The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Certainly this Man Was Innocent!
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, 28 March 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Who knew that a week could go by so fast? This morning you have followed our Lord from Palm Sunday to His Friday grave and His Sabbath rest. No wonder the Holy Gospel was longer than usual.
Long readings make us uncomfortable. Our culture has trained us to want to look at something, not just listen. Yet, faith comes by hearing. And, we have been given much to look at in this sanctuary. We see the Lenten banners. On one, a crown of thorns takes prominence in the center.
And then you see the furniture. Who can miss the crosses? The large wooden cross is lit from behind and dominates the front of the chancel. Crosses surround us from the paraments, baptismal font and windows to the lights and pews. In some congregations, a golden altar cross may have a small sculpture of Jesus’ body upon it, or His name—IHS is shorthand for JES…us—Jesus. The cross is always before our eyes in this place. The Gospel is before your eyes. This is how forgiveness of sins was won. That is why every seat in this sanctuary faces the altar and cross
The rest of the furniture shows you how forgiveness is delivered here and now for you. (LSB 645:4)”Here stands the font before our eyes, Telling how God has received us. The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice And what His Supper here gives us. Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim Christ yesterday, today, the same, And evermore, our Redeemer.
Since the back of the bulletin only had the last half of the reading, we have a tendency to think about other things, don’t we? One of our favorite sins is thinking about ourselves. This is a place where you think about your sinfulness, but only in relation to Jesus. He was innocent. We are not.
Today’s Epistle paved the way for our listening of the Holy Gospel. Elsewhere Paul writes that faith comes by hearing. In Philippians He pointed to the name that is above every name, the name that was given to Christ Jesus, the servant, born in the likeness of men, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The text carried us from event to event during Holy Week and encouraged us to think about others. We heard about others in relation to Jesus.
Satan entered into Judas. The betrayal was planned.
The disciples found that Jesus had a place ready to prepare the Passover meal.
Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper and the disciples go from questioning one another about who was going to betray Him to arguing among themselves about who is the greatest. He was sitting right there, being ignored by them.
Simon Peter boasts and Jesus prophesies about His immediate future.
The disciples fell asleep while Jesus agonized in prayer. You can picture the scene—Jesus, kneeling by a rock at prayer with hands folded, sweating blood, praying three times. Yet this scene, immortalized in so much Christian art lasts only a moment.
Here comes Judas and the kiss of betrayal. Peter cuts off somebody’s ear. Jesus heals him. Jesus is seized. The disciples scatter.
Peter denies Him. The rooster crows. Peter remembers Jesus’ words and weeps bitterly.
Meanwhile, our focus returns to Jesus. The seventy-two elders of the people consider themselves witnesses to blasphemy: “You are the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “You say that I am.” And the words “I Am” echo through salvation history. They refuse to believe Jesus’ earlier words: “Before Abraham was, I Am.”
The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, enters the picture. You see his Roman robes and his badge of office. He knows he doesn’t need another scandal. Two others have been quite enough for him, so at his first opportunity, the trial is transferred to Herod’s venue.
Herod only wanted dinner and a show. He wanted to live by sight and not by faith. Jesus is continually mocked, ridiculed, and treated with contempt.
By now the sun has risen on a new day. By the end of it Jesus would be dead and buried. It is too early for the regular Jewish crowds to be awake—those who cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Instead, those who are gathered by the chief priests and rulers are on the temple payroll, hired goons who call out for Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ crucifixion.
Pontius Pilate announces Jesus’ innocence three times. The crowd’s voices prevailed over justice. You see Barabbas walk away from his imprisonment gleefully. Jesus is delivered over to be crucified.
Simon of Cyrene, who came in from the country for the Passover, to offer his unblemished male lamb to the Lord comes face to face with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He carries the cross to help Jesus.
The daughters of Jerusalem weep for Him. Two criminals are crucified beside Him. The mocking continues. Jesus pronounces forgiveness: “Father forgive them, for the know not what they do.”
The rulers called for Him to come down from the cross.
The soldiers called for Him to come down from the cross.
One of the criminals called for Him to come down from the cross. The other said, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Our Lord soon tells him: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Noon. Darkness. Three hours of darkness. The curtain of the temple torn in two. “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” Death. And who speaks next but a Centurion, a Roman: “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. He is wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb. And all rest on the Sabbath.
The mysteries of the faith are before your eyes and in your ears. Faith comes by hearing. The disciples heard and scattered. The Lord would again gather them together. But think about this text. Who “got it?” Who heard and saw and responded in faith? Who shows their faith by word and deed?
The clearest confession comes from the second criminal: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” That is faith. Joseph of Arimathea finally comes out of the shadows in faith. The Romans, Pilate and the Centurion, both know about Jesus’ innocence. Mere knowledge is not yet faith, yet there is hope for faith.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks about the Church in Laodicea, saying, “Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of my mouth.” Those who are “hot” live in repentant faith and rejoice to receive the Lord’s gifts, and to share them and the good news about Jesus. At least with those who are “cold” there is hope for conversion and future faith. The lukewarm are called to hear. They are called to faith.
Lent is a time to relearn repentance which goes hand-in-hand with faith. We examine ourselves and our sinful thoughts, words, actions, and inaction in the light of the 10 Commandments. But Lent is not about us. It is about Jesus. Always, always, always, Christians see themselves in relation to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus goes before His father and tells Him about you. He says: “Certainly this man is innocent!” Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.