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Seven Homilies for Good Friday Tenebrae

Various

James T. Batchelor

Good Friday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Fri, Apr 2, 2010 

+ + + Hostile Witnesses + + +

+ + + The High Priest + + +

Read John 11:45-53

+ + +

When lawyers call a witness in a trial, they try to call witnesses who will strengthen their case.  From time to time a lawyer must call a witness who would normally be expected to testify for the opposing side.  When this happens, the lawyer may request to treat the witness as a hostile witness.  If the judge grants the request, the lawyer may question the witness in a more aggressive manner.

As we consider the Passion of our Lord this evening, I wish to call attention to the testimony of hostile witnesses - witnesses whom we would expect to be enemies of Jesus, but who, never the less, have testimony that points to Jesus as our savior.

May I call your attention to the first witness this evening?  His name is Caiaphas.  He is the High Priest - the highest office in the temple.  Even though he was a deadly enemy of Jesus, he witnessed to Jesus' salvation.

Jesus had just raised His friend Lazarus from the dead.  He had done this in the presence of many witnesses.  Most of the witnesses were awe-struck at God's power in Jesus.  A small minority, however, were spies from the temple.  They quickly reported back to the temple authorities.

The temple authorities were between a rock and a hard place.  Their rationale was that Jesus would lead a revolt against Rome and Rome would come and crush the nation.  Then, if Rome won, they would most likely replace these men with other more effective leaders.  If, on the other hand, Jesus won, His forgiveness would do away with the temple altogether.  Either way, they would at the very least be unemployed.  At worst, they could die.  Either way was bad for the Sanhedrin.

It is while they panic that Caiaphas gives his testimony: "You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish."  With these words, he proclaimed a truth that was beyond his own understanding.

The problem of all mankind is sin.  Sin brings a curse into this world.  That curse brings injury, illness, and death to all who live in this world.  Each and every one of us falls prey to this curse because each and every one of us is a sinner.

The testimony that comes from the lips of Caiaphas proclaims that salvation that Jesus will earn for all of us with His death on the cross.  As John himself comments: [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

The testimony of Caiaphas caused the Sanhedrin to look for a way to kill Jesus.  Little did Caiaphas know that his testimony proclaimed Jesus as the savior of all nations.

+ + + The Arresting Officers+++

Read John 18:1-14

+ + +

This hostile witness is not just a single person, but is really a group of people - the band of officers, soldiers, and Judas.  They testify to a most unusual phenomenon.  When Jesus identified Himself to them, they passed out.

We've seen this phenomenon before.  No mere human being can stand in God's presence when he reveals His holiness.  Even when angels merely reflect the glory of God, it strikes terror into the heart.  People fall like dead men.  Their legs cannot hold them.  They fall with their face to the ground.  Those who stand in the presence of God see their sin in comparison with God's holiness.  It is more than they can bear.

This group of hostile witnesses testifies to the divine nature of Jesus Christ.  He is God in the flesh.

That means that Jesus had the power and the authority to stop those who came to arrest Him.  When the band of officers, soldiers, and Judas came to lead Jesus away, He let them.  Jesus let His captors beat Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and crucify Him.  He let them do that so that one day, we could wear His righteousness and stand in God's presence without fear.  Jesus allowed Himself to be taken away and crucified so that He could take away our sin.

+ + + The Sanhedrin (Part 1) + + +

Read Matthew 26:57-67

+ + +

The next group of hostile witnesses forms the ruling body known as the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was the ruling council of the Jews.  At one time they had been the supreme court of Israel.  At the time of Jesus' trial, their power was moderated somewhat by the Roman occupation.  Never the less, they were still an important ruling body with a great deal of authority.

Strictly speaking the Laws of Moses forbade trials during the night.  It also forbade trials during High Festivals such as the Passover or on the Sabbath.  However, the Sanhedrin was known to have hearings.  They could then convene a trial later on and validate all the decisions they made at such hearings.

