Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Sermon -- Isaiah 53; John 18 & 19

April 10, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Pilate] went back outside to the Jews and told them: “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man to you at the Passover.”

At times, the greatest true statements come from the mouths of those who do not fully understand what they have just said. So it is with Pilate in Jerusalem on this fateful day so many years ago. His statement about the innocence of Jesus and the release of one man who is to be condemned neatly summarizes the point of this day. Good Friday is all about the reversal of fortunes, the setting aside of former verdicts, and the freeing of those who were bound.

Of course, Pilate had no real way of knowing his role in these events or the fullness of truth that he spoke. He himself had asked Jesus: “What is truth?” What is that fleeting ideal that no one on earth seems able to comprehend or converse in? But though he did not know what he was doing, this governor of Judea facilitates the redemption of the cosmos and the gaining of a kingdom for Jesus that is not of this world.

“I find no guilt in Him.” With those words, the earthly authority exercising power given from above exonerates Jesus, the Son of God. He is innocent; there is nothing in Him to condemn; no blemish disqualifies Him in any way. The pagan Gentile acts like the Jewish high priest: declaring that the Passover Lamb is perfect, a worthy offering for sacrifice. That is what this governor says on behalf of Caesar, the Pontifex Maximus—the High Priest of Rome’s idolatry. And yet, it is the perfect, proper, precise declaration of innocence for Jesus, the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.

So it is that Pilate sends an innocent Lamb to slaughter on that Passover. He offers the Jewish people a choice, as was their custom. And though they did not fully understand what they were doing, the people also select the proper sacrifice. They do not send the murderous robber Barabbas to death, but send away the innocent Jesus as both their scapegoat and the greatest Paschal sacrifice. Bearing their sins and the sins of the world, the Lamb of God carries them outside the city wall to be disposed of in Golgotha’s dump to be remembered no more.

The human actors in this cosmic play do not understand their script. To them, it is improv, ad lib. But the Lord God has written all their lines. He knows what must happen and arranges it to be so. Ignorance and wrong thoughts are turned into the most well-crafted dialogue and action. It isn’t that Pilate and the Jews stumbled into doing the Lord God’s will, but that their characters are manipulated for the great outcome to take place.

And so Pilate’s declaration of Jesus’ innocence facilitates what the Lord God had said through the prophet Isaiah would happen to the Christ: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.”

Likewise, the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish crowds in favor of Barabbas reflects what the Lord God had said about the Christ: “He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by man; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

So the confused sequence of events is put into place. Guiltlessness is declared, and yet the Innocent One dies. By being mocked by the soldiers, Jesus is worshiped. In Pilate’s sarcastic writing, Jesus is rightly called a king. As He is stripped of His clothes, Jesus bestows the robe of righteousness to humanity. Nothing seems to be as it should; truth is arrived in the most circuitous of ways. And yet it is the fulfillment of divine will.

Through that divine will, everything arrives to its proper conclusion. For the significance of this day is that the results which neither Pilate not the Jewish crowds intended come true for you, as the Lord God intended. Because the Innocent One died, you, the condemned sinner, are acquitted: you are the man that is released. But this is what the Lord God had promised: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgression; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

So the Lord God desired with all His intention and purpose. And so He has delivered to you, facilitated by those who understood not what they said and knew not what they did. The truth comes from their mouths, the truth of your salvation: “I find no guilt in Him.” And yet, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” so that He may say: “I find no guilt in you, and so I release you according to My custom on this Passover Day.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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