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TITLE: The Ultimate Removal from Community
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: The irony of the cross is that the execution that was intended to remove Jesus from religious community instead established a new religious community, the church, which is alive and well in the world today.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:14 - 23:56
VERSES 14-23: THEN HE TOOK A CUP
14When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" 23Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.
"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (v. 15). The Synoptics agree that this is a Passover observance (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-14; Luke 22:7, 15). The Gospel of John places the supper a day earlier (see John 18:28; 19:31).
The Passover celebrated the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their formation as the people of God. This Passover with Jesus' disciples begins their deliverance from sin and the formation of the church as the new people of God.
"for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (v. 16). Some translations say "I will not eat it again," but again is not found in the best manuscripts. There is some question about whether Jesus ate and drank at this Passover. Luke does not tell us. Jesus is looking forward to the messianic banquet in the kingdom of God.
"Then he took a cup" (v. 17). Note that he starts with the cup rather than the bread. Note further that there are two cups (vv. 17, 20). Four cups are used in the traditional Passover observance, and the relationship of the two cups to the four cups is uncertain. "Take this and divide it among yourselves" (v. 17). The divided cup will unite Christ's disciples.
"Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them" (v. 19a). These are the same four actions that Jesus took at the feeding of the five thousand (9:16) and the Emmaus meal (24:30), with the exception that he blesses the bread in those two cases and gives thanks here.
"This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (v. 19b). The present imperative verb implies continuing action, such as "Keep doing this" or "Do this regularly." The Passover reminds Israel of God's intervention in its behalf (Exod 12:14), and this supper will remind Jesus' disciples of his intervention in their behalf.
"And he did the same with the cup after supper saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood' " (v. 20). The other Synoptics say, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24). Luke's language places the emphasis on covenant rather than blood, and is like 1 Cor 11:25 instead of the other Synoptics. Moses ratified the old covenant by pouring sacrificial blood on the altar and the people (Exod 24:6-8). Jesus ratifies the new covenant by pouring out his own blood. At the first Passover, the people were saved by the blood of a lamb; at this Passover, we are saved by the blood of the Lamb.
"But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed" (vv. 21-22). Luke gives a spare account of the betrayal and does not mention the betrayer's name. Jesus makes it clear that he is following God's plan, but that does not relieve the betrayer of responsibility for his actions.
"Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this" (v. 23). In the other Synoptics, the disciples look to their own hearts, asking, "Surely not I?" (Matt 26:22; Mark 14:19). Here they ask about each other.
VERSES 24-38: A DISPUTE ALSO AROSE
24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
28"You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
31"Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." 33And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" 34Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."
35He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." 36He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." 38They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough."
"A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest" (v. 24). Earlier, after Jesus had told the disciples of his coming death, the disciples responded by arguing about which of them was greatest. Jesus set a child in their midst, and said, "the least among all of you is the greatest" (9:46-48). The disciples seem not to have learned much from that earlier encounter.
Both Judas and Peter will betray Jesus. This argument among the disciples is another betrayal. Jesus has called them to a life of selfless servanthood, and they have continued in a life of personal ambition. However, we must also admit the possibility that, disturbed by Jesus' talk of death, they are simply shifting the conversation to a less weighty subject.
"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors" (v. 25). Power and dominance are Gentile games; there is no room for such games in the kingdom of God. Wealthy people become known as "benefactors" by giving large charitable donations, but their purpose may be to enhance their own reputation rather than to help others. If so, that is just another way to play the power and dominance game. The disciples, living under the Roman occupation, have experienced the oppression of a dominated people and understand the dark side of power and dominance.
"But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (vv. 26-27). Jesus has revealed the kingdom of God, an upside-down world in which the first are last and the last are first (13:30). He has only recently pointed out a widow who gave two small coins at the temple treasury, saying, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them" (21:3). He has just finished serving them at table, a chore usually relegated to a servant or a woman. What more could he do to help them to understand the selfless servanthood to which he is calling them? He can do one more thing. He can die on a cross.
