By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 10, 2022
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Luke 23:1–49 (ESV)
1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” 6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. 13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” 18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. 26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
There are days within a faith tradition that hold greater importance. This may not necessarily be the case among Friends because we have a long history of regarding all days as equal, but even among us there are some days that seem to stand out. We are not the only religious group that has a history of this, and thankfully it has fallen out of fashion for the most part. Which to be honest I completely accept. Life would be pretty dull if we did not give ourselves an excuse to celebrate. In fact, this was one of the disciplines that Richard Foster promoted in his now Christian Spirituality classic celebration of Disciplines. In this book Foster tells us that we need to celebrate. It is important to celebrate, because in the celebration of certain days and events we build memories. If you were to think back on your life. If you were to consider the most important events of your memory, what are they? I would venture to guess that there was some sort of celebration attached to them. We remember Christmas because it is a day that is not normal. We do not generally give loads of gifts to children because it is Tuesday, there is some important event attached to it, either that particular Tuesday is December 25th, or it happens to be the anniversary of their birth.
We remember the things that are out of the ordinary. We remember the days that dad comes home early and plays baseball all afternoon, and the three hundred days dad worked until suppertime fade into the background. We remember the day of our children’s birth, not really because it was such a chaotic day, but because it was an event that changed the course of our existence. We remember the events, the days that become significant.
God actually encourages the use of celebration as a way to remember. This is why I disagree with some of the early Friends. God commanded Israel to reenact the Passover, He told them to go to the place of meeting to build booths or tents to remind them of the desert wanderings. God set a precedent within the religious community to set aside certain days to remember and celebrate. He did this because it is easy to forget. We can get so caught up in the things that are occurring all around us that we forget how we actually got to where we are.
I do, however, respect the first Friends in their bravery. They bravely stood against the social tide and refused to celebrate the traditional holidays for a reason. Sometimes we forget why we celebrate. Sometimes we get so caught up in the celebration and we forget the whole point of the day to begin with. Christmas is probably the greatest example of this celebration amnesia. Why exactly do we give gifts? Why exactly do we gather together with family? Why do we do it in December when traveling is not exactly the easiest or the safest thing to do? My family, my dad God bless him, tried very hard to keep the reason for the season at the forefront of the holiday. He tried very hard to tell the story, to read the scripture, to sing the songs, unfortunately it is a daunting task when you have four very excited children who have just eaten a plate of cookies focused.
These early Friends saw that there was a sort of selective amnesia occurring among the people of faith. They had gotten so used to the celebration that even though the priests were reciting the scriptures nothing was being retained because everyone was focused on the next thing. Or maybe they had gotten so used to the celebration that they had forgotten the deeper meaning of the activity. These early Friends would remove the holy days from their calendars, they would stop participating in perceived sacred ceremonies, they would teach that every day was holy because this is the day that the Lord has made, and they would say that every aspect of life is a sacrament to God. I respect their position. I respect their bravery. I respect their dedication. But like so many things, their lack of celebration became so routine that it caused the same problems as they protested against.
Today is one of those holy days. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We celebrate but do we really? Do we really understand just what this day meant to the people two thousand years ago, and do we recognize just how it changed the course of history to this day?
We say we believe, we participate in celebrations, we recite our beliefs and our doctrines and teach them to our friends and our families, but have we allowed this day to penetrate into our lives?
Today is the day that Israel proclaimed Jesus as their king. Today a multitude in Israel shouted and paraded through the city of David escorting Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt from the edge of the city into its very heart, to the temple courts. Today is the day that sparked a revolution that would eventually spread through the entire world. But like so many things this simple day can sometimes be forgotten because of a multitude of other things that occur around it and after.
We did not read about the palms today, but the passion. I chose this reading because we are from a tradition that does not have significant holy days. In some faith traditions this upcoming week would be filled with Meetings for Worship. They have special names for each of the days, like Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday (Ok so maybe the PR department needs to become a bit more creative), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. But since we tend to only worship one day each week, because all days are equal, we miss out on some of the story in collective worship. So often we forget that within a week’s time Jesus went from the King’s Throne to the Traitor’s Cross. Do we recognize how quick that change occurred, and do we realize just how vulnerable we are at repeating it today?
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. I want us to think about this for a moment. The whole company. If we were to read the chapters prior, we would get the context, the company in question is what we know as the Sanhedrin, which is a governing body of religious leaders. This is like the board of elders today; they were the people that carried the most influence among the religious people within the community. But it is an extended community not just a local meeting. I am not sure how these leaders were selected. Maybe it is like it is among the Friends, maybe they had areas that met together and they appointed their representative, or maybe it was like other faith communities were people were appointed by leaders to serve on the board. I do not know because I am not part of that community. But what we can find is that there was some sense that they were in this together, sure there might have been some dissention, but we are told that the whole company was involved. This means that this entire body had come to the conclusion that this man (Jesus) needed to be dealt with.