The hearing was not having the desired effect, so the high priest asked an illegal question.  The high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 

Even if the Sanhedrin did not play by the rules, Jesus did.  After such a command from the high priest, He had to answer, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

The members of the Sanhedrin knew Holy Scripture well enough.  When Jesus combined the phrase Son of Man with the idea of coming on the clouds of heaven, they knew Jesus was claiming to be the Son of Man who ruled at the side of the Ancient of Days according to the prophecy of Daniel.  (Dan. 7:13-14) Jesus had just claimed to be the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Jesus had given the Sanhedrin three choices.  (1.) He is God and they should fall down and worship.  (2.) He is insane and needs to be locked away for His own safety.  (3.) He is an evil blasphemer who deserves to die.

The Sanhedrin had what they wanted.  They chose choice #3.  The high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.  What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."

There are those who will try to tell you that Jesus never claimed to be God.  The hostile witness of the Sanhedrin testifies against them.

+ + + Pontius Pilate + + +

Read the Excerpts from John 18 & 19 & Matthew 27 that focus on Pilate trying to assert Jesus' innocence - especially the washing of the hands

+ + +

If we did not have documentation of Pilate's cold blooded cruelty, we could almost feel sort of sorry for Pontius Pilate.  He is a hostile witness because he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Roman Emperor had one primary command for the governor of Judea - keep the peace at any cost.  The Jewish leaders knew this.  If the Jewish leaders started a riot during Passover, the riot would spread like fire in a dry forest.  All they had to do was threaten the riot and Pilate's hands were tied.

It was in Pilate's best interest to find this man guilty quickly and get rid of Him.  Never the less, as Pilate interrogated Jesus, He began to realize that Jesus was an innocent man.  He tried every way that he knew to release Jesus.  He even ended up releasing a hardened criminal in his attempt to free Jesus.  In the end, the political clout of the Sanhedrin overwhelmed his conscience and he sentenced an innocent man to die.

Jesus was more than just innocent.  He was perfect.  He was sinless.  He was the spotless sacrifice that God the Father sent into this world to save us from our sins.

Jesus had to be perfect in order to take our sins onto Himself.  If He had sinned even once, His sacrifice would be useless.

This hostile witness testifies to the innocence of Jesus.

+ + + The Mob + + +

Read Matthew 27:24-25

+ + +

We turn now to the hostile testimony of the angry mob.  This mob's testimony is a curse on themselves.  They are taking an oath in Jesus' blood.  They are asking God to demand their blood and the blood of their children if Jesus is innocent.  They are calling down God's judgment upon themselves.  This is a true tragedy.

Down through the centuries anti-Semitic people have twisted and tortured this verse as an excuse to persecute the Jews.  Even Mel Gibson had to bow to public pressure and remove this line from his movie, "The Passion of the Christ."  Such an interpretation of this verse is wrong on many, many levels.

First of all, most of the Jews loved Jesus.  He went about doing good things - healing - teaching - exposing corruption and so forth.  He was a hero to most of the people.  This lynch mob in Pilate's court was only a small fraction of the nation.

Secondly, even if such a curse was valid, the law that God gave to Moses proclaimed that it would be valid only to the third and fourth generation.  Those generations have come and gone long ago.

Finally, no curse is effective unless it conforms to the will of God.  Otherwise, given the amount of cursing that I have heard in my life time, a lot of hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, and other tools, not to mention traffic signals and drivers would have long ago departed into the punishment of eternal fire.  We can be so thankful that God only executes valid curses.

The mob was under the impression that they were taking an oath asking God to witness their desire to crucify this Jesus of Nazareth.  They thought they were asking God to punish them if they were wrong.  They thought they were placing their lives and the lives of their children on the line in order to testify to the validity of their wish to crucify Jesus of Nazareth.  That is why they said, "His blood be on us and on our children."

For those of us who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, these words have a much different meaning.  Hear the Word of the Lord and realize that these words that were originally spoken in anger can now be a blessing.

[Romans 3:24-25]

[All] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

[Romans 5:9]

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

[1 Corinthians 10:16]

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?

[1 Corinthians 11:25]

In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

[Ephesians 1:7]

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

[Ephesians 2:13]

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

[Colossians 1:19-20]

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

[Excerpts from Hebrews 9]

When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

[1 Peter 1:18-19]

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

[1 John 1:7]

"The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."

The testimony of the mob shows us that God can take words that were meant for evil and use them for our good.  May the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son - the blood that cleanses us from all sin - be on us and on our children.

