Posted on Wed, Apr 16, 2014
April 13, 2014 Passion Sunday
Gospel Text: Matthew 27:11-54 – “The Light Enters our Darkness”
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus* Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus* Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ 22Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 23Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood;* see to it yourselves.’ 25Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,* and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;* 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided* him, shaking their heads 40and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.* He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’* 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.* 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*
It is very possible that Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Son of God were born at about the same time in history. It is also very possible they were born fairly close to each other; Bethlehem is only about 7 miles from Jerusalem. However, as they grew up certain choices were made, the direction of they life path changed, and on this fatefull day, it was the innocent one who was chosen to die. And the one guilty of murdering Roman soldiers was chosen to live.
Honestly, if there was ever a text that has changed history and our understanding of ourselves, it could have to be this text.
Misunderstandings of this text have led to Anti-Semitism, in some cases it was the rational behind the Holocaust. Sadly to say, Anti-Semitism, because of a poor reading of scripture and extreme views, is once again growing on a global scale.
Many of you were expecting us to be celebrating Palm Sunday today. According to the lectionary cycle we also had the choice of observing this Sunday as Passion Sunday. Looking at the final day of Christ gives us an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the King who was given as the greatest servant of all, and the only one who could give what was necessary for our forgiveness and salvation. Today begin our holy week with everything laid bare. There is only the truth about the result of humankind choosing hate & the pursuit of revenge, over the gift of life and forgiveness fulfilled through the obedience of Christ and Jesus’ suffering on the cross. My hope is that today’s worship will help you better frame the identity and faithfulness of the Jesus who will wash our feet and host us for a meal on Maundy Thursday.
We make choices everyday, how we choose to talk and interact with each other, how we will live our lives and the values we will hold dear. The Bible asks us very clearly, in order to evaluate your relationship with God’s Law, we just need to simply ask ourselves, how do we treat the widow, orphan and the stranger. We even have a choice if we will follow and believe Jesus, the Servant King, or not.
Some choices are tough, and those that cause us to vacillate require faith, caring for the neighbor, demanding humility, but it oftentimes these difficult choices become opportunities for amazing surprises, understanding, wisdom, and new possibilities.
Jesus was brought before Pilate; Pilate was cruel and decisive, but in this text he is cautious, fair, vacillating and yet calculating. Pilate understands what the religious leaders are asking him to do and their motives, but after hearing warnings from his wife about Jesus in a dream, he is very careful and turns the decision over to the crowds.
The custom of holiday amnesty is not really known apart from the Gospels, but through the Gospel Texts, Matthew again points to the innocence of Jesus and the power of his blood and the outpouring of his life “for us.”
From the dungeon a well-known prisoner is brought out; Matthew does not specify his crime, but Acts 3:14 says that Barabbas was guilty of murder and insurrection. This means he was some kind of rebel or freedom fighter, it all depends upon what perspective you choose to look at him. There were religious zealots in those days that wanted to kill the occupying Roman soldiers for religious reasons. And there were those who were just zealous about killing Roman soldiers, because they were occupying Palestine. Barabbas was probably the latter.
Did you hear anything interesting about his name? Barabbas means “son of the father.” Can you hear it? Bar = which means ‘son of,’ and ‘Abbas’ = which means ‘father’ or ‘daddy.’
Pilate asks, who do you want, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the King of the Jews?
The people, the crowds, choose freedom for Barabbas and death for Jesus. Pilate understands the bias of the accusers, but still asks the questions of the crowd, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” Their response is, “Crucify Him!” This is the consummate definition of sin, for which we must be forgiven.
Pilate is more interested in appeasing the crowd than justice or truth, yet he then does a small but meaningful ritual, in front of this crowd; he washes his hands and declares, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Some texts say, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man.” But as we remember his name even today, as the one giving the order to crucify Jesus, it is clear that it is not so easy to just wash your hands of murder.
Pilate let the people understand that they were responsible for what was about to happen and the people, all the people (pas ho laos) answered, “His blood be on us and on our children.” And this is the text many people have claimed is Matthew saying that the guilt of Jesus is upon the Jewish people and becomes the reasoning behind anti-Semitism. This is a poor reading of the text as the message is about all peoples. These are people who make choices bent on hate, who will always look for reasons to separate and discriminate against other people. The problem is that the Greek is very clear, the text does not say, “the Jewish people,” it clearly says, “All the people.” It is safe to assume there were more than just Jews in the crowd. The Romans were occupying Palestine, a land of Jews AND GENTILES. Jews and Gentiles rejected Jesus, Jesus was accused and judged by Jews and Gentiles, and Jesus died at the hands of “ALL THE PEOPLE.”
