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Hostile Witnesses

James T. Batchelor

Good Friday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Fri, Mar 21, 2008
Good Friday

Standard LSB A Readings:
First: Is. 52:13-53:12
Epistle: Heb. 4:14-16;5:7-9
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42 or John 19:17-30
Psalm: Ps. 22 or Ps. 31


Homily #1: John 18:3-6

As we read the Bible, we read about many people who were friends of God.  They each tell us a little about who God is and how He saved us from sin by sacrificing Himself for us on the cross.

There is another group of people in the Bible who were NOT God's friends.  Some of these people were simply ignorant of God and didn't really care about Jesus one way or the other.  Others were intense enemies of God who wanted Jesus to fail.  The interesting thing is that even these people who were not friends of God have a witness that tells us something about who God is and how He saved us from our sins with His death on the cross.

The recent reading from John tells us about some of these people, the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane.  These soldiers give us a witness to Jesus' nature.  They tell us that Jesus is not just a man, but also true God.

As Judas led these men to Jesus, they suddenly found themselves on the ground.  Here we get a foretaste of Paul's words: [Philippians 2:10-11] at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Jesus [had simply] said to them, "I am he," and they fell to the ground.

Here we see Jesus' divine nature at work.  His mere identity causes hardened troops to faint.

Even so, Jesus allowed them to arrest Him and begin the process that would ultimately lead to His sacrifice on the cross - the sacrifice that would free you, me, and all people from sin.

Homily #2: John 18:10; Luke 22:51

As the whole group of temple guards shows us the divine nature of Jesus, so also there is one guard in particular who has a unique witness for us.

Peter thought he was going to defend Jesus from the soldiers.  He pulled out his sword and tried to split open the head of the first soldier he came to - Malchus, the servant of the high priest.  Peter was not a trained soldier and so he only cut off Malchus' ear.

Malchus then witnessed Jesus as the Lord of Creation.  Jesus restored his ear.  This incident is one more proof that Jesus is indeed Lord of Creation.

In spite of Jesus' position as Lord of all things, He allowed the soldiers to take Him away.

Although Jesus is the Lord of all things, He passively allowed mere mortal men to capture Him.  He submitted to the will of these men because it was the will of the Father.

On this day of the church year we contemplate His passive righteousness.  Even though He is the Lord of Creation and could heal an ear, He passively allowed men to torture and crucify Him so that He could rescue us from our sin.

Homily #3: John 18:38; 19:4-8; 12

If the Passion Account was all that we knew about Pontius Pilate, we could feel kind of sorry for him.  It seems as though he wanted to do the right thing, but the circumstances of the day overwhelmed him and he gave in to the political pressures that the Jewish leaders brought against him. 

When we look at other records of his time in office, we find that he could actually be quite cruel.  He was quite capable of using his office to terrorize the citizens of Judea into submission.  This history of pragmatism and cruelty makes his actions on Good Friday even more unusual.

He declared Jesus to be a righteous man.  He repeatedly told the Jews, "I find no guilt in him."  Pontius Pilate is a witness that the Jews really had no case against Jesus, but were simply jealous of Him.

Although Pilate gave in to the political pressure, He is one witness that Jesus truly was an innocent man.

Homily #4: Luke 23:6-12

I don't agree with a lot of Andrew Lloyd Weber's theology, but his portrayal of Herod in "Jesus Christ Super Star," comes very close to relating the image that the Bible gives us of Herod.  Weber portrays Herod with music that sounds more like a circus than a trial.  The lyrics that Weber gives to Herod really bring out Herod's desire for entertainment.  Our text says, "[Herod] was hoping to see some sign done by him."  Herod saw Jesus as a potential magic act.

In spite of the fact that Herod thought Jesus was no fun at all, he is a witness that Jesus was an innocent man.  He sent Jesus back to Pilate.

Perhaps Herod, more than any other character in the Passion narrative, reminds me of our modern entertainment oriented culture.  Entertainment has its good and proper place in our society, but when the indiscretions of a celebrity get more news coverage than the war or the economy, something is wrong.