"You are those who have stood by me in my trials" (v. 28). This is the disciples' true claim to greatness. "and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (vv. 29-30). We have a deep need for inclusion. How could Jesus demonstrate more clearly the key role that he has for the disciples than to include them at his table and to seat them on judgment thrones? "The 'twelve tribes of Israel' is not to be understood in the restricted sense of empirical, ethnic Israel but rather with reference to the Israel that is reconstituted by the new covenant ratified in the blood of Jesus, that is, the church" (Nickle, 236).
"Simon, Simon, listen!" (v. 31a). Jesus has called this man Peter ever since he called him to discipleship, but here he calls him by his old name, Simon. The repetition reminds us of Jesus later call, "Saul, Saul" (Acts 9:4). It has a winsome sound.
"Satan has demanded to sift all of you (plural) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular) that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (vv. 31b-32). Satan's demand to sift the disciples is reminiscent of his demand to test Job (Job 1-2). Satan demands to test you (plural), but Jesus prays for you (singular) -- for Peter. Jesus needs Peter to assume a leadership role that will strengthen the rest of the disciples. It would appear that Jesus' prayer is not answered, because Peter will fail, as Jesus himself acknowledges in verse 34. However, Peter's failure will be temporary, after which he will return to faith and strengthen his brothers. In the book of Acts, Peter becomes as strong as he now imagines himself to be. "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" (v. 33), he claims. After the resurrection, he will do those things without wavering or flinching.
"When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" (v. 35). On two occasions, Jesus sent the disciples on missions with instructions to carry no provisions, and they lacked for nothing. The first time, he sent the Twelve (9:1-6). The second time, he sent the seventy (10:1-12).
"But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one" (v. 36). The days ahead will be quite different from those earlier days when the disciples could count on hospitality. Now they must equip themselves thoroughly, because the world will reject them just as it will reject their Master. The comment about the sword is hyperbole, emphasizing the danger that they will face. They will face "the kind of night, says Jesus, on which one will sell one's own clothes to buy a sword" (Craddock, Interpretation, 260).
"For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled" (v. 37). The quotation is from Isaiah 53:12. Jesus will soon be charged with lawlessness and will be crucified between two lawless men.
They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough" (v. 38). The disciples have not understood the symbolic nature of Jesus' language about a sword, and they have failed to hear his call to servanthood. Jesus' reply is exasperated and dismissive. Given the shortness of time, he cannot teach them what they have thus far refused to learn. Their weapons will soon number them among the lawless as one of the disciples wields his sword against a slave of the high priest (22:50).
VERSES 39-46: HE WENT TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
39He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40When he reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." 43Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. 45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial."
"He came and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him" (v. 39). Luke includes all the disciples in this scene, unlike Matthew (26:37) and Mark (14:33), who include only Peter, James, and John. Luke previously used this phrase, "as was his custom," to describe Jesus' regular worship in the synagogue (4:16). In his life, Jesus combines the power of public worship (the synagogue) with private worship (prayer on the Mount of Olives), an excellent model for our own lives.
"Pray that you may not come into the time of trial" (v. 40). Jesus knows that Satan has demanded the opportunity to "sift" the disciples, and this is their opportunity to pray for help.
"Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed" (v. 41). The usual posture for prayer is standing (18:10-14). Perhaps by kneeling, Jesus is demonstrating his humility in the presence of God or his submission to God's will.
"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done" (v. 42). This beautiful prayer encapsulates in one sentence both Jesus' desire not to suffer and his submission to the Father. It is an important prayer for us to emulate. God sometimes responds to prayer by granting our petition as requested. In other cases, God permits a different outcome than requested, but transforms that outcome to something desirable. God often transforms our Good Fridays into Easters -- but first allows us to suffer the Good Fridays. When we can honestly pray, Thy will be done, we open the door to the full exercise of God's power and providence in our lives.
"Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood" (vv. 43-44). Some of the earliest manuscripts omit these verses. Luke omits the angel at Jesus' temptation (4:1-13; see also Matt 4:11; Mark 1:13), but adds it here.