Jesus was taken out and scourged, not just whipped. The instrument consisted of three strands of leather with ragged ceramic shards, glass or iron tied on the ends. This means as the leather would wrap around your body and increase speed the shards would dig deep into the skin so that the person doing the whipping could actually tear chunks of skin and muscle out with teach strike and then pulling the scourge out of the skin. It was brutal and gruesome.
The soldiers mocked him inside the praetorium, the headquarters and residence of the Roman governor. They put a scarlet robe onto his blood stained skin just long enough for the blood to ooze into the material, clot a little and then when they would rip the clothes off his body, therefore ripping open the bloody wounds again. The crown of thorns was made up of thorns that were about three inches long and felt like steel. As the crown was placed on his head I am sure it was hammered down on his head for good measure. As they taunted, him, they all cried out, “Hail, King of the Jew!”
They made Jesus carry his own cross to the place called Golgotha, a man from Cyrene in present day Libya. Cyrene was, however, a Jewish community where 100,000 Palestinian Jews had settled during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323-285 BC). They had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts. Simon's act of carrying the cross for Jesus is the fifth of the Stations of the Cross. Some analyze the passage that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus, but others point out that the text itself says nothing, and that he had no choice, and there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.
They went to the place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” On this site today, since the Fourth Century in the days of Constantine, is the Anastasis or Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is now well inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Many times they would give condemned prisoners a drink of wine as a kind of sedative, according to Mark 15:23, the soldiers tried to give Jesus wine mingled with a tranquilizing myrrh. Matthew however, reports that they offer Jesus wine mixed not with myrrh, but with gall, a bitter acidic substance. Matthew is helping us to further understand the mockery Jesus had to suffer and that the Psalm 69:21 actually does refer to poison.
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:21)
When the soldiers have finished their gruesome task, they begin to play. They gamble to see who will be able to take Jesus’ clothes. One of them will take his clothes and trade them at the market for a few small coins. Psalm 22:18
“They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)
It was custom in those days to put up a placard announcing the crimes of the ones being crucified; on Jesus’ cross it simply read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” There is no lie in this statement, and it meant that the people made the choice to crucify Jesus the “King of the Jews” was the truth.
Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was indeed the Son of David, and in Jesus the kingship of God is dawning (being made known). But at the same time, Jesus breaks that David-like mold of kingship by coming in meekness, renouncing pomp and privilege and earthly power, yet through his death he defeats the greatest power feared by all humankind, death.
People make choices for violence, but God makes choices that create life.
People scorned and scoffed at Jesus, they remembered his ‘triumphant’ entrance into Jerusalem but failed to realize that their adoration of Jesus was based on extravagant and ignorant expectations. Some said, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
“Save yourself!” and “come down from the cross” without dying,” are parallel statements. It may also be another statement of temptation for Jesus. But Jesus would not save himself, for that would mean disobedience to the promise to save us. He would not abuse the power of God and save himself, even from the death on the cross. In his obedience, we see and receive God’s glory.
Then the narrative slows way down, from about noon to three, then suddenly there was an unnatural darkness shrouding all the land. Then Jesus cries out in Aramaic, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus is crying out the first verse of Psalm 22, listen to Psalm 22:1-5:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. (Psalm 22:1-5)
People make choices, and for some of the choices we make, God laments, and God is hurt. We can also make choices where God will rejoice. Thankfully, when we choose to worship and give thanks, God is made known, and God is indeed pleased in the words and deed of worship.
And in a final cry, Jesus gave up his life. We must remember, nobody “killed” Jesus, Jesus GAVE UP HIS LIFE WILLINGLY, for our forgiveness and salvation.
At that moment, God finally makes a statement, he earth shook, the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom, the tombs were opened and many of the bodies of the saints rose up from their graves.
Matthew is telling us that it was at this earth shattering moment of Jesus death and resurrection, considered the most complex culmination of all moments of history into one moment, God is touching the earth with the same creative hands here at the end of the age as at the beginning of the world and that the old world with its old patterns start to crack apart and a new world emerges from the dust and ashes of the old.
In that moment, a new community of “old saints” and new believers emerges and the birth of a new age, a new body of Christ begins to emerge.
It is interesting that on the slopes of Mount Zion and on the Mount of Olives, converging on the Kidron Valley just outside of the temple mount in Jerusalem, there are graves of Christians, Muslims and Jews, people from all three great faiths, still wait for the moment the Messiah will appear.
Splitting, quaking and the rising were signs of power of God in this moment, but the awe-filled Centurion who finally was moved to say, “Truly this was the Son of God,” tells us that truly a new age had begun and perfectly makes a mockery of Jesus’ opponents. With his statement the mission to the Gentiles, the mission to the whole world had begun and the elect were now being gathered from the four winds.
Jesus’ opponents made choices to reject and kill, God made choices to be obedient and merciful. God is still making choices. Mercy and forgiveness are still the means of grace according to God. Amen. “And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
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