“Faith for a Complicated World” (Luke 23:1-25)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 30, 2022

“Faith for a Complicated World” (Luke 23:1-25)

The world around us is a complicated place that can be hard to figure out. Life sometimes sends us a fair amount of pain and suffering. Whether you’ve come through a lot or been spared a bit, we all know this. And it can be perplexing. For instance, we can pray to God, but what about the prayers where he says, “no”? Or the prayers that seem to be met with silence? So it’s complicated, and we don’t know all that we’d like to know about how it all fits together. The world is complicate, life can be hard, including for us Christians.

And yet, even though God’s ways are often hidden from us, still we Christians believe that God is at work in the midst of suffering. God is at work, and so we pray with faith, because of the kind of God we know he is. Even with evil in the world around us, we trust that God is at work against the evil, in spite of the evil. And sometimes God even uses the evil for his purposes. How God does that, we’re often not sure, but we-believe that he does.

Why do we believe in such a God? Well, our reading from Luke 23 gives us the answer, our reason for believing. Tonight we ponder what happened when the Jewish religious leaders led Jesus to stand before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. What happened was evil, coming against the only man ever of whom it could be said, “He didn’t deserve any of it.” And yet all that evil was taken and put to use by the living God for our good. This is why we can live in a broken world and still have faith and hope.

Let’s look at the major players in our text. First, there are the chief priests. We met them last week in the verses that lead up to tonight’s reading. Their evil was the blind ignorance of unbelief. They hated Jesus. In his ministry, Jesus claimed authority as God’s Son and the true king. Jesus rejected the way they thought about God and one another. Jesus leveled the playing field for people, shutting out all comparison, teaching that the only way to know God is in complete humility, and by looking only to him, to Jesus. For these reasons, the chief priests spoke with one voice and led Jesus to Pilate. They accuse Jesus of crimes against Roman order and Roman justice. They want Pilate to believe that Jesus is guilty. They want Pilate to put Jesus to death.

But it doesn’t work. They can’t convince Pilate that Jesus is guilty. And when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, the chief priests keep accusing Jesus to him. But that doesn’t work, either. They can’t convince Herod that Jesus deserves to die. Oh, Herod belittles Jesus and mistreats him and mocks him. But he doesn’t think that Jesus deserves to die. The accusations against Jesus from the chief priests don’t work.

But that doesn’t stop them or their evil. They keep on demanding Jesus’ death: “We would rather have that murderer, Barabbas, than this man!” Does that convince Pilate to change his mind? No, he knows that Jesus does not deserve to die. But the chief priests keep pressing Pilate: “Crucify, crucify him!” They meant it for evil. This was their blind ignorance of unbelief. That was the evil of the chief priests.

There’s another sort of evil in this reading. We see it in the second major player, Pontius Pilate. He is the governor of Judea, and he’s directly responsible to the Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Pilate represents the interests of the Roman Empire, and thus his top two interests are 1) keeping law and order, and 2) collecting tax money.

As the Roman governor, Pilate holds all the cards. Rome will not let local leaders like the Sanhedrin execute someone, even if they think that person deserves to die. Pilate himself has to authorize the execution. Pilate is prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge, jury, all rolled into one. Pilate holds all the cards.

The chief priests get his attention when they accuse Jesus of things that would matter to a Roman governor: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” So Pilate asks Jesus point-blank, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus gives the same sort of indirect response that he gave to the Sanhedrin: “You have said so.” Whatever Jesus’ tone of voice, Pilate reads that as a “no.” He says, “I find no guilt in this man.” Now if the world were a just and honest place, that would have settled things. But it’s not, and it didn’t. Pilate begins to move toward committing a great evil.

When he hears that Jesus is from Galilee, he decides to get Herod Antipas involved. Does Pilate want to shift responsibility, unload the blame for what happens? Whatever the reason, off to Herod goes Jesus. But Herod isn’t convinced by the chief priests’ accusations, either. Herod mocks him and beats him and sends him back to Pilate.

Where does the evil stand now? Where it was before. Pilate knows, and he knows that Herod knows, that Jesus doesn’t deserve to die. But the chief priests gather all their voices and their forces, and they demand crucifixion. Finally, Pilate gives in and decides that Jesus will be crucified.

Friends, God expects a lot more than that from rulers. Government is God’s idea, and whether it’s Pilate back then or a government official today, in God’s way of looking at things, to whom much is given, much is required. Ruling authorities exist to protect the weak and the helpless. God has given government the responsibility of rewarding those who do right and punishing those who do wrong.

Pontius Pilate is no exception. God does not let Pilate off the hook. His choice to send an innocent man–the innocent man–to crucifixion is as great an evil as that of Jesus’ enemies. Rulers are supposed to protect the innocent. And there’s no doubt that Pilate knows Jesus is innocent. Yet he releases Barabbas instead of Jesus. “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.”

What kind of a world is that? The same kind of world we have today. The evil of those who know the facts, who know what’s right, but who for whatever reason choose not to do it. Sins of commission. Sins of omission. It was their world, and it’s ours, too.

In the reading you heard from Acts 4, the believers pray to God and say: “Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, did whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” The power players–the chief priests, Pilate, Herod–was what they did evil? Yes, it was. Was God caught off guard? No, he was not. He had planned it all in advance. Did God take the evil and use it for good? Yes, he did. That’s the sort of God we have. Because, along with the chief priests and Pilate and Herod, the other major player in our reading is Jesus.

The Lord Jesus doesn’t look like a Lord in these verses. The true king seems like anything but a king. He looks like a pawn; the powerbrokers move him here and there. And for the most part, Jesus is silent before the power of evil. That’s because God has planned to not stop the evil. No, God will take it and use it. God took the evil that people were doing, and he brought it against Jesus. Jesus knew all this, and he let it happen. Jesus took it, so he could take it away–take it away from us. The evil was deadly. The chief priests had their way. Pilate did the deed. The evil was strong, and it went with Jesus to the cross and then into the tomb. But God is stronger still, and Jesus rose from the dead, leaving the evil behind, having taken the evil away from you.

The world is what it is. But Jesus reversed how the world is, and he has started a new world. You and I are part of that new world because we have been joined to Jesus, baptized into Christ, and we cling to our king. Jesus is our king who takes the evil and works it for good, even when no one else can figure out what’s going on.

Friends, our world is complicated. There’s a lot of pain and confusion and suffering. But there are two things we can say about this. The first is this: “I don’t really understand how all this is fitting together, but I am here with you, Lord, as we go through it together.” The other thing we can say is this: Our God knows how to take evil and use it for good. The proof, simply put, is Jesus. God worked good from evil for us and all people through Jesus Christ our king. And God still does that today.

Published in: on March 30, 2022 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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