April 10, 2019- The Great Exchange: Give Us Barabbas, the Son of His Father, for the Son of God-Mark 15:1-15

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And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things.  And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he (Pilate) used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.  Mark 15:1-15 (ESV)

Pontius Pilate certainly was not a Jew, but he did have to be somewhat aware of the meaning behind the Passover celebration. He had to see the danger of a conquered people celebrating their past freedom. The number of people coming into Jerusalem for Passover created a logistical nightmare and an opportunity for violence and riots to break out.  His assignment was to enforce the pax Romana in his jurisdiction by whatever means were expedient.   If freeing a known murderer would mollify the crowds, so be it.  If it took crucified bodies still on their crosses lining the roads to keep the peace and to remind the vanquished who is in charge, so be that too.

The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, so they had no problem with sending Jesus to Pilate to do their dirty work. The Romans weren’t exactly known for their benevolence.  If anything Pilate was a pragmatist- using whatever methods necessary to get the desired results.

The name Barabbas means “son of the father.”  And this Barabbas was a guilty man, a murderer who had earned the earthly punishment of death.  Yet the crowd (in which all of fallen humanity is represented) begs for the vindication of Barabbas, who was very clearly guilty as sin. We are all children of fallen man, offspring of the first father, Adam.  The cries to free Barabbas were cries for our own vindication as we are all sons of Adam.

Our sins put Jesus on the Cross- not because He was forced to take our punishment, but because He chose to. Out of His amazing love and mercy for fallen humanity, He took on the sins of the world, even as the crowd demanded, “Crucify Him!”

Free Barabbas, who is truly a son of his father, Adam. Crucify Jesus, the sinless, eternal Son of God. The irony of the Great Exchange is made crystal clear here.

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who was qualified to take on the redemption of humanity. While Barabbas- and every other human being except Jesus- deserved eternal death and punishment, only Jesus’ death would suffice to answer the wrath of God and break the curse of Adam.

…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)

January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

April 30, 2018 God’s Love- Overcoming the World: 1 John 5:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 12:1-2

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Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (ESV)

God’s commandments aren’t burdensome? Really? Who among us can claim to have kept God’s commandments for any length of time?

If we try to go through life keeping score and attempting to will ourselves “good” by adhering to a harsh legalistic interpretation of God’s law, we are setting ourselves up to fail. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Faith itself is a gift of God. There is nothing to brag about unless one is bragging about Jesus.

The things we do, or the length to which we succeed in obeying God, is in response to our faith, which is in and of itself a gift. The glory all belongs to God, because we are not capable of love or goodness apart from Him.  John Calvin (a theologian who was a part of the Reformation around the same time as Martin Luther) proposed the total depravity of man, which is to say that apart from God humanity is 100% corrupt, self serving and downright evil. Roman Catholics refer to this concept in a similar way, calling this condition original sin, which is the concept that we humans all inherit the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute for all the sins of humanity for all time, because the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Even though we trust Jesus for our salvation because He became our substitute, as long as we live in these bodies on this earth, we live the paradox of being saints and sinners at the same time.  God in us prompts us to respond to His love, but the old Adam has to be drowned (as we remember our Baptism and confess our sins) on a daily basis.

If we try to love and do good deeds as if those are items on a checklist, we will fail horribly. Yet if we focus on loving God, the fruits of repentance will follow.  A wise Pastor once taught that if a person truly loves God, he or she can do whatever he or she wants, because his or her desires will be God’s desires.  As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy (meaning God’s) kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The apostle Paul also teaches us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

It won’t necessarily become easy to love the unlovable.  Diapers will still stink.  Drudgery will still cause our bodies and minds to be weary.  But as we grow in our faith, and we trust that Jesus gives us our daily bread, we experience joy beyond the drudgery, and we know love in serving others, which is love we share in serving God.   We have the hope of the kingdom to come where sorrow and pain and tears will be no more. (Revelation 21:4)

It has been said that nothing easy is worth doing. Yet it is God behind the action, God granting us the faith and the resolve to love the unlovable, and to endure hardship for the sake of another.  We cannot love or serve others apart from God’s love.

This world can be painful, difficult and hard to endure. But in Jesus we have hope.  Because He loved us first, we are free to love others and find joy in that service.

December 8, 2017 – Credibility- Jesus’ Sheep Know His Voice- Luke 2:4-5, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 22:22, John 10:27

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Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. Luke 2:4-5 (NRSV)

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7 (NRSV)

I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. Isaiah 22:22 (NRSV)

Luke takes a great deal of care in discussing the genealogy of Jesus, primarily because he was speaking to fellow Jews. These were people who knew that God’s Messiah would be a descendent of King David.

Credibility is a big thing these days. Everyone wants the genuine article, which is why Luke goes into such depth.  It was important to Jews to know that Jesus was of David’s line to believe that He is truly who He said He is.  Even today, most Jews do not believe that Jesus is God’s chosen One in spite of Luke’s genealogy.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see and know the credibility of Jesus. If we look to the credibility of other Jesus followers, we aren’t always going to see Him reflected in those people’s behaviors and actions. Yet we will see Him when we look for Him.

(Jesus said:) My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NRSV)

Are we listening for Jesus’ voice?