First Lesson: Luke 22:47-62
Second Lesson Luke 23:1-6, 13-25
Children: Luke 19:28-38
So are you getting the picture here? We have three groups of people in our stories for today.
One group had followed Jesus up and down the countryside for three whole years, listening to every word he had to say and watching all the truly amazing things he had done. They had seen him heal people who were very sick and disabled and they had watched how he had even brought people back to life again who had died. They had participated while he fed thousands of people with a few scraps of bread and fish. They had heard him speak passionately about the Kingdom of God and what it was like. They had had long conversations with him over those three years. They had slept in open fields at night with him and accepted hospitality from strangers. They had given up literally everything to follow him.
We would have thought that they would have loved and supported Jesus, and in fact one of them even proclaimed that he would die for him.
That’s one group of people. People like Judas and Peter whom we have read about this morning. His twelve male disciples.
Then we have another group of people. They were the religious leaders – the elders and the priests and the chief priests. They were the guys who read the scriptures every day and who knew God well, and loved God devotedly and knew all of the laws of God very well, and kept them faithfully. It was their job to answer any questions about God and faith and religion that anybody had. These are the guys who are the experts on God. These are the guys who talked with Jesus in the temple for three days when he was twelve years old and who were amazed at his deep religious knowledge. Maybe they were there that day at the Jordan River when Jesus was baptized and maybe they heard that voice from heaven saying “this is my beloved Son.” Or if they hadn’t seen it in person, they had certainly heard all about it. We would surely think that they would honor and respect and support the very son of God. Who talked all the time about the kingdom of God and went around doing amazing things in God’s name.
That’s the second group of folks in our stories for today – the elders and priests and chief priests.
And then we have the Roman governor and Roman judge. It was their job to keep the peace in the country they were occupying. It was their job to make sure that there were no threats to the Roman government. It was their job to squash any kind of uprising and to keep people in their places, by intimidation if that worked, and by other methods when that wouldn’t work. They were the ones who had soldiers stationed all over the country, and who were charging high taxes on the most basic things that everybody needed to survive and were forcing people into bankruptcy and foreclosure and poverty. Those guys. Those Romans. Everybody knew very well that they had no love in their hearts for these Jewish peasants whom they were controlling. They didn’t even pretend to care about them. Those very poor Jewish peasants. Herod was the man who had brutally executed Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist – on a silly whim at a party - as you may recall. He was probably drunk. And Pilate was the Roman official who was responsible for making sure that people paid their taxes and when they didn’t he tried and judged and sentenced them.
So we would think that the Roman Governor Herod and the Roman Judge Pilate would have been happy to try Jesus and find him guilty and sentence him. It was their job. It was what they did every day. And Herod had well proved himself as somebody who could kill folks without a good reason.
That’s the third group of people: The Roman Governor and Roman Judge.
But here’s what happened. One of Jesus’ disciples (who should have loved and supported him) went behind his back and contacted the elders and the priests and told them where to find him and even led them to him. And got well paid for betraying him. That was Judas. Another one of his disciples sat around a fire in a group of people and denied three times that he had even known Jesus. That was Peter. And Jesus looked at him with very sad eyes and Peter went away and cried bitterly.
And these elders and priests (who should have honored and respected and supported Jesus) They pounced on him while he was in prayer and dragged him away in the middle of the night to another priest. They beat him and blindfolded him and mocked him. In the morning they brought him to an entire assembly of elders and priests and high priests and questioned him and dragged him on to the Judge, Pilate. Who was in charge of making sure that people paid their taxes and submitted to the authority of the Romans. These elders and priests and high priests told Pilate that Jesus was telling people not to pay their taxes (which of course wasn’t true) and setting himself up as king to overthrow the Roman government.
So we would have expected that Pilate would jump right on that, and ask a few questions, maybe, and find him guilty immediately, and happily sentence him to a terrible punishment. Which those Romans were very good at doing.
BUT. Pilate asks a few questions and then throws his hands up in the air and says he can’t find anything wrong with Jesus. And to get them all out of his hair, he sends them all off to Governor Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at the moment. Herod, who has no love for any Jews, you recall and who has already executed Jesus’ cousin John. So the elders and the priests brought Jesus to Herod. They repeated their accusations: that Jesus was telling people not to pay their taxes and was trying to set himself up as a king to overthrow the Roman government. Maybe Herod had even heard what had happened a few days earlier. How a noisy band of children and homeless people and beggars and women and sick people and formerly sick people had borrowed a donkey. They had waved their tree branches and sang to him. They had put him on that donkey and had cheered him into the capital city of Jerusalem on the day of his coronation. Maybe Herod had even heard about that.
Herod questioned Jesus a bit, mocked him a bit, and put a stupid purple robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Who once again protested that he couldn’t find anything wrong in Jesus, and set about to release him.
But the Jewish elders and the priests (who should have respected and honored and supported of Jesus) refused to hear it. The whole mob of them insisted, again and again, in very loud voices, that Jesus should be crucified. Which finally, and under great protest, Pilate did.
So you are getting the picture here? Judas and Peter, who should have been loving Jesus and protecting him and cherishing him have actually turned on him, and denied that they ever knew him.
The elders and the priests who should have been encouraging Jesus and supporting him and learning from him have turned him in to the governor and the judge and are insisting that he be executed.
And the people who should have been on the lookout for tax evaders and people planning to overthrow the government and who should have sentenced him – if the charges against him had been true - they are actually curious about Jesus and want to talk to him and learn from him and don’t see any reason to punish him for anything.
We are tempted to be critical of Judas and Peter. We remember Judas to this day as the man who betrayed Jesus and we don’t remember much of anything else about him. We remember how Peter denied three times that he ever knew Jesus. And we are often critical of those religious leaders who refused to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and refused to hear him and learn from him.
But here’s the truth, my beloved. We are like those disciples and those priests. Most of us have spent a good deal of time in this church or some other church. We have heard about God from the time we were children. We have heard Bible stories about Jesus for most of our lives. We know all about God. And we have promised to be followers of Jesus.
We are pretty good people. We get along well with our friends and are kind and respectful to them. These days we in this church are searching our closets for good used clothing to give to others who are looking for work. And pretty soon we are going to be receiving the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering and I am very sure that once again you will be very generous. And Jesus looks at us with love and gratitude in his eyes.
AND we are part of a society where the rich are getting richer and richer and the poor are getting poorer and poorer and Jesus would be appalled. But most of us say nothing and do nothing. And Jesus looks at us with very sad eyes, just the way he looked at Peter. Who denied him.
AND women and boys and girls are being very silently sold into sex slavery all around us (at least in Grand Rapids) and Jesus would be appalled. But most of us say nothing and do nothing. And Jesus looks at us with very sad eyes, the way he looked at Peter, who denied him.
AND we are nice enough most of the time to people we know. BUT when we see people who are different from us or speak a different language or who obviously have great needs, most of us say nothing and do nothing, and Jesus would be appalled. He looks at us with very sad eyes, the way he looked at Peter who denied him.
And you can add in your own examples here.
So you see, my beloved. We are not all that different from those elders and priests who demanded Jesus’ death.
And in this week when we will remembering his last days and hours, we place ourselves in their company. Sadly. Sorrowfully. With deep regret. We go out and cry bitterly like Peter. And we ask forgiveness. For abandoning God’s other children. And for failing to protect them and for failing to be followers of Jesus in the ways he would have honored.
Let’s have a time of silence to reflect.