Luke accommodates his Hellenistic readers, who would interpret anguish (in the sense of inner struggle) as weakness. "The word translated as Jesus' 'anguish,' like the image of the sweat pouring off his body, comes from the realm of athletics. Both point not to hesitancy or uncertainty, but to the intensely focused energy of an athlete just as a contest is about to begin. The prayer finds Jesus focused and ready for the struggle at hand" (Ringe, 266). Luke also "removes from (Jesus) the need for companionship and the terrible fear and grief emphasized by Mark, ...because these are understood by him (and his Hellenistic readers) to be signs of vice rather than virtue" (Johnson, 354). Jesus' experience on the Mount of Olives is like that of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel (Gen 32:24-32).
If Jesus is in anguish, so are his disciples. "When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, 'Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial" (vv. 45-46). Matthew (26:40-45) and Mark (14:37-41) have Jesus finding the disciples asleep three times, but Luke tells of only once. Luke also softens the disciples' failure by adding the phrase, "because of grief." Overwhelmed by circumstances that they can neither control nor understand, they fall asleep.
Every parent knows the frustration that lies behind Jesus' words to the disciples. He knows how critical is the hour, told the disciples to prepare, and they failed. Now it is too late. He tells them again to pray, but is interrupted by the arrival of the crowd.
VERSES 47-53: JUDAS APPROACHED JESUS TO KISS HIM
47While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" 49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!"
"While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, 'Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?' " (vv. 48-48). This betrayal is made even more treacherous by Judas' gesture of friendship.
"When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, 'Lord should we strike with the sword?' Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, 'No more of this!' And he touched his ear and healed him" (vv. 49-51). First the disciples ask for guidance, and then one of them strikes with one of the two swords mentioned earlier (v. 38). It is easy, from our Monday-morning perspective, to criticize the disciples. In a tight spot, confused and afraid, they act like confused, fearful people act. We have to admire their loyalty to Jesus, whom they are trying to defend. Will we do better in the worst of life's crises? Only if we remember that God is in charge.
Jesus, of course, knows that God is in charge, and keeps his head amidst the confusion. He stops the violence and repairs the damage. Even now, Jesus is a healer. We might wonder how the slave feels. A moment ago, he was Jesus' enemy. Now Jesus heals him. Is he grateful? Is he surprised that Jesus would help his enemy? Is he convinced by this demonstration of Jesus' healing power? What about the disciples? If Jesus had not healed the slave, the authorities would likely have numbered them among the lawless and arrested them. Jesus' attention to the slave's injury allows the authorities to focus their full attention on him.
"Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, 'Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me." (vv. 52-53a). Jesus draws attention to the fact that they did not act publicly because "they were afraid of the people," (22:2) who would likely come to Jesus defense. "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!' " (v. 53b). Luke told us that, after the temptation, the devil "departed from (Jesus) until an opportune time" (4:13). The opportune time has come. Not only is the night dark, but it seems that the powers of darkness are in control.
VERSES 54-62: WOMAN, I DO NOT KNOW HIM
54Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." 57But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" 59Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." 60But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." 62And he went out and wept bitterly.
"Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance" (v. 54). Once again, it is easy to criticize Peter for following from a distance, but we must note that he is the only disciple who follows at all.
"When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, 'This man also was with him.' But he denied it, saying, 'Woman, I do not know him.' A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, 'You also are one of them.' But Peter said, 'Man, I am not!' Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, 'Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.' But Peter said, 'Man, I do not know what you are talking about' At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, 'Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.' And he went out and wept bitterly" (vv. 54-62).
Peter betrayed Jesus as surely as had Judas, although he lacked Judas' premeditation and evil intent. It is easy to criticize Peter for his triple betrayal, but we must first examine ourselves to see how open we are about our faith when a friendship or a job is at stake. We think that we could go to our death without denying Jesus, but do we stand silently when expressing our faith would make us unpopular?
