Monday, March 21, 2016
Sermon on Luke 23, for the Sunday of the Passion, "Unbreakable"
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The cross of Jesus Christ is the convergence, the intersection, and climax of all the Old Testament prophecy, all of God’s plan of salvation, coming to realization in a crucial moment, the excruciating hours of obedience, and self-sacrifice. The Gospel reading from Luke documents the events as they unfold. We see how Jesus was treated, and we see how He, in return, treated those who accused, mocked, and mistreated Him. Jesus’ actions put flesh onto the words of Psalm 103:8-12, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
At the cross of Jesus we see God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger. At the cross of Jesus we see God not treating us as our sins deserve, or repaying us according to our iniquities. Instead we see Him forgiving, loving, extending mercy. At every step Jesus was provoked and mistreated, He was mocked. But He did not treat them as their sins deserved. Jesus is treated as a liar and a revolutionary, false accusers slandering Him, while even Pontius Pilate could see that none of the charges could stick. Herod treats Jesus as entertainment or a spectacle of abuse, to amuse his soldiers, but is dissatisfied that Jesus won’t comply by performing miracles or reacting to the abuse.
Pilate receives Jesus back and treats Him as a political inconvenience to be negotiated away, but can’t find a way to get rid of Him, without becoming complicit in His death. Women treat Jesus as an object of pity, and He steers their pity back to their own sorry state, for the coming judgment and fate of Jerusalem. The soldiers continue to use Him for entertainment, and to gamble for His cloak, while crowds mock His kingship. But Jesus forgives them. The crowds and first thief think that Jesus is helpless, because He can’t save Himself, but the second thief treats Him as innocent, and a true king. Finally, after all that He has suffered, the crowds lament what they have done, and the pagan centurion even confesses, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Whatever the many reasons and ways that people treated Jesus on that day, and whatever reactions they were trying to provoke out of Him, or miracles they expected Him to perform—He gave them none of it. He did not lash back in anger, He did not pull Himself off the cross, He did not feed their frenzy of hatred and false accusation. He did not unleash the judgment of God against them as their sins deserved. What height of presumption, for guilty men to condemn and crucify the innocent Son of God! But instead of turning judgment on them, as sins deserve, Jesus Himself bears the judgment. He is treated as our sins deserve. He was punished according to our iniquities or guilt. He does so, so that He can remove our sins as far from us as the East is from the West. Instead of treating us as our sins deserve, Jesus gives us the love of God, toward those who fear Him.
Finally after everything that was done to Him, the cruelty, the vented rage, the blind mockery—even hardened sinners, pagans and unbelievers, even the self-righteous crowd, began to see the terrible injustice that had been acted out upon Jesus. From Pilate and Herod finding Him innocent, to the thief on the cross rebuking his fellow and realizing Jesus’ innocence, to the crowd mourning at Jesus’ death, to the centurion—Jesus’ response had an undeniable effect on all those around Him. The conviction of their guilt settled upon them, and the awareness of Jesus’ innocence. The realization that they had been wrong.
When we witness the Passion of Jesus, when we contemplate His sufferings, and see how He treated those who treated Him so terribly—does it move us to repentance? Do we rend our hearts, and cry out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner?” Are we only angered by the sins of others, and blind to our own? Or do we cry out to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom?” Do we see that His suffering should be ours? Pray that your sins be forgiven—and know that they are! Pray that God would turn your heart to thankfulness and praise, that Jesus sacrificed Himself for you!
Fear not and see the salvation of our God! See how great and how high God’s love is! Put your trust in Him—see His innocent death, for you—and worship our Savior. We enter this Holy Week following our Lord, from the way marked with palms, to the palms marked with nails, spread in love upon the cross for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.