Too often we want the Jesus who does magic tricks - not the Jesus who died on the cross for our sins.  You see a Jesus who dies for sin reminds us that we have sin.  He reminds us of the consequences of sin by showing us the price He had to pay to free us from sin.  We, like Herod, would much rather be entertained than confess that we are lost and lonely sinners.

Yet, [1 John 1:8-9] if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Homily #5: Matthew 27:3-5

When I was a young man learning the catechism, I came to Martin Luther's explanation of the Lord's Prayer.  One of the things we pray in the Lord's Prayer is "Lead us not into temptation."  Part of Luther's explanation says, "We pray that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice."  I wondered, "Isn't "despair" just an emotion.  How can it be right or wrong?" Judas gives us an example of how despair can destroy us.

Judas is one of the great tragedies of the Bible.  He was one of Jesus' disciples.  He was even one of the disciples that Jesus sent out as a missionary.  Judas is one of the seventy-two who [Luke 10:17] returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" Never the less, Judas eventually betrayed Jesus. 

Yet, the true tragedy was not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he did not wait around to receive forgiveness for his sin.  Judas despaired that God could not forgive his sin.  Judas believed that Jesus was innocent, but he did not believe that God would ever forgive the sins of one who had betrayed innocent blood.  Judas gave in to the sin of despair and his despair led him to take his own life.

With his tragic death, Judas declares Jesus as innocent.  Jesus with His innocent suffering and death earned forgiveness - even for the sins of Judas.  The tragedy is that Judas rejected that forgiveness in the unbelief of despair.

Homily #6: Matthew 27:50-54

The centurion is one of the more interesting witnesses at the cross.  A centurion was an officer in the Roman army.  The word centurion sounds a lot like the word century.  Just as century means one hundred years so a centurion had command of one hundred soldiers.  This meant that he had risen up through the ranks and proven himself to be capable and loyal.

This centurion had the odious duty of supervising a crucifixion.  As such, he witnessed Jesus on the cross.  He saw the skies darken over Jerusalem beginning at noon when the sun was normally at its peak until 3 P.M.  He felt the earthquake.  He saw all that took place and said, "Truly, this was the Son of God."  He looked at the darkness of it all and saw the light of life. He saw the unnatural events and heard the enemies of God, and it added up, not to the end, but to the beginning. It was not proof against Jesus as God's Son, but verification of the truth.  That truth led the centurion to faith.

The centurion, who was a neutral third party observer, examined the events that confronted him and had to admit that the man whose crucifixion he had supervised was indeed true God.

Homily #7: Matthew 27:62-64

The chief priests and the Pharisees were the best trained Jewish minds in first century Jewish culture.  They were used to debating and making scholarly speeches.  They were well versed in the literature of their day.  They were well equipped to understand Jesus, and understand Him they did.  In fact, they understood Jesus where the disciples did not.

For months, Jesus had been telling His disciples that He was going to die and then rise from the dead.  For months He had stressed His upcoming passion and resurrection.  Yet, when the time came, the disciples deserted Jesus.  They ran away and hid.  They thought that they would never see Jesus again.  They gave every indication that they did not understand Jesus' teachings concerning His death and resurrection.

On the other hand, the chief priests and the Pharisees understood Jesus perfectly.  They just didn't believe Him.  They intended to prove that Jesus was a liar.  They intended to prove that His teachings were false.  They wanted to stamp out any possibility that His teachings would survive His death.  They knew that Jesus had said He would rise from the dead and they wanted to make sure that nobody could even fake a resurrection.  So, they set an official guard at the tomb.

The guard at the tomb appeared to be the last straw.  Not only did the Jewish leaders badger Jesus in His life, but they did not even leave Him alone in His death.  What else could they do to humiliate Him? 

Little did the Sanhedrin know that they had played right into God's hand.  For the soldiers who watched the tomb would become the first witnesses to the very opposite of what they expected.

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