Peter's redemption begins immediately as: (1) The cock crows and (2) Jesus turns and looks at Peter. Peter remembers that Jesus predicted this betrayal, and he weeps. Jesus' look has cut him to the heart, but that look is the surgeon's knife that restores health. Jesus prayed that Peter would turn back and strengthen his brothers (22:32), and this moment begins that turning. Peter is fully repentant, and will never again abandon Jesus in the face of danger.
VERSES 63-71: YOU SAY THAT I AM
63Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" 65They kept heaping many other insults on him.
66When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; 68and if I question you, you will not answer. 69But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." 70All of them asked, "Are you, then, the Son of God?" He said to them, "You say that I am." 71Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!"
"Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" (v. 64). The irony is that Peter's betrayal has just proven Jesus' prophetic ability.
"If you are the Messiah, tell us.... Are you, then, the Son of God?" (vv. 64, 70a). These are the right questions asked for the wrong reasons. Whether Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God is central to his identity, his mission, and his ministry. Their purpose in asking these questions, however, is to obtain evidence against Jesus. He refuses to play their game, and tells them directly that they are not open to belief. The rest of his answer alludes to Dan 7:13 and Psalm 110:1.
" He said to them, 'You say that I am' " (v. 70b). If he answered yes, Jesus would be guilty of blasphemy, chargeable under Jewish but not Roman law. Again, Jesus does not answer directly, but turns the question on his questioners. "The reader schooled in the LXX would be delighted to find the irony of the chief priest inadvertently terming Jesus ego eimi (the 'I am' of the revelation from the bush to Moses in Exodus 3:14, ego eimi ho on)" (Johnson, 360). Ego eimi is God's name.
"Then they said, 'What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!" (v. 71). Heard what? Jesus has not confirmed the claim to be the Messiah or the Son of God, but he has not denied it either. They have come to convict him, so that is what they do.
VERSES 1-12: THEN THE ASSEMBLY BROUGHT JESUS TO PILATE
23:1Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." 3Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." 5But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place."
6When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
"Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, 'We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.' " (vv. 1-2).
The Jewish leadership has no authority to impose capital punishment, so they bring Jesus to Pilate, who has the authority. Since Jesus is not a Roman citizen, he has few rights. Pilate's primary concerns are (1) maintenance of Roman rule (2) maintenance of peace and (3) punishment of criminal behavior. He would consider blasphemy or other religious infractions to be an internal problem for the Jews, and would not be inclined to take responsibility for resolving such problems. Therefore the Jewish leadership needs to couch their charges in accord with issues that Pilate would take seriously -- sedition, taxes, and wrongfully assumption of authority. Luke has prepared us for the tax issue. The Jewish leadership tried to trap Jesus by asking him about payment of taxes to the Romans, and Jesus answered, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's" (20:25).
"Then Pilate asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' He answered, 'You say so.' Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, 'I find no basis for an accusation against this man.' But they were insistent and said, 'He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place" (vv. 3-5).
This is surely an incomplete account. Pilate does not ask about taxes. He does not bring in witnesses. He accepts too easily Jesus' answer to the question of kingship as a denial. There is surely more to the story than is being reported. He pronounces Jesus not guilty, the first of three times that he will do so (vv. 4, 14, 22). The chief priests and crowd protest that Jesus stirs up the people, and mention that Jesus is from Galilee.
"When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at the time" (vv. 6-7).
The mention of Galilee seems intended to show the geographic scope of Jesus' activity, but it may also be intended to brand Jesus as a potential insurrectionist. The mention of Galilee has the unintended effect of giving Pilate an "out." Galilee is Herod's territory. By sending Jesus to Herod, Pilate: (1) gets rid of the problem and (2) honors Herod by recognizing his authority.
Herod is glad to see Jesus, because he wants to see him work a miraculous sign. Christians have interpreted Jesus' silence in light of Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth" (see also Acts 8:32-35). Herod is offended by Jesus' refusal to answer, however, and joins his soldiers in mocking Jesus. The note in v. 12 that Herod and Pilate become friends this day may be the result of Pilate referring the case to Herod and thereby acknowledging Herod's authority.
