words, they claimed He was going to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days. What Jesus had actually said, was that if they were to destroy “this temple”, He would raise it again in three days. He was referring to the temple of His body, and how they would destroy it, but He would rise from the dead in three days (John 2:19-22). But rather than lash back with words, Jesus remained silent. Isaiah wrote, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth” (Is. 53:7).

Throughout the Gospels the persistent questioning of the Pharisees and chief priests had aimed at discovering the identity of Jesus, and whether He was the Christ, the Son of God. Though Jesus’ answers continually drew them to this conclusion, they refused to believe. Now He makes it unmistakable. When the high priest summoned all his authority and charged Jesus by oath to the Living God to tell them plainly if He was the Christ, the Son of God—Jesus answered: “You said it.” They thought they had offered Him every opportunity to deny it and to avoid the penalty of death for blasphemy, but to their dismay He confirms that it is as they say. He is the Christ, the Son of God. Now it is incontrovertible. In their rage they cannot bear to believe that this man is the Christ, the Son of God, and so they declare Him worthy of death.

The high priest was a man who was given the greatest honor to serve before God in the Temple, and was the highest religious authority among the Jews. He was to intercede before Israel for the sins of the people, and was dressed in the rich priestly garments that represented the holiness of the Lord (Ex. 28). He alone was given the privilege to enter the “Holy of Holies” once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to atone for the sins of the people. But here, Caiaphas, the high priest, dishonored his priestly office by thundering against the very Son of God. The high priest had surrendered his role as intercessor for the people, and become the accuser of the Son of God. He tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy!!!” If only he had recognized that Jesus was the True High Priest, who was now giving Himself up for death on their behalf! But Caiaphas failed to recognize in Jesus, the One who would permanently replace him as the High Priest. He failed to recognize the one who would clothe Zion’s priests with righteousness and salvation, so that the saints would shout for joy (Ps. 132:9, 16).

Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God—the One who is the True High Priest. He was not a priest from the tribe of Levi, or one of the descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, which never served in the priesthood. But as the book of Hebrews states, He became a priest, not by legal requirement, but by the power of His indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). He is the Resurrection and the Life, so He alone could defeat death. This is His qualification for the eternal priesthood.

The Levite high priest Caiaphas was face to face with the True High Priest Jesus, who was from the greater priestly order of Melchizedek. And face to face, priest to priest, one stood accusing and condemning the only Son of God, while the other was silently interceding to God for the sins of His accuser. But Jesus, the True High Priest, was far superior. Since He was sinless, He had no need of making sacrifices for His own sin, in addition to those for the people. Rather He was sacrificed once for all our sins, to complete the sacrificial system permanently (Heb. 7:27). And unlike the priests that went before Him, including Caiaphas, Jesus would live forever to make intercession for the people. Even as they carried Him away to crucifixion and death, He would in three days return to life to continue His ongoing priestly intercession for us.

And how is He thanked? They spit in His face and struck Him with their fists! They struck Him and addressed Him in mock adoration, “Prophesy to us, O Christ! Who struck you?” Where did this hatred come from? “What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight” (LSB 430:4). Jesus said before that this would fulfill what had been written, “They hated me without cause” (John 15:24). But hatred is met with a wondrous love, the depth of which no heart has sounded (LSB 439:7). It is a marvel that they were not struck dead immediately when they spit on the Son of God, or struck His face. O God, why are we not struck dead when we strike You? Why are the angry slaps of our sin, not met with death?! What Divine Love that turns the other cheek!

It is for my sins that He here languishes in pain—all the wrath and woe that I merited, He inherited. Though it was not my hands that slapped Him or my mouth that spit on Him, He feels the hate and anger when I hurt a brother. He is wounded when my mouth speaks lies about another. He feels the spit on His face when my heart turns from God. Here my True High Priest, and yours, stands interceding for us—stands with open arms to those who mock Him and tell lies about Him. He the master, pays the debts His servants owe Him. Never was there love like this. Never was there grief like His. But this was His great joy as our True High Priest. Here He was interceding as God intended the priesthood to do.

So that we could be clothed with righteousness and salvation, He was stripped of everything. So that we could sing and shout for joy, He endured the greatest grief in silence. So that we sinful children might live in gladness, He died in sadness. But in His death on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection after three days, there was the greatest proof of His claim that He really was the Christ, the Son of God. His resurrection from the dead proved that He really was the Divine Son of God, and that God had vindicated Him of all guilt, that all the false charges of blasphemy were empty lies—and that He was who He said He was. And one day every eye will see Him at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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