Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 27:24 for Good Friday, "I Joy to Call Thee Mine"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this Good Friday, we turn our eyes to the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The sermon is based on the Passion of Jesus, and Matthew 27:24, “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Seeing Christ crucified may generate all kinds of mixed emotions for us. Some of those are best expressed in the words of the hymns we sing today. Perhaps it is sheer horror at the wickedness of men, in their abuse and mistreatment of Jesus. A wicked mob of people shouts to crucify an innocent man, with the shouts and cries of people today mixed in with them, “This man was no Son of God!” Whippings from the cruel scourge, that alone could’ve been enough to kill Him. The crooked, bristling crown of thorns pressing down on His forehead which induced a throbbing headache. Even Pilate began to have qualms about what He was doing, and insisted three times that he found no basis for a charge against Jesus.

Pilate was even more afraid when he heard that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, and tried to find a way to set Jesus free. His guilty conscience in this dilemma made him desperate for an escape. But the Jews pressed his loyalty to Caesar, against his better judgment not to condemn an innocent man. With no apparent solution, Pilate aims to save his conscience by washing his hands of the matter, and proclaiming himself innocent of this man’s blood. But what was his proclamation of his own innocence worth? Do we react the same way to Jesus’ death? Does it seem better to be appalled and offended at the cruelty, than to admit our own participation in it? Do we aim to save our guilty conscience by proclaiming our own innocence in Jesus’ death?

But what will our proclamation of our innocence be worth? No, we weren’t there, and I’m not suggesting that we all would have been part of the angry mob that cried for His death. There were those who mourned and objected to His unjust death, even if from a distance. But none of this makes us guiltless in the matter. As the words of the hymn put it, “[You] who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God” (LSB 451). In other words, the cross ought to produce this response in us—seeing Jesus’ death should drive us not to underestimate the evil or guilt of sin. Can anyone truly estimate the cost of their own sin? The cross is proof that sin is no light and easy matter, that it isn’t brushed off by God as irrelevant or trifling. Sin was an awful load, far worse than the physical punishments He endured. The “deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that justice gave” (LSB 451). So it is futile to proclaim ourselves innocent, to try to wash our hands of Jesus’ death.

He didn’t try to escape His death. He didn’t make a defense of His innocence, even though lies were slung against Him. He didn’t run from the guards or put up a fight. He isn’t looking for our excuses. He isn’t looking for us to prove our innocence in His death. He didn’t ask whether you or I wanted Him to take our sin and guilt. He just did. He took all the sin and guilt of every person, those who loved Him, those who hated Him. He must have been difficult to face for those who wouldn’t admit their own sin, because standing near Him, everyone realized or felt their guilt. Even if they went to every effort to deny it or excuse it or wash it off their hands and conscience. But guilty hands and guilty mouths cannot cleanse the guilty conscience. All our scrubbing and excusing is in vain. Remember that Jesus took this upon Himself willingly. “The Prince of Life from heaven, Himself has freely given, to shame and blows and bitter death” (LSB 453). He looks not for our excuses, but for our repentance. To own our part in His death.

Because Jesus’ death for us offers a far better proclamation than our own empty proclamation of innocence. His death accomplishes for us a real proclamation of innocence. First to Himself, as His resurrection from the dead would proclaim that God had found Him innocent. But secondly also to us, who believe in Him and repent of our sin and our part in His death. For those who turn to God in repentance and desire the mercy of this death for us, God declares us innocent! Wait! God declares us innocent?!? Precisely. Not by what we have done, but by faith in what Jesus has done. The Great Reversal of Justice that He endured in His innocent death, was for our guilt to be taken away. His Divine and perfect life throws an eternal weight into the scales of justice that makes us rise like a light and empty scale. But without His divine death for our sins, the scale of humanity would sink with the dreadful weight of sin and guilt. What then, is this proclamation of innocence? It is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins. It is your justification. We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Justified simply means that God has “declared you innocent!” He has taken away your guilt, so that His innocence is yours by faith.

This is our verdict, by faith, and this is a proclamation of innocence that doesn’t come from guilty lips, and it is a cleansing of conscience that doesn’t come from guilty hands. The only hands that could wash our guilty conscience clean, were the hands that were innocent of any wrongdoing. The hands that were innocent of any guilt, but had only done good. The hands that heal and raise the dead, the hands that touch our forehead and pronounce to us “Your sins are forgiven!” The hands of Jesus that were nailed to the tree. And the lips that were pure of any evil or hateful word, the lips and mouth that spoke only what was true and pure. These lips speak to us of God’s Divine mercy, they speak to us of forgiveness for what we have done. They speak of forgiveness from the cross where we placed Him. But no truer words can be spoken than those from the mouth of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. His verdict of innocence for those who believe is unquestionable. We are justified by faith in Him.

So Dearest Jesus, on this Good Friday, as we behold you despised and gory on the cross, may our sadness turn us from sin, but may we also with gladness look upon your cross and say, “I joy to call Thee mine.” 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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