Monday, April 18, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 27:11-66, for Palm Sunday, "The Blame Game"

• the signs of Jesus’ innocence are repeatedly ignored and overlooked, and He is sentenced to crucifixion against all justice and with no fair trial. There was no “Innocent till proven guilty” for Jesus. No one ever proved any guilt in Him.
• Take the life of another person and you have their “blood on your hands.” Since Pilate knew he was killing an innocent man, he tried to exculpate himself (free himself from blame) by washing his hands. But this couldn’t free him from guilt. Shockingly, the mob made no such attempt to exculpate themselves--they brazenly said: “His blood be upon us and on our children!” They took the responsibility and were glad for it, thinking that they were vindicated by the fact that they were supposedly doing good by getting rid of this troublemaker Jesus.
• What are the different ways we try to exculpate, exonerate, absolve, vindicate, ourselves from sin or guilt? We “wash our hands” of the matter, saying we had nothing to do with it, or if we knew we shared no responsibility. (doesn’t work because we really are responsible--doesn’t change anything to deny it--the guilt remains--a criminal is not truly guilty just because they plead innocent). We point the finger at another (three more point right back at you--no one else is able to pay the debt either--no help there). We retreat under the “safety” of imperfection, and chalk it up to ordinary mistakes (God doesn’t grade on a curve, and its pass or fail, and we all fail--90, 95, 99% effort doesn’t cut it). We say we didn’t know better (ahh, but we do know better. It’s written on our hearts, in our conscience--and besides, negligence and ignorance don’t entirely remove responsibility or blame). We question whether it was really wrong or whether anyone has the right to say what is right and wrong (denying that there is right and wrong ends up collapsing under its own weight when we realize that deep down we really do believe its wrong for someone to hit us unprovoked, to cut in line, to steal our possessions, to defame our reputation--we most certainly will cry foul--and in doing so admit that we know there is right and wrong--we just want others to be held accountable, not us). We can’t free ourselves from responsibility by excuses or pointing the finger. We can’t free ourselves from the guilt of sharing in the debt of sin that was laid on Jesus. We can only “own up to it” by admitting our guilt and responsibility.
• Congress will soon be voting on raising the “debt ceiling” of how much our nation can borrow to continue paying its bills. For most people, the $15 trillion limit we are approaching seems like an unthinkable amount of debt. We even have difficulty conceiving of such an enormous number. Yet there is an even greater debt that is owed--a debt that is truly unthinkable and immeasurable--and that is the debt of sin against God. Not measured in dollars or yen or euros, but accumulated by a lifetime of sins and offenses against God, by every human being that ever lived on the planet. If you multiplied however many billions of people have lived on earth, by the number of sins that they have committed in their lifetime, you can see how staggeringly high this debt of sin is against God. And we are always raising the “debt ceiling” by continuing to sin. The problem is that on our own we can only “default” on our debt. We can never pay the amount, much like the unforgiving servant owed an impossible debt in the parable in Matthew 18. Though countless people, Christians and non-Christians, followers of every world religion, labor under the false delusion of being able to “pay down” their debt by their good works. They consider their good works as an acceptable form of “credit” before God. But the great eye-opener of the Bible, the astonishing truth is that God does not accept our good works as “credit” to pay off our sin debt. Because even our good works themselves are tainted with sin. It’s like trying to pay a credit card off by opening a new line of credit and going into more debt. Or like paying back I.O.U’s with more I.O.U’s. Or like writing checks with no money in the bank account. It’s funny money. Bogus. Unacceptable. The huge accumulated debt of our sin is payable only by death. The wages of sin is death--the Bible says. So any religion, Christian or otherwise, that is built on the idea that we can pay back our debt with our good works, is sincerely mislead. So where does that leave us? With an insurmountable debt that we can’t pay back, and that sentences us to death! The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord! The astonishing truth that we can’t pay back our debt, and all would have to default, is surpassed by the even more amazing truth that Jesus came to pay all that debt for us. That instead of passing the buck, playing the blame game, or excusing ourselves, or whatever other tricks we might play to escape the blame from our sin, we must accept that responsibility by repenting of it, and turning to God for His mercy. That we plead our spiritual bankruptcy and inability to pay our debt. We admit that we shared in laying that guilt on Jesus. We contributed to the soaring spiritual debt that seems to have no ceiling. And we can only appeal to Jesus Christ to pay that debt for us. We realize that only He has the “true credit” of an entirely pure and innocent life to be able to repay that debt. Only the true Son of God has the limitless resources of heavenly goodness, love, and forgiveness, that can swallow up an unimaginable debt of sin. But it cost Jesus an awful price. It cost Him His life blood, and His death on the cross. He paid the wages for our sin--the wages of death.
• So we can’t scrub ourselves clean, but Jesus has to do it for us. The irony of the crowd taking the blame for Jesus’ death, was that they didn’t consider themselves guilty, but justified in taking Jesus’ life. They thought they were ridding the nation of a dangerous blasphemer and leader of a new religion. But the irony is that having His blood on them and their children was the only way to be forgiven of that guilt, because Jesus' blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Abel's blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies, but the blood of Jesus, for our pardon cries.
• For Jesus, it isn’t a blame game. His Word of Law does show our sin, and puts us in front of the mirror, so we can’t hide from the fact that we are guilty. But He doesn’t point the finger at us so that He can leave us convicted in sin, but to extend His hand to lift us up and say: “Rise, and sin no more!” If we will take refuge in Him, He will defend us against the blame that we deserve. He paid down our debt in full on the cross, so that we might truly know what it is to be debt-free.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. How do we try to play the “blame game” when it comes to acknowledging or denying our sin? What are our tactics? Why does it ultimately never work? Jeremiah 2:22; Romans 3:3-6; 3:19-20; cf. John 9:41; Romans 6:23

2. What various events or statements at Jesus’ trial and death showed Him to be innocent? Who tried to escape blame at His death? Who apparently “accepted” the blame? (Matt. 27:25). How did Jesus maintain His innocence? Who else recognized His innocence?

3. How is our guilt like a debt that we could never pay? Matt. 18:21-35. Why is it one of the greatest mistakes of religious belief (Christian or otherwise) to think that our “good works” count as “good credit” to repay our “debt” or earn grace from God? Isaiah 64:6; Romans 4:4-5; Gal. 2:16

4. What is the “price tag” for the worldwide, accumulated debt of humanity? Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19. Why was only Jesus able to pay it? Why is it so important that He be true God and also true man?

5. How is repentance like making a claim of “spiritual bankruptcy” for ourselves before God? We are unable to pay our debt, and are placing ourselves completely at God’s mercy. How do we share in the blame for Jesus’ death? How are we spared or forgiven that blame?

6. Consider what it means to have Jesus’ blood “on you and your children.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Acts 18:6; 20:28; Ephesians 1:7; 2:3

7. Instead of playing the “blame game”, what is Jesus’ motive in showing us our sin by the Word of Law? What does that lead us to, and instead of blame, what does Jesus speak over us? Luke 23:34; Hebrews 12:24

No comments: