Risk and Revelation (Good Friday Sermon)

“Risk and Revelation”

Luke 23:1-5, 13-25

Allen Huff

Preached at Bethel Christian Church

Jonesborough, TN

Maundy Thursday, 2023

The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.”

Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.”

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no legal basis for action against this man.”

But they objected strenuously, saying, “He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.”

13 Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. 14 He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him.15 Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. 16 Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.” 

18 But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (19 Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)

20 Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.

21 They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.”

23 But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. 24 Pilate issued his decision to grant their request. 25 He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown into prison because of a riot and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will. (CEB)

         In Luke’s gospel, Pilate says it three times: I find no reason to execute this man.

         Now, that’s remarkable. Not only can Pilate find no threat in Jesus, but according to all gospel accounts, he actually makes the effort to look.

         Not a great deal is known about Pontius Pilate, except that during his ten-year term as procurator of Judea, he developed a reputation for taking pathological delight in persecuting and executing as many Jews as possible, and all in Caesar’s name. In fact, one of the things we do know about Pilate is that he so flagrantly bullied and baited the Jews, that in the year 36 or 37, Caesar not only fired him but exiled him.1 Who knows? Maybe even Caesar or one of his advisors realized that trying to maintain law and order through bigoted violence would eventually destroy their society.

         Still, by the time of Jesus’ trial, Pilate has brutally executed countless would-be messiahs, and most of them without benefit of trial. So, it would be most uncharacteristic of him to argue on behalf of yet another Jew claiming to be, or accused of being, the long-awaited Messiah.

         Why, then, why do all four canonical gospels portray Pilate as somewhat vexed over what to do with Jesus? The most familiar answers to that question are summed up in Jesus’ comment to Pilate in John 19: “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above.” (John 19:11a)

         Rome has nothing on God, says Jesus. Your empire may intimidate, torture, and kill. You may cause irreparable damage to bodies and minds. And you may flatter yourselves saying, ‘See how quickly the Jews abandon their God and put their faith in sword and spear like the rest of us.’

         But, says Jesus, the future does not belong to power and wealth. It belongs to love.

         I hear both Jesus and the gospel writers saying that on Friday, God is at work revealing to all with eyes to see and ears to hear that human violence cannot redeem, nor can it, ultimately, hinder love. God is not some human construct who can become so overwhelmed with anger and resentment as to lose the will and power to be God—that is, to be love.

         The entire life and witness of Jesus reveals that God cannot be rendered so impotent as to be forced to resort to violent revenge as a means of grace. Friday, then, is not about trying to satisfy, with innocent blood, some tender-egoed deity. It’s about the Creator fully entering humanity’s inhumanity in vulnerable, self-emptying love.

         Friday is about God breaking into our brokenness to reveal the futility of our addiction to the brutal ways and means on which principalities and powers depend.

         Friday is Good because it reveals to us that God transcends our fear.

         Friday is Good because it reveals to us that nothing at all can separate us from the love not just of God, but from the love that is God.

         Holy Week is a time to confess that we are much quicker to trust power and wealth than God. We’re also quick to credit God with our idolatry of those things. Sure, God desires our well-being, but in our sin, we choose to mistake all of our creation-diminishing and neighbor-starving excesses for holy blessing. And we’re just as quick to condemn and expel anyone who threatens our comfortable certainties with words of transforming truth.

         That’s why Jesus utters his memorable lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Matthew 23:37a)

         For two thousand years, many who have called themselves followers of Jesus have turned the gospel accounts of Friday into sanction for persecuting the Jews. But it seems to me that these stories are reminding us that, most often, it is from within the family of faith that the deepest faithlessness arises.

         Think of the ways that Christians have been silent or even complicit in the face of sins such as human slavery, systemic racism, genocide, war, poverty, and the exploitation of the earth.

         Holy Week reminds us that there is no them to blame or condemn.         Holy Week reminds us that it is our own rabid shouts of judgment that send Jesus to the cross.

         Most importantly, Holy Week reminds us that God does not need violence or call for innocent blood. All gods who must kill in order to have their capacity to love restored are nothing more than gods—‚small-g gods, all-too-human idols.

         Remember the words of Isaiah: “Idol-makers are all as nothing, their playthings do no good.” (Isaiah 44:9a,)

         No, I don’t believe that we can pin Friday’s cruelty on an angry God. We make that demand. So, it’s in truly radical grace that Jesus embodies a life of the kind of peace-making love that humankind, which craves militant messiahs, cannot abide. Jesus goes willingly into Friday. He bears through and bears up to reveal to us, to reveal for us, that humanity’s blind craving for violence will never satisfy the Creator or redeem the Creation.

         In Jesus, the Christ, God takes the horrific risk of the cross to expose the vanity of our self-worshiping, neighbor-crushing, and creation-abusing sin.

         And then, to deliver us from all of that, God follows the slow-burn agony of Friday with the radiant, glorifying, and gracious revelation of Sunday.

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontius_Pilate and http://www.biography.com/people/pontius-pilate-9440686#awesm=~oBLiedyoqLi1fo

2 thoughts on “Risk and Revelation (Good Friday Sermon)

  1. Allen, your sermon was powerful. Reading it through again helped me to better understand the Passion of Christ- and for the first time in many years I did not weep. Instead I was awed by God’s love. Your spiritual leadership helped. Grateful.


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