Sunday, March 29, 2015

One man must die for the people


Once as two friends were walking through the park on a Sunday afternoon, a brass ensemble in the bandstand was playing one of Sousa's marches.  One of the friends was really enjoying it.  He said to his friend, "What music!  Doesn't it make you patriotic just to hear it?"  "Sorry," answered the other, "I can't hear you over the racket that band is making." Both men heard the same music, but each received it in a different way.  So it is with the Gospel.  There are many who appreciate it, while others find it tiresome, or reject it out of hand.

Jesus received a mixed reaction like that.  News travels fast in the Middle East.  Before sunset the authorities in Jerusalem had heard about Lazarus, who had been dead and buried for three days until Jesus called him forth.  To Mary and Martha it was wonderful news.   The religious leaders saw it very differently.  They were frightened.  Their people were very unhappy, they chafed under Roman rule, they were getting edgy.  It was a bad time of year for that.  Jerusalem was filling with pilgrims.  If Jesus came now, it could very well start a rebellion.  Rome had a way of crushing rebellions with an iron heel, and with very little concern over collateral damage.  These leaders knew that if a rebellion occurred on their watch, Rome would replace them with leaders they thought they could control.

Caiaphas remained calm.  He had no intentions of loosing his job.  He was the High Priest, so he could call the shots. Neither had he any doubts as to what needed to be done.  The only response was to kill the Galilean Prophet, exterminate the nuisance.  That was what he meant as he spoke the famous quotation in our text:  one man must die for the people.   He had no idea of the deeper level we see, the level on which his statement would remain eternally true.  The religious leaders knew well enough what Caiaphas meant.  It was a cold, calculating statement of political expediency.  The elders of Judea were not quick to take life.  They agreed only because the alternative was even less attractive, that the situation would get out of control.  That they could not afford.

The Evangelist John will not let us leave it at that.  He says something very unusual here, that Caiaphas did not say this on his own.  What then, was it a demon?  No, John does not allow that interpretation.   Instead he tells us that Caiaphas was prophesying.   He does not say, "false prophesying," but just plain "prophesying."  Even though his words were motivated by sinful thoughts, they came to his mouth by the Holy Spirit.  By God's special grace, this motion for murder was turned into a description of the Atonement.  One man would die for the people indeed, but not a mere man, no, the Messiah Himself, the Son of Man.  His death would be a sacrifice for sins.   Not only would it preserve temporary civil peace, it would also make peace with God for everyone in the world.   He died for Lazarus, to be sure, and historically it was Lazarus' resurrection that fixed the idea in Caiaphas' mind that Jesus had to go, but He died for us as well.  His call still sounds: brother, come forth … sister, come forth.   That's the Gospel call.  Jesus reaches into our spiritual death by His Gospel and calls us to be spiritually resurrected.  He does not wait until we're in our graves -- that would be too late.  The time for repentance is during our earthly lives.  Some people in the Gospels were exceptions to this so that we might see the power of God.  He had to show us that Jesus was Jehovah Incarnate.  Those miracles were prophesied of old, and written down in the Scriptures so that people could identify Messiah when He came.  Now He has come, and the risen Lord calls us to come forth, come forth from the love of sin, come forth from serving the devil, the world, and our flesh.   Our heavenly Bridegroom is calling His bride, asking for our promise to love, honor, and obey.  He offers us forgiveness because He has made full atonement.  He offers us peace because the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.

Why should this be so difficult?  Why is the dead-end street of sin so much more attractive than the straight path to eternal life?  Why doesn't the Gospel seem like good news?  Why is it that when God plays a march we all hear noise?  You know why.   As far as the flesh is concerned, Jesus is just an Intruder who wants to interfere with our little set-up.  So each of us in his own heart becomes a Caiaphas.  We relish the tomb, find comfort in the darkness, and wish the Morning Star would go away.  We each like to think, I am the captain of my soul; the master of my fate.  So each of us has his own little Jerusalem inside of his soul, in which he thinks he is the high priest.  To this God says, You fool!  If Jesus is not the Captain on your soul, then Satan is.  If Jesus is not your High Priest, then you bow before the altar of demons.  If Jesus is not your Liberator, then you are a slave.

The Gospel is a message of love, whether we think it is music or noise.  It isn't God's fault if some people abuse it, reject it, or misapply it.  The Gospel assures us that the Son of God was willing to accept death for Himself in order to call us forth from our self-made tombs. He is our Substitute, which St. John presents so dramatically as He quotes the crucified Lord saying, "It is finished."  The kingdom of sin is over.  God is awakening us, calling us, come be conformed to the image of His Son, come and be holy as He is holy.

The way we respond is by using our reason, our judgment, our gift of language.  The Word tells us that Jesus died for all, so I reason that He died for me. I hear that He is the Savior of the world, so I reason He is my Savior.  Emotions add nothing, although they might lubricate the reason, they add nothing to the faith.  God can create faith in the pre-verbal and non-verbal through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Again, the emotions add nothing to it.  On the other hand, like the man who didn't care for the band, one could call it all a lot of nonsense. That is the inner sinner, rolling back the stone across the entrance to his heart, settling down to enjoy the pitch blackness, and loudly proclaiming to all, It's my free choice! What a delusion!   It's a choice all right, but not free.  All darkness can give you is ignorance of your own peril.  Death has had its day.  Jesus has overcome it, so leave it behind.   The Lord of life has an easy yoke and a light burden.  Jesus will have His day now, and by faith He will have it with you.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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