So, they brought him before Pilate. Who is Pilate? We do not really know much about this man, but what we can find is interesting. Did you know that he was one of the longest serving governors over this region? He served in this position for ten years. And this is significant because this region was not exactly an easy place to rule over. There were constant cultural clashes between the people of Israel and the outside rulers. This constantly sparked riots and rebellions. And for the governor that was a problem, because they really only had three basic tasks to do. The first was that they commanded the troops stationed in the region, they oversaw judicial cases, and they administered the financial affairs. This does not sound so bad right. Basically, if you keep sending the tribute to Rome, you are golden, but if riots broke out and prevented you from making your payment you were in trouble. And if you happened to spend more money than was thought to be acceptable on those riots which might decrease the payment to Rome you were in trouble. And if by chance someone sent a letter to Rome saying that you were ruling with injustice you might be in trouble. As long as you were able to balance those three things and basically keep the money flowing to Rome without anyone getting to riled up you could last a long time. The problem is that the Jewish people lived by different standards. Pilate once brought the standards into the Holy City and these standards had images on them, and mere presence of these standards which every military unit carried, cause the people to riot, because they perceived them as being idols. Then there was the fact that every three months or so every faithful religious observant would come to this one city to worship. And this vast influx of people would come into this one area at one time, and one misstep by a political leader could cause mass hysteria that would make the protests in Minnesota a couple of years ago look like a walk in the park.
Pilate had a difficult job, but he was actually fairly decent at it. We are told that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great which ended around 3-6BC, and from that time since Jesus was approximately 33 years old, there had been four previous governors. Pilate started around the year 26 so these guys lasted about five years, and Pilate doubled that average. He knew how to do his job, but that does not mean he was a good man. There are at least three instances where Pilate was recorded as being brutal, one of which we mentioned a couple of weeks ago. And another the instance that eventually had him removed from office was when he slaughtered pilgrims in Samaria as they were going to worship at their holy mountain, Pilate had a problem with the Jewish festivals, He did not like these groups of people congregating in one place, and when it happened, he was swift and brutal.
It was to this man that these religious leaders brought Jesus. They knew that Pilate did not like their cultural traditions and he had a history of swift violent judgments. These religious leaders wanted Jesus eliminated but in a way that would take attention away from themselves so that they could maintain their standing within the community. No look at the accusations they bring. “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” They bring three accusations: Misleading the nation (basically prompting unrest), forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar (not paying taxes), and saying that he is a king (the arbiter of law and justice). These are the three jobs Pilate must do to remain in office.
These people are using the fears of Pilate to manipulate him into doing their bidding. But I want you to notice something. Of those three accusations Pilate only asks one question. “Are you the king of the Jews?” And according to the Gospel of Luke this is the only question that Jesus answers from the secular governments during this whole trial. “You have said so.” This is something profound because it is so off the wall. Jesus did not answer him, because the question is not even a real question. The only thing that Pilate even listen to is that they said that Jesus was the arbiter of law and justice, he is the king. That is what Pilate focused on. Pilate is looking at Jesus who is standing surrounded by people, religious leaders and soldiers. Pilate is looking around him as well seeing the makings of worldly power and government and he looks at Jesus this single man that cannot even remotely defend himself. And he asks one question, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate is looking at Jesus through the eyes of worldly power and making a judgement call. This man is brought before him, at best he can talk and cause some people to get excited, but not even the most respected religious leaders within this province care for him. There is no power here. And the question is not a question at all but a scoff. This is the best they have to offer. But they insist. They try to say he is more powerful than you think. “He stirs people up all through Judea, from Galilee and to this very place.”
Pilate raises his eyebrows a bit. So, he has followers even in Galilee. This does issue some concern but that is not his jurisdiction. If Jesus is doing something in Galilee, then who really cares, Galilee is under the rule of someone else, and if that guy cannot handle him, all the better it would just increase Pilate’s power. Pilate then says, Herod is here in town let’s talk to him. Herod was in town because the family of Herod converted to the Jewish faith. We often neglect this aspect of history; we tend to think that the Jewish faith is based solely on heredity but there are converts. We see this throughout scripture, some of those converts have become very important, like Ruth the great-grandmother to King David.
Now the company takes Jesus to talk to Herod. Herod is excited to see Jesus but there is something different about the excitement. Pilate was concerned with power; Herod wants to be entertained. I hope you see a bit of our contemporary life in this trial. We have those that are concerned with worldly success and others that are concerned with pleasures but both of these groups are being manipulated by others with their own agendas. Herod has heard of this man Jesus and had been wanting to see him perform some signs for him. To Herod Jesus is nothing more than a court jester, and he wants him to dance. But Jesus does not comply. Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate, because Jesus is a bore.
Now Pilate has to do something. Jesus, in his mind is not anything of importance, He does not have a band of thugs following him around. In fact, if he had heard correctly the one guy that drew a weapon ran away, and one of his followers that they attempted to apprehend slipped out of his clothes and ran away naked, in case you wonder tradition tells us that brave soul was Mark the one that wrote the gospel of Mark. What exactly will Pilate do?