+ + + The Thieves on the Cross + + +

Read Matthew 27:38-44; Luke 23:39-43

+ + +

The next two witnesses very clearly show the two ways that are before each and every one of us.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus was not alone on the cross.  The Romans also crucified a pair of robbers with Him.

At first, both of these witnesses were very hostile.  Matthew tells us that they both reviled Jesus.  As time went by, however, these two robbers changed.  As they hung on their crosses, they had no choice but to hear the words of Christ. 

Here we have a primary example of the words that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul: [Romans 10:17] Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  The Holy Spirit produced faith in one of the robbers.  He believed that Jesus was his savior.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ

The other robber demonstrated something else about the word of God.  The Holy Spirit gave other words to the writer to the Hebrews: [Hebrews 4:12] The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  The Word of God is divisive.  Those who reject God's Word, reject God.  They are divided from God forever.

So it is that we find a model of the entire world in this little group of three people.  We have Christ, we have one who believes, and we have one who rejects.

Amazingly, the little congregation of one immediately set out on the mission that Jesus still gives to His church.  After Jesus rose from the dead, He told the disciples [Luke 24:47] that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.  Already, here on the cross, the robber, who had been a pagan only a short while ago, now turned to his fellow robber and preached repentance, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."  Then he preached forgiveness as he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

At the same time that he proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the other robber; he also began preparation to receive God's Divine Service.  He confessed his sins before almighty God.  Then he received absolution as Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  This robber had prepared for God's Divine service to him - a service that would begin in this world on a cross, but would continue in the next world in the presence of his savior Jesus Christ.

Like those two robbers, each and every one of us is an enemy of God when we begin our lives.  We join with those who mock Him.  We see Him as nothing more than a wretched failure - that is if we think of Him at all.

Then something happens.  God arranges events that thrust us into the presence of Christ.  Perhaps our parents bring us to the waters of Holy Baptism.  Perhaps a friend or other loved one follows the example of the thief on the cross and proclaims repentance and the forgiveness of sins to us.  Ultimately, the Holy Spirit arranges things and exposes us to the Word of God.

One of two things will happen.  The Holy Spirit will use Christ's Word to bring us into the family of God, or we will see the Word of Christ as divisive and reject God's salvation.

The robbers on the cross testify that there are two ways.  Jesus said, [Matthew 7:13-14] "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

+ + + The Sanhedrin (Part 2) + + +

Read Matthew 27:62-66

+ + +

It is now time to recall some of the witnesses that have already testified.  Earlier this evening, we called on the Sanhedrin to testify that Jesus had, in fact, called Himself God.  Now we want to hear their testimony on another claim that Jesus made.

There is a subtle theme that weaves its way through the Gospel accounts of Jesus.  This theme doesn't just jump out at you when you first pick up the Bible and begin to read.  It sort of grows on you as you spend time in the Word of God.

During the months leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus kept telling the disciples that He was going to die and then rise from the dead.  Up until the crucifixion, the people who were Jesus' friends had a hard time understanding this.  On the other hand, the enemies of Jesus understood this teaching very clearly and they hated it.

You can understand why the disciples struggled.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus had demonstrated massive supernatural power over nature, demons, diseases, even death.  When people got unruly, He was able to simply walk through hostile mobs without a scratch.  The people who loved Jesus and believed He is the Christ couldn't wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus would die and rise from the dead.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, understood Jesus perfectly.  We can see it in this evening's reading.  The Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'" The Pharisees understood Jesus' teaching, but they rejected it.

How ironic, the people who accepted Jesus' teachings, didn't understand them and the people who understood them, rejected them.

The Pharisees wanted to make sure that no one could fake a resurrection.  They went to Pilate and requested that he prevent this hoax by posting a guard at the tomb.

Pilate was probably sick and tired of dealing with these Pharisees.  Never the less, he authorized the guard.  Boy was that guard in for a surprise.

This testimony of the Sanhedrin tells us that Jesus promised to rise from the dead.  By taking steps to disprove this promise, they provided witnesses to just the opposite.  The Pharisees thought they were putting a stop to a rogue rabbi's cult.  Instead, they were providing witnesses to the truth of Christ's promise to rise from the dead.



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