VERSES 13-25: I HAVE NOT FOUND THIS MAN GUILTY
13Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him." 17
18Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" 19(This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" 22A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." 23But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Luke does not explain why the people, who had always supported Jesus, now turn against him. Perhaps the Jewish leadership has assembled a compliant group of people. The irony is that Jesus is accused of perverting the people, but it is the religious leaders who do so.
Herod dismisses Jesus, and Pilate treats this as an acquittal. He proclaims Jesus innocent; the second of three times that he will do so (vv. 4, 22). He proposes to flog Jesus, which is not justified if Jesus is innocent. Pilate is offering a half-loaf in the hope of satisfying the people without a crucifixion.
The best manuscripts omit v. 17.
"Then they all shouted out together, 'Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!' " (v. 18). Barabbas' name is interesting. Bar means son, and Abba means Father, so his name literally translated to "son of the father." The people have two choices: (1) a true Son of the Father and (2) a false son of the father. They choose the false one, an insurrectionist (v. 19), thus rejecting peace and choosing violence. By the time that this Gospel was written, Jerusalem lay in ruins because the people had continued to support violent men.
"But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted" (v. 23). Pilate has the right convictions but not the right courage. He is vulnerable. On two occasions he forced unpopular decisions on the people, and that led to civil disorder. Another such incident could cost him his job. He chooses the easy path.
VERSES 26-31: THEY SEIZED A MAN, SIMON OF CYRENE
26As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
"As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus" (v. 26). A Roman soldier can impress the citizen of an occupied country into service. Jesus is too weak from the flogging to carry his own cross, so a soldier taps Simon to carry it for him. Mark 15:21 describes Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus, who must be familiar to his readers. In Romans 16:13, Paul mentions Rufus, who may or may not be Simon's son.
"A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him" (v. 27). These women are probably ritual mourners, perhaps hoping to gain a coin for their efforts. Jesus tells them to mourn for themselves, warning that, if he faces terrible times now, they will face even more terrible times later. People in that culture prize children, but the days ahead will be so terrible that those without children will be considered fortunate, perhaps because they would not have to see their children suffer. To cry to the mountain, "Fall on us," is to wish for death. If the innocent (green wood) can suffer, what will happen to the guilty (dry wood) (see Ezek 20:47). Some years hence, Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans and most of its inhabitants killed. Jesus invites these women to mourn for Jerusalem.
VERSES 32-43: TWO THIEVES
32Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (v. 34). Jesus earlier taught the disciples to pray for their enemies (6:27, 35), and now practices what he preached. The Roman soldiers are truly ignorant of what they were doing, so the prayer must include them. However, Jesus' true enemies are the Jewish religious leaders, so we can assume that he prays for them as well. While more culpable than the soldiers, they also misunderstand who Jesus is and the serious error that they are making.
In the temptation, the devil had introduced three temptations by saying, "If you are the Son of God" (4:1-13). Now the leaders say, "let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" (v. 35). The soldiers say, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (v. 37). The criminal says, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" (v. 39).
Only Luke records Jesus' conversation with the thieves. Both ask for salvation, but the first asks in a mocking tone. The second admits his guilt and asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus grants the second thief the salvation he requested. Augustine observed, "There is one case of death bed repentance recorded, that of the penitent thief, that none should despair; and only one that none should presume."
VERSES 44-56: FATHER, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT
44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
50Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
"It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (vv. 44-45). Perhaps the darkness is a sign that the powers of darkness were being allowed to prevail for the moment. Perhaps it is a sign of God's grief for a faithful son. Perhaps it is a warning to the people of Jerusalem.
The temple curtain separates people from the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God. Only the High Priest has access to the Holy of Holies, and he only once a year. The torn curtain symbolizes our free access to God as a result of Jesus' sacrifice (see Heb 10:20; Eph 2:14-15).
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (v. 46 -- quoting from Psalm 31:5). Jesus' final words in this Gospel are very different from those in Matthew and Mark where he asks why God has forsaken him.
Luke describes the response of four people or groups to Jesus' death:
-- The centurion responds by proclaiming Jesus' innocence (v. 47).
-- The crowds beat their breasts (v. 48).
