Thursday, April 2, 2015

Life or Death? Blessings or Curses?


It is exhausting to have to make decisions, even more so to feel that all the decisions you have made have been the wrong ones. That was the spot Pontius Pilate was in.  He argued with the people who seemed zealous for Jesus' blood.  He declared Him innocent several times, to no avail.  He tried to pass the buck to Herod, but Herod sent Jesus back to him.  He had his soldiers mock and scourge Jesus to try to appeal to their sympathy.  There was no sympathy.  He knew Jesus was innocent, but after all the wrong choices he had made that day, he knew how much persisting would cost him.  On his right hand, Pilate wore a ring.  On that ring, written in Latin were the words, amicus caesaris, "a friend of the emperor."  The crowds had alluded to it when they said, "If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend."  He had to find a way to make it their choice.  Then he got a splendid idea.  Offer them the customary Passover amnesty.  Let them choose which prisoner should benefit.  On the one side was Jesus, an innocent soul at worst.  He is exhausted, beaten, and crowned with thorns, a sight that would move most hearts to pity. On the other side is a murderer, a scoundrel, a terrorist named Barabbas.  No one wanted him back on the streets.  So Pilate asked the crowd the question of our text: Which one do you want?

But the priests had done their work.  The crowd answers what it had been told to answer, Release to us Barabbas.  So this is what had become of all of Pilate's waffling and beating around the bush.  He releases the worthless terrorist, and gives sentence that Jesus should be crucified.  That was another wrong choice, even if God did use it for good.  God used the religious zeal of the priests, the herd mentality of the mob, and the shakiness of Pilate to accomplish the main event of the Gospel.  The people made an evil choice, Pilate gave it the sanction of the state, and God accomplished His will in spite of them all.

Pilate's wrong choice forced Jesus outside of the city, along the way known as the "Sorrowful Road."  God loved sinful mankind so much that He permitted this terrible injustice to take place.  So today we hear of this, and find ourselves in a place like Pilate's.  Will we be like Pilate - meaning well but distracted by the world, drawn to the glamour of the rich and famous, spending our time and resources in pursuit of worldly pleasures?  That's too bad, because Mammon can offer us nothing that lasts.  This world is on its way to a maxi-Hiroshima.  The choices that we make every day leave marks on our souls.  If every choice is a constant hardening, a flight from grace, an assertion of self, one day the soul will be as hard as a nut, too hard even for God's grace to crack.  Once that maxi-Hiroshima arrives it will be too late to repent.  Do we, like Pilate, distract ourselves, pass the buck, let events push Jesus out of our lives? Face that issue now, because no one knows whether there will be a tomorrow.

Would we rather stand in the place of the crowd?  They may have been sincere in their conviction that Jesus was a blasphemer, but their sincerity was a fault because their opinion was wrong.  No matter how firmly you hold your opinions, please measure them against the Word of God, and do that while there is still time.  If your sincere convictions contradict divine revelation, give them up in obedience to God.  He doesn't force anyone to believe, but those who should have known better, who disobey out of defiance, have the greater sin.

We have looked at two alternatives, waffling and rejection.  There is a third, and this is faith. No human decision can bring faith about.  Our fallen minds and wills are incapable of accepting the Gospel.  The Law is written on our hearts; the Gospel is not.  We will always be drawn to false religions unless God overcomes our wayward hearts.  He loves us enough to do that.  The Holy Spirit operates through Baptismal Regeneration, and through the call of the Gospel, enlightening our souls with the wisdom of salvation.  We must not separate the Spirit from the Word, or the Blessed Sacraments, which are forms of the Word.  These make us believers, and by God's great irony, we can say and mean what the crowds said that day to assume responsibility for the crucifixion, His blood be on us and our children.  Indeed, no one can be saved unless Jesus' blood is on him.  Although such a confession can gain us grief from our friends and neighbors, scorn from the world, and weariness from the flesh, we confess that Jesus loved us enough to cover us with His blood.

How will we respond?  Not like Pilate, trying to pass the buck.  Not like the priests or the crowd that rejected Him.  Rather, we will be moved by the grace of God, moved to repent of our sins that angered God, to trust that the sacrifice of Jesus takes away our sins, and resolve to reflect that love by serving Christ in His members, ministering to the needy in their various afflictions.  That is hard.  Every day we are tempted to throw Jesus out and release the Barabbas that is inside of us.  Then we must remember the Passion of the Incarnate Word, and be moved by the Holy Spirit to love Him and serve Him.  Which one do you want?  Do you want to be the terrorist, released again into the city to cause ever more havoc?  Or do you want the One who gives forgiveness, life, and salvation, and asks you to carry the cross?  AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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