Monday, April 02, 2007

Sermon - Passion Sunday - Luke 23:19-25

Palm/Passion Sunday – April 1st, 2007
Luke 23:19-25
“In Place of Barabbas”

One of the fundamental basics of our concept of justice is getting what you deserve. If you upset the hornets’ nest, you deserve to get stung. If you tease the dog while he’s eating, you should expect to get bitten. If you cheat on your spouse, you deserve it when they divorce you. It’s only fair.

On the other hand, our sense of justice is bothered when someone gets something they don’t deserve – for good or bad. Some incompetent employee gets the promotion ahead of you, when you’ve put in so many more years. It’s not fair. Another person’s children turn out just fine when they weren’t the best parents, but you do everything right and still your children go astray. It’s not fair. You go to church, you pray and give offerings, you try to be nice and kind to everyone, and you find yourself on the receiving end of trouble and suffering, and you think, “it’s not fair!” But is it?

Today, Palm Sunday is also designated the Sunday of the Passion. Today we consider Jesus’ arrest and trial and suffering and execution. And there is much we could say about all this. One observation we might make is this: that none of this was very fair.

It was a miscarriage of justice, that the Pharisees arrested Jesus and tried him at night. Trials were to happen during daylight hours, according to the law. It wasn’t right that so many false witnesses testified against him. It wasn’t fair that Herod judged him only on whether he would do a miracle or not. It wasn’t just or right or fair that Pilate had him mocked, and flogged, and killed.

So Jesus stands humbly before the Roman governor and says very little. Only when pressed does Jesus admit he is, in fact, a king, though not of an earthly kingdom. If Pilate only knew that before him stood the King of all creation – he would know just how unfair it was for him to render a sentence on Jesus. Judging the one who will come to judge the living and the dead.
Pilate’s corruption of justice is also seen in that he knew Jesus was innocent, but sent him to death anyway. He didn’t want a riot to break out, after all. It may not have been fair, but it was expedient.

It wasn’t fair that Jesus, an innocent man, completely free from sin, was tried and convicted and sentenced to death – when a murderer named Barrabas got off scott-free. Perhaps this is the height of the irony here.

What a contrast between Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was part of the armed rebellion against the Roman occupiers. He was a fighting man who wanted freedom for his people. . Barabbas was a take-charge kind of guy - a man of action. He would get things done, no matter what the cost. Even if it meant murder. Yes, Barabbas had committed the ultimate sin, and truly deserved the ultimate punishment.

Jesus was humble and soft-spoken, like silent lamb being led to the slaughter. He told his disciples to put away their swords. They were to turn the other cheek. He said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. He even did miracles for some of these Roman invaders – rather than killing them in rebellion. He was a man of peace. Loving, kind, compassionate. We know from scripture that Jesus was fully without sin. And so he deserved no punishment.

Barrabas was what so many wanted Jesus to be. So many wanted a Jesus who would do the same as Barrabas, only bigger and better – a military deliverer who would lead them to triumph over the Roman foes. So they called out for Barrabas to be freed and Jesus to be crucified. It was the ultimate injustice. But… it was also God’s plan.

As a Christian who reads this account, you can quite naturally put yourself in the shoes of Barrabas. For in God’s cosmic courtroom, you stand condemned by your sin. You are a thief, a liar, a rebel and a murderer. A criminal, not against Rome or the United States, but against the King of the universe himself. And the sentence you would face is clear- only death will do. You are Barabbas. We all are.

And Jesus does the same for us that he does for Barabbas. He takes our place. He the innocent man takes the place of the sinner. The Lord goes to the cross, and to punishment, and to suffering and to death. And you and I go free. We are cleared of the charges against us and released from the bonds of sin’s prison. We are given a clean slate, a new beginning, an overturned verdict… all on account of our substitute, Jesus Christ.

And it’s not fair. We should be the ones condemned, not him. Fair would be for him to be judged innocent and us to be guilty. But in this divine plan, God’s justice and his mercy are both satisfied. Sin is paid for – that is his justice. But we are shown mercy for the sake of Christ. Our human sense of fairness falls short in the face of such a divine mystery.

Finally, just as Jesus takes our place on the cross, so he takes our place in the tomb, and so also he leads the way out of the tomb. Next Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. Easter Sunday is the highest holy day we Christians observe. Because on it, Jesus Christ who took our place in death, secures our place in life. He goes to the grave for us… and conquers it! He takes our place in death and then takes death itself away. As the firstborn of the dead, he shows what we who trust in him can also expect for ourselves – a resurrection from the dead, and an eternal victory.

In this Holy Week, as we listen and pray and sing and reflect, consider God’s justice, and his mercy. Consider your place, and what you deserve. But remember also that Christ took your place in death, and that he now makes a new place for you in life.

In His Name, Amen.

1 comment:

jWinters said...

Nice sermon Tom...I keep on wondering what they *sound* like. I'll have to get up to Racine someday I suppose.
in Christ, jW