-- The women "stood at a distance, watching these things" (v. 49). The women witness Jesus' death, and will also be the first witnesses of the resurrection (23:55 -- 24:12; see also John 20:1-18).
-- Joseph, a member of the council whom Luke identifies as "a good and righteous man," comes forward to claim Jesus' body and to provide for a proper burial (vv. 50-53). This is a courageous act, given the hostility of Joseph's colleagues toward Jesus.
Luke concludes by saying, "On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (v 56). The Sabbath, properly observed, is a healing time. Observing the Sabbath begins to move the people once again from darkness toward the light.
There is nothing simple or haphazard about an execution. No detail is left to chance. For example, some years back, one state released an explanation of its plans to build a new execution facility. In this facility, everyone involved in the execution is to be isolated from everyone else. The witness room is to be done in light and cheerful colors. The family lounge is designed to resemble a living room. There is to be a special lounge for the executioner.
The events leading up to an execution are also carefully prescribed. A 42-page document issued by one prison warden details what is to happen during the last five days leading up to an execution. It explains how everyone is to act toward the condemned person, what may or may not be said, how each action is to be carried out. Three days before the execution, the prisoner is moved from death row to a small building especially designed for him and what will happen to him. Before leaving death row, he is allowed one phone call. After leaving, he is to have no further contact with other inmates. All visiting, except from his attorneys, is to be non-contact and subject to maximum security, in other words, not private.
These details and many others begin to make sense when we realize that an execution is not simply the fulfillment of a judicial sentence. It is a ritual. In its own way, it is as much a ritual as what we do here in church. Like any ritual, it is a series of prescribed activities that bear a profound significance. In particular, an execution is a ritual of exclusion. As Joe Morris Doss, a campaigner against the death penalty, has observed, it is "the ultimate removal from community." [Joe Morris Doss, "Baptism and the Death Penalty," Liturgy 7:4 (Spring 1989), p. 33. This article is also the source of the information about modern capital punishment in this sermon.]
Today we remember the execution ritual that is central to our faith. The passion of Jesus was an execution. He was condemned and put to death. He did not undergo a modern execution by firing squad or lethal injection or electrocution. He was not put on death row, nor did he have lawyers scrambling for a pardon, but he was executed. He underwent the ultimate removal from community.
The reading from Luke we heard this morning gives details of this execution ritual. Some of these details apply only to Jesus. Others are standard parts of capital punishment at that time. He is mishandled by the authorities. Ridiculed by soldiers. Hated by the crowd. Forced to walk to his place of execution. Taken outside the city. Stripped of his clothes. Mocked by those surrounding him. Nailed to the beams by his wrists and feet. Lifted up on the cross. Left there to die. The ritual was carried out to its conclusion.
When a prisoner is electrocuted today, there is a doctor present who pronounces the prisoner dead. In the grim logic of capital punishment, a dead prisoner means a successful execution. Were a doctor to examine Jesus when he is taken down from the cross, then Jesus too would be pronounced dead. No heartbeat. No vital signs. A corpse becoming cold. But in this instance, a dead prisoner does not mean a successful execution.
Through his death at human hands, Jesus suffers the ultimate removal from community. The ritual of execution is accomplished. True, there are some present at the scene who do not despise him. Friends stand at a distance and watch the proceedings, numb with grief. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus recognizes him as the messiah, and a Roman army officer says aloud that he is innocent. But none of these has power to alter the course of events. They are utterly unable to prevent the execution of Jesus, his removal from community.
But still that execution is not a success. It fails to exclude him from community. Jesus returns to life. He appears to his disciples. He forgives them for their desertion, bestows peace on them, and commands them to share that peace with others. Thus Jesus the excluded, Jesus the executed, becomes the center for a new community, a new humanity.
Human attempts to remove this one man from community fail in a way that is highly ironic. What happens instead is the establishment of a new community stronger than death, a community that will prevail forever. Humanity is reborn, set free from the bondage of violence and counter-violence, and starts to experience the peace of God's reign.