These people are instant they want blood, and there is really no reason for Pilate to do anything. And this is the injustice of the whole thing. Pilate and Herod get together to figure things out. Herod because Jesus would not entertain him, began to mock Jesus. Dressed him in fancy clothes and tried to get some sort of rise out of him. But Jesus did nothing. And we are told that Herod and Pilate became friends that night. This is important. Herod and Pilate were in competition. They both wanted to rule the other’s lands. Herod wanted to be like Herod the Great who ruled all of Palestine. And Pilate did not care about the Jews but If he could govern Galilee as well as Judea his political capital would rise and he might be able to make his way out of this Imperial backwater and get a better position somewhere better. They became friends, they united, formed an alliance with one another. They laid aside their differences over this one man. Herod mocked Jesus because he would not entertain, and Pilate decided to brutally beat the man and release him. An alliance of brutality and mockery was formed power and entertainment united together if we cannot get what we want we will watch this one man’s suffering while we eat together.
These men joined forces under the banner of injustice. They both would get what they wanted most entertainment and authority and all it would cost is the suffering of some insignificant man. They thought that this could appease the company standing before them. They thought that if they could just distract them enough, they would all just shut up and they could get back to what was really important. But the company was not appeased. They wanted more. You will crucify him they began to chant. Release instead Barabbas, a man that had actually been a treat to the authority of Pilate. A man that actually had a band of armed men that were ready to fight. Release Barabbas they chanted and crucify this man.
They did not care that Barabbas was a criminal. That Barabbas had actually done the very things that they accused Jesus of doing. They wanted that man because they could control him. Jesus on the other hand they could not control. He walked into their religious establishments and caused the people to question their own power and authority. He began to cause people to question how they related to God, and their livelihoods were based on the ability of the religious organization being able to keep the people buying sacrifices at the temple, changing money at their counters, and making that pilgrimage. If they actually let the people worship as Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth”, what would happen to them? They wanted Barabbas, the only threat he caused was that some poor Galileans might get some crazy idea to draw a sword and get killed by Pilate for his trouble. But Jesus, he threatened their ability to manipulate the people.
We see here three branches of life. The hearts of the people, the authority over the people, and entertainment. Just turn on the news and we can see the same strategies being played out every day. There is a war going on, one party is speaking to the hearts of the people, one speaks about authority and then there are those that are reports from the Oscars and the Grammy’s and can you believe they wore that dress. All of this is going on but what is really important?
When Pilate announced his judgement Luke tells us that, “He delivered him over to their will.” Pilate delivered Jesus over to their will. Jesus is being led up the hill and there are some weeping for him. Jesus stops and turns to them and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children.” I want us to consider this, he was delivered over to their will. Authority lends itself to entertainment, entertainment lends itself to the heart, and the heart lends itself to authority. The cycles of power manipulation continue back and forth and we are all delivered up to our will. We will sacrifice Ukraine for the sake of NATO. We will allow war in Africa as long as it does not affect us here. We will turn a bind eye to the perpetuation of human enslavement as long as Apple releases a new iPhone next year and we can trade our old one in so we can get another camera. We will let our politicians spout lies about the other party and we will still vote for them knowing full well they are just as evil, and we justify it by saying our candidate is the lesser of two evils. That is rubbish. The reality is that we actually want and approve their evil more that the evil of the other person, because we do not want good, we only want to have our will delivered up to us and we will give power to whoever is willing to do it.
We are all delivered up to our will. But what is our will? We want to be seen as waving palm branches for the king, but are we willing to stand up for the people our king loves? We want to proudly claim our righteousness, but do we sacrifice our righteousness for something else. Something that speaks of manipulation of the heart, Authority, or entertainment? Jesus was turned over to their will. He was turned over to the will of humanity. The desire of knowledge of good and evil, that ushered in death and separation from life. And Jesus looks at us and says do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children. Why does he say this? Because we are still trapped in the cycles of our will. We still try to cling to the powers of this world and because of this we are constantly whipped to and fro like leaves on the wind. We are whipped about because we are delivered up to our will. How do we stop this cycle? We stop the cycle by recognizing and confessing the truth. The condemned man that hung next to Jesus confessed. “We are here justly but this man has done nothing wrong. Remember me when you enter your kingdom.” That man had the assurance that that day he would enter into paradise. That man broke the cycle, because he recognized the truth, he was not right, he was not righteous, he had lived his life according to his own will and that his will had led him directly to where he deserved to be. We all deserve that sentence because we all contribute to the injustice of the world. I might not have started the war in Ukraine, I might be outraged and speak out against the injustice of the situation, but what have I actually done to prevent it? I might have an opinion about the injustice that occurred in Sudan that is currently on trial, but what have I done to prevent it? I might not agree with the culture war waging in our own culture, but what have I actually done to alleviate the problems? All of this happens because we are given over to our will. And it will continue to occur until we like Jesus say not my will Father but yours. We might not be able to offer humanitarian aid directly to those affected by war, but we can recognize our own injustices here in our communities, and we can offer ourselves to His will here in our communities. But there is a question that remains. Will we be delivered to their will or His? Will we continue to perpetuate the cycles of injustice that required Jesus to go to the cross, or will we proclaim with Christ, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!”
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