In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Pilate didn’t want to kill Jesus. That is quite obvious from St. Luke’s Passion alone, but the other three Evangelists also make that point crystal clear. Three times St. Luke records Pilate’s objection to the death penalty by protesting Jesus’ innocence. But notice that Pilate also makes a confession of who Christ is. In his first rebuttal to the chief priests Pilate says “I find no fault in this Man.” He doesn’t say “I find no evidence of your charges,” but declares Jesus to be sinless! Whether this was Pilate’s intention, it is still the statement he made. Finally, the third time Pilate tries to save Jesus he makes another confession of Jesus as the one who bears sin not His own: “Indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.”
Ultimately Luke records that Pilate was a man of convenience. He gives into the murderous demands of the chief priests and sentences Jesus to death. How can a man who declared Jesus innocent three times send Him to be crucified? Though Pilate tries to make himself out to be a victim, especially in Matthew’s Gospel when he washes his hands and says “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person” (Mt. 27:24), nothing is farther from the truth! The Jews had no authority to put Jesus to death, only Pilate could do that. He could have said the word and Jesus would have been a free Man. But Pilate chose not to be a man of conviction. Why? He was afraid of rebellion and riot. The city was packed with pilgrims for the Passover. Also, Pilate didn’t want to upset the Jews because their cooperation made his job easier. Despite that, there was nothing that forced Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. He did it because it was convenient, easier than dealing with the consequences of doing the right thing.
It’s certainly easier to be a convenience-minded person. Think about what Jeremiah could have avoided had he given the Israeli soldiers a pep talk instead of telling them that the only way they could spare their life was by being a willing prisoner in the Babylonian captivity. He could have avoided sinking in the mire, starving, and being threatened with death. And it’s the same story for all of the Prophets. Even Jesus could have saved Himself some grief had He given the people what they wanted. Maybe Herod could have thrown his weight around and silenced the Jews had Jesus just given Herod an entertaining magic trick.
But as God’s people, the Prophets weren’t called to convenience but to the truth and to conviction. We are called to conviction as well. The Church, through Sunday School, Confirmation classes, adult Bible studies, and especially in the operation of a Lutheran day school, reminds us that we are to be people of conviction. Certainly Christian education requires a lot of time, a lot of talent, and a lot of money. But the Church does these things for our earthly benefit, for the benefit of society, but especially for the benefit of our souls eternally. The Church prepares us to give a defense of our faith, as St. Peter tells us we must do (1 Pe. 3:15). We aren’t called to “buffet Christianity,” picking and choosing what teachings suit us or seem like they will be loved by the world and leaving out what we don’t like or sounds insensitive. We are called to be people of conviction who uphold the entire Word of God, even the parts that don’t suit our sinful tastes. It’s tempting to be people of convenience, like Pilate. And that doesn’t just extend to doctrinal matters, but to the command to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s tempting to be selfish with our time and money, to avoid helping someone because we don’t think we’ll get a return on our investment. But God doesn’t call us to do things only if we’ll get something in return. He calls us to love Him with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that extends both to confessing the whole Word of God in its full sternness and sweetness, and in acts of charity.
But all of this doesn’t mean that Jesus is just an example of a man of conviction, someone whose behavior we should strive to imitate. His behavior is something Christians should imitate, but Christ’s primary role is not one of being an example, but being our Redeemer. He has an unshakable commitment to us, even when we are people of convenience. Paul reminds us that Christ died for us while we were without strength, when we were ungodly, while we were sinners (Rom. 5:6, 8). From the foundation of the world He has been committed to bearing your sin and being your Savior! He came just for that purpose, to die for your sins, to be committed wholeheartedly to your forgiveness and your eternal life. It is as we sang a few minutes ago: “Man forfeited his life and is acquitted; God is committed.”
And as proof of His undying commitment to you, He makes His grace available to you in unlimited amounts. God’s love is lavishly given! He hears your prayer at all times, and loves to hear your prayer. He has placed His Word into your heart by His Holy Spirit and places it into your hands in the Holy Bible. Never in the history of the world have the Scriptures been more readily available. This is purely by God’s grace! He wants you to be in His Word, to gain from it wisdom and eternal life, so He makes it available everywhere—in print and electronically. But most importantly He makes it available here in His Church, and everywhere Christians are gathered by the Holy Spirit around Word and Sacrament. When you want proof of God’s commitment to you, come to this place! Look at the Font, where by water and the Word He made you His dear child and an heir of eternal life. Look to Lectern and Pulpit where His Word sounds forth for the creation and strengthening of your faith. Look to the Word of Absolution given in each Divine Service when the Pastor stands in the stead and by the command of Christ, giving the forgiveness He died to win. Look to the Altar, to the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ here to forgive your sins and to give you the strength to bear whatever crosses come your way. God is fully committed to you and has given you all these means and more to prove it to you, and to keep you in His loving care.
Pilate may not have been a man of conviction, but Jesus was. He could have rescued Himself from His situation at any time, but He remained for you. He endured sins against Him by the Jews and the Romans, all to ensure your forgiveness and your salvation. And now He is committed to you, committed to keep you steadfast in the faith, and so He gives you His Holy Spirit to do just that. Graciously He renews your faith, helps you bear your crosses until you stand in heaven above, singing His praise forever.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).