We are part of this new community! True, the reign of God is not yet fully established among us. But whenever the church is true to itself, it is a sign of that reign, a portion of that new humanity. Whenever the church glimmers with light, it is the light of this reign.
As the church, we are born out of the death of Jesus, and we gather around the living Jesus. The Holy Eucharist is our ritual, which does not deal death, but gives life. It is the Holy Eucharist, which keeps reconstituting the church as Jesus active in this world, alive with his indestructible life.
Yet how sad our choices often are! Like the people in the passion story, we fall tragically short in recognizing Jesus and responding to him. Repeatedly we play the same fatal game. We desert him in the hour of crisis. We crucify him one more time. We dishonor him through the contempt we feel for ourselves. We exclude him from community in the person of his brothers and sisters.
In so many ways we put him to death, but this execution, though real, is never successful. Our sins are stronger than we are, but they are not stronger than divine life. Crucified by us, Jesus always returns, bestows peace, establishes his new community, and invites us, even us, to participate.
By our sins we break his body and shed his blood. What does he do? He makes himself food and drink! We abandon him to death. He leads us to life. We exclude him. He welcomes us.
-- Copyright for this sermon 2004, The Very Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Port Huron, Michigan and dean of the Blue Water Convocation in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan.
MORE SERMONS ON THIS TEXT: You might also find the following sermons helpful. I am considering adding links of this sort every week, and am interested to know whether you find them helpful. If you find a particular sermon especially helpful, mention that too. Send feedback to email@example.com.
"Almost!" by Melvin Newland
"I Dread Good Friday This Year," from Homilies Alive, author unknown
Greta Jensen and Richard Fairchild, "A Dramatic Reading -- The Passion Narrative According to Luke" (dramatic reading that could take the place of the sermon)
In the sermon, above, Fr. Hoffacker talks about Jesus' execution as the ultimate removal from community -- and the ironic twist that the crucifixion resulted in the establishment of a new community, the church, that continues to proclaim Christ's crucifixion even now.
That reminded me of Albert Schweitzer, who felt God's call to go to the Africa after reading an article by Alfred Boegner entitled, "The Needs of the Congo Mission." The article included Boegner's prayer that someone "on whom the eye of God has fallen will read and be awakened to the call and say, 'Here am I.' " Moved by Boegner's appeal, Schweitzer bowed his head and prayed, "My search is ended. I am coming."
You must understand that Schweitzer was not an ordinary person -- not even an ordinary physician. He was Principal of St. Thomas Theological College at the University of Strasbourg, a pastor, a successful author, and one of Europe's most acclaimed organists. For him to go to Africa meant leaving behind a life of fame and fortune -- removing himself from the comfortable community of which he was part -- ending the life that he had known and taking up an altogether unfamiliar life in a distant place.
But leave he did! First, he studied medicine for eight years to prepare himself for his new calling. Then he went to French Equatorial Africa, where his first hospital was a chicken coop at Lambarene. With the exception of short visits to Europe and America, he spent the rest of his life in Lambarene.
While we might admire the selflessness of such a decision, we are also tempted to ask whether it made sense. Couldn't Schweitzer have made a greater contribution by staying in Europe, where he could make full use of his marvelous gifts? Couldn't he accomplish as more by raising money for others to go to Africa?
But Schweitzer went -- left career, comfort, and friends behind -- spent the rest of his life practicing medicine in a primitive place under primitive conditions.
And God honored his call. Schweitzer's name became a household word. His example inspired countless people to follow in his footsteps -- to serve needy people in difficult places. It is impossible to estimate the full impact of Schweitzer's life work. We know only that he saved many lives -- gave renewed health to countless others -- and caused many to follow his example.
The cross is set against the skyline of our raucous, anonymous cities.
In our cemeteries it is a talisman against death.
It quickens the world's finest art and music.
Through it men have known that the bleakest tragedy
may be the most piercing and healing light.
-- George A. Buttrick, Sermons Preached in a University Church
* * * * * * * * * *
Christ did not die a martyr.
He died -- infinitely more humbly -- a common criminal.
-- Simone Weil
* * * * * * * * * *
The Christian teaching about who crucified Christ
is not that the Romans or the Jews or whatever people happened to be there did,
but that you and I did,
and that all human societies without exception
are involved in the crucifixion of Christ.
-- Northrop Frye
* * * * * * * * * *
peace was no longer to operate on the thin blade of truth
or in the court of law,
but in the torn heart of a God who had become human for us in Jesus Christ.
-- Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert
* * * * * * * * * *
Christ has not only spoken to us by his life,
but has also spoken for us by his death.
-- Soren Kierkegaard
* * * * * * * * * *
HYMNS: Thanks to the Rev. Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida for the hymns.
Baptist Hymnal (BH)
Chalice Hymnal (CH)
Collegeville Hymnal (CO)
Gather Comprehensive (GC)
Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW)
Lutheran Worship (LW)
Presbyterian Hymnal (PH)
The Faith We Sing (TFWS)
The Hymnal 1982 (TH)
The New Century Hymnal (TNCH)
United Methodist Hymnal (UMH)
Voices United (VU)
With One Voice (WOV)
Ah, Holy Jesus (CH #210; LBW #123; PH #93; TH #158; TNCH #218; UMH #289; VU #138)
Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed (BH #145; LBW #98; LW #97; PH #78; TNCH #200; UMH #294)
Beneath the Cross of Jesus (BH #291; CH #197; LBW #107; PH #92; TH #498; TNCH #190; UMH #297; VU #133)
Go to Dark Gethsemane (BH #150; CH #196; LBW #107; LW #110; PH #97; TH #171; TNCH #219; UMH #290; VU #133)
He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word (CH #208; PH #95; UMH #291)
In the Cross of Christ I Glory (BH #544; CH #207; CO #249; LBW #104; LW #101; PH #84; TH #441-442; TNCH #193-194; UMH #295)
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (BH #137; CH #202; CO #259; GC #415; JS #285; LBW #116-117; LW #113; PH #98; TH #168-169; TNCH #226; UMH #286; VU #145)
Also known as "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded" also known as "O Sacred Head Surrounded"
To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord (CO #261; TH #170: UMH #285)
Were You There (BH #156; CH #198; CO #262; GC #416; LBW #92; LW #505; PH #102; TH #172; TNCH #229; UMH #288; VU #144)
What Wondrous Love is This (BH #143; CH #200; CO #530; GC #627; JS #394; LBW #385; PH #85; TH #439; TNCH #223; UMH #292; VU #147)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (BH #144; CH #195; CO #263; JS #280; LBW #482; LW #114-115; PH #100-101; TH #474; TNCH #224; UMH #298-299; VU #149)
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (BH #126; CH #192; CO #256-257; GC #402; JS #267; LBW #108; LW #102; PH #88; TH # 154-155; TNCH #216, 217; UMH #280; VU #122)
also known as All Glory, Praise and Honor
Filled With Excitement (TNCH #214; UMH #279)
also known as Mantos y Palmas
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (BH #130; LW #106; PH #89; TNCH #213; UMH #278; VU #123)
Ride On, Ride On in Majesty (CH #191; LBW #121; LW #105; PH #90-91; TH #156; TNCH #215)
Tell Me the Stories of Jesus (CH #190; BH #129; UMH #277; VU #357)
The Royal Banners Forward Go (JS #294; LBW #124, 125; LW #103-104, TH #162; TNCH #221)
SCRIPTURES FOR UPCOMING WEEKS:
We follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and use Gospel texts for Sundays only. The RCL tracks with the other major lectionaries most of the time, but there are occasional differences.
Apr. 11 Easter John 20:1-18
Apr 18 Easter 2 John 20:19-31
Apr 25 Easter 3 John 21:1-19
May 2 Easter 4 John 10:22-30
May 9 Easter 5 John 13:31-35
May 16 Easter 6 John 14:23-29
May 23 Easter 7 John 17:20-26
May 30 Pentecost John 14:8-17 (25-27)
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Scherer, Paul, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
We welcome your feedback! firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2004, Richard